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It’s time for the city of Chicago to repeal the Wrigley Field night game ordinance

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The reasons for the limit on night games were flimsy at the time and don’t apply at all now.

Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

Night baseball has been played at Wrigley Field since 1988, 34 seasons’ worth. That means you’d have to be at least in your early 40s to have any clear memory of Wrigley without lights.

As you surely know, the first scheduled Wrigley night game August 8, 1988 was rained out after three and a half innings and so the first official night game took place the next night against the Mets, the Cubs winning 6-4. There have been many postseason night games at Wrigley and the team hosted the 1990 All-Star Game, the latter awarded only after lights were approved.

The Cubs are currently limited to 35 regular season night games per year by city ordinance, plus up to eight night games added by the request of national TV networks, plus four concert dates, for a maximum of 47 night events per year. If they want more concerts — and in 2019 there were 10 — they have to give up one night game for each concert date.

In 2021 the average number of home night games per team was 54 (regardless of whether the Cubs’ count is included or not). That’s pretty much been the average for several decades. The most 2021 home night games for any ballpark was 63, in Atlanta’s Truist Park; the fewest outside Wrigley was 40, in Comerica Park in Detroit.

The Cubs wound up playing 36 night games at Wrigley in 2021, including two Fridays (June 18 vs. the Marlins and September 24, night half of a doubleheader vs. the Cardinals), two Saturdays (June 12 and July 10, both vs. the Cardinals) and three Sundays (April 18 vs. the Braves, June 13 vs. the Cardinals and August 8 vs. the White Sox). The Saturday and Sunday dates were at the request of national TV networks. The first Friday night game was requested by the Cubs due to a scheduled road night game in New York the previous day and the City Council granted the request. The second was a makeup of a rained-out game in July and, though I never heard this stated publicly, I assume the council also granted approval.

36 games is two-thirds of the MLB average for home night games. This, I believe, puts the Cubs at a significant competitive disadvantage and has done so for years.

Here are some numbers to back up that claim. (Many thanks to BCBer JohnW53 for sending over these numbers!)

The Cubs have played 810 regular season night games at Wrigley since the first in 1988 and have gone 437-373 in those games, a .542 winning percentage.

In their 1,869 regular season day games at Wrigley since 1988, they are 973-896, which is a .521 percentage.

Thus over that time period, not a small sample size, the Cubs are 21 percentage points better at night than during the day. That seems significant.

Now, here’s a bit of history explaining how and why the Cubs got to this point regarding night games at Wrigley Field.

MLB teams began installing lights for night games in the 1930s and 1940s and Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley was going to do the same. Steel for light towers had been purchased in 1941 and the Cubs were going to play night games in 1942. When World War II broke out, Wrigley donated the steel to the war effort (though, interestingly, that steel likely never actually got there) and, well, just never again went in that direction. I summed up the entire lights situation in this 2020 article. Until the Cubs put lights in Wrigley in 1988, the last team to have illuminated its ballpark was the Tigers, who began playing night games at Tiger Stadium in 1948.

After Tribune Co. bought the Cubs in 1981, general manager Dallas Green began to make noise about wanting lights — for the same reason I noted above, competition — and in 1984, had the Cubs made it to the World Series, they would have lost a home game due to the lack of lights (they did NOT lose a NLCS home game that year, as I definitively proved here in 2018). The next year the Cubs were told in July, and Green wrote to season-ticket holders, that if the Cubs won the NL East they would not be able to play home postseason games at Wrigley Field. Green wrote that those games would likely be played in “another National League Eastern Division stadium which our players are most familiar with,” later stated to be Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

That was all made moot when the Cubs didn’t win the division, but Green’s letter also hinted that if lights were not permitted to be constructed at Wrigley, the team would consider moving out of the ballpark. Click here to read Green’s letter dated July 19, 1985. For more on the history of night baseball at Wrigley Field, check out this excellent MLB.com article written by Anthony Castrovince last year.

To make a very long story short, after lengthy negotiations with the city and state, lights were approved and constructed in mid-1988. Seven night games were played that year and the city ordinance permitted 18 per year through 2002. That limit was later extended through 2003, and a revised ordinance was passed allowing 22 night games in 2004, 26 in 2005 and 30 in 2006 and subsequent years. As noted above, that limit was increased to 35 (with additional games/events allowed under certain conditions) by another revised ordinance in 2013, and that’s where we stand now.

Friday night games are prohibited by the current ordinance, though a few exceptions have been approved, such as those this year noted above. This ban is patently ridiculous, as several Friday night concerts have been held at Wrigley in recent years. From a neighborhood point of view there is literally no difference having 40,000 people in the ballpark for a concert or for a baseball game. I have written nine articles here since 2017 calling for the city to lift the Friday night baseball game ban, especially when the Cubs have a Friday home game immediately after a Thursday night road game (this was permitted this past June). In 2022, the Cubs’ schedule calls for this to potentially occur only once. The Cubs are scheduled for a home game Friday, August 5 against the Marlins and are in St. Louis Thursday, August 4. The Cardinals have not yet posted 2022 home game times, but if that August 4 game is scheduled at night, the city council should allow the Cubs to play at night at Wrigley Field Friday, August 5.

Back in 1988 when the first night game ordinance was approved, there were scare tactics and overblown worries that the neighborhood around Wrigley would be vandalized, as reported by the New York Times:

The City Council passed the ordinance early this evening after a debate of nearly three hours that involved strong opposition from community groups and political leaders in the North Side neighborhoods surrounding the ballpark.

They argued that night baseball would bring parking congestion, crime and rowdy fans to their neighborhoods, and that the ordinance adopted tonight did not go far enough in dealing with those problems.

Sharon Lenihan, who lives near the stadium, said she was angered by the decision. ‘’If I were a Cubs fan, I’d stay out of that neighborhood at night,’’ she said. ‘’There is going to be vandalism.’’

The Los Angeles Times reported essentially the same thing:

But the vote left irate residents of the Wrigleyville area surrounding the ballpark crying “foul.” They say night games will rob residents of scarce on-street parking spaces and turn the peaceful, tree-lined neighborhood into a summertime haven for drunks staggering out of the ballpark and nearby bars.

“Lights will mean total chaos,” moaned Dennis Kowal, who has lived less than a block from the park for 43 years. “We wouldn’t have no rest, no peace.”

Reality: None of that has happened. Zone permit parking for residents has alleviated parking issues and in fact, the Cubs allow residents to park in one of their lots on non-game days. There hasn’t been vandalism; in fact, the neighborhood around the ballpark is probably safer now than it’s ever been. The Cubs help with security and cleanup after both day games and night games. Under both Tribune Co. ownership and that of the Ricketts family, the team has generally been a good neighbor.

Further, as I noted above, we now stand more than 33 years past the first night game at Wrigley. The overwhelming majority of people who live near the ballpark have moved there since night baseball has become a thing at Wrigley. Not only is the neighborhood safe and clean, property values have soared. Moreover, the Cubs have begun to play some night games with a 6:40 p.m. start, acknowledging games are getting longer. This helps clear fans out of the neighborhood and get home earlier. Personally, I love the 6:40 p.m. starts and hope that soon the Cubs will start all home night games at that time.

Next year’s schedule already has 35 night games listed, and even with the Cubs potentially not being a contender in 2022, they are usually a good national TV draw, especially when facing the Cardinals. I would expect at least five Saturday and/or Sunday dates to be switched to night games at the request of Fox-TV and ESPN, making a total of a minimum of 40 night games at Wrigley in 2022. Weekend night games are usually given a start time in the 6 p.m. CT hour for national TV, so they also end a bit earlier.

So I’m asking: Why would it be a problem at this point for the ordinance to be repealed so the Cubs could play 50 or so home night games? That would be close to the MLB average and more than teams like the Tigers (40) and Twins (41) played in 2021. It would give the Cubs more of a competitive advantage, and still preserve some of the tradition of day games at Wrigley Field, which I acknowledge are loved by many. Even now, though, day games at Wrigley are largely on weekends and the occasional weekday afternoon “getaway day” contest.

It’s way past time for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and the rest of the Chicago City Council to drop its opposition to more night games at Wrigley Field. The last change to the ordinance, in 2013, happened nearly a decade ago. Here’s an article quoting Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney about the problems the Cubs face in scheduling because of the night game limit. Kenney concludes:

“Quite honestly, it should be lifted at this point,” Kenney said. “We’re one of the few teams that not only has to beat everyone in our division, we also have to beat the city that we play in to try and win games. It’s a very odd situation for us, and it’s one that I got to be honest, four times a year I go to the owners’ meetings, and the other team presidents and owners watch what’s happening in Chicago, and they can’t understand it. Because in those cities, they’re getting new ballpark built for them, and they’re getting street closures and … there’s no night game limitations. They look at Chicago and say they just can’t understand it.

“The real answer is at some point we’d love to not be handicapped, as no other team in baseball is by the number of night games you play. You know, we just keep working on it.”

That article, quoting Kenney from a radio interview on 670 The Score, is from July 2017, more than four years ago. It’s way past time for the city to allow the Cubs to host more night games to help them competitively and it wouldn’t be too onerous on a neighborhood now accustomed to night baseball for more than three decades.

Get it done, Ald. Tunney and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Poll

Regarding night games at Wrigley Field...

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Yes! More night games would be better from a competitive standpoint, and easier for many to watch on TV
    (272 votes)
  • 11%
    No! I love day baseball and there should be fewer night games
    (52 votes)
  • 13%
    The current setup is fine, don’t change it
    (60 votes)
  • 11%
    Don’t care either way
    (51 votes)
435 votes total Vote Now