On this day in 1988, the Chicago Cubs host the first night game in the history of Wrigley Field.
The first-ever night game in professional baseball took place nearly 60 years earlier, on May 2, 1930, when a Des Moines, Iowa, team hosted Wichita for a Western League game. The match-up drew 12,000 people at a time when Des Moines was averaging just 600 fans per game. Evening games soon became popular in the minors: As minor league ball clubs were routinely folding in the midst of the Great Depression, adaptable owners found the innovation a key to staying in business. The major leagues, though, took five years to catch up to their small-town counterparts.
The first big league night game took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 24, 1935, and drew 25,000 fans. The crowd stood by as President Franklin D. Roosevelt symbolically switched on the lights from Washington, D.C. To capitalize on their new evening fan base, the Reds played a night game that year against every National League team–eight games in total–and despite their lousy record of 68-85, paid attendance rose 117 percent. Over the next 13 seasons, the rest of the major league parks followed suit, with one exception, Wrigley Field, which by 1988 was the second oldest ballpark in use after Boston’s Fenway Park. For 74 seasons, the Cubs played only day games at home. Finally, on August 8, 1988, the Cubs played the Philadelphia Phillies in the park’s first night game. Ninety-one-year-old Cubs fan Harry Grossman was chosen to turn on the lights. After counting to three, he flipped the switch, and announced “Let there be light.”
Rick Sutcliffe started the game for the Cubs, and gave up a home run to Phil Bradley of the Phillies on his fourth pitch. The Cubs’ star second baseman Ryne Sandberg answered with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning, and with the Cubs leading in the bottom of the fourth inning 3-1, the game was called due to rain. Because the five innings needed for the game to be official were not completed, Wrigley’s first night game is officially recorded as a 6-4 win over the New York Mets on August 9, 1988.
Today, the Cubs are the only major league team that still plays the majority of its home games during the day.