Here we go again, yet another round of the national pastime about to be played largely at night, another baseball season in
which play under lights will be taken for granted.
Even the diehards in Chicago, who had held out for a half-century, finally accepted the idea -- or at least enough of
them so that lights have been shining since 1988 at the Wrigley Field home of the Cubs.
But just because no one has said much about it in recent years, don't think night baseball was calmly accepted anywhere.
Listen to Dan Daniel, one of the country's leading sportswriters back when most major league games were played in sunshine.
Daniel, writing in Sport magazine in 1947, described night baseball as "a thoroughly artificial concoction intensely
repugnant to the players." The previous year, said Daniel, the New York Yankees, the pace-setter for all of baseball,
drew 600,000 fans to the l4 games played "under the newly-erected arc lights in Yankee Stadium ... and there was a time
when the New York club would have been glad to accept that total for its entire home schedule of 77 games!"
The prospects for 1947 seemed even better. An early season game against the Boston Red Sox drew 74,747 fans to the stadium
-- "a new record, not only for a night contest, but for a single game played anywhere, anytime."
Pay in that era was so low that most players, for example, had to work full-time in the off-season, at whatever jobs they
could find. Yet Daniel encountered few players who realized that the larger crowds drawn by night games might bring them
larger salaries. Even the Red Sox manager, Joe Cronin, insisted that night baseball was "very bad. "
"When it comes to the player's reaction to the necessity of reporting at the ball park around six o'clock and starting
a game at about 8:30," said Daniel, "the displeasure is 100 percent."
Night baseball "is a downright abomination," declared an "American League star" who requested anonymity
for fear that "some people might think I was building up an alibi" for playing poorly. The "star" said
that at six o'clock he would "much rather smoke my pipe and read a paper" than play baseball.
"Night baseball produces living conditions and playing conditions which definitely are detrimental to top-flight
production by the players," he added. "For me, for the rest of the ball playing clan, competition after dark is
strictly the bunk."
Although it's highly improbable that the ballplayers of the 1940s, or of any other period, actually talked like that,
Daniel and his colleagues almost invariably quoted them as if they did. The sentiment conveyed by the not-quite-genuine words
was genuine nonetheless.
It wasn't just American Leaguers who were unhappy, either. Among the National Leaguers who also had very good reason
to complain were the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were forced to don shiny satin "night uniforms" when they began playing
under the lights in the late 1930s -- even their celebrated, far-less-than-svelte first-base coach, the recently retired Babe
Ruth. What a sight: The Bambino swathed in satin!
Casey Stengel, then manager of the National League's Boston Bees, agreed with his players that "the best place to
be in a night game is right here on the bench. Those fastball pitchers can't hit you in here."
Naturally, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, Phil Wrigley, shared the players' distaste for night games.
"Lights," said Wrigley disdainfully, "make your ball park look like a railroad freight yard."
Initially, most other baseball executives agreed with Wrigley., among them owner Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators,
who called night play "bush league stuff " just a step above dog racing."
It would be "the ruination of baseball," declared Detroit owner Frank Nevin. He said night games would "change
the players from athletes to actors."
But Ed Barrow, the Yankees' general manager, wasn't worried. He dismissed night baseball as a fad that would "never
last once the novelty wears off."
Eventually, however, owners of the Yankees and the other major league clubs couldn't resist the allure of night baseball.
Lights first went up in Cincinnati, in 1935. By 1948 when the Detroit Tigers finally illuminated their stadium, every team
save the Cubs had installed them.
Although the enticements did not include the television revenue that accounts for today's heavy schedule of night games,
there was plenty of other extra money to tempt an owner.
Night play enabled him "to draw Sunday doubleheader crowds on weekdays, sell his higher-priced seats almost in toto
as a regular thing, pick up a tidy sum through a richly-patronized commissary, and cater to fans who otherwise would not be
able to attend his games," noted sportswriter Daniel.
But the fans, why were they so attracted to the "artificial concoction"?
"Night ball is more exciting," Daniel explained."Pitchers who can't throw hard enough to knock your hat
off look like [Bob] Feller under the arcs. Infield play has a lightning quality.... All baseballs under the arcs look like
aspirin tablets. All double plays are marvels of speed .... Your attention is focused on the play."
Daniel, no less a sexist than most other journalists of the day, added that "in the sunshine, your gaze will wander....
You may be intrigued by the redhead sitting near the Yankee dugout, or the blonde who seems to know the star of the visiting
But though they might be less distracting, there were even more redheads and blondes -- and brunettes -- at night games.
Most, said Daniel, were in the company of husbands or boyfriends.
"Taking your gal to the game entails certain responsibilities in entertainment," he added, "and the more
lavish the consumption of chow, the richer the club gets."
Daniel concluded that "since the arcs bring out so great a percentage of the gals, night ball produces more rooting,
more shouting, more screeching. A foul ball will turn the park into a Bedlam."
That's it, the great lesson even the Chicago Cubs finally learned: "More shouting, greater thirst, more drink sales
... the gorgeous cycle of the arcs."
Copyright © Dick Meister