Baseball is the oddest game of numbers, dates, funny hops and bizarre coincidences.
9 August, 1988
The Chicago Cubs earn a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets in the first official night game at Wrigley Field — except it wasn’t supposed to be the first. It just became the first official completed night game there. Sort of.
8 August, 1988
On a windy and stormy evening, a game between the Cubs and visiting Philadelphia Phillies was called midway through the fourth inning after a lengthy rain delay. Mother Nature had other plans for the would-be first official night game at Wrigley Field — only that it was considered the first professional night game at Wrigley wasn’t exactly true either.
For the actual first pro game under the lights at Clark & Addison, you have to journey back to July 1, 1943.
On that night, an All Star game of the All-American Girls Base Ball League (AAGBBL), then in its inaugural season and long before being immortalized by the smash hit film A League of Their Own, first graced the ivy in the twilight.
Night games in professional baseball began in 1935 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. On May 24 of that year, the Phillies ventured across the Ohio River for a late-spring matchup against the Reds. In a grand ceremony overseen by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, night baseball was officially underway. MLB teams began adding lights to their ballparks over the next several years, including the Cubs, but the events of December 7, 1941 changed their north side installation. The Cubs were set to have night games beginning in the 1942 season, but the day after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, the Cubs donated all the steel and useful parts of the lights to the ensuing war effort. Despite a lot of back and forth for the next several years, the Cubs still wouldn’t play a night game until nearly five decades later.
Night baseball did happen at Wrigley Field, however, courtesy of the AAGBBL (before the name was changed prior to the 1944 season to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL) (1). For the occasion, portable lights were placed “behind home plate, first base, and third base.” (2).
The first season of the AAGBBL featured four teams, playing standard baseball rules but using a 12-inch softball to create a sort of hybrid-style game. While the first official AAGPBL All Star Game wouldn’t occur until 1946, the league’s stars were assembled on this forgotten July night in ’43 for a special contest — on nearly the 10 year anniversary of the first MLB All Star Game, which was held at Chicago’s other legendary ball yard, Comiskey Park.
The two 1943 AAGBBL All Star teams consisted of combined rosters of the Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox on one side, and the Racine Belles and Kenosha Comets on the other.
The game itself was the headline event of the evening, and the Wisconsin squad blanked the Illinois-Indiana group by a tally of 16-0. The opener featured a softball game by the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), wherein Fort Sheridan defeated Camp Grant 11-5.
Researcher Jay Feldman acquired some AAGBBL player feedback on the contest.
“The lights weren’t all that great, but we were used to that — we had to play with whatever we had,” said Shirley Jameson of the Kenosha Comets. “Besides, just the fact that we were playing in Wrigley Field was enough. We’d have done it whether it was light or dark, because we were all on Cloud Nine.” (3).
Center fielder Betsy “Sock ‘Em” Jochum of the South Bend Blue Sox went about the game as usual. “I didn’t realize at the time that they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field,” she said. “I just thought those lights were there all the time. We showed up for the game, the lights were on, and we played. (3).
The league returned to Wrigley Field a year later, once again using portable lights, when on July 18, 1944 the now-named AAGPBL played a twi-night doubleheader to benefit the Red Cross. (2).
These overlooked night contests further signify the remarkable role these women played in not only keeping baseball going during the war years, but planting the seeds for a significant cultural impact that would be felt for decades to come.
Oh, and speaking of those bizarre coincidences, A League of Their Own debuted on July 1, 1992 – which was 49 years later, to the day, of when the AAGBBL became the first professional group to play ball under the lights at the friendly confines.
Notes and sources
- https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1943-all-american-girls-play-first-game-under-the-lights-at-wrigley-field/ (article appearing in “Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison, (SABR 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf)
https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1943-all-american-girls-play-first-game-under-the-lights-at-wrigley-field/ (image originally from the Jul 2, 1943 edition of the Kenosha Evening News.)