Night baseball broadcasts are a lucrative staple of fall television. This week both the Giants vs. Phillies and the Yankees vs. Rangers have drawn over 9 million households for single games, according to Nielsen. The ability to broadcast at night, during primetime, is why baseball has a 7-year, $3 billion contract with Fox and Turner, who are carrying the playoffs.
Playing baseball at night is now one of the league’s primary revenue machines, and its all based on a GE innovation from the 1930s.
That lighting revolution began in 1935 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. What happened on that field irreversibly changed the economics of the sport, and allowed baseball to become the international entertainment product that it is today.
In 1934, the Cincinnati Reds drew 207,000 fans in 77 home games. The advent of night baseball also was a revolution for American workers — it allowed anyone with a 9 to 5 job to attend live baseball games. As such, in just 7 night games in 1935, the Reds drew 130,000 fans. Not bad for their $50,000 investment in GE’s lighting.
|YANKEE STADIUM: The Yankees were one of the last teams to install lights, and didn’t play their first night game until 1946. Meanwhile, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers played their first night games in 1940 and 1938, respectively. Photo: Schenectady Museum.|
In his book, Let There Be Light: A History of Night Baseball 1880-2008, Robert B. Payne gives a detailed history of the technology, people and events that made the innovation possible. Payne himself is the son of one of the lead illumination engineers who worked for Cincinnati Gas & Electric (subcontracted by GE) on the Crosley Field project. The photos in the gallery below were provided by Chris Hunter, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium.
Gallery guide: Click on the small half-circles on the right and left side of the gallery to see more images. To magnify or reduce an image, click on it. Scroll over an image to see the caption. To see the largest view, click on the small paper icon with the arrow and view the photo in Flickr.
In Payne’s book, we see photos, blueprints and original documents detailing the history of lighting in baseball. Here are a few of the more colorful facts:
- Despite the economic benefits of holding games in the evening, team owners and baseball commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis were against night games, and capped each team at 7 per season. It took a letter from FDR in 1942 to ease all restrictions on night baseball.
- The Cubs famously didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field until 1988. However, the Wrigleys bought lights, cables and other equipment in 1941 for use in the 1942 season. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, this equipment was donated to the war department.
- The first light bulb to turn on at the first night game — in Cincinnati in 1935 — was a GE Mazda C lamp turned on by FDR using a special switch inside the White House. Once that lamp had been lit, Reds owner Larry MacPhail turned on the GE flood lights that illuminated the field.