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Night game

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A night game is a game which is played with the use of artificial lights. On June 5, 1883, a night game between amateur teams from Quincy, IL and Fort Wayne, IN took place in Fort Wayne using 17 lights, most suspended on masts.[1] On July 7, 1909, the Grand Rapids Wolverines of the Central League beat the Zanesville Infants 11 to 10 at home in what was thought to be the first night game in organized baseball[2]. The game was an exhibition game and did not count in league standings, so it was not considered an organized baseball game. This does not seem to have led to any follow-up, and the regular playing of baseball under the lights did not develop until two decades later.

The first night game in Organized baseball, played in Independence, KS on April 28, 1930, between the Muskogee Chiefs and Independence Producers of the Western Association. That game was played under permanent lights. Four days later, on May 2nd, another game was played in Des Moines, IA, also under permanent lights. Portable lights were also used by Negro League teams during that decade. In spite of all these pioneering efforts, the technology did not immediately reach the major leagues.

The first major league night game was not played until May 24, 1935, when the Cincinnati Reds defeated the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1. It was a big deal at the time, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned on the switch from the White House in Washington, DC, to fire up the lights at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, OH.

It took a while for the controversial practice of playing at night to take hold outside Cincinnati. The second city to host a game under the lights was Brooklyn, NY, where the first night game was played at Ebbets Field on June 15, 1938; that night, Johnny Vander Meer pitched the second of two consecutive no-hitters as the visiting Reds defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers, 6-0. One year later, on May 16, 1939, the first American League game to be played at night took place, with the Philadelphia Athletics losing to the visiting Cleveland Indians, 8-3.

Night games were originally seen as a novelty in the majors, they were a staple in the Negro Leagues, with the Kansas City Monarchs travelling with their own set of portable lights so that they could stage lucrative night contests anywhere. Starting in 1930, they would play night games on a regular basis, both at home and on the road. So the practice was well established before the white major leagues got into the act. It then expanded considerably during World War II. While one may think there may have been a concern about using electricity and enforcing curfews at that time, there was an even bigger concern about allowing workers in production industries access to some entertainment outside working hours, and weekly night games were seen as an option. Thus, they had become an accepted part of the baseball culture by the time the war ended. In the 1950s, a number of teams designed special satin uniforms to use in night games, as the reflected light gave them a particular shine. That practice was soon discontinued.

Most teams quickly adopted night games and installed permanent lighting facilities in their home ballparks (the first games had been played with temporary lighting installations). The last American League team to host a night game were the Detroit Tigers, who waited until 1948­, but the one holdout in the National League was much longer. The Chicago Cubs at first did not want to play under lights, and later were prevented from doing so because of opposition from neighborhood residents around Wrigley Field. In the 1960s, the Cubs expected to move to new modern digs in the short term and did not press the issue, but when plans to build a new joint facility to be shared with the Chicago White Sox were definitely abandoned later that decade, the issue became more pressing. Municipal politics got involved and the fight became very bitter by the early 1980s. When the Cubs lost home field advantage in the 1984 National League Championship Series because they could not host night games in accordance with Major League Baseball's contract with television broadcasters, the issue became unavoidable. A deal was reached which allowed the first night game to be played at Wrigley on August 8, 1988; ironically, it was rained out after four innings. The first official game thus had to wait until the following evening, and the number of night games played annually by the Cubs remains limited by a municipal ordinance.

Other long-held taboos included playing night games on Sunday, something which was only allowed when the Houston Colt .45s joined the National League in 1962, a concession to the stifling mid-summer heat of Texas, and night games in the World Series. Today, there is at least one nationally-televised night game played every Sunday during the regular season. The first night game in the World Series was Game 4 of the 1971 World Series; today all World Series games are played as night games - the last day game was Game 6 of the 1987 World Series, which ironically was played indoors and thus under lights as well.

Prior to the introduction of lights, nightfall acted as a natural limit to the length of baseball games, as games that went on too long would be called due to darkness, with rules similar to those applying to rainouts. Nowadays, if a game must be interrupted because of darkness - for example, because of a power problem - it is only suspended and will be completed at a later date. This rule also governed games played at Wrigley Field in its last decades as the only major league ballpark without lights.

See also[edit]


Further Reading[edit]

  • Charlie Bevis: Baseball Under the Lights: The Rise of the Night Game, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2021. ISBN 978-1-4766-8015-6
  • Oscar Eddleton: "Under the Lights", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 9, 1980 [1]
  • Bill McCurdy: "Houston’s Role in the Initiation of Sunday Night Baseball", in Cecilia Tan, ed.: Baseball in the Space Age: Houston since 1961, The National Pastime, SABR, 2014, pp. 5-9.
  • Mark Metcalf: "Organized Baseball's Night Birth", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 45, Number 2 (Fall 2016), pp. 47-49.
  • David Pietrusza: Lights On!: The Wild, Century-Long Saga of Night Baseball, Scarecrow Press, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, MD, 1997. ISBN 978-0810833074

Related Sites[edit]