Friday, August 08, 2008

Wrigley Field - August 8, 1988

8/8/88 was the date of the first scheduled Night Game to be played at Wrigley Field, the home of baseball's Chicago Cubs. The Cubs had been agitating for years to get permission from the City of Chicago to install lights at Wrigley Field and play night games at the then 74 year-old baseball palace at Clark and Addison Streets in Chicago. The strongest opposition to night games came from a group named Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine. CUBS, get it? They were adamant that night games never be played at Wrigley but things came to a head during the winter of 1988 and the City Council approved a license for a limited number of night games at Wrigley.

During that time I lived in Wrigleyville, directly across from Wrigley Field so I attended the neighborhood meetings that settled how the neighborhood would approach the city government and essentially what our demands would be to sign off on this change in a Chicago and neighborhood institution. The overwhelming attitude was to simply halt the construction of lights in Wrigley and deny the Cubs the right to play night games in Chicago. I attended many of the "neighborhood" meetings on the subject, that's when I realized that many of my neighbors were a wee bit nuts but I also realized that many of those "neighbors" did not live in the neighborhood. The major anti-lights group was Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine (CUBS), which was lead by Charlotte Newfeld, a woman who lived on Pine Grove, about a half mile from the field and across Broadway. Those meetings featured complainers from across the north side of Chicago, something that hurt those of us who actually lived in Wrigleyville.
The neighborhood meetings could have been focused on how to help the neighborhood, instead they often became liberal complaint sessions. The initial agreement between the city and the Cubs allowed for 8 night games in 1988 and 18 per year until 2002, the agreement allowed the Cubs to host the Major League All Star Game in 1990. Subsequent agreements allowed for night game parking regulations that gave us neighbors passes that restricted street parking to neighbors and guests. I was able to speak at those neighborhood meetings and repeatedly suggested that we should not concentrate on stopping what was clearly a done deal but rather that we should concentrate on what advantages we could get for the neighborhood itself. For my efforts I was repeatedly called a "corporate whore", lovely people. Ironically at that time I had not worked for any "corporation" for over five years. In the end we got nothing other than the parking passes and those "neighbors" had largely alienated the neighborhood from our neighbors the Cubs and left us with little or no bargaining room. That was all thanks to those wacky liberals, most of whom lived outside of the actual neighborhood.
A few years ago the Cubs expanded the bleachers and again the folks who lived in the neighborhood were asked for input and we were overwhelmed by those outside the neighborhood, liberal Chicago crazies. One group of objectors was lead by the late Jim Murphy, the owner of Murphy's Bleachers. It is not nice to speak ill of the dead but Murphy was a terrible neighbor and not a very good person to be around. The workers at his bar passed a misleading petition around the neighborhood (especially at EL stops) that asked the potential signers whether or not they wanted Cub fans to urinate on their lawns. The media used that ridiculous petition to make the case that the people in the neighborhood stood strongly against the expansion. Murphy also stated that because the expanded bleachers that would cantilever over the sidewalks that drunks would pass out underneath the eves. That is ignorant, drunks are as likely to pass out there as they are likely to pass out anywhere in the neighborhood. The fact is that passed out drunks are as likely to have gotten drunk at Murphy's as anywhere else. Murphy was aligned with other local bar owners who then hatched a plan to give "landmark" status to the entire neighborhood, thus taking some of the value from actual neighbors who lived in Wrigleyville so that those wealthy bar owners could continue to steal the Cubs' product by renting out their roof space.
Oh yeh, Ronny Woo Woo Wickers was also at those meetings because he held "a stake" in the neighborhood. For those who don't know him Ronnie is a nice guy who grew up west of Wrigleyville and has lived for years in shelters and rentals while attending most Cub home games thanks to the largess of players and fans. Ronnie is a nice guy but he clearly had no more stake in my neighborhood than any other outside Cub fan. Ronnie was not the only outsider who insisted that they knew better than the neighbors how the neighborhood should look. Most of the media went along with the silly notion that this was fight "for the neighbors". A CNN reporter from Atlanta and his cameraman almost attacked me for objecting to their story and for attempting to clue them in to the facts and background. Lovely people. They were just going along with the local media knowledge, I was interviewed by Anna Davlantes from NBC 5 and although she grew up west of Wrigleyville and attended Lane Tech she was equally clueless. Her cameraman got it, Anna didn't.
On the night of the first night game the Cubs played the Phillies, the game was called after three innings due to a downpour that hit the city. Before the game the neighborhood was flooded with people outside of the stadium, I had never seen that many people in the streets of Wrigleyville. Along with a friend who is a graphic designer I started a company to sell tee shirts featuring the first night game (Let There Be Lights), we could not keep the shirts in stock and we sold thousands that evening. Before the game started I got to my seat in the bleachers, a caged off area behind the seats along the back wall of the bleachers, we called those seats, the box. I met some friends and we were joined by reporters from Sports Illustrated (SI) and Sporting News, they were both amazed at the seats that we always sat in, seats that others turned up their noses at. The reporter from SI stated that "these are the best seats in baseball" due to the view of the game, the view of the fans, the view of the city and the freedom of movement. Our secret was out.
The game was rained out in the third inning so the first official game that was played under the lights at Wrigley was 8/9/88 against the Mets. The long-term effect on the neighborhood was that it brought a lot more money into the local bars and restaurants allowing them to expand and improve, places like the Cubby Bear suddenly had the money to book national acts and the local restaurants improved dramatically. Twenty years on and one of the lessons that I learned still stands, don't listen to Chicago "progressives".

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very one-sided and misleading article.

1:26 PM  
Blogger El Rider said...

This post contains the observations and the experiences of one person and on that level it is one-sided, however I take exception to your statement that it is "misleading." You leave no indication as to what may be "misleading", sure I left out Lenny Dykstra getting a beer dumped on his head in center field but these are the memories of somebody who was not part of the East Lakeview Chamber (if I'm not mistaken that organization had essentially been taken over by local bar owners during the period of bleacher expansion discussions) or any of the other local organizations so my observations are those of a person who lived within a block of Wrigley Field through that entire period, most of it as a property owner whose property taxes more than tripled in a decade.

Interestingly on the subject of the Bleacher expansion I found that nobody, including the Cubs themselves knew that Wrigley had used temporary, expanded Bleachers (they were not cantilevered, they used 2 x 4s supports down to the sidewalk) during the 1929 World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics.

Thanks for stopping by and go Cubs!

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Louis E. said...

May they lose every night game until they give up and stop playing night games!

11:29 PM  

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