By Matt Graves
Major League Baseball made history this week in 1935. The first night game gave access to baseball to almost everyone.
For more than 65 years, big league ball was only played during the day. In fact, there’s a little bit of a timeline of when baseball was played at night.
The first recorded night game was back in 1880, one year after Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. Another night game occurred in 1883, and several more Minor League night games were held before the turn of the 20th century.
The first night game in Cincinnati took place between two Elks Club teams at the Palace of the Fans in 1909. The following year, a night game was held at Chicago’s Comiskey Park between two semi-professional teams.
It wasn’t until May 2, 1930, that the first professional night game held under a permanent lighting system took place in Des Moines, Iowa. Not only was the game broadcast nationally on NBC Radio, but 12,000 fans were in attendance compared to 600 for a day game.
After that little experiment, night baseball quickly spread throughout the minors as attendance gradually increased. The cooler night air encouraged fans to come out to watch the games more than the hot summer heat. When Cincinnati Reds general manager Larry McPhail saw the success of night games, he received permission at the 1934 National League meetings to introduce night baseball for his Reds.
Engineers had six months and $50,000 to design and install a permanent lighting system at Crosley Field. General Electric contracted Cincinnati Gas and Electric to design it.
On the night of May 24, a crowd of 20,422 fans filled Crosley Field to witness history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House, sending an electric pulse to a signal lamp on the table near first base. Cincy starter Paul Derringer outdueled Joe Bowman of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds scraped together two runs, just enough for the win.
Cincinnati averaged under 5,000 fans per day game. However, close to 18,000 were in attendance at night.
After the success in Cincinnati, other teams followed suit. Ebbets Field in Brooklyn was the next park to embrace the nightlife of baseball. The first nighttime All-Star Game was at Shibe Park in Philadelphia in 1943, while the first World Series night game was Game 4 of 1971 Fall Classic. The last team to play all their home games in the daytime were the Chicago Cubs. They remain the club to regularly play the fewest night games in the Majors.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has a collection related to the first night game at Crosley Field. In 1970, the Reds donated files and records relating to the development of lighting at their ballpark to Cooperstown. It includes diagrams, proposals and more.
Matt Graves is a writer for Last Word on Sports Baseball. You can find him on Twitter at @LWOSGraves.