s skippy the bush kangaroo: 8-8-88: it was 20 years ago today...everything changed - a skippy musing

skippy the bush kangaroo

Friday, August 08, 2008

8-8-88: it was 20 years ago today...everything changed - a skippy musing

altho tonite americans all over the nbc networks are focused on the olympics, we must needs take a moment to remember what this date means in the history of changing human paradigms.

of course, many will point to richard nixon's resignation as a turning point. others will say that this is anniversary of day that field order 17 from the 20th air force base in guam called for the bombing of nagasaki. yet others will insist that the date the kingsmen released louie louie will be a date that lives in infamy.

but presidents will always be crooks. and nations will always slaughter other nations. and rock and roll will always be impossible to understand, and therefore, obscene.

we are thinking more of that insidious event of exactly 20 years ago, august 8, 1988, which symbolizes the exact moment in the universe when everything changed; when everything that was good and pure and joyful about the human experience was forever destroyed.

no, not goose gossage getting his 300th save. not jose canseco becoming the 11th man to have 30 home runs and 30 steals in a season. not minnesota's 2nd triple-play of the year.

no, nothing so mundane. rather, we are talking about the day, or night, if you will, when they put lights in wrigley field.

you see, wrigley field was the last place in america where baseball was played on a national level as god designed it: in the daytime, lasting perhaps into the early dusk hours. it was the last place where the joy of the game reigned supreme over the commerce involved.

there is a palpable euphoria in feeling the tension between the relaxed and the focused, between the heat of the day and the coolness of the confident players, between the nonchalance and the professionalism, all found on a daytime ballfield.

because the majority of a baseball season falls within the summertime, when there are more daylight hours than anytime. a game that started at 4 pm in the summertime could reasonably be played out into the magical hours of dusk, when the warmth of the day's heat melds into the coolness of the upcoming night; when fireflies might just be fairies, and when the beginnings of a sunset, god's daily masterpiece of color and shape, fill the sky. it was no mistake that shakespeare wrote of a dream in the midsummer's night; dusk in the middle of july or august is the one time when, no matter what the stresses of the day were, all will seem right with the world.

and sitting with your family and friends in a ball stadium, as the twilight covered the earth, watching your home team stare intently across the plate at their competitors, waiting to see if your dream will be realized for once, or if, again, the players' best would not be good enough; all that would invariably produce a sense of calm and serendepity, no matter what the outcome.

and that's why, when wrigley field installed lights, the last bastion of purity was squashed like the cubs' hopes for a pennant always are on a yearly basis.

oh, make no mistake. any enterprize named after wrigley and his gum fortune has money as a goal. but as the last, lone hold-out to the greedfest that is night baseball, wrigley field held an important, if futile, place in the annals of human endeavor for the sake of human endeavor.

espn magazine, in one article in a series devoted (ironically) to the virtues of the lights in wrigley field, points out the difference between day and night baseball:

night baseball has its drawbacks. playoff games routinely end near midnight in the eastern time zone, too late for kids on a school night or adults who have to punch the clock in the morning. fans tend to leave early, and not just in los angeles. and it probably contributes to the "east coast" bias of the baseball media—when west coast night games start, much of the country is heading off to bed.

statistically, there's not much difference between day and night baseball. contrary to the common belief, scoring is essentially the same. for the fan, however, the feel is different. night games, especially those during the week, are rushed affairs. get off of work, fight traffic to the game, eat there or speed through dinner somewhere close to the park, down a couple of beers before last call and by 9:30, it's time to think about the commute home, getting ready for the following day.

and that's if there's no rain delay.

day games are more relaxed and time is rarely the issue. if it's the weekend, you've got your free evening ahead of you, if it's during the week, well, is there anything better than playing hooky at the ballpark?

thanks to a mix of travel logistics and nostalgia, day baseball is not dead. teams average about 50 day games a year, mostly on weekends (outside of the cubs), but there are get-away day games and the occasional businessman's special. despite its infrequency, if you asked most fans to picture their perfect baseball game, it would take place during the day.
(ironically, the first game played under the lights 20 years ago was rained out in the 4th inning, while the cubs were ahead.)

the last, pure form of unadulterated playing for the sake of the joy of it was finally silenced (or, should we say, lit up) twenty years ago this night. and from then on, it was only all about the benjamins.

player salaries sky-rocketed, as did the ticket prices, not to mention the concessions inside the parks. team owners are raking it in.

do we blame the lights in wrigley field for these problems? of course not. we are merely using them as a metaphor for the greed that is choking the game, and by extension, the world.

certainly much of what we say is merely nostalgia for our own youth spent at mile-hi stadium watching the triple a denver bears struggle to stay relevant (a struggle they eventually lost). and much is also misplaced rage at the inequities of our country's economic behemouth system, crushing the many while rewarding the few.

and, truth be told, we are part of the many, alas. perhaps we'd feel different about night baseball if we were part of the few.
posted by skippy at 9:03 PM |


A little trivia and history.

The Cubs were going to install lights in the Spring of 1942, but when the US entered WWII Wrigley donated all the lights, wiring and metal support pylons to the War Department. (It was already delivered and sitting there under the third base stands, ready to be installed as soon as the weather broke)

The Wrigley family sold the Cubs and Wrigley Field to the Republican boosting Chicago Tribune in 1981 for the paltry sum of $21.5 Million Dollars. The Tribune knew that Cubs games were the biggest money maker for WGN so they jumped at the offer.

When the Cubs made the Playoffs in 1984 the TV networks changed the schedule so that the Padres would get the 3 weekend games because they had lights. The Cubs were stuck with the opening M & T day games.

MLB made a ruling the next year that if the Cubs ever made the playoffs again their "home" games would have to be played in St. Louis because (at the time) that was the closest NL park.

After several years of legal wrangling the Tribune agreed to the City's demands and settled for a maximum of 15 night games NEVER to be held on Fridays, and the Cubs had to pay for a lot of police personnel and 2 new street sweepers (which were painted with the 'C' logo and pin stripes.

I was mad that I couldn't get the 8-8 tickets, and had to "settle" for 8-9, which turned out to be the official 'first' Opening Night.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 1:36 AM PDT  
I was also at what became the official first night game, completely by luck, thanks to Mother Nature.

As a lifelong Cubs fan, I have mixed feelings about the lights. My gut feeling is that since the lights, prices have skyrocketed and a day at game just isn't a family event anymore due to the prices. That makes me sad because we had so much fun as kids going with my dad. But $200 simply for tickets for a family of 4 is outrageous. The night games are fun, but it's a different crowd at night.

The lights also allowed the Cubs to host the All-Star Game, which MLB wouldn't have allowed without the lights.

Being at the first official night game is truly one of my favorite memories as a teenager and I wrote about it yesterday on my blog.

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