Night Games

Speaking of Wrigley Field and night games.

During Spring Training, most teams play their games during the day, but occasionally, they play night games. The Braves did that today when they played the Tigers, and it got to thinking about when night games started. Like always, I looked it up and decided to bring it you as well.

Though night games did not occur in Major League Baseball until the 1930’s, it was a common practice in semi-pro, minor league, and Negro League games. The night games actually brought in a lot of attendance. But Major League Baseball wasn’t convinced. The owners believed that night games were a gimmick that would actually hurt the quality of baseball played on the field. Hitting, fielding, and pitching would be more difficult because the added light of day allows the players to see the ball better. Players would have trouble adjusting to night games and would, therefore, not play as well. There would be an increase in injuries. But the ultimate reason was that owners believed that fans wouldn’t support night games. Now, was any of this founded on logic or just excuses as owners and baseball refused changes in tradition, like they have since? Was it because they didn’t want to admit that other “lesser” leagues had figured it out first and they resisted to be stubborn?

Baseball would find out how theory worked as a result of Larry MacPhail. As owner of a minor-league team in Columbus, Ohio, MacPhail’s team greatly benefitted from night games that drew 30,000 more people over the 1930 season than the parent St. Louis Cardinals teams. The night games were a hit, but they had been for decades and the MLB still ignored them. In 1933, MacPhail became the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and Major League Baseball would have to listen. In fact, the National League allowed all of its 8 teams to play a maximum of 7 night games in the 1935 season. The Reds were the only team to accept. They would love that they did it. They averaged over 18,000 for night games and only 4,700 for day games.

Baseball, as usual, was still slow to change. The Brooklyn Dodgers would become the next team to play night games in 1938. The first American League team to play a night game would be the Philadelphia Athletics a year later. By the end of 1942, 11 of 16 teams had lights and were playing some night games. By the end of WWII, there was only one exception — the Chicago Cubs. They wouldn’t play a night game until 1988.

An interesting story comes along with the Cubs and night games. They contracted someone to put lights in for the 1942 season, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the team donated the lights and materials to the War Department. It is believed that Phillip Wrigley organized the attack on the naval base in order to avoid having to put in lights. Okay, that isn’t true, but it is believed that he was extremely happy to give up the materials and have a reason to avoid night games.

If you like useless information, go here to find the dates, opponents, and scores for the first night game of every franchise.

I know there are still purists out there who would prefer to see more day games. While I would as well, I wonder about the practicality. One of the biggest reasons (other than novelty) for the success of night games is that people are off from work. If you start playing more day games, I wonder if the novelty for them now (isn’t it odd how night games used to be a novelty, but now, day games are?) would wear off and lead to decreased attendance for those games. However, when talking about building the future base of fans, you have to talk about kids. Day games are the perfect opportunities for day cares to bring kids to games (I know every time I go see the Bats play, there are tons of little kids during the summer), and exposing them would help build their passion for the game, which would ultimately lead to increased attendance in the future. I guess Wrigley Field hasn’t seen too much of a decline in attendance while still playing predominantly day games. Any thoughts?

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2 Responses to “Night Games”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    The first recorded night game in history (an experiment) was on August 28th, 1910. The day my grandfather was born.

    Doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of life, but it’s cool to me.

  2. lar Says:

    I love the note about the Wrigley Field lights and World War II. I wonder how many Cubs fans know that?

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