CHICAGO -- To hear the Chicago Cubs tell it, there is nothing bad about bringing lights to Wrigley Field. To hear Wrigleyville neighborhood residents tell it, there is nothing good about lights at Wrigley.
The truth, of course, is somewhere in between.
Tribune Co. started talking about putting up lights at Wrigley Field when it bought the club in August of 1981. The talk ends Monday, Aug. 8, when the Cubs play the first night game in the history of the ancient ballpark.
The reasons Wrigley Field needed lights, club officials said, included:
-- Post-season play. When the Cubs took the National League East title in 1984, they held their two playoff games on Tuesday and Wednesday and the television broadcasts interrupted daytime programming. The networks prefer prime time broadcasting of playoff games and after 1984 said they would not broadcast midweek day playoff games.
The seriousness of the threat was never tested because the Cubs failed to make the playoffs in 1985-87. If the Cubs had made the playoffs again and the network holding the playoff contract refused to broadcast an afternoon game at Wrigley, another network, including several of the cable outlets, would probably have jumped at the chance. Baseball should have just negotiated that possibility into its contract with the networks.
It will no longer come to that, because Wrigley has lights and midweek playoff games will be held at night. Television wins.
-- Attendance. Attendance was a problem in 1981 when the Tribune bought the club. But after 1984, when the Cubs became the yuppie dream team, attendance was the least of their worries. Originally it was thought there was a limit to the number of people who could get off work to see a midweek day game, but the numbers of recent years indicate the problem is not that difficult to get around. Cubs tickets, especially ones without large poles obstructing the view, are difficult to get any day of the week.
-- Competitiveness. Legend says the Cubs burn out late in the season from playing all of those games under the hot summer sun. Of special concern is the day games following night road games. 'It would be ideal if they would put the night games after road trips,' says second baseman Ryne Sandberg. 'It would be smart because our team could have the extra rest.'
Except that is not the time the Cubs are expected to use their 18 night game limit each year. Most observers think the Cubs will schedule night games early and late in the season when kids are in school, either elementary or secondary, and attendance lags a bit.
Those are also the times when, after the sun goes down, Wrigley Field gets very chilly. Early season weather has been used as an excuse on occasion and the excuses will really fly if they play night games in April or September.
The negative effects on the neighborhood have been voiced by groups including C.U.B.S., Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine. Their concerns include:
-- Parking. When the Cubs play a midweek day game, thousands of cars line the neighborhood streets where parking is available because residents have driven their cars to work. Those parking spots supposedly won't be available for night games because the city has instituted a parking system whereby residents have parking stickers and cars without stickers will be towed.
There are two ensuing problems. If hundreds of fans are willing to risk being towed, how will the city remove all of those cars? It would take dozens of tow trucks and police for every night game.
And where are the fans who obey the law supposed to park? There has been very little increase in parking around Wrigley, although the club has promised to build a parking garage eventually.
-- Vandalism and trash. The neighborhood groups think the night game crowds will be more disruptive to the area than the day crowds, which can be fairly disruptive in their own right. Vandalism might increase by cover of darkness, they say.
The Wrigleyville area is surrounded by taverns and restaurants which could benefit by night games, although they benefit plenty from day games. In fact, a case could be made that more fans will patronize the businesses after day games because night game patrons have to go home to get ready for the next day's work. Unless there is a day game the next day and they skip work to go.
Here are the points the wait-and-see crowd must watch:
-- Do the Cubs schedule the night games to benefit the team competitively, and does the team indeed perform better as a result?
-- Is there a positive effect on attendance and how much of it comes from April and September night games?
-- Does the city protect the interests of the neighborhood residents? Are they able to find places to park and are there homes kept safe?
-- Do the Cubs keep their promises regarding parking, trash pickup and late inning curfew on beer sales?
A final point to remember is that, never in the history of baseball has a ballpark taken down lights because of problems they caused. The lights at Wrigley are here to stay.
adv weekend, Aug.