Phillip K. Wrigley promised this day would never come, but Monday night it does.
Seventy-two years after the Chicago Cubs set up shop in a turn-of-the-century, working-class neighborhood and began a love-hate affair that has taken a turn for the worse, night baseball comes to Wrigley Field.Two decades after the late heir to the chewing-gum fortune promised day baseball forever, the lights come on.
This long day's journey into night picked up speed in 1981 when the Tribune Co. began calling the shots down some of baseball's most venerated halls and guaranteed the good people of Wrigleyville they would see the lights.
"For seven years, we won every battle (over lights) against one of the most powerful corporations around," said Mike Quigley, vice president of Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine, the community group that spearheaded opposition to the night games.
"We won in the City Council, in the (state) Legislature and on every referendum that was held. We stretched dollars, we used smoke and mirrors, we always found a way to pull another rabbit out of the hat.
"But they only had to win once," he said, "and the lights go on."
They go on five decades after the Cincinnati Reds played the first major league game under the lights of now-defunct Crosley Field, and 40 years after the Detroit Tigers became the last team to join baseball's fraternity of the illumined.
And like some concrete dowager with a bundle to spend after a divorce, the City Council vote in February lifting the ban on lights has whetted Wrigley Field's appetite for the nightlife - seven times this first season, 18 night games a season after that through the year 2002.
"It doesn't feel like the end of an era," said Ernie Banks, the Cub great who hit 290 of his 512 career home runs at Wrigley.
"When I first came into the majors, nobody ever believed the Dodgers or the Giants would go to California, or that Jackie Robinson would play in the big leagues. But they did.
"And in my advanced years, I've learned that change is a big part of life," added Banks, "and that baseball has learned to deal with it much better than almost any other part of our society.
"Wrigley Field is still there, after all, and it's still one of the most beautiful spots on this earth," concluded Banks. "The only difference is now we have lights."
There is a sense of history about to be made inside, hysteria over what is likely to happen outside. And the neighborhood caught in the middle, ambivalent about this latest twist of fate, prays resignedly: "Let there be light. Don't let it be too bright."
The sermon is repeated in frame houses on narrow streets, in the courtyards and lobbies of rennovated apartment buildings, in the toney little stores and restaurants that followed a wave of gentrification up Chicago's sparkling lakefront, and in the small, sleepy shops where the constant rumble of elevated trains has come to be regarded as so much background noise.
All the way, in fact, into the boardrooms of Tribune Co., the media conglomerate whose holdings include the city's largest-circulation daily newspaper and WGN-TV, the superstation that carries Cubs games around the nation.
"Wrigley Field has been here for three-quarters of a century and I think everybody who moved here recognized that it was here. And everybody who wanted us to stay here recognized this was the only equitable solution," said Don Grenesko, the Cubs' executive vice president and for most of the last four years, the ballclub's articulate point man in the fight for lights.
"Anytime you bring 35,000 people into an area, there's going to be problems - we've never stuck our heads in the sand and pretended otherwise.
"But we've always cultivated a family atmosphere at the ballpark. We've cut off beer sales and taken other steps to make sure our fans behave responsibly - during and after the games," he added.
"And we're taking every measure imaginable to make sure we don't exacerbate that with the night games."
They have done even more.
Wrigley Field will have just six banks of lights, three each atop the left- and right-field decks. The 1,500-watt floodlights sit atop 26 fabricated steel panels, the latticework mirroring the arches found throughout the aging structure.
Most important, though, the lights may have saved ivy-covered Wrigley Field itself, baseball's most famous anachronism - built in 1914 to house the Chicago Whales of the short-lived Federal League - and one of the most magical shrines in all of American sports.
It was there, in 1933, where Babe Ruth was supposed to have pointed to a spot in the right-field bleachers where he would park Charlie Root's baseball, then proceeded to drive it there; there, in 1938, where Gabby Hartnett hit his famous "Homer in the Gloamin,"' a two-out, ninth-inning, pennant-winning shot into the darkness; there, in 1917, where Fred Toney of the Reds and Hippo Vaughn of the Cubs pitched a double no-hitter that ended with Cincinnati winning 1-0 in the tenth on two hits.
"It's easy to see why people have formed such a radical attachment to the place," said National League President Bart Giammatti, who was on hand July 25, the night the lights went on the first time for a Cubs charity benefit and practice.
"And this should put to rest the anxiety that the Cubs will play elsewhere. It's a moment to celebrate. To preserve the best of the past," he added, "you have to be willing to change."
And yet, people who worked while the Cubs played, who came home at dinnertime and to deal with the residue of boisterous fans - litter and clogged streets - now will have to deal with the boisterous fans themselves.
The same fans that former manager Lee Elia, in a legendary tirade, once suggested should "go out and get a job and find out what it's like to make a (deleted) living. ...
"Eighty percent of the (deleted) world's out making a (deleted) living," continued Elia, who in a nice bit of irony will return Monday night at the helm of the Phillies. "The other 15 come out here."
And so it must seem still to the neighborhood merchants who built businesses large and small catering to the early-morning or late-night crowd, and now will be forced to work around a new clock.
"Here we've spent the last couple of years persuading people that our area is safe - that they won't be mugged or something," said Bob Chaney, co-owner of the Music Box Theater.
"Now they'll think of our area as a place you can't park," he added. "Just how do you go about bringing up a neighborhood in this city?"
Ironically, Wrigleyville's steady transition during the 1980s from bust to boom, from a community of blue-collar families to white-collar singles, may have laid the groundwork for its defeat on the lights issue earlier this year.
A state statute in 1982 and a city ordinance the following year breezed through their respective legislative chambers, helped along by sympathetic lawmakers who wrote noise-pollution measures specific enough to allow night-time contests to continue at the city's two other outdoor stadiums - Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox; and Soldier Field, den of the National Football League's Chicago Bears.
Flush with victory after winning the NL East in 1984, the Cubs went to court the following year to repeal both laws, claiming the club was "tried, condemned and convicted" of operating a public nuisance before being given a chance to defend itself.
The team also cited baseball's contract with the television networks requiring some night games during post-season play and a warning from Commissioner Peter Ueberroth the previous December that "drastic action" was in the offing unless the team resolved the problem of night baseball.
But Cook County Circuit Judge Richard Curry's memorable March 1985 decision, interspersing lyrics from the song, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," upheld the constitutionality of both laws and concluded on this light-hearted note: "Justice is a southpaw and the Cubs just don't hit lefties!"
Six months later, the state Supreme Court affirmed the ruling, and almost immediately, threats the team would leave Wrigley Field began issuing forth with greater regularity.
Few people took them seriously at first, especially since the Cubs were in fourth place in the standings and nose-diving at the time then-General Manager Dallas Green suggested the team might take its post-season dates somewhere else, like St. Louis.
But the tide turned gradually, helped along in no small part by the power and prestige of the Tribune Co., which one week before the City Council vote in February labeled the aldermen still opposed to lights "boneheads" and "political lightweights."
And with city officials waving studies that put the team's economic impact at between $80 million and $120 million annually, Chicago's politicians fell into line.
"I don't know that there was a turning point as such," said Grenesko, "but during the entire time I worked on this, CUBS did a bang-up job getting everyone to believe they spoke for the community.
"They were the underdogs until the laws passed, but once we got the chance to make our case, once people saw that we were an asset to this city, too . . . once people began to see what the alternatives were, people viewed this matter a little differently."
The state statute remains on the books, and while few people believe it ever was effective enough to prevent night baseball at Wrigley in the first place, CUBS will be monitoring decibel levels at the games and may put it to a test.
The group is also talking about public nuisance lawsuits and a referendum on the November ballot to vote dry the precinct Wrigley Field sits in, among other measures.
"You tell me that a last-place ballclub that sold 2.4 million tickets last year needs additional revenue," said Quigley, "and I'm reminded of what P.K. Wrigley said when they told him to put in lights in the late 1960s - `It's not night baseball we need, it's winning baseball."'