Somewhere lurking in the bottom of my boyhood toybox, scattered beneath a wave of late 80's Topps baseball cards and stained Sporting News', sits a photo of my first game at Wrigley Field. In the photo, my face is squinting trying to add the numbers on the manual scoreboard. Behind me, you can see the remainder of the upper deck on the first base side.
There are no suites.
There are no stadium lights sitting atop the overhang.
My first game was on June 5th, 1987. Within the next 500 days, the Cubs would go from being the last major league team without lights to being...just another major league team.
The lights had come to symbolize a form of Cubs uniqueness; a team wholly inept with a gimmick to match. The Cubs playing during the day made them an easier destination for the nighttime workers: cabbies, musicians, bartenders, and third shift security.
The Cubs became the team of housewives during the 60's, 70's, and 80's. They were the respite to the old soaps of General Hospital and As the World Turns.
The Cubs became the team for kids running home after school. They were the extra viewing option when Scooby-Doo or Fat Albert didn't do the trick.
If the Cubs got lights, what would they be?
In 1988, we would find out. City Hall approved an ordinance in early 1988 to give the Cubs 18 night games per season. The consternation between neighborhood and ballclub was finally dead. Bring on the night-filled orgies of wanton drunkenness!
On August 8th, 1988 the Cubs would meet the Philadelphia Phillies for their first night game in team history. For every eight year old kid who followed the Cubs, the moment would be the closest thing to the World Series we'd feel for quite some time. Night baseball at Wrigley Field only existed in the corners of our mind.
The original game on WGN would be rained out. The first real game, was played on national TV against the prime-time New York Mets. Wrigley Field was going to have a national night game at home. Maybe our franchise wouldn't be the little kids anymore.
The fears of 'what Wrigley would become' paled in comparison to the onslaught of money that would pour into the East Lakeview neighborhood over those next couple years.
The night games went from 18 to 21 to 25 to 30 and so on. The Cubs, who played all of their regular season games on WGN would branch out to cable outlets by the mid 90's. The team of 'Suspended Due to Darkness' was just another major league franchise; albeit, tucked inside an old city neighborhood.
And then, that neighborhood would change. The bars got bigger, the bros got bro-ier, and the apartments got richer.
The Cubs would get new buyers, and Wrigley would get bigger. The bleachers, the restaurants, the hotels...all bigger.
In these 30 years since 'the end of the neighborhood', I think a lot to that photo of me at old Wrigley. I think of what we've lost since then, but also what we've gained. It feels to me, and probably immensely biased on my end, that the Cubs had to shed that old loser smell.
We needed the night games. We needed the suites. We needed the seats. We needed the revenue. We needed it to win.
In exchange, the team of the people and the outcasts died a slow, corporate death in exchange for the rock and roll Cubs we have to day.
It only took 25-30 years. I like this smell better; I'll keep the photo for nostalgia.
Filed under: Chicago Cubs