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Official or not, first Wrigley night game was special

Though contest was called after 3 1/2 innings due to rain, 8-8-88 was historic date

The Cubs and Phillies played an afternoon game Thursday at Citizens Bank Park.

Which would hardly be worth mentioning except that exactly 25 years earlier - on August 8, 1988 - the same two teams were scheduled to meet in the first night game at historic Wrigley Field.

Cubs right-hander Rick Sutcliffe threw the first pitch. Phillies left fielder Phil Bradley hit the first home run. Cubs second baseman and future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg stole the first base.

Officially, of course, none of that happened. Heavy rain interrupted play after 3 1/2 innings and the game was called after a delay of two hours and 10 minutes. Technically, the first night game came the following evening, when the Cubs defeated the first-place Mets, 6-4.

Details, details. Anybody who was there on 8-8-88 will tell you that's the date that counts. And they're probably right. Because that just might have been the most publicized, scrutinized, highly-anticipated, talked-about and written-about regular-season game ever. Especially for a dog-days matchup between a pair of second-division teams.

"The game against the Mets, I guess, will be the first official night game," Sandberg, now the Phillies' third-base coach, said in the immediate aftermath. "But what took place with the turning on the lights and Ernie Banks and Billy Williams throwing out the first pitches, they can't replace that."

It was an event, a happening. Scalpers got $500 or more for tickets. The Wrigleyville sidewalks were jammed with hawkers selling souvenirs. A local real estate developer paid $7,500 to be the Phillies' batboy for the night.

Chicago mayor Eugene Sawyer attended. So did famous Cubs fans George Will, Bill Murray and Dabney Coleman. More than 500 media credentials were issued; many would write that the biblical storm was God's way of voicing his disapproval of night games on the North Side of Chicago.

The Cubs' broadcasters wore tuxedoes, with only future Hall of Famer Harry Caray declining. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed. "Kissing Bandit" Morganna came out of the stands but was stopped by security before she could get to Sandberg.

"You would [have thought] an extraterrestrial was going to land on the field," observed Phillies future Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt.

Added Sutcliffe: "As long as I live, I never will forget that first pitch. I tried not to get too emotional. As I turned to the plate to deliver, all I saw [were] 40,000 flashes going off. It was more exciting than my first pitch in the Majors."

The pitch was called a ball. Years later, Sutcliffe's memory remained just as vivid.

"As I wound up and turned to look at the plate, it was -- I don't even know how to describe it. I was almost blinded by all the flashcubes and lights that went off. I don't know how many people flashed their camera at that time, but I totally lost home plate. Somebody said later it was close. Well, I couldn't argue. I had no idea where it went," he said on the 20th anniversary of the game.

During the rain delay four Cubs players -- Greg Maddux, Les Lancaster, Al Nipper and Jody Davis -- came out of the clubhouse and ran and slid on the wet tarp.

"I thought it stunk," said Cubs manager Don Zimmer, who fined each player $500. "I've got one guy [Davis] with a stiff foot, one guy [Nipper] with a bad elbow, one guy [Lancaster] with appendicitis and the best pitcher in the league [Maddux]."

Some of the Phillies admitted being disappointed that their game didn't go into the record books. Even Bradley, who insisted he didn't get caught up in the hoopla.

"I was just looking forward to getting it started, then getting it over with, and letting other people worry about the history stuff," he said.

"But [hitting the first after-hours homer at Wrigley that counted] would have been a nice thing to look back on. It happened, and no one can take that away. But the rainout kind of lessens the excitement."

Said Phillies center fielder Milt Thompson at the time: "It's a little bit of a letdown. It would have been nice to have been part of something like that. But that's the way our season is going. We can't catch a break with anything."

Predictably, there was a sharp division of opinion at the time about the wisdom of tampering with baseball's time capsule, even though the economic benefit for the Cubs couldn't be disputed. What has become clear with the benefit of hindsight is that it opened the door for a series of renovations at the venerable old park at Clark and Addison.

Private boxes have been added. The bleachers have been expanded. When the Cubs installed lights there was an agreement "in perpetuity" that they would play no more than 18 nights games a year; now there are about twice as many. The Cubs are nearing the finish line on a deal that would once again transform Wrigley.

A quarter century ago, as the Phillies packed their gear and prepared to fly home, manager Lee Elia conceded he wished the game had been played to completion.

"I'm disappointed. It would have been nice to be a little part of history," he said.

It turns out Elia was wrong, technicalities be hanged. As far as most people are concerned, that game between the Phillies and Cubs will always be considered the first night game played at Wrigley Field.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for
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