Memories of 8-8-88

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Aug. 8, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The 1984 Cubs ushered in the “yuppie era” at Wrigley Field. Seemingly overnight, the ballpark transformed from a slowly decaying, outdated, quirky facility to a 40,000-seat singles bar, a tourist attraction, and a baseball shrine. Harry Caray went from being an old, washed-up White Sox announcer to the hip grandfatherly Cub Fan, Bud Man. The bars that surrounded the park changed from quaint family-owned dives with juke boxes to corporate-owned establishments with dee jays. In the old days, the surrounding rooftops were usually empty and only occasionally would someone be seen watching the game from an across-the-street perch. After Ryno, Jody, The Sarge, and The Penguin, the rooftops became Big Business.

When the Tribune Company bought the Cubs, they expressed their desire to install lights at Wrigley Field but the ball did not really begin rolling until the explosion in the Cubs’ popularity after the ’84 division championship season.

There was some opposition to night baseball from groups like Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine, but with Major League Baseball applying much of the pressure, the installation of lights at Wrigley Field seemed inevitable. On Feb. 25, 1988, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance permitting the Cubs to play 18 night games annually through 2002. Eight night games were permitted for the 1988 season.

Construction of Wrigley Field’s six light towers began on April 7, 1988 and was completed on June 21.

The 1988 eight-game slate of night games was announced by the Cubs on June 20 with the first scheduled for Aug. 8. Demand for tickets to the 8-8-88 game was so great that a promotion by WGN Radio and True Value awarding 500 tickets received 400,000 applicants.

It certainly was the first baseball game at Wrigley Field scheduled under lights, but it was not the first night game. On Friday, June 25, 1943 the Cubs and Cardinals played a game at the Friendly Confines that was promoted as a “twilight game” and began at 6 p.m. Cubs pitcher Hi Bithorn, no doubt aided by the long shadows of the grandstand, pitched a two-hit complete game in the Cubs’ 6-0 victory.

The game lasted 2 hours, 17 minutes and was completed 13 minutes before sunset on what is one of the longest days of the year. As the Cardinals batted in the ninth, I imagine that it resembled a scene that played out in our neighborhood on so many occasions while I was growing up. Our evening pickup games would continue until we couldn’t see the ball, long after the streetlights had gone on.

As novel as that evening, it was not a rousing success at the box office. A wartime crowd of just 6.620 turned out which helps explain why the game has been long forgotten. I’ve never heard any of the old-timer Cubs fans I know discuss it. It also explains why the promotion was not repeated in subsequent years.

The Cubs’ 1943 season attendance of 508,247 was and still is the lowest total for the franchise since 1921 (strike years included).

Back to 1988:

I lucked out and had a pair of tickets to the Cubs-Phillies game on Monday, Aug. 8, 1988. I was 18. I purchased the tickets early in the season (they still listed a starting time of 1:20 p.m.), long before the night schedule was announced. The thought of scalping the tickets never crossed my mind.

I considered taking a friend to the game, but it was only a fleeting thought. My 68-year-old grandfather was the reason I was a Cubs fan and by far was the person who had taken me to the most games. Realizing the significance of the evening, it was a no-brainer. I had to take Pops.

Aug. 8 was typical hot and sticky Chicago summer day with the temperature in the 90s and no breeze to speak of. As Pops and I exited the Red Line train at the Addison stop, we noted that the flags atop the center-field were limp.

The Cubs announced that they were opening the park that night an hour earlier than usual, at 4:30, and we decided that we wanted to be there when the gates were raised. We wanted to be there for all the pregame festivities and also wanted to take advantage of a rare opportunity to watch the Cubs take batting practice.

The Cubs are usually done with BP by the time the Wrigley gates open. I’ve seen visiting teams take their pregame hacks at the Friendly Confines on hundreds of occasions, but that special night 22 years ago is still the only time I have seen the Cubs take BP in their home ballpark.

We had long been in our seats in Section 209, Row 15 and the grandstand was about half full when master of ceremonies Jack Brickhouse introduced 91-year-old Harry Grossman at 6 p.m. The crowd was instructed to holler, “Let there be lights!” on the count of three. When we did so, at 6:06 p.m., Grossman hit a switch that ended a 74-year tradition on the North Side. Hell had frozen over.

I asked my grandfather if he ever thought he’d live long enough to see what was happening before our eyes. He shook his head and i could see that he was choked up. It was a bittersweet moment for a man who attended his first game at Wrigley Field in the 1930s. The emotions that must have been washing over him were something that, because of my age and relative lack of experience as a fan, I could not totally relate to.

As the ballpark continued to fill up, the atmosphere that was developing was anything but typical. It reminded me of a postseason crowd – a lot of big shots and many more who were either casual fans or not Cubs fans at all. The event had taken precedence over the game.

Shortly after 7 p.m., in the instant that Rick Sutcliffe delivered the game’s first pitch to Philadelphia’s Phil Bradley, hundreds of flashbulbs lit up Wrigley Field. Three pitches later, Bradley launched a drive onto Waveland Avenue. It was an inauspicious start.

But Mitch Webster opened the bottom of the first with a line-drive single off Phillies starter Kevin Gross.

Up next was Ryne Sandberg and as the future Hall of Famer strolled to the batter’s box, Morganna “The Kissing Bandit” emerged from a section along the right-field line near the Phillies bullpen and charged toward home plate. The well-endowed trespasser never came close to planting one on Ryno. She was intercepted by several security guards by the time she reached the infield dirt and quickly was led away. The crowd booed.

On my tape of that evening’s broadcast, Steve Stone described what a great job the security crew did in apprehending Morganna.

“They may have done a great job, but it doesn’t say much for their imaginations,” was Caray’s response.

When the game resumed, Sandberg promptly homered into the left-field bleachers, near the well area, to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. The Cubs handed out white “Opening Night” caps (it remains one of my prized possessions) to fans as they passed through the turnstiles, and as Sandberg trotted around the bases, the fans waved their caps in the air. The Wrigley Field stands were a sea of white.

The Cubs added another run in he third inning, but by that time it was obvious that a storm was near. A stiff breeze kicked up and the air became noticeably cooler. Rumbles of thunder could be heard.

As the always-deliberate Sutcliffe worked in the top of the fourth, a flash of lightning caused the crowd to shutter and several moments later, at around 8:30, it started to, in the words of my grandfather, “Rain like hell.” The tarp was unrolled and placed over the infield.

Fortunately, the upper deck sheltered us from the deluge. As we waited for play to hopefully resume, we drank beer, we talked, we drank some more beer, we talked some more.

At about 9:30, a very young Greg Maddux, Jody Davis, Les Lancaster, and Al Nipper emerged from the Cubs dugout and entertained the crowd with several tarp slides. It was funny, but I also remember being concerned about our young 15-game winner’s health. Fortunately, there wasn’t a Cubbie Occurence but the quartet was later fined by a less-than-amused manager Don Zimmer.

Predictably, some fans, taking a cue from Maddux and Co., also decided to join in the tarp-sliding fun. Security spent much of the next hour running down those yahoos.

It continued to pour and at 10:30, umpire Jim Quick emerged from the third-base dugout and signaled to those who remained that the game was called. All records were scrapped and the game was replayed in its entirety as part of a September doubleheader.

The first official game under the lights was played on Aug. 9 as the Cubs topped the New York Mets 6-4.

I relaized that my Aug. 8 ticket stubs were possibly of value, but couldn’t pass up a free game. I exchanged them at the Wrigley Field box office and I took Pops to see the Cubs lose to the Cardinals on Sept. 16. It was as unmemorable as the Aug. 8 rainout was memorable. Oh well.

A popular theory regarding the Cubs’ failure to win a National League pennant since 1945 was the lack of night baseball at Wrigley Field until 1988. Playing under the sun on a daily basis, wore down the Cubs year after year. This maybe so, but pitcher Bill Hands, who won 20 games for the 1969 Cubs, disagreed.

In The Cubs of ’69 (Contemporary Books, 1989), Hands told Rick Talley that exclusive day baseball provided the Cubs with the ultimate homefield advantage. While Cubs players were often at home with their families getting a good night’s sleep, visiting teams were carousing on Division Street late into the night.

“If we would have won, everybody would be playing more day games today,” Hands said.

Chris and Ronnie’s grand night

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on July 6, 2010.

I lost interest in the All-Star Game long ago, but when I was a kid the Midsummer Classic was a very big deal.

The evolution of the separate but equal major leagues into the baseball equivalent of the NFC and AFC was well underway by 1983, but the National and American leagues of that era had distinct identities. Interleague play was a gimmick that was still far ahead in the future.

The AL was the league of old, dumpy ballparks like Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Fenway Park. It used the designated hitter. It was over-reliant on home runs and under-reliant on strategies like the double-switch.

The NL was the hip, modern league with futuristic ballparks like the Astrodome and Riverfront Stadium. Pitchers batted. Astroturf was the playing surface in six of the league’s 12 ballparks, and the parks generally had spacious dimensions. Such an environment placed a premium on speed and defense. It was an exciting brand of baseball.

There were players like Dave Winfield, Ted Simmons, Nolan Ryan, and Greg Luzinski who switched leagues – but more players tended to play their entire careers in the same league back in those days.

I was 13 – heading into eighth grade – and still enjoying the time in my life when summers seemed to last for years. There were few worries and plenty of time for watching Cubs games on Channel 9, Little League, pickup ballgames, pool hopping, and trading baseball cards with my friends.

The 50th anniversary All-Star Game was scheduled for July 6, 1983 at the old Comiskey Park – exactly 50 years to the day of the first showcase that was played on the South Side during the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

My 11-year-old brother, Ronnie, and I didn’t dare dream of attending the game. It was an event reserved for Sox fans and big shots. We were neither.

My Aunt Bea was a huge White Sox fan – almost annoyingly so. She never could understand why we were Cubs fans. We were South Siders and as far as Aunt Bea was concerned, it was our duty to back the Sox. The Sox were cooler. They played night games. They had fireworks. They had a Diamond Vision scoreboard.

The Cubs played on the North Side, and as far as Aunt Bea was concerned, anywhere north of Madison Street may as well have been a foreign country.

Aunt Bea recognized the significance of an All-Star Game in Chicago and she was determined to have my brother and me experience it. When the Sox announced that they were selling non-reserved tickets for $5 each for the All-Star workout day and an old-timers game on July 5, she jumped at the chance and bought tickets.

We sat several rows behind the third-base dugout. I remember that it was claimed the old-timer’s game represented the biggest gathering of Hall of Famers at a place other than Cooperstown. It was the only time that I ever saw Joe DiMaggio in the flesh and, as an added bonus, I got to see a 45-year-old Billy Williams hit an upper-deck home run to right.

The All-Star workout was also very cool. We were able to see some of our favorites up close, like Dale Murphy, George Brett, and Robin Yount. Future major leaguers Bret and Aaron Boone, who sporting Phiadelphia Phillies uniforms and were there with their All-Star father Bob, played catch in the outfield.

And I’ll never forget the power display of San Francisco’s Darrell Evans during batting practice. Evans hit towering fly ball after towering fly ball on top of and over the right-field roof. It was breathtaking.

The next day, I was eating lunch in our kitchen when the phone rang. It was Aunt Bea. She told me that she had scored two tickets for the All-Star Game and wanted to know if my brother and me wanted to go. I didn’t even have to ask. The problem we had, though, was finding a ride to my aunt’s home in Bridgeport. My parents were both working.

Fortunately, I soon learned that our across-the-street neighbor, Mr. Quinn, was attending the game and he said he’d be glad to give us a lift.

It was the first time we had ever attended a ballgame without adults and the sellout crowd made it somewhat intimidating. But we were blessed to have aisle seats in the right-field upper deck and and a couple cool middle-aged guys seated to our right. They bought us soda, gave us some Babe Ruth postage stamps, and asked me a trivia question I remember to this day:

Who was the last switch-hitter to win a league MVP award?

My answer: Pete Rose.

The correct answer: Vida Blue in 1971.

The seats weren’t that great, but there were very few decent seats at the old Comiskey. There was very little leg room, less elbow room, far too many obstructed view seats, and too many seats that were much too far away from the field.

The highlight of the game, of course, was Fred Lynn’s grand slam off Atlee Hammaker – still the only grand slam in All-Star Game history – during the American League’s seven-run third inning. The AL rolled to a 13-3 victory to end an 11-game NL winning streak. Lynn’s home run sailed high into the air and disappeared into the lower deck below us.

Fourteen of the players who participated in the contest, if you include the soon-to-be-inducted Andre Dawson, were Hall of Famers. It was the final All-Star Game for Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski.

The outcome of the game had long been determined by the time Cubs representatives Leon Durham and Lee Smith saw action. We saw Morganna “The Kissing Bandit” unsuccessfully attempt to plant one on Fernando Valenzuela and I suspect that actor George Burns had to be awakened in the middle of the seventh in order to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

As we exited the ballpark with fireworks filling the sky, I was certain that it was my favorite baseball experience at a ballpark other than Wrigley Field – and it remains so more than 30 years later.

For Cubs fans, it’s a whole new ballgame

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It dawned on me while I was watching an NFL playoff game last weekend.

The “Most Years in Professional Sports Without Winning a Championship” graphic appeared on the screen. There were the familiar logos of the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Sacramento Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs. But for the first time in television history, the familiar Cubs bulls eye logo of the Cubs was nowhere to be found.

As the Cubs attempt to become just the fourth National Leaguue team to win back-to-back world championships and the first to accomplish the feat in 41 years, there will be no more references to the “lovable losers; no more recollections of 1945 or 1908; and no more talk of curses or goats or black cats or Leon Durham or Steve Bartman or deceased relatives.

The focus will be where it belongs – on the present, on this team, and on these players.

For most of my life, there were always fleeting moments in which I questioned the time, money, energy, and passion that i put into following Cubs baseball. I always reassured myself with the thoughts of how great it would be when the Cubs finally recorded that final out.

Sometimes when I build something up in my head, it fails to live up to expectations, but the joy I felt as Kris Bryant scooped up a grounder and threw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to retire Michael Martinez was as euphoric as I had hoped. it would be. It will continue to be a reference point for the rest of my life.

I understand that the nature of being a Cubs fan will never be the same and that the first championship will always seem like the most special, but I’m hoping last year was only the beginning of what I am confident will be a golden age of Cubs baseball.

The Yankees had their time, the Dodgers had their moments in the sun, the Cardinals have claimed more than their fair share of World Series trophies, and the Giants most recently have enjoyed a sustained streak of success.

Now, finally, it is our turn.

Around the majors

General manager Jerry DiPoto continued his very active offseason by acquiring left-hander Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for three minor leaguers. The 27-year-old Smyly was 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA in 30 starts with Tampa Bay last year. … The Oakland Athletics signed reliever Santiago Casilla to a two-year contract. Casilla, who spent the last seven seasons with the San Francisco Giants, had 31 saves last season but blew nine save opportunities. … Right-hander Zack Wheeler agreed to an $800,000, one-year contract with the New York Mets after missing two seasons because of a torn elbow ligament.

Photo of the day

Young fans perched atop a tree to watch the Cubs play
at Wrigley Field in 1932 (Vintage Baseball).

Best of the Web

“A bigger vote? Hall class size may drop jaws” by Barry M. Bloom (MLB.com)

 

Why I coach

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

I do it because it is the greatest sport in the world and I wish to share my love for it. I do it because I want kids to be active and spend their free time doing something constructive. I do it because I want kids to develop character and learn how to play the game the right way. I do it because I enjoy interacting with kids. I do it because I continually learn things about the game, about psychology, about competition, about myself. I coach baseball, devoting four to six months each year without pay, simply because it is fun.

Some people golf. Some people fish. I coach baseball. What a privilege!

It is an opportunity to teach the value of teamwork and pride, to motivate an often times wide variety of kids to work together for a common good, pay attention to detail, and achieve the best possible results.

I determine the way my teams play the game and how I conduct our practices determines how they play.

It is a responsibility that I take very seriously.

My goals are to provide my players with a positive example, to develop character, and to instill in my players the principles of living decent and productive lives. I want them to learn that any achievement of significance takes hard work and that the self-satisfaction of knowing you did your best is bliss.

The life lessons of baseball are plentiful.

My players and I have learned about handling failure – losing a game, striking out, making an error, walking a batter. We have learned about handling fear – fear of choking in the clutch, fear of making a mistake, fear of being hit by a pitch. We have learned about handling frustration – the frustration of a teammate commiting an error, of a batter hitting one on the button but lining out, of a pitcher making a great pitch and then watching it sail over an outfielder’s head. We have learned about handling embarassment – getting picked off or doubled up, dropping a fly ball. We have learned handling lonleliness – playing in the field and not having aby balls hit to you. We have learned about dealing with slumps. We have learned about adjusting to change – dealing with poor weather and field conditions; with a teammate’s absence or injury. We have learned about controlling our emotions – over our excitement, over our frustration with umpires.

Through these circumstances, we develop qualities like maturity, honesty, loyalty, adaptation, compassion, self-respect, respect for authority, teamwork, sacrifice, humility, and patience.

The relationships I have built with many of my players and families are greatly cherished.

I enjoy learning what makes them tick. I draw a great deal of satisfaction from watching players mature and improve. What a feeling when one of my players exceeds my expectations and what a feeling it is whenever I realize one of my players has exceeded his own expectations!

My son, Will, hasn’t played on all of my teams and he has played for coaches other than me. When he is on my team, it is an added bonus. I try to treat him as fairly as anyone else on the team. But it sure is quality time we get to spend together and I enjoy the fact that we are working together towards a meaningful, common goal.

It’s a heck of a way to spend a summer!

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Rajai DavisThe Oakland Athletics on Tuesday signed outfielder Rajai Davis (pictured right) to a one-year contract. The 36-year-old Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases last year. He hit .249 and hit a career-high 12 home runs in 134 games with the Cleveland Indians. His two-run, two-out homer off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth tied Game 7 of the World Series before the Indians fell in 10 innings. … The Cincinnati Reds signed reliever Drew Storen to a one-year contract. The 29-year-old Storen was 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 57 games with Toronto and Seattle last year. … The Arizona Diamondbacks traded outfielder Peter O’Brien to the Kansas City Royals for a minor league pitcher.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Chicago Cubs

Happy birthday, Kris Bryant!