I’ve written about the outdated terms of the city of Chicago’s Wrigley Field night game ordinance many times, particularly the prohibition on Friday night games, here at BCB — so often, in fact, that I’ve now created a StoryStream containing all those articles dating back to July 2017.
What prompted me to write again on this topic was this excellent article by Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com detailing the Cubs’ drive for lights begun by Dallas Green when he took over as Cubs general manager when Tribune Company bought the team. Incidentally, if you’re not familiar with everything that happened regarding lights at Wrigley in the 1980s, it’s a really good read on the sequence of events. (And I’m not just saying that just because I gave Castrovince some information for his article, as noted at the bottom.)
There was bitter opposition to lights at Wrigley Field when Green first proposed them. Noise and drunkenness were among the reasons neighborhood residents were opposed to night games, and area restaurant owners claimed they’d lose weekend business if 40,000 fans descended on the neighborhood, thus the ban on Friday and Saturday night games. While you might think that’s a strange position to take, we’re talking here about sit-down restaurants, not the bars in the area, which all do great business on Cubs game days. Why they are opposed to more night games — and why Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) continues to beat the drum for the opponents — is beyond me.
2020 was the 33rd year in which night games have been played at Wrigley Field. That’s a total of 774 regular-season night games. Incidentally, the Cubs have gone 420-354 in home night games, a .543 winning percentage. Since the first night game went into the books August 9, 1988 (remember, the original first night game on 8/8/88 was rained out), the Cubs are 940-861, a .522 winning percentage — so there seems to be something of an advantage to playing at home, at night, as opposed to Wrigley in the afternoon.
Those of us of “a certain age” well remember Wrigley as an all-day-game venue while everyone else was playing night games, but unless you’re in around your mid-40s or older, you likely have no personal memory of that. Further, I would hazard a guess that nearly everyone living in the Wrigley neighborhood now has moved there since 1988, and a large number of the businesses (particularly bars and restaurants) that currently exist in Wrigleyville have been started since then (not all, obviously: Sports Corner and The Cubby Bear are notable exceptions).
Thus, all parties involved, residents, business owners, Cubs fans, ought to view night games at Wrigley Field as a fait accompli. It’s just something that happens in the neighborhood and you deal with it. Complaining about night baseball at Wrigley now — and even with the limits of the ordinance, there are twice as many night games allowed in 2020 as there were by the terms of the original 1988 law — is like moving to a house near O’Hare Airport and complaining about the noise.
What I am going to argue in this article is twofold:
- First, that the limitation of 35 night games (up to 43 with national TV) is antiquated and should be completely lifted, and
- Second, that the prohibition of Friday and Saturday night games is ridiculous in the year 2020 and should also be eliminated.
In a normal 81-game home season, most MLB teams play between 50 and 55 night games. This allows them afternoon games on getaway days, holidays, Sundays and some Saturdays. The Cubs are at a disadvantage to the 29 other teams because they are forced to play more day games, which can be more fatiguing, particularly in the summer. You might recall a three-game weekend series against the Twins at Wrigley Field in late June 2018 where the game time temperatures were 96, 91 and 93. The heat got so bad in one of those games that some Twins players had to be removed for heat exhaustion. Most teams would have played that series as a Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, but by ordinance the Cubs were forced to play all of those games during the day.
Which brings me to another part of this issue. The first game of that series was scheduled at 4:05 p.m. CT. Why? Because the Cubs had a four-game series at Dodger Stadium that ended the previous afternoon. The Dodgers were forced to start the Thursday game at 12:10 — something they almost never do on weekdays, it was the only L.A. home game at that starting time the entire 2018 season — so the Cubs could get back to Chicago at some semblance of a reasonable hour. But by the terms of the night-game ordinance, 4:05 was the latest start time allowable. I wrote about this at the time:
The Dodgers are home this weekend, so the early starting time didn’t really help the Dodgers one way or another. But it did allow the Cubs to get a somewhat earlier start on their return to Chicago, though with the length of Thursday’s game (3:03), having to fight L.A. rush-hour traffic, the four-hour flight and two-hour time difference, the Cubs likely didn’t land at O’Hare until close to midnight, not home until probably around 1 a.m.
A 7:05 p.m. start today would have been much more beneficial. The extra three hours do matter. Every other MLB team would schedule a home night game in this situation. But the Cubs can’t.
And guess what? Wrigley Field will host two Friday night concerts this year, July 13 (Jimmy Buffett) and September 7 (Billy Joel). So once again I ask: What is the difference between a Friday night concert at Wrigley Field and a Friday night baseball game at Wrigley Field?
The answer, then and now, is that there is no essential difference between a Friday night concert and a Friday night baseball game at Wrigley Field, at least not from any crowd impact on the neighborhood or local businesses. They did it again in 2019, even though there were only two concerts at Wrigley last year — one of the Dead & Company shows was on a Friday night, June 14.
Clearly, it’s time to eliminate the antiquated restriction on Friday and Saturday night games. Precedent has been set for Friday night events at Wrigley Field. The city should allow baseball games on those nights, as they did in 2020 — 11 of them, six on Friday night, five on Saturday. Now, obviously the 2020 games were different, because there were no fans at any of them. But still, clearly the neighborhood can handle these kinds of events on weekends, as they have for concerts over the last couple of years.
Ideally, the city would simply repeal the ordinance and the Cubs could then be on a competitive equal with their opponents by playing 50-55 home night games, still keeping 25-30 or so as a nod to the Cubs’ day game history. I grant that an afternoon game at Wrigley Field is a thing of beauty for all sorts of reasons, but this isn’t 1960 anymore and as Cubs executive chairman Tom Ricketts once memorably said, “Wrigley Field is not a museum.”
But if they’re not willing to do that, I would propose that the City Council at least do the following:
- Increase the number of night games allowed to 40, from 35, and not count concerts against that limit. Currently, the Cubs are allowed four night concerts a year and if they want more (as they did in 2018, when there were 10), that has to be deducted from the night-game count. Additional night games, up to eight, would be permitted as they are now, for a possible total of 48.
- Allow Friday night home games on days when the Cubs are returning from road trips with a game played the previous day. For 2021, presuming next year’s 162-game schedule is played as currently laid out, that would be four Friday nights — May 21, June 18, July 23 and August 6.
That would get the Cubs closer to what other teams do in terms of night-game scheduling, putting them on a similar competitive footprint as their opponents have.
As for the neighborhood, none of the worries of area residents have come to pass. Between Cubs security and a police presence, the neighborhood is pretty safe before, during and after Cubs night games. In fact, I’d argue that Wrigleyville is safer and a better place to live now than it was in 1988.
Further, remember we are talking about 81 home dates a year all told, maybe two-thirds of them at night if this proposal were adopted. Even with a dozen or so possible postseason games, that’s not more than about 93 days a year when Cubs baseball is played in a residential neighborhood. That leaves 75 percent of the calendar when Wrigleyville is just a quiet part of town where, unless you walked right by Wrigley Field, you’d never know there was a major-league ballpark in the area.
It’s been more than three decades since night baseball began to be played at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have shown themselves to be good neighbors. It’s way past time for the city of Chicago to acknowledge that and lift the restrictions on night games. Sooner or later, fans will stream back into our beloved North Side ballpark, and it would be good for them and for the ballclub for more Cubs games to be played under the lights.