Ah, nighttime baseball: The special anticipation of leaving work on a Tuesday and taking the train to the ballgame for cold beer and colder breezes. The particular preparation of a toting a backpack filled with sweatshirts and mittens, and painting on layer by layer in the stadium bathroom. The precious suffering of sitting in the nosebleed section with windspeeds of 40mph and windchill of 14.The unmistakable excited shivering in a cold hard plastic chair. Sound familiar? For all those frigid nights at the stadium, we have perhaps one school dropout to thank: Thomas Edison, and his lightbulb of 1879.
Back in the day of candles and horse-drawn buggies, baseball games used to occur only during the day time when there was sufficient sunlight to illuminate the field. Major League Baseball was actually one of the last baseball organizations to light their stadiums.
1880 marked one year after Thomas Edison’s initial light bulb model was released. Then, in Massachusetts, a night game where two department store teams faced off before a crowd of 300. It was no hit. The quality of the lighting was poor, and the players made many errors and had difficulty batting and throwing safely.
It was not until 1930, half a century later, and the year before Thomas Edison’s death, when the first major league game lit up the night. I would like to imagine that Mr. Edison was there smiling in Indianapolis when the Cincinnati Reds contested the Indianapolis Indians for an exhibition game. (But I unfortunately have found no evidence of this, nor do I know if Thomas Edison even enjoyed baseball.)
In 1935, the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Hall-of-Famer Larry MacPhail, made a decision to let there be light. His Reds were the only team that scheduled in seven night games that season. On May 24th of that year, President Franklin Roosevelt flipped a ceremonial switch from the White House, and there was light at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, for a matchup of the Reds and Phillies, and it was good.
Fans were elated. There were no distracting shadows on the field, the colors were vibrant, and popups were brightly highlighted against the dark night sky. Attendance boomed at Larry MacPhail’s night games.
The next team to install lights was the Brooklyn Dodgers of three years later in 1938, thanks to a familiar man, none other than Larry MacPhail, then-new general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The last team to install lights, as many know, was the Cubs at Wrigley Field, who held out until 1988. But what you might not know? According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Mr. Wrigley ordered the lighting equipment for the stadium in 1941, but after Pearl Harbor was bombed, he bestowed the instruments to the War Department.
Today, even if night games make us feel chilly on the outside, they are a special heartwarming spectacle that helped bring baseball to the working public, thanks to a couple of important innovators.
Do you have a favorite baseball tradition? Is there a particular ghost of baseball past you would like to revisit? Ever wonder why they do what they do, and when they started doing it? If you have a suggestion, question, or submission for Throwback Thursday, contact Elise by tweeting @Elise_Myers.