Could it be that the final curse the star-crossed Cubs had to reverse was Major League Baseball’s building revolt against the last guardians of daytime baseball?
Let’s, for the moment, put aside the Billy Goat thing in 1945, Steve Bartman’s (quite reasonable) reach for a foul ball in 2003, the black cat moment in 1969, Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932, Leon Durham’s fielding flub in 1984. When the Cubs, after 112 years of only afternoon home games, attempted their first night contest at Wrigley Field on Aug. 8, 1988, a fourth-inning downpour wiped out the proceedings.
“Someone up there seems to take day baseball seriously,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized the next day, throwing in the quote from a fan convinced that the heavens’ negative retort to artificial illumination “proves the Cubs are cursed.”
Another 28 years on, the Cubs at last have broken that evil spell on the sport’s biggest stage.
To review: In 1982, then-Cubs general manager Dallas Green first proposed lights for the Friendly Confines. Television, he said, was dictating that the team play at night, and he said that if the Cubs were to make the playoffs, they would be forced to move post-season home games to the rival White Sox’ crosstown Comiskey Park. Or possibly St. Louis.
He hinted—darkly—that, without the installation of permanent lights at Wrigley, the club would have no choice but to move, mentioning a tract of undeveloped land in the Schaumburg suburb, Northwest of the city. About that time, Major League Baseball decreed that, should the Cubs ever return to the World Series for the first time since 1945, their home games would be shifted to an alternate, lighted site.
Sure enough, in 1984, in the midst of Green’s campaign to light up Wrigley, the last outdoor World Series day game was played. San Diego (which had benefited mightily from the Leon Durham error in the league championship series) at Detroit.
Now, think of Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub. Not, specifically, the “Let’s play two” Banks, always eager to go extra innings; more generally, the perpetually sunny-disposition Banks.
Think of C.U.B.S.—Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine—a 1980s neighborhood group on Chicago’s North Side that fought against the establishment of night baseball for the Cubs.
Think of a widely held notion at the time that putting lights at Wrigley was akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Think of Bill Veeck, the brilliant baseball executive who had been a Wrigley Field popcorn vendor as a boy and later was responsible for creating the distinctive touch of covering Wrigley’s outfield walls with ivy. To Veeck, Wrigley’s special charm was its commitment to day games, to “make people discover how lovely it is to come and sit in the sun and enjoy a game.”
When C.U.B.S. mobilized protests, its members said they would accept temporary lighting as long as the vast majority of games remained in the afternoon. But Dallas Green called them “inflexible.” In 1985, Green declared that the Cubs would be gone from Wrigley “in five years” unless permanent lights were installed. “We’re dead to this neighborhood,” he said then.
The first Major League regular-season game played at night was on May 24, 1935, in Cincinnati. By 1939, every team except the Cubs had installed permanent lighting, though it wasn’t until 1971 that a World Series game started after sundown—Baltimore at Pittsburgh.
So maybe MLB won out with the entire 2016 Cubs-Cleveland Indians World Series played under the lights. Did you notice, though, that when the Cubs finally threw off the hex of championship disappointment after 108 years, it was morning? 12:57 a.m.