By Frank Vespe, That's Amore Stable, LLC
“It’s a beautiful day for a night game.”
So said the Fordham Flash, baseball Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch, sometime around 1935. Which almost makes it sound as if the good Jesuits at Fordham were churning out classes of Dizzy Dean-wannabes in the early part of the last century.
Nonetheless, the reason he would have said such a slightly off-kilter thing in 1935 was because that was the year the Cincinnati Reds, in their electrified Crosley Field, played the first night baseball game, against Philadelphia. By 1941, most major league teams had begun playing night games, and though World War II prevented some clubs from hopping on the bandwagon, virtually all had by the late 1940s. (Except for the Cubs, who held out until 1988).
Playing games at night revolutionized baseball and helped cement our national love affair with the game. It allowed the working man — it was widely assumed that the fan was a man (sample grab from the New York Mets’ theme song: “Bring your kiddies and your wife, guaranteed to have the time of your life!”) — to attend games, rather than merely listening to them.
These days, the vast majority of major league games are at night. And attendance has climbed from a shade under 6,000 per game in 1935 to about 30,000 per game today.
Coincidentally — or perhaps not so — the attendance at Churchill Downs for its three recent Fridays of night racing averaged almost exactly 30,000.
Which is another way of saying that it has taken racing about 74 years to discover — and, surely, that’s the wrong word — that scheduling races at a time convenient to fans is a way to encourage more of them to come out.
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Seventy-four years is a long time, and a lot of things have happened since then: the US population has more than doubled, as has the number of teams in Major League Baseball. Wars, technological innovations, natural disasters, and economic dislocation have all left searing marks on our world.
And, now, at long last, a major racetrack has introduced night racing.
Truly, the wheels of change oft grind slowly — but this is ridiculous.
On the other hand, it whets your appetite for what comes next. I’ve heard of this newfangled thing called a television that lets you watch actual moving pictures right inside your home. Maybe we could get some races on that…