August 8, 1988, 35 years ago today: The Chicago Cubs finally play the first night game in the history of Wrigley Field. And it was memorable for its frustration. The nocturnal debut against Philadelphia was rained out after 3½ innings, so the first official night game at Wrigley was the one the following night, when the Cubs beat the Mets, 6-4. It was the last ballpark to play day games only, and some neighbors are still touchy about the lights. The Cubs were originally allowed 18 night games per year, none on the weekends.
A 2020 story at MLB.com recalled the fight over lights at the iconic ballpark. “In the 1980s, it was the Cubs vs. the C.U.B.S.—as in, Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine,” wrote Anthony Castrovince. “Representatives of the Wrigleyville neighborhood banded together to fight the Tribune Company at every turn in its plans to install lights at Wrigley. They were already irked about the parking problems, traffic and noise caused by 81 day games. They worried that rowdy, inebriated fans would cause even more havoc at night.”
Little-known (or at least little-remembered) fact: the urgency for lights at Wrigley was created by something that happened three years earlier. The Cubs were coming off a season that saw them make the postseason for the first time since 1945—and they got as far as the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the San Diego Padres. So when the Cubbies were in first place on Father’s Day in 1985, MLB told the team that if it made the World Series, all of its games would be on the road because of Wrigley Field’s inability to host night games.
The inevitability of lights was delayed when 1) the Cubs finished fourth in the NL East in 1985 with a 77-84 record, and 2) the franchise lost its case for lights in the Illinois Supreme Court in October of that year, meaning there would still be not night games at Wrigley. Then the Cubs threatened to move to the Chicago suburbs. WGN-TV ran a documentary in the fall of 1985 called “The Ivy Walls May Fall,” and the tide turned. Even in the Wrigleyville neighborhood. Currently, the Cubs are allowed to play 35 night games per season, still less than half of their home schedule.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)