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Chicago remembers 'Opening Night'

Chicago remembers 'Opening Night'

CHICAGO -- Twenty years ago, a Chicago-area sportswriter joined in the chorus of day baseball purists and wrote that Cubs home games should only be played in the sunshine, not under 1,500-watt lamps.

"Leave the lights off, and the gentle ballpark at Clark and Addison would continue to blend into the surrounding brownstones," the columnist wrote. "Somehow the intimacy is lost in the lights, installed because of progress and postseason play."

Nobody listened. On Aug. 8, 1988, 91-year-old Harry Grossman flipped a switch and Wrigley Field joined the modern era. It was the last Major League ballpark to get lights, and the 540 floodlights beamed across the diamond, allowing the Cubs to play their first night game.

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Actually, they only played 3 1/2 innings before summer rains washed out the game between the Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies. On Aug. 9, 1988, the Chicago Tribune editorialized: "Someone up there seems to take day baseball seriously."

The first complete night game did take place the next evening, when the Cubs defeated the New York Mets, 6-4. But this Friday, when the Cubs play host to the St. Louis Cardinals, it will mark the 20th anniversary of night baseball at Wrigley Field. Do you still have an "8-8-88" T-shirt commemorating the event? What about a ticket stub? Few people would turn in their little piece of history for a rain check.

"We had a great event," said Don Grenesko, then the Cubs executive vice president of business operations. "We just didn't get the game in."

I have a couple copies of the souvenir program from that night. A panoramic photo of what was dubbed "Opening Night" is on my home office wall, complete with the gray incoming rain clouds. It was an historic, once-in-a-lifetime event, and also a necessary one, economically. This was the first time that a Major League ballpark had switched on since Tiger Stadium, then Briggs Stadium, inaugurated its $400,000 lighting system on June 15, 1948.

The Cubs' system cost considerably more. The $5 million lighting system, which included six banks of lights on 33-foot steel towers, was installed along the first-base and third-base sides. The team had battled the Chicago City Council, and finally got approval, after agreeing to play a limited number of night games.

The lights had been tested on July 25, during a charity event in which players took batting practice and held a home run hitting contest.

"I think the future of Wrigley Field is secure and assured because of the installation of this modern convenience," said then-National League president A. Bartlett Giamatti, who was among the more than 3,000 people attending the "Under the Lights" event.

The Cubs' ticket office received 1.8 million phone calls on the day that the remaining 8,000 tickets went on sale for the Aug. 8 game. There were a then-record 556 media credentials issued, the most for a regular-season baseball game. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer, Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, and baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.


"I'll tell you what, I will never forget the first pitch, because as I wound up and turned to look at the plate, it was -- I don't even know how to describe it. I was almost blinded by all the flashcubes and lights that went off. I don't know how many people flashed their camera at that time, but I totally lost home plate. Somebody said later it was close. Well, I couldn't argue. I had no idea where it went."
-- Former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe on throwing the first pitch on "Opening Night"

"This is like a postseason game in August," said Joe Altobelli, one of the Cubs coaches. "This must be something or all these people wouldn't be here. Wrigley Field is like the last of the Mohicans. It's a bright moment for baseball, comparable to Opening Day and the World Series."

For Opening Night, the team found Grossman, who went to his first game in 1906 and had watched the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play combination. Shortly after 6 p.m. CT, Grossman and broadcaster Jack Brickhouse led the countdown, "Three, two, one -- let there be lights."

As the lights slowly glowed, musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," which you may know better as the music from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." The broadcasters wore tuxedos, with the exception of Harry Caray. He was a purist. Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams tossed out ceremonial first pitches. Organist Gary Pressy's first song was "You Light Up My Life."

"I wish I was playing," Banks said. "This is a historic event. It's really exciting."

The night game ended a streak of 5,687 consecutive home day games at Wrigley Field. There would be no more games suspended because of darkness -- there had been 24 from 1945-1987.

Not everyone welcomed the change.

"It's blasphemy," said former St. Louis pitcher Rick Horton. "For the visiting players, the trip to Chicago was the best. You had the sun beating down on you, the smell of the green grass. Then, after the game, you could go out for a nice dinner like a normal person and have a night on the town. It was great."

There were protesters, led by Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine (CUBS). Michael Quigley, then vice president of CUBS, was upset that some residents were charging admission to watch the game from their rooftops across the street from Wrigley Field.

Play by Play, Aug. 8, 1988
PHILLIES FIRST

Phil Bradley, HR to LF
Milt Thompson, groundout, 5-3
Juan Samuel, flyout, 8
Mike Schmidt, foul popup, 3

CUBS FIRST

Mitch Webster, single to CF
Ryne Sandberg, HR to LF
Mark Grace, lineout, 3
Andre Dawson, struck out swinging
Rafael Palmeiro, flyout, 8

PHILLIES SECOND

Lance Parrish, groundout, 3 unassisted
Chris James, foul popup, 3
Ricky Jordan, single Steve Jeltz, single, Jordan to third
Kevin Gross, popup, 6

CUBS SECOND

Vance Law, foul popup, 3
Damon Berryhill, double to LF
Shawon Dunston, flyout, 8
Rick Sutcliffe, walk. (Berryhill to third, wild pitch)
Webster, groundout, 3

PHILLIES THIRD

Bradley, groundout, 5-3
Thompson, groundout, 5-3
Samuel, double to RF
Schmidt, groundout, 6-3

CUBS THIRD

Sandberg, walk
Grace, sacrifice, 3 unassisted, Sandberg to second
Dawson, groundout, 5-3, Sandberg to third
Palmeiro, single to RF, Sandberg scored
Palmeiro caught stealing, 2-4

PHILLIES FOURTH

Parrish called out on strikes
James, groundout, 1-4-3
Jordan, triple to RF
Jeltz, struck out swinging

GAME CALLED BECAUSE OF RAIN.

"One guy is even thinking about putting a skybox up there. Can you believe that?" Quigley said at the time.

Little did he know.

Rick Sutcliffe started for the Cubs, and first pitch was at 7:01 p.m. It was a ball.

"I'll tell you what, I will never forget the first pitch, because as I wound up and turned to look at the plate, it was -- I don't even know how to describe it," Sutcliffe said. "I was almost blinded by all the flashcubes and lights that went off. I don't know how many people flashed their camera at that time, but I totally lost home plate. Somebody said later it was close. Well, I couldn't argue. I had no idea where it went."

Philadelphia's Phil Bradley was the batter, and Sutcliffe did see his fourth pitch sail over the left-field bleachers for a home run.

"You see how far that first home run [by Bradley] went? You've got to have good stuff to have a guy hit that one that far off you," Sutcliffe said.

In the Chicago first, Mitch Webster led off against the Phillies' Kevin Gross with a single. Morganna, the "Kissing Bandit," somehow got onto the field near the Phillies dugout and made a beeline for Ryne Sandberg, who had just stepped into the batter's box. She was intercepted by security guards before she got to the infield. Sandberg then hit the first night home run for a Cubs player at Wrigley Field.

"It was kind of fun, kind of loosened me up, and I ended up having a good at-bat," Sandberg said.

The Cubs led, 3-1, in the fourth, and everything was perfect, but then the rains came.

"Actually, I thought it was a visitation," actor Bill Murray said. "A 'Wrath of God' type thing. I thought we were all going to be electrocuted for coming to a night game at Wrigley Field."

Steve Stone, now the White Sox radio broadcaster, was in the WGN TV booth that night.

"It was wet," Stone said. "We had a [2-hour, 10-minute] rain delay that we had to kill in tuxedos under blazing hot lights because WGN in those days never cut away. So we were bringing in people from anywhere we could find them to try and kill the time.

"I remember that what should have been 8/8/88 was actually 8/9/88," he said. "That particular night was one of the most uncomfortable I had every spent in a tuxedo. I think the next time I wore one was my wedding, but I'm not sure."

Maybe it was the electricity in the crowd and on the new light standards that inspired four Cubs players to belly flop on the tarp. About 15 fans took advantage of the delay to run onto the slick tarp, but they were arrested and taken to nearby Town Hall lockup. Four Cubs players -- Greg Maddux, Al Nipper, Les Lancaster and Jody Davis -- also ran onto the field and slid headfirst on the tarp. They were not handcuffed, but were fined. Cubs general manager Jim Frey was not amused.

"I'd do it again," said Davis, now the manager of the Cubs' Class A Daytona team. "It'd just be harder to come up with the $500."

"It was cool," Maddux said Sunday. "It was kind of like Opening Day, that type of experience, only bigger. We had a two-hour delay, and were trying to pass the time and someone said, 'Let's slide on the tarp.' I had my sliding brothers, Jody Davis, Les Lancaster and Al Nipper. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Jim Frey, I think, fined us for it. It was a $500 slip-and-slide, but it was fun."

After a 2-hour, 10-minute rain delay, home-plate umpire Eric Gregg called the game, and all the stats were wiped off the record books.

"Someone said earlier that it's kind of like the good Lord letting us know he's a little sad, too," Sutcliffe said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. Corey Brock contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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