Saturday, January 28, 2006


Not in Levi's catalog

This is from the 1988 Baseball Abstract, but it's not written by Bill James; it's the work of Mike Kopf (briefly mentioned in this article), and is one of several "book reviews" taking up three pages' worth of space between the National League East and the National League West.

Darkness at Noon (The Battle Over Night Baseball at Wrigley Field)
Mike Royko
University of Chicago Press, 286 pages, $19.95 ($14.95 when purchased during daylight hours)

More interesting, these days, than the Cubs performance on the field is the ongoing battle over installation of lights in the friendly confines. This is a controversy, as Royko points out in his inimitable manner, that has torn close-knit Chicago families asunder, much as the Dreyfus affair is said to have done in France. Indeed, police reports for the past two years note an otherwise inexplicable increase in intrafamily homicides, as well as a seemingly endless array of bar wars, the patrons dividing into vitriolic camps of "suns" and "lights." Even teenage gang warfare in the Windy City, it is rumored, has crossed racial and ethnic lines to become a battle between "days" and "nights."

Not surprisingly, Chicago's notoriously corrupt politics has played a major role in the controversy. At first, skittish aldermanic and mayoral candidates tried to straddle the ivy, so to speak, but inevitably were forced to take sides. An already volatile situation was made worse when both pro- and anti-abortion activists jumped into the fray. The anti-abortionists began holding protest marches and labeled themselves "right to lightsers," while the pro-abortionists, predictably, came out in favor of "choice" and called for a Supreme Court ruling. This moved the "right to lightsers" to contemplate a constitutional amendment mandating the installation of lights.

Against this hysteria, even the remnants of the old Democratic machine felt themselves powerless. The late Mayor Washington, after flip-flopping on the issue at least twice, found himself finally vituperated by all factions, and Royko, in his most shocking disclouse, reveals that not everyone in Chicago is convinced that the Mayor died of natural causes: foul play by right to lightsers, who have long threatened a terrorist campaign, is suspected by many. Into this whirlwind stepped a newly appointed Mayor, and as the book went to press, his promise to appoint Jesse Jackson as head of a mediation committee seems at least temporarily to have calmed the storm. But lights or no lights for Wrigley remains one of the most volatile issues of our time, and readers are Royko's book are sure to come away enlightened and yet disheartened, because, as with Catholic versus Protestant in Ireland, or Arab versus Jew in the Middle East, no solution seems on the horizon.

Also reviewed: Water Under the Bridge: The Mysterious Death of Ed Delahanty; What, Me Worry?: An Insiders' Account of the '87 Twins (by Al Newman); The Secret Diaries of Shoeless Joe Jackson; and Ate Men Out: A Culinary History of Fat Men in Baseball.

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