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 Seemingly overnight, the ballpark transformed from a slowly decaying, outdated, quirky facility to a 40,000-seat singles bar, a tourist attraction, and a baseball shrine.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.

1938: Hartnett’s Homer in the Gloamin’

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Oct. 7, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It was perhaps the most dramatic moment in Cubs history and was once considered one of the clutch hits in baseball history. Old-timers like my grandfather have always enjoyed sharing with me their recollections of Gabby Hartnett’s 1938 “Homer in the Gloamin’,” but unfortunately there aren’t many people around anymore who can share their firsthand recollections of the event.

 

Its glow has faded thanks to the unrelenting forward progress of time and the fact that it was not captured on film. In the 79 years since in happened, Hartnett’s blow has been surpassed by other home runs in the collective consciousness of baseball fans – Bobby Thomson’s in 1951, Bill Mazeroski’s in 1960, Carlton Fisk’s in 1975, Kirk Gibson’s in 1988, and Joe Carter’s in 1993.

My late grandfather was 18 years old in 1938 and has seen thousands of Cubs games and he insists that listening to the play-by-play account of Hartnett’s home run on the radio has always remained his biggest thrill in regards to his favorite team.

Hartnett, who had been the Cubs’ star catcher since 1922, was appointed the team’s player-manager on July 21, 1938. Hartnett, who at the time was widely considered as the greatest catcher in baseball history, replaced Charlie Grimm as skipper, 81 games into the season with the Cubs in third place, 5 1/2 games behind first-place Pittsburgh. The North Siders were still seven games behind the Pirates on Sept. 3, but then mounted a dramatic Colorado Rockies-like charge by winning 18 of their next 21.When Dizzy Dean pitched the Cubs to a 2-1 victory over the Pirates on Sept. 27 in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field, the Pittsburgh lead had been trimmed to one-half game.

A crowd of 34,465 showed up at the Friendly Confines the next afternoon on a gloomy, overcast Wednesday to see if the Cubs could vault into first place.

The Cubs scored twice in the eighth inning to tie the game at 5. Fifty years before lights would be installed at Wrigley the impending late afternoon darkness was beginning to threaten play. The umpires announced that the ninth inning would be the last and under the rules of the time, it would be declared a tie game and would have to be made up in its entirety. Advantage, Pirates. An overtaxed Cubs pitching staff had already endured six doubleheaders in September.

Pirates reliever Mace Brown, using the darkening conditions to his advantage, easily retired the first two Cubs hitters – Phil Cavaretta and Carl Reynolds – in the bottom of the ninth. Just after 5:30 p.m., up stepped Hartnett and he quickly fell behind Brown 0-and-2.

Brown’s next pitch, a high fastball, caught too much of the plate and Gabby was ready, crushing a line drive into the darkening sky and depositing it into the first row of the left-field bleachers, just to the right of the “well” area. Bedlam ensued.

“I could hardly believe my eyes,” Pittsburgh left fielder Paul Waner told Lawrence S. Ritter in The Glory of Their Times (William Morrow, 1966). “The game was over, and I should have run into the clubhouse. But I didn’t. I just stood out there and watched Hartnett circle the bases, and take the lousy pennant with him. I just watched and wondered, sort of objectively, you know, how the devil he could get all the way around to touch home plate.

“You see, the crowd was in an uproar, absolutely gone wild. They ran onto the field like a bunch of maniacs, and his teammates and the crowd were mobbing Hartnett, and piling on top of him, and throwing him up in the air, and everything you could think of. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. So I just stood there in the outfield and stared, like I was sort of somebody else, and wondered what the chances were that he could actually make it all the way around the bases.”

By the time Hartnett reached second, he “couldn’t see third for all the players and fans there.” Once Hartnett reached third, he remembered that his feet never touched the ground until he reached home.

The Cubs completed a three-game series sweep on Sept. 29 and moved a game-and-a-half ahead of Pittsburgh.

“We could have beaten nine Babe Ruths that day,” Cubs second baseman Billy Herman remembered.

The Cubs clinched the pennant two days later.

Hail to the Chief: Presidents and baseball

“I’ll never forget the first time President Taft appeared at our ballpark, in the season of 1909. Our players got so excited that we booted the game away to the Red Sox.”
-Walter Johnson
Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Just five weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Commisioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sent a handwritten letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for Spring training camps,” Landis wrote. “However inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”

Roosevelt, in what became known as “The Green Light Letter,” responded to Landis the next day.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Woodrow Wilson did baseball no favors during World War I. Wilson’s “work or fight” order forced the 1918 season to end on Labor Day. That year’s World Series, between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, was played in early September.

The first president to host organized baseball teams at the White House was Andrew Johnson who met members of the Washington Nationals and Brooklyn Atlantics at the executive mansion on Aug. 30, 1865.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first all-professional team who completed an undefeated 1869 campaign, were honored that year at the White House by President Ulysses S. Grant.

The 1924 world champion Washington Senators
during their White House visit in 1925
(Library of Congress).

The first world championship team to be feted at the White House were the 1924 Washington Senators who paid a visit to President Calvin Coolidge the following year.

The world champion White House visit became an annual tradition during the Ronald Reagan administration. The Chicago Cubs – then known as the White Stockings – first visited the White House to see President Grover Cleveland following their offseason world tour in 1889 and paid their second visit to the White House last week during the final days of Barack Obama’s stay in office.

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States, was the first commander in chief to attend a major league game while in office when he witnessed the National League’s Washington Senators loss at home to the Cincinnati Reds on June 6, 1892. Harrison also attended the Senators’ game 19 days later when they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.

President William Howard Taft started a baseball tradition on April 14, 1910 when he attended Washington’s season opener against the Philadelphia Athletics at Griffith Stadium. Taft threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game from his front-row seat and then stayed to watch Walter Johnson shut out the Athletics, 3-0. Legend has it that the portly Taft, who tipped the scales at over 300 pounds, was feeling cramped in his seat. He stood up to stretch his legs midway through the seventh. Out of respect, other spectators also rose to their feet. The tradition of the “seventh inning stretch” was born.

Since Taft, every U.S. president, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has thrown a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day.

FDR owns the record with eight ceremonial first pitches between 1933 and 1941. Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy did not miss an opener during their three years in office.

Image result for john f. kennedy chicago white sox

President John F. Kennedy (left) was joined by managers
Mickey Vernon of the Washington Senators and Al Lopez
of the Chicago White Sox during pregame ceremonies on
Opening Day of 1961 at Griffith Stadium (JFK Presidential
Library).

On April 10, 1961, Kennedy attended Washington’s opener against the Chicago White Sox and was the guest of broadcaster Vince Lloyd on WGN-TV’s pregame “Lead-Off Man” show.

By that time, the ceremonial first pitch tradition had evolved to include two balls.

The second ball was sent to the White House as a presidential souvenir.

The first ball was a free-for-all. Players from both teams lined up in front of the presidential box. The president threw the ball into the crowd of players, like a groom hurling the bride’s garter into a crowd of bachelors at a wedding reception. The player lucky enough to catch the ball got to keep it.

Kennedy’s toss in 1961 was hauled in by Jim Rivera. The White Sox outfielder approached the presidential box and asked JFK to sign the baseball. The president sloppily scribbled his autograph on the ball and handed it back to Rivera.

White Sox trainer Ed Froelich, recalling the occasion years later to the Chicago Tribune’s David Condon, remembered that Rivera, upon inspecting the ball, barked at the president.

“What kind of garbage college is Harvard, where they don’t even teach you how to write?” Rivera shouted. “What kind of garbage writing is this? What is this garbage autograph? Do you think I can go into any tavern on the South Side and really say that the president of the United States signed this ball?”

Rivera shoved the ball back into Kennedy’s hands.

“Take this thing back and give me something other than this garbage autograph!” Rivera exclaimed.

Froehlich remembered that Kennedy laughed hysterically and wrote “JOHN F. KENNEDY” on the ball in big block letters.

Rivera looked at the baseball and told the president, “You know? You’re all right!”

President George Herbert Walker Bush – who was the captain of the baseball team while he attended Yale – attended all four Baltimore Orioles home openers during his one term in office and Herbert Hoover was a perfect 4-for-4 in attending Senators’ opening days during his time in office.

Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower each attended seven Washington opening days during their presidencies.

Gerald Ford had the ceremonial first pitch honors at the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia during the nation’s bicentennial celebration.

President Reagan, who once broadcast Chicago Cubs games for Des Moines, Iowa radio station WHO, showed up at Wrigley Field for a late-season game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 30, 1988. Reagan donned a Cubs jacket, strolled out on the field and from several feet in front of the pitcher’s mound, fired a pitch to Cubs catcher Damon Berryhill.

ESPN Does 30 for 30 on George W. Bush's First Pitch and the Healing Power of Baseball

President George W. Bush throws a perfect strike to Derek Jeter before Game 3 of the 2001 World
Series (still from Fox broadcast).

One of the highlights of George W. Bush’s presidency came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he let loose the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 30, 2001 before Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Bush, who wore a bulletproof vest beneath a New York Fire Department jacket, walked out to the mound and gave the crowd a thumb’s up before firing a perfect strike to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

As Bush, who once was a managing partner of the Texas Rangers, warmed up in the tunnel beneath the stands, Jeter warned the president to not bounce the ball.

“They will boo you,” Jeter told him.

” I was nervous, really nervous,” Bush recalled. “The ball felt like a shot put.”

It was an emotional and powerful moment.

“What President Bush told us without uttering a single word was that we could once again attempt to carry on our lives,” sportscaster Jim Gray told the Dallas Morning News. “What an amazing symbol it was. It’s a moment that when I think about it, I get goosebumps.”

Image result for obama first pitch

President Obama delivers to Cardinals star Albert Pujols before the 2009 All-Star
Game in St. Louis.

President Obama handled ceremonial first pitch honors at the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, at the Washington Nationals’ home opener in 2010 and before last year’s historic exhibition game in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

“We do a lot of tough stuff as president,” Obama told ESPN. “And by definition you don’t end up being president if you don’t handle stress well. [But] nothing is more stressful than throwing a first pitch.

“They just hand you the ball. And I don’t care if you’ve been practicing ahead of time. When they just hand you the ball…”