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Cubs dealing with many of same issues from historic first night game

Updated: September 9, 2013 2:55PM



I remember it like it was a quarter-century ago.

Or yesterday.

Or 1800.

That first night game at Wrigley Field, on this date 25 years past, was such a big event you might have thought somebody had invented electricity and Old Style simultaneously.

As it was, the hot afternoon progressed and the sky’s glow dimmed. And when the lights took effect, there were the Friendly Confines illuminated like, well, every other major-league ballpark in the world.

There had been plenty of ­controversy, of course.

Nothing beyond dirt-raking and gum-scraping can happen at Wrigley Field without controversy. Since the beginning of time, or at least 1914, there had not been night games at Wrigley. And according to many — neighbors, baseball “purists,’’ dark-sky cultists — there never should be.

Baseball started out being played in daylight, and who were the Cubs to change something God had decreed? If God wanted night games, He would have had light poles grow out of the ivy and light bulbs sprout from the Andy Frain ushers’ heads.

In truth, the fuss and the game and the lighting were all so … Cub-like.

First of all, the Cubs have to be kicked in the rear every so often just to move into the world inhabited by everybody else. And there were Cubs fans and neighbors resisting that every kick.

The all-day-games home schedule was wonderful in a lazier, simpler time. Kids, grandmas and — as Jack Brickhouse called them — shut-ins could watch all summer long on WGN-TV and never have to worry about missing dinner. You could set your clock by that 1:20 p.m. start

Former president Dallas Green decided that a few 3:05 games might be enjoyable for working fans and healthy for players who went out on the town and didn’t like to get up first thing in the morning. You can read Rush Street there if you’d like.

Again, 3:05 starts were seen by certain critics as sins taken directly from the devil’s playbook.

But they happened, and by 1988 the Cubs had mastered the message enough to be allowed to have some games under the lights. August 8 came, and when I got my press pass for the epic game, I remember staring at it something like the way a Pilgrim might have stared at that first stalk of corn growing from the garden with a fish buried underneath.

Bill Murray came on pregame with announcer Harry Caray, whose gigantic, black-framed glasses looked like twin lariats glued together and stuck on a potato. Murray was hilarious, and there was magic in the air.

Actually, it was moisture and storm clouds.

With Cubs leading the Phillies 3-1 in the fourth inning, the rain came gushing down, and all the good vibes were washed away like popcorn down the gum-stained aisles.

There was no rain let-up in sight — or at least what you could see under the glorious new lights — and eventually the game was called.

Of course, the Cubs would be ahead. And, of course, it didn’t count. (The Cubs would beat the Mets 6-4 in the first official night game the next day.)

Oh, yeah. And, of course, that had been one of the driest summers anyone could remember. Until then.

Do you see a trend here? Do you see Cub-ness in microcosm on that first non-day, rain-lost, beautifully illuminated and irrelevant event?

I do.

Indeed, I remember one day in the weeks preceding the big non-game taking a tour with former team president Don Grenesko — a guy I had once waited tables with at a restaurant in Evanston — and seeing not only plans for lights at Wrigley but also places where Grenesko had said the trappings for the lights had been stored.

The plans were from the 1940s, but World War II had interfered, and the copper wires and such had been given up for the defense effort. It only took 43 years to get the lighting plan back on track.

Hilarious, huh?

In my view, it is directly ­analogous to tormented plans today that the Ricketts family claims it needs to bring the Cubs back into the major leagues, as we know them.

The massive Jumbotron, the hotel, the walkway, the signage — it’s the lights issue of 25 years ago made modern.

As I recall, that first sort-of night game had been lovely to watch. And oddly retro.

The Cubs were 14 games under .500 and in fourth place in their division.

It wasn’t déjà vu. It was just like forever.



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