#Shortstops: Light Comes to Wrigley Field

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Janey Murray

On Aug. 8, 1988 – 40 years after the Detroit Tigers became the penultimate team to install lights at their stadium – the lights came on at Wrigley Field.

The process of illuminating the historic stadium was not an easy one. Despite decades having passed since the rest of the league began playing night games, many people still opposed the decision to start playing under the lights at Wrigley.

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.

The group created T-shirts to publicize its message, one of which is preserved in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection. The yellow T-shirt reads, “No Lights! In Wrigley Field / Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine” on the front, and “Support Day Baseball,” across the back.

The influence of C.U.B.S. was quickly felt in 1982, when the Illinois State Legislature approved a statute prohibiting night games in cities of more than one million people in stadiums that didn’t already play them. A year later, in 1983, the City Council passed an ordinance barring night games in any stadium with more than 10,000 seats that was within 500 feet of 100 or more dwelling units.

The Cubs pressed on, arguing against the bans before the Illinois Supreme Court in 1985. They were unsuccessful, as the Supreme Court ruled that the laws against night games constituted reasonable uses of government power and didn’t discriminate unfairly against the Cubs.

''I'm disappointed,” then MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth said in a statement after the ruling. “Those against the use of lights in Wrigley Field for very minimal use – a maximum of 18 regular-season games, the LCS and the World Series – are probably very happy with the Illinois Supreme Court's decision. What they don't realize is that they are dimming the future of Wrigley Field, one of the landmarks of baseball, whose loss will be felt by baseball fans everywhere.''

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.

The lights were installed in April, and the first night game was scheduled for Aug. 8, when the Cubs would take on the Philadelphia Phillies. Members of C.U.B.S. were present on that historic night, surveying the area to monitor fan behavior and ensure rules were enforced.

The lights went on that night at 6:09 p.m. However, since rain postponed the game after 3½ innings, the first official night game was not completed until the following night, when the Cubs defeated the New York Mets 6-4.

And while C.U.B.S. ultimately failed to keep lights out of Wrigley Field, they didn’t see their efforts as a complete failure.

"One of the reasons Wrigley Field has remained, and is as popular as it is, is that we made it a worldwide icon based on sunshine and green," Charlotte Newfeld, chairwoman of C.U.B.S., told the Chicago Tribune in 2014. "It was that campaign on 'No Lights' that did it."

Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series