"Yeah, Gimme a Light"

NOW it's one thing to rail against astroturf. It's even understandable to get upset about the dreaded domed stadium. And for those purists who like to get involved in the annual wrangle over the designated hitter rule, fine.

But lights, electricity, the possibility of night baseball, that's taking this whole tradition angst a bit far.

Wrigley Field to be sure is a national treasure. The stands are right up close, the walls are covered with ivy and Harry Caray is there to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with the thousands of bare-chested Bleacher Bums. Baseball the way it ought to be.

Still, there's something disconcerting about the purists who view last night's first game under the lights at the old ball field as Black Monday. One novelist was interviewed some time ago about the impending tragedy. He waxed philosophical about the meaning of the game, the importance of leisure, the integrity of tradition and the greed and commercialism which are every day tugging at our American innocence. Turning the lights on is all part and parcel of such unfortunate trends, this keeper of the flame argued.

OF course as a novelist, his afternoons are free. No nine to five obligations for this pen pusher. Such is not the case for most folk, though, and there's just a bit of arrogance, dare I say elitism, in this novelist's attitude. Sitting in the stands on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Wrigley, clad in Polo shirt and docksiders, our novelist had forgotten the most important thing about major league baseball.

Unlike football or many of the other professional sports, just about anybody can catch a baseball game for under 10 bucks. Except for Chicagoans, that is.

The fact is, unless there are lights at Wrigley, not a whole lot of assembly line workers are going to get a chance to see a weekday game. The other point of course is that day games will still exist after the lights go on in Chitown. Every other team in the league has lights and they still hold weekday games in the afternoon. It's a case of the glass being half empty or half full. For the pessimists, it means the end of tradition. To the optimist, it means more baseball more of the time. Who could be against that?

George Will for one--and that should have been reason enough to convince any right-thinking fan to smile broadly last night. In the past few years, the Yogi Berras of the game have taken a back seat to what Stephen Jay Gould recently called the "pointy-heads." These are the people who see in every ground ball to short a reference to Shakespeare. Baseball's funny men loved their game, but, thank God, they knew it was a game and they didn't take it too seriously. Can you imagine Yogi saying, as the No Lights fanatics do, "It's a bastardization of a baseball tradition." The great Yankee catcher, king of the malaprop, would be more likely to wonder how it happened that the sun could still be shining at 9 p.m. in Wrigley.

It's true that the decision to have night games at Wrigley didn't come from an urge to open up the field to the masses. The almighty dollar was the motivating factor. But then again, if it weren't for greed, there would be no such thing as the Chicago Cubs to begin with.

One can only pity those who say turning on the lights at Wrigley is only a hop, skip and a jump away from turning every stadium in the country into a domed monstrosity. Paranoia is an unattractive trait. If it rained as often as it gets dark outside, like every single day, than maybe we'd need domed stadiums. But it doesn't, so we don't.

ERNIE Banks, Mr. Cub himself, the greatest power hitting shortstop of all time, made the best argument for night baseball at Wrigley. With the sun shining down on the green grass of Wrigley, Mr. Banks emerged from the dugout, gazed around the Friendly Confines and announced, "Let's play two."

If it's nice outside you play two, but you always, rain or shine, darkness or no, play one. That's a given. A bedrock assumption. So when it comes to the question of lights at Wrigley, I suggest we defer to Mr. Banks. After all, he socked more than 500 dingers, which to my mind makes him more of an authority on the game than Mr. Will.

BUTTING HEADS

The lights went on last night at Wrigley Field for the first time in 73 years. Is baseball doomed? Or has it entered a new era? Two Crimson editors present their views.