The current night-game ordinance for Wrigley Field allows the team to play 35 night games a year, with more permitted if national TV networks request dates on Saturday or Sunday nights. In practice this has meant 29 home night games in an 81-date home season, with some of the permitted night dates given over to concerts. Overall the team can have up to 43 night dates, concerts included, more if they make the postseason.
Not permitted (other than for national TV) are night games on Friday or Saturday nights. This is an antiquated provision in the ordinance that was originally asked for by restaurant owners in the Wrigleyville area, fearful night baseball would hurt their Friday night sit-down meal business.
That was a silly worry then and, given the amount of turnover in the restaurant scene in the area over the last 30 years, something that doesn’t apply to Wrigleyville and Lakeview in 2020.
If you think you’ve seen this covered here previously, you’re not wrong. I’ve written about the antiquated ban on Friday night games at Wrigley Field many times over the last several years. MANY times: here, here, here, here, here and here.
The one-year exception to the night game ordinance is on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the City Council’s License Committee.
It would pave the way for the Cubs to play 11 weekend night games — six on Fridays and five on Saturdays. All but one of those weekend night games would start at 7:15 p.m.; the home opener on Friday, July 24, starts at 6:10 p.m.
The given reason is to help reduce travel during the pandemic:
Cubs spokesman Julian Green portrayed the one-year exemption as a safety measure, primarily aimed at protecting the health of visiting players.
“Given that we’re playing in the middle of a pandemic, the goal is to, if you’re starting a weekend series on Friday, have the visiting team come in on Fridays instead of Thursday nights, which limits the nights in a hotel,” Green said Tuesday.
“Whether it’s Pittsburgh or Milwaukee, if they come in Friday morning, playing a game Friday evening would be better than playing a game at 1:20 p.m. just getting off the plane. … For now, there’s no fans in the stadium. So you wouldn’t have the additional traffic. Nor would you have the additional activity with crowds in bars because there’s a limit in terms of capacity.”
All that is correct, but it would seem to me — as I’ve noted in those previous articles — that allowing the Cubs to play Friday nights at home when they are returning from a road trip that ends on a Thursday would help them compete with other teams that can play games on that sort of schedule.
This generally happens two or three times a year. In the Cubs’ 2021 schedule, it’ll be four times. I cannot imagine that asking neighborhood restaurants to be inconvenienced four Fridays a year out of 52 is an undue burden.
In normal times the Cubs create a lot of area jobs and bring many millions of dollars to the Lakeview community. Julian Green says the Cubs aren’t trying to use the exception as leverage:
Green said the Cubs have no intention of turning the one-year waiver into permanent permission to hold weekend night games.
“We’re certainly not leveraging a pandemic to get more night games. That’s not what this is,” Green said.
“We’ve always wanted more night games. But this is an exception. … We know what it is. ... The goal here is to limit the exposure to our players.”
While the Cubs are saying the “right thing,” saying this is a one-year exception, maybe it shouldn’t be. The city ought to help the team be competitive with other MLB franchises by permitting a handful of Friday night games. The Cubs have hosted Friday night concerts — there is literally no difference between 40,000 concert-goers in the neighborhood and 40,000 baseball fans in terms of what it would do to restaurant business. In some ways, the baseball crowds can be more manageable.
Overall, if the 60-game season is played to its conclusion, 22 of the Cubs’ 30 home games will be played at night.
Further, this tweet by the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman hints that maybe, just maybe, down the road the Cubs could get something that could help them compete on a level playing field with their opponents:
Mayor says she has had a lot of conversation with Tunney about night games at Wrigley. MLB wants to showcase Cubs. She 's comfortable with plan she has agreed to.— Fran Spielman (@fspielman) July 14, 2020
Mayor Lightfoot might be a White Sox fan, but she certainly knows the money the Cubs bring to the city. Perhaps she can eventually help the team get something that previous mayors could not.