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 Seemingly overnight, the ballpark transformed from a slowly decaying, outdated, quirky facility to a 40,000-seat singles bar, a tourist attraction, and a baseball shrine.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

A better way to select Hall of Famers

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Baseball Lives by Mike Bryan was a wonderful book that I read while attending college.

Each of the book’s 55 chapters was devoted to first-person accounts of men and women who make a living working in professional baseball. The spectrum was immense and their perspectives were diverse. Bryan provided a forum for an owner, a general manager, a coach, a scout, and players who fulfilled various roles on a team. He spoke with a sportswriter, a broadcaster, and a public address announcer. He also talked to a bus driver, a team doctor, a seat vendor, and a groundskeeper.

All of Bryan’s subjects were thoughtful and intelligent and some were quite opinionated.

The book made me aware that the wide world of baseball extends far past the field. These diverse groups of people stitched together are what make up the game of baseball. Each group has its own perspective and its own biases.

So how silly is it that the writers, specifically active members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a tiny sliver of the baseball universe, are the sole arbiters of who gains membership in sports’ ultimate club?

The system is flawed. Too many people who are part of the process are not qualified and too many people shut out of the process are highly qualified .

Some of the balloting rules are nonsensical.

The BBWAA tightened its voting eligibility rules in 2007, But still, 440 ballots were cast last year and that’s way too many. Membership in the BBWAA is reserved for those who have covered baseball for at least 10 or more consecutive years and who have been active within the last decade. Membership is extended to sports editors and general sports columnists.

Some are well informed and take their votes very seriously. Others don’t.

Some solutions?

The current versions of the veterans committee – there are three that represent different eras of the game’s history and consider players who may have been overlooked on the writers’ ballot – should be done away with. There should only be one way into the Hall. The 75 percent election requirement should be retained, but other ballot rules should be scrapped.

There shouldn’t be a five-year waiting period. Players should be eligible upon retirement. There shouldn’t be a minimum annual vote requirement to remain on the ballot nor a maximum of 10 years on the ballot. Anybody who has played in the majors or contributed to baseball in a significant way should beopen to consideration.

I like the idea of a committee participating in the voting and the processes the the Hall of Fame board of directors uses to select individuals to participate in the voting could be emulated on a greater scale.

The super committee should be a better cross section of baseball than is represented by the BBWAA.

The writers should be represented on the committee but so should former players, managers and coaches, executives, scouts, umpires, broadcasters, and historians.

This would open up the process to former players who have a passionand appreciation for the game’s history like Ryne Sandberg, Lou Piniella, and Tim McCarver. Some of the game’s brightest minds like former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre would have input. Umpires like Doug Harvey and Bruce Froemming, men who have witnessed so much of the game’s history first-hand, would get to weigh in. Vin Scully, who was announcing games long before most readers of this post were born, would be involved. Scully and fellow broadcaters like Bob Uecker and Marty Brennaman have witnessed many more games than most of the writers who voted this year. And it would be great to get input from knowledgable historian/scholars of the game like Bill James, John Thorn, Ken Burns, and even George Will.

That’s eight groups. Twelve individuals should be selected to each group. That’s enough to fit into a big conference room. The voting process could begin with each subcommittee meeting to discuss the merits of prospective Hall of Famers. Then the committees could come together, presentations to the entire group could be made, there could be time for more discussion and debate, and the voting could commence. Seventy-five percent of the vote would still be required for election.

The writers would still have their biases. So would the players (the pompous Joe Morgan comes to mind). And so would every group. But the different factions would work as a check-and-balance system and give everybody a more fair shake

Far too many of the BBWAA act as if their vote is a birth right. Under my proposal, it would become more of an honor. Individuals would be eligible to serve on the Hall of Fame voting committee only once every four years. A fresh perspective would be brought to the process on an annual basis.

It would be a more just way of determining Hall of Fame worthiness.
I also have many ideas of how to reform and improve the American political system. But I’ll save those ideas for another place and another time.