Today in Sports History: May 24th

5/24/1935 - Reds play Phillies at night

The Cincinnati Reds host big league baseball's very first night game as they take on the Philadelphia Phillies at Crosley Field. For more than 50 years, National League and American League games were played exclusively in the daytime, with a few games here and there starting later than usual. This was the first time that a game would be played at night, in the dark, on purpose, under giant stadium lights.

Many minor league teams had installed lights and had played games in the dark before. But major league teams were more resistant -- not only did the idea of playing at night tamper with the game's tradition of afternoon games, there were concerns that batters would have trouble seeing the ball and that certain teams couldn't afford a quality lighting system.

20,422 anxious fans packed into Crosley Field to see the first edition of nighttime baseball -- an attendance increase of 900% compared to the average Reds game. The lights were remotely ignited by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who flipped a switch from the White House in Washington D.C. Reds pitcher Paul Derringer threw a 6-hitter and the Reds won the nightcap, 2-1.

Nighttime baseball was an enormous success for the Cincinnati Reds. They held only seven night games that season and in those games, they totaled one-third the attendance that they garnered from their other 69 home games. But while the numbers showed that baseball under lights did not affect the players and, in fact, increased attendance, major league teams were slow on the uptake. Most saw it as nothing more than a gimmick, a panacea to a team that needed it for being a losing team.

But as time went on, teams realized that it was more profitable to put games in the evening, when everyone could go to them, rather than in the daytime, when people were either at school or in work. Within a few decades, all but the Chicago Cubs were regularly playing night games; it wasn't until their 5,688th game that the Cubs finally hosted a game under lights.

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