“Night baseball went over with a bang in Cincinnati last night when the first major league game ever played under the floodlights was won by the Reds over the Phillies by the count of 2 – 1 after a beautifully played contest.
“With more than 20,000 fans in attendance, the two teams put on a combat which was one of the highlights of the early season. Unaffected by the artificial illumination which covered the field in a manner perfectly satisfactory to the athletes, both teams played errorless baseball, each executing some really brilliant plays.”
This was the news that greeted the fans of professional baseball’s oldest franchise, the Cincinnati Reds in their morning paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer on May 25. This was to report to them the events of the night before, today’s date, May 24 in 1935 when the first night game in professional baseball’s history was played at Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds won the game 2 – 1.
The Minor Leagues Point the Way to Games Under the Stars…
Baseball’s first night game ever had actually taken place over five years before, on May 2, 1930. This was when two minor league teams squared off with the Wichita team being hosted by Des Moines Iowa for a Western League match-up. The idea had indeed been a true commercial success with a crowd of 12,000 fans in attendance during a period when Des Moines had been drawing barely 600 fans per-game. It was the time of the Great Depression in America, and minor league clubs were regularly falling by the wayside. The always resourceful and innovative owners of these clubs found in night games a way to bring in scarce fan dollars, as the idea caught on.
But the major league clubs were feeling the pinch as well. The major league owners were a more conservative bunch than their minor-league counterparts. But the owner of MY TEAM – the Cincinnati Reds, Powell Crosley (above, right) was a born innovator, and it didn’t take him long to catch on to this idea. This first big league night game drew over 20,000 fans, who stood by as President Roosevelt symbolically switched on the lights from Washington, D.C. To make good on their new evening fan base, the Reds played at least one night game that year against every National League team; a total of eight such games. And despite having a less than stellar record of 68-85, paid attendance went 117 percent during those games
A Fascinating Slice of Life in the 1930’s:
The account of this first evening game in baseball history, as written by James T. Golden Jr. for the readers of the Cincinnati Enquirer is an engaging look not only at the event itself, but of a vanished time in our history. So I will let the paper do the talking:
“Fandom Gay At First Night Game; High Ball Is Like A Pearl On Velvet”
By James T. Golden Jr.
“The bands played, Pres. Roosevelt turned on the lights, everybody said “Oh!” in a highly pleased way, Chlozza busted a fast one out towards Cassiopeia’s Chair – and 20,422 fans got fandom’s first introduction to night baseball in the big leagues.
“Whether Cassiopeia was leaning down from her constellation to watch the Redlegs and the Phillies wasn’t known, nor was it known whether she could have seen through the light clouds that commenced to drift across from over left field at about the end of the second inning, seeming to stay at about the height of the encircling lights and never dropping below them.
“All that the fans cared about was that the visibility was plenty good from the stands and the bleachers, that the field showed up in a more uniform light, green and tan than it does in daytime. It was as brilliant with the trim little white figures running about it, as a new baseball game board in the window of the corner drugstore.
“What clouds there were were so thin that the ball, when it flew high, shone through them like a bald head in a steam room. And when there was no mist, the sphere stood out against the sky like a pearl against dark velvet.
“The great batteries of lights never seemed to bother either the spectators or the boys on the field. Big and bright as they were, one could look directly into them without winking an eye.
“For once the fans in the bleachers were as cool as the spectators in the stands — maybe a little cooler because the spring month of 1935 annals of the year as “Nippy May” wasn’t much warmer last night than she had been. There were enough overcoats and blankets in evidence to supply a football crowd, but the crispness of the air just reminded everybody that Crosley Field is going to be a swell place to go for amusement on hot summer nights.
“The beautiful sex was well repre- sented (President Roosevelt might have been gratified to note the prepon- derance of soprano “Oh’s” that greeted his successful long distance light-turning-oning). But the stands were packed with thousands of the strong , silent sex (which is really sort of weak and very vociferous at a baseball game) – from callow youths accustomed to burning the midnight oil to elderly gentlemen who used to sit in the boiling sun and root for Ty Cobb, and then go home and go to bed with the chickens, but who now elect to stay up with the bats and yell for Billy Myers.
“Charles Rieckel, whose hundredth birthday is coming with October, who hasn’t missed an opener for 35 years since he was a mere youth of 65, and wo can’t remember missing an outstanding game since the 80’s made a special trip up to Cincinnati from his home in Cynthiana, Ky. To see something new under the sun or rather under the moon.
“Most of the old timers at the game agreed last night that big-league baseball under Mr. Crosley’s $50,000 worth of illuminating equipment is quite a bit different from playing checkers under a coal oil lamp, and that it certainly has its points – especially when the Red stockings turn in a winner as they did last night.”
Photos – Above middle Reds pitcher Paul Derringer. Above bottom, Reds’ catcher, Gilly Campbell #19 and the Reds’ first baseman, Billy Sullivan #4.
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“The Cincinnati Enquirer”, May 25, 1935