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A Cubsmas Advent Calendar: Let there be (new) lights at Wrigley Field

The 2023 season saw new lights at the home of the Cubs.

The lights at Wrigley Field at sunset
Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

This is Day Five of a Cubsmas Advent Calendar. You can read the explanation for the project and Day One here.

There were a number of wonderful moments that happened at Wrigley Field during the 2023 season, and quite a few of them happened beneath the glow of new LED lights at the Friendly Confines. The lights at Wrigley Field are one of the many historic and unique features of the ballpark. While Wrigley Field was originally slated to have lights installed in 1942, geopolitics had other ideas as Al wrote here at Bleed Cubbie Blue in 2020:

You’ve heard the story before, no doubt — P.K. Wrigley, owner of the Cubs, had decided to join his fellow team owners in installing lights at his ballpark. Wrigley Field was going to be lighted artificially in 1942, and Wrigley had gone so far as to have blueprints drawn up and steel ordered.

Then World War II intervened:

But then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Wrigley called off the project in favor of proving his patriotism by donating the steel to the war effort’s defense plant. However, it ironically likely ended up as lighting for the local race track, which had begun holding nighttime events.

It would take decades for the Cubs to add lights to Wrigley Field after World War II and day baseball is still an institution on the North Side of Chicago. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main reason was stalwart resistance to night baseball from the residents of Lakeview, as Janey Murray wrote for the Baseball Hall of Fame:

In the 1930s, when the first stadiums began installing lights, then-Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley resisted doing the same at Wrigley Field. The ballpark is in the heart of Lakeview, a residential Chicago neighborhood, and residents feared night games would bring nuisances like excessive noise, public drunkenness and increased vandalism to the area.

Once the Tribune Company purchased the Cubs in 1981, the new owners began exploring the possibility of hosting night games at Wrigley Field. But they were met with almost immediate opposition from a new community organization called C.U.B.S. (Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine), which fought against the installation of lights at Wrigley, warning it would be detrimental to their neighborhood.

Incidentally, I have been looking for one of the original “NO LIGHTS! At Wrigley Field” shirts for years, and if anyone ever gets a beat on one that isn’t a knockoff please let me know.

That said, the stalemate over lights at Wrigley Field was finally broken when the lack of lighting threatened the Cubs’ ability to host the 1990 All-Star Game and/or potential future postseason games, as Murray continued:

If the bans against night games persisted for much longer, problems would have arisen for the Cubs. The lack of lights was a potential threat to their bid to host the 1990 All-Star Game, and any playoff games might have been played at night elsewhere due to the particulars of the league’s TV contract.

But on Feb. 25, 1988, the Cubs finally broke through, when the Chicago City Council voted to remove the ban, allowing 18 night games per year. There would be light at Wrigley Field in 1988.

We all know what happened next (Greg Maddux using the tarp as a Slip and Slide not included):

Last year the lights from that 1988 installation were finally replaced with brighter, LED varieties. The difference is amazing, the field is much brighter and more evenly lit. So in April, Cubs fans were treated to the birth of an addition to one of our favorite traditions as the Cubs demonstrated their new ability to “Light The W” during Go Cubs Go:

Here’s hoping the Cubs Light the W just a few more times at Wrigley Field in 2024. With a little luck, that might even result in the first ever lighting of the W in the Postseason at Wrigley Field.