75 Years Ago, the Tigers First Played Under the Lights at Briggs Stadium

After years of resistance believing that baseball should only be played during the daytime, 75 years ago Detroit Tigers owner Walter O. Briggs Tiger finally relented and installed lights high atop the ballpark bearing his name as the team became the last American League team to host baseball under the stars.

It would take another 40 years before the only other holdout, the Chicago Cubs, installed lights at Wrigley Field.

The $400,000 Lights in Detroit’s Ballpark

With American League President Will Harridge in attendance, on June 15, 1948 at precisely 9:28 PM, a capacity crowd of 54,480 Tiger fans at Briggs Stadium were thrilled when Walter O. Briggs pulled the switch on his new $400,000 lighting system.

Suddenly eight majestic light towers containing 1,386 mammoth 1500-watt bulbs and 58 1,000 watt bulbs turned on as the fans let out a collective roar of acceptance.

“I have two young children,” Mrs. John Hoben told the Detroit Free Press, “Baby sitters aren’t available during the day, but I’m all set now for the 13 other games the Tigers will play at night.”

Added 51-year-old Don McMillan, of Ferndale “who saw his first ball game when Pittsburgh beat Detroit in the 1907 World Series in the old Bennett Park, echoed the fans lucky enough to get a seat: ‘I think it’s much better than a day game. For my money, you can’t beat it.’”

What was strange is that the Tigers scheduled their first night game to start when it was completely dark when the lights were activated.

Seeing a promotion opportunity, The Detroit Edison Company ran newspaper ads that listed the 14-night games at Briggs Stadium while stating: “There’ll be no 10 o’clock shadows at Briggs Stadium this season. The world’s most modern lighting system brings night baseball to Detroit—the kind of lighting you’d expect in the finest ball park in America.”

Less than three years earlier, the Tigers had won their second World Series title, with Hank Greenberg as the star of their lineup.

Newhouser Brilliant in First Night Game at Briggs Stadium

The game started with Tiger pitcher Hal Newhouser walking the A’s Eddie Joost on four straight pitches but he struck out the next hitter Ray Coleman on just three.

“Prince Hal” then pitched a brilliant, complete game two hitter as he led the Tigers to a 4-1 victory thanks in part to eight inning home runs by Dick Wakefield and Pat Mullin and two spectacular fielding plays by Tiger third baseman George Kell.

Impressed with the new glow at Briggs Stadium, the next day Windsor Star columnist Doug Vaughan wrote:

“Hard as it may be to believe, the players, both in the infield and outfield actually stand out more clearly than in the day time. The ball is just as easy to follow in its flight, and the park, easily the most beautiful ball plant in the country at any time, takes on an added sheen with the red clay that surrounds the playing field standing out in striking relief to the emerald green of the outfield grass.”

Years later, Frank Feneck, the former head groundskeeper at Tiger Stadium who grew up in the Briggs Stadium neighborhood told me that as a kid he used to sit in his bedroom at night reading comic books that were lit up by the stadium’s lighting system.

More Fans Thanks to Lights

According to author Richard Bak, the 14-night games in 1948 at Briggs Stadium greatly boosted attendance and averaged 45,000 fans while attendance records were set for three straight summers. Until 1957 only 14-night games were played each season before seven more were added beginning in 1958 with additional games added later.

(This year, 44 of the 81 home contests played at Comerica Park are night games).

The first big league night game took place on May 24, 1935 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati when President Franklin D. Roosevelt symbolically switched on the lights from Washington D. C. Over the next 13 years the rest of the major league ballparks except for Chicago’s Wrigley Field followed suit.

It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t until August 8, 1988 that the Cubs played their first night game at home.

This year at Comerica Park the Tigers proudly announced that workers had installed 472 new LED light fixtures at the stadium’s 16 light towers that provides better illumination, and energy conservation, while players will see less glare off the light towers. And unlike traditional stadium lighting systems, it will no longer take several minutes for the lights to fire up.

Although the change may or may not be that noticeable by the fans, it certainly could never compare to that magical evening 75 years when Tiger fans finally saw the light.

One reply on “75 Years Ago, the Tigers First Played Under the Lights at Briggs Stadium

  • Mark Goldberg

    The Cubs did not actually play a game on 8/8/88. They tried, and started, but the baseball gods objected, and the game was rained out, short of the regulation five innings.

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