Sunday, August 8, 2010

This Day in Sports Law: The Cubs say "Let There Be Light"

Today, August 8, is the 22d anniversary of the first night game at Wrigley Field, between the Cubs and the Phillies. Or at least the first attempted night game. Play was called because of rain after 3 1/2 innings--which many took as a sign from God--and the first official game was played the following evening, against the Mets. So the date still is appropriate, even if you do not read this until tomorrow.

This is an appropriate part of our "This Day in Sports Law" series, since the whole thing occurred in the shadow of zoning and land-use wrangling, primarily between the residents of Wrigleyville (supported by state and local government) and the Cubs and Major League Baseball. The Cubs began pushing for lights in the early 1980s, even threatening to leave Wrigley. In 1984, MLB Commissioner Peter Uebberoth threatened that if the Cubs made the World Series, their home games would be move to Busch Stadium (a threat that became moot when the Cubs gagged a 2-0 NLCS lead to San Diego). The City Council dug in, initially passing an ordinance that effectively banned night baseball in Chicago (grandfathering in Comiskey Park); the Illinois General Assembly did the same. The controversy even worked its way into an underrated Chicago movie, Nothing in Common, where Tom Hanks is approached to sign a "No Lights at Wrigley" petition and Hanks says he already signed.

The City finally relented, agreeing to a maximum of 18 night games each season, none on Fridays or Saturdays, with sharp restrictions on street parking to push people into paid lots or onto the El. The numerical limit has been played with--the Cubs play 28 night home games this year, although the Friday/Saturday restriction remains in place (most of the night games are Mondays and Tuesdays, when the team returns from a road trip).

I began going to Wrigley regularly during college, after lights had been installed, so I missed the great debate. But I always have enjoyed night games there (I should add that I have an aerial photograph from this night hanging in my office). They did a wonderful job in designing the lighting system. They used wide, low rows of lights rather than tall towers. And the lights sit atop the park roof, which only extends (basically) foul line to foul line, so there are no lights behind the outfield or directly behind home plate. This gives the place a unique glow--almost like a municipal park.

The park also plays very differently at night, especially in spring and fall--the cold weather means the wind blows in and it plays like a pitcher's ballpark.