Bucky Walters, then a Phillies pitcher, later to star for the Reds, remembers it well.
"They had a little table set up between home and first base with a globe on it," Walters, 79, said last week from his home in Glenside. "When he (Roosevelt) pressed that button, lit that light (illuminating first the
globe, then the stadium lights), there was a big roar out of the crowd, 'Wooooo.' "
The first time the Phillies helped to make night baseball history, they were in seventh place in an eight-team league (some things don't change much), and hard-throwing righthander Joe Bowman was on the mound. The game had been scheduled for the previous night, but was postponed by rain.
"We had a tight ballgame; (Reds starter) Paul Derringer beat me 2-1," Bowman, 78, said last week from his home in Leawood, Kan. "It was a big thing. A real big thing. There was a lot of talk about how you weren't going to be able to see the ball, you'd only see half the ball, and so on . . . I didn't have any trouble seeing the ball."
Red Barber, later to become one of baseball's most famous announcers with the Dodgers and Yankees, was then in his second year doing radio broadcasts of Reds games.
"People came in late afternoon," Barber, 80, recalled recently from his home in Tallahassee, Fla. "They had batting practice, then a fireworks show. People waited. Then FDR pressed that Western Union button, and there was quite a roar from the crowd . . . The grass looked greener, the uniforms looked brighter."
Press accounts from that time recount the story of FDR and the globe in intricate detail - it was a 1,500-watt "jumbo bulb," just like the 616 bulbs that lit the field. The telegraph key Roosevelt pressed, made from Alaskan gold, had been presented to President William Howard Taft in 1909, the Cincinnati Times-Star reported the next day.
Back in Philadelphia, the Inquirer story noted what a headline called the ''Arclight Starter," but the focus of the story was Bowman's strong effort. It was his first start of the season, and the writer speculated it would earn him a berth in the regular rotation.
The Inquirer writer called it "an errorless game before 20,422 cash customers and numerous baseball men, many of whom came from distant points to see this new chapter of diamond history written."
Barber vividly recalls MacPhail's controversial decision to play baseball under lights.
"They (owners) said, 'It's not natural, there'll be shadows, batters will be hit by balls they can't see,' but MacPhail had experimented with night baseball at Columbus (Ohio, in the minor leagues)," Barber said.
"(Washington Senators owner) Calvin Griffith said baseball was meant to be played under God's sun. Then MacPhail took the gamble, and it worked so well, they all immediately started planning for lights at their stadiums. Griffith later led the fight for unlimited night play . . . baseball has succeeded despite its ownership."
Once MacPhail breached the taboo, night baseball grew quickly. Owners found that they drew bigger crowds in the evenings. Players found they could see the ball just fine.
On June 15, 1938, the Brooklyn Dodgers became the second team to play a home night game. It turned out to be Johnny Vander Meer's second consecutive no-hitter. On May 16, 1939, Shibe Park was lit for the Philadelphia A's night debut, which was the first American League game played under lights. On June 1, 1939, the Phillies became the fourth team to take the plunge. And the first night All-Star Game was played at Shibe Park, on July 13, 1943.
By 1941, six of the eight National League teams and five of the eight American League teams had played at home at night. World War II held that number steady for several years, but in 1948, when lights came to Tiger Stadium in Detroit, the Cubs stood alone as the only major league team with no
The Cubs enjoyed strong attendance despite the lack of night games, and over the years, Chicago fans came to take a lot of pride in their unique situation. But the Chicago Tribune Company bought the team from the Wrigley family in 1981, and immediately started talking about lights. Angry fans persuaded City Council to pass an ordinance banning night games at Wrigley.
Then, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth told the team that if it ever got into the World Series, it would be playing home games under the lights - in St. Louis, if necessary. Pressure to light the 72-year-old ballpark grew until City Council passed an ordinance in February that called for eight night games this year (the Cubs have scheduled seven) and 18 every year after, until 2002.
Barber said he didn't find it particularly surprising that the Cubs had been able to hold out so long.
"Mr. (former Cubs owner William) Wrigley liked his ballpark," Barber said. "He actually ordered steel for light supports once, but ended up donating it to the war effort."
Keeping lights out of Wrigley Field didn't stop the changes night baseball was making in the fabric of the sport.
"It changed your way of living," Walters said. "You were used to eating at regular times, getting to the ballpark at noon, being off by 5 or 6."
Walters said that once games began to be played at night, players had trouble finding places to eat dinner when they left the ballpark. In the '30s and '40s, most cities weren't exactly beehives of nocturnal activity.
"It drove them (players) into after-hours clubs," Walters said. "Then they started to put food in the clubhouse after games."
"It enabled baseball to have greater attendance," Barber said, "but it changed the baseball lifestyle. It changed writing completely. (Before the advent of night games) writers filed their play-by-play stories in the afternoon, didn't go to the clubhouse, went downtown to eat, went to the theatre. They used to say that you didn't make much money as a baseball writer, but you lived well.
"It made it more difficult for the players, too," Barber said.
"It changed your living habits," Bowman said, "because instead of getting up in the morning and going out to the ballpark, you didn't get up until afternoon, since you had been out until 1 or 2."
Bowman welcomed one change brought about by night games.
"I remember we used to play in St. Louis, before lights, and it would be 100 degrees with no shade anywhere and you would still play. Then when they
put in the lights, it would always cool off at night."
The only thing that didn't change, all three men agreed, was what happened between the white lines. Baseball at night was no different from baseball during the day, a fact they all realized on that May night in Cincinnati.
"There were a few shadows here and there, but that was a great playing field - like a pool table," Walters said. "We were all surprised it was as well-lit as it was."
"Really, it was played as a normal game," Bowman said. "The hitters had no trouble picking the ball up. They said the pitcher would have an advantage, but we didn't. Nothing really unusual happened . . . Derringer was a curveball pitcher, but I don't think the lights did anything for either one of us."
Bowman said he recalls some details from that night and has forgotten others. For example, Bowman doesn't remember the name of the batter, but he remembers watching his normally sure-footed centerfielder, Ethan Allen, stumble and miss a long drive to the fence.
"They had a little bank in centerfield, and he stumbled over it, and that was where they got the run to beat me," Bowman said. "He was one of the better outfielders in the game."
Barber recalled another mishap on a long drive.
"(The Phils') Dolf Camilli hit a drive to center and Sammy Byrd caught it against the wall," Barber said. "Byrd hurt his knee, and it limited his career."
Barber remembers that the Phillies took pains not to blame the six-hit loss on the lights, insisting, over and over, that the lights had nothing to do with the outcome.
Of the nine Reds and 11 Phillies who appear in the box score of the first night game, nine are listed as still living in the latest edition of "The Baseball Encyclopedia." None of them is scheduled to be part of the Wrigley Field festivities. The Cubs are planning a celebration centered on their team, rather than on night baseball.
Forner Cubs stars Ernie Banks and Billy Williams will throw out first pitches. Then Grossman, the long-suffering fan, finally will bring light to Wrigley Field. And the Phillies, as the visitors, will prepare to bat, just as they did after that first bulb started glowing at Crosley Field on a chilly night in 1935.