AUGUST 8, 1988. Wrigley Field. Chicago, Illinois. 8:05 p.m. EST. The Philadelphia Phillies, the visitors, versus the host Chicago Cubs. Kevin Gross (10-8, 3.45 ERA) faces Rick Sutcliffe (9-9, 3.79).
Baseball's most celebrated tradition is officially dead.
Never before has the light bulb, once considered the most innovative creation of the past 100 years, created so much hysteria. Run for your lives, the lights are on at Wrigley. Yogi and the fat lady can start singing now. It's going, going, gone.
Baseball has now paid its last respects to the past that has made it so great. Day games at Wrigley have now joined the Ghosts of Baseball Past. Ghosts that call each other "Babe" and "Dizzy," carry bats the size of Redwood trees, smother balls in Vaseline, spit and lard, pitch both games of a doubleheader (what's that?) and take the subway for a World Series game against cross-town rivals.
Today, it's all different. Baseball has become the sport of computerized Big Brother large-screen color televisions that tell fans when to cheer and whether the umpires muffed up the play at the plate. It has become the sport of artificial turf, covered roofs, ugly mascots, the ever-annoying Wave, gloves the size of California and huge beer ads.
AND, of course, it has become the sport of the night game--the microwave popcorn of major league baseball. Forget about fly balls lost in the sun--the modern fan longs for convenience. Once the lights went on at Wrigley last night, baseball stopped being the sport of escape. Along with 24-hour supermarkets, self-service gas statitons and VCRs, baseball has officially entered the land of convenience.
There's no need to quote Shakespeare with every ground ball that skips through the gap or label the installation of lights at Wrigley "a bastardization of the sport." Those who do are few and rare, kind of like an elite group of baseball-crazed marines.
Baseball purists tend to be a crazy breed. They live in the 1920s, wish they were in the Polo Grounds and wear black on the day Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox threw the World Series in 1919. Contrary to what these purists believe, baseball changes. Yet, maybe the average baseball fan could take a cue from them and learn that baseball in the 1980s would never survive without turning back to baseball at the turn of the century.
While it doesn't matter much if modern baseball fans forget what position Ernie Banks used to play, they shouldn't forget baseball's tradition. Without the purists, those average fans would never realize that it is this tradition that makes baseball the greatest game in the world. These purists will point to Joltin' Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Bobby Thompson's shot heard round the world. Both these moments, as well as many others, are what make up baseball's rich tradition.
EVER since the ivy began to grow on Wrigley's walls 73 years ago, the relationship between Chicago and its Cubs has been a part of that baseball tradition. The purists ask: why would fans be so fascinated by a perennial loser that they would fill up Wrigley on so many summer afternoons? Is it the fact that the Cubs always lose that draws in the crowd?
Maybe it is the opportunity to escape from the work rut, drink a few beers, grab a hot dog and soak in the Wrigley sun that sounds so appealing. If this has worked for the past 73 years, then why the sudden change?
Remember, Chicago's other perennial losers, the White Sox, play at night. If night games are so popular and convenient for the fan, then why are the Chisox packing their bags to Tampa while the Cubbies stay at Wrigley?
Chicago has now entered a new era. Gone are the days of the three-hour lunch. Gone are the days when school-kids dreaded detention because it meant no tickets for a 3 p.m. showdown against the Cardinals. Now, these kids can get in trouble all they want; Daddy will take them to Bat Night at 7:30 p.m.
Then there's Harry Caray, the voice of the Cubbies. Rumor has it that Caray has gotten so used to announcing afternoon games that he will fall asleep at night games.
"Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and ZZZZZZ!"
Don't forget the Cubs, either. With the lights now on at Wrigley, the Cubs can no longer blame the afternoon sun for bobbling pop flies with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
THE more practical experts say that the lights will make the Cubs see the ball better. The lights will be a blessing for pitchers. These experts have forgottten about whom they are talking. These are the Cubs, not the 1970 Orioles. They'll need more than GE bulbs to turn Al Nipper into Jim Palmer. At least, in the afternoon, opposing hitters can't see the ball.
The modern fans will say not every game at Wrigley will be played under the lights. There will be some day games. But day games will never again be the norm in baseball. The day game, once a baseball institution, is now a rare luxury, kind of like having guacamole with your chips. Or anchovies on your pizza.
Say it ain't so, Mr. Caray.