100 years ago today, on April 23, 1914, Wrigley Field opened in Chicago. At the time, the stadium was called Weegham Park and it was the home of the Whales, not the Cubs. The Whales — part of the short-lived Federal League — took the field that day against the Kansas City Packers. The Whales won 9-1. Today, Wrigley Field celebrates 100 years of continuous
losing use — a marvel considering that 80% of current major league stadiums are less than twenty-five years old. This week, On Remand looks back at the history of Wrigley Field and the decades-long dispute over what happens there after dark….
In the few years after that first opening day, the Cubs would replace the Whales and Weegham Park would become Wrigley Field. When the Whales’ league dissolved in 1915, Charles Weeghman bought the Cubs — who had won back-to-back World Series titles at Chicago’s West Side Park in 1907 and 1908 — and moved them to Weegham Park. In 1926, a few years after William Wrigley Jr. acquired the team, the stadium was renamed “Wrigley Field.”
Wrigley Field’s signature elements came a bit later, during the tenure of William’s son, Philip K. Wrigley. The curvy, red and white marquee, proclaiming the home of the Cubs, was added at the park’s entrance on Clark and Addison in 1934 (though it was green then). The ivy on the outfield wall, the centerfield bleachers, and the hand-turned scoreboard were added in 1937. These additions were part of P.K. Wrigley’s vision to emphasize the park in “ballpark” and create a space that appealed to people interested in picnics, not baseball. According to columnist and Cubs fan George Will, P.K. Wrigley cared more about the beauty of the park than the quality of the players occupying it. Will summarized the business model as: “Serve cold beer in a pretty place and the score will not matter.” And in fact, an economist and sportswriter have data to back up the hypothesis: attendance at Cubs’ games is more sensitive to beer prices than to the team’s win-loss record. That’s excellent news for the Cubbies, who haven’t won a World Series in more than 100 years or played in one since 1945. Such futility will make even the most loyal fans thirsty for copious amounts of Old Style.
But not everyone praised P.K. Wrigley’s vision. In particular, his resistance to installing stadium lights angered William Shlensky, a 27 year-old attorney and graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, who in 1966 still owned the two shares of Cubs stock that his father had given him on his fourteenth birthday. By then, Wrigley Field was already on its way to relic status. Because it had no stadium lights, the Cubs were the only major league team with no night games, when over half of major league baseball games were played at night. Shlensky thought that installing lights at the field and playing evening games might increase attendance and stem four years of operating losses. But P.K. Wrigley believed baseball was “a daytime sport” and, in any event, felt that lights and evening games would disturb the residential neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field. Fed up, in 1966 Shlensky filed a suit against P.K. Wrigley and the Chicago National League Ball Club, alleging that Wrigley and the directors were acting against the Club’s best interests. The Court refused to light the way, holding that the “business judgment rule” forbade judicial interference absent evidence of fraud or illegality.
The dispute flickered on again in the 1980s, after Tribune Company acquired the Cubs and ordered a feasibility study on adding lights to the park. Shortly thereafter, both the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago passed laws imposing noise pollution rules and restricting night games. The laws were cleverly drafted: of all the sports stadiums in Illinois at the time, only Wrigley Field was affected. So, in 1985, the Cubs sued to stop enforcement of the laws on the grounds that they were unconstitutional. The Lovable Losers’ lawyers struck out. In a strongly worded opinion, the judge accused the Cubs and major league baseball of having lost their perspective and their values:
[The Cubs and the commissioner of baseball] ask 55,000 neighbors to forgo a community free of nighttime distractions. They ask that the voices and votes of more than 200 legislators be ignored.
The scheme which has major league baseball trashing a residential community and tinkering with the quality of life aspirations of countless households so that television royalties might more easily flow into the coffers of 25 distant sports moguls is not consonant with present day concepts of right and justice. Indeed, it is repugnant to common decency.
The Illinois Supreme Court reviewed the decision in the fall of 1985. With less vitriol, Justice Ward affirmed the decision, stating that the city and state had constitutional authority to protect public health and safety and that the laws were enacted to prevent a public nuisance. The Cubs had also argued that the laws were a violation of equal protection because it was the only stadium affected. But because the laws neither disadvantaged a “suspect classification” or infringed a fundamental right, Ward stated that the laws needed only a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest. That test was easily met, according to Ward, as the laws were designed to minimize noise in urban settings, where more people would be affected due to the large and dense population. Moreover, targeting night games was appropriate as more people would be at home in “restful and quieter pursuits.”
Finally, after years of defeat, in February 1988, Chicago city aldermen approved an agreement that would allow a limited number of night games at Wrigley. On the catchy date of 8-8-88, a 91-year-old Cubs fan (perhaps the only person alive that had seen the Cubs win a World Series) threw the switch, illuminating the Cubs and the Phillies. Rick Sutcliffe threw the game’s first pitch, losing sight of home plate when a battery of camera flashes fired in unison. His fourth pitch found the strike zone. Phillies’ leadoff hitter Phil Bradley connected for a line drive that cleared the Wrigley bleachers and landed on Waveland Avenue. But it didn’t count. After three and a half-innings, and a lengthy rain delay, the umpire called the game. According to MLB’s official rule, the game was classified a “No Game” (it did not last long enough) and never even made it into the record books. Wrigley’s first “official” night game took place the following night, August 9, 1988.
While anticlimactic for some, a Chicagoan named Fred White turned the rainout into a business opportunity. A few weeks before the August 8, 1988 debut of Wrigley Field’s lights, Chicagoland Processing Corporation, with permission from MLB, began advertising a medallion commemorating Wrigley’s first night game. When White introduced a competing medal, MLB’s attorneys discouraged him from advertising it. White complied. But about a year later, White had an idea: how about a medallion commemorating the “real” first lighted night game – August 9, 1988? So, White ran an ad in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Now Available: The First Official Night Game in Wrigley Field, August 9, 1988, one ounce silver proof commemorative Medal.” Chicagoland Processing Corp. promptly sued White for false and misleading advertising. But the judge found the short ad neither false nor misleading, stating:
When the rain poured from the Chicago skies on the night of August 8, 1988, it put to an early end the first baseball game played under the lights at Wrigley Field — so early, in fact, that the game never became official under major league baseball rules. . . . Most people understood what the rainout meant; [Chicagoland] apparently does not.
If you missed out on the 1988 medallions, it is not too late to get a medallion, shirt, cap, or other item commemorating Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday. Although Wrigley is celebrating its centennial year with special events and merchandise, it hopes to move on from its past and shed its reputation as a museum by modernizing the park (including adding a jumbotron and more advertising billboards, a sore subject with rooftop owners) and winning. But today, Wrigley Field willingly embraces its history. When the Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks show up on the field today, they will honor Wrigley Field’s first game: the Cubs will wear Chicago Federals (as the Whales were sometimes known) uniforms and the Diamondbacks will don Kansas City Packers jerseys. It’s a day game, of course.
Marquee At Wrigley Field A Beloved Relic [Cubs.com]
From The Archives: A Timeline Of The Fight For Lights At Wrigley [Chicago Sun-Times]
The Cubs Get Lights At Wrigley Field [Chicago Tribune]
Samantha Beckett (not her real name) is an attorney with more than ten years of experience working in Biglaw. When not traveling back in time, she is most likely billing it. Her writing has been featured in state and federal courts across the nation and in the inboxes of countless clients, colleagues, and NSA analysts. She can be reached at OnRemand@gmail.com.