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The Night the Lights Were Turned On at Yankee Stadium

By Sal Maiorana


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The Night the Lights Were Turned On at Yankee Stadium

NEW YORK (May 28, 1946) - Like all big league baseball ballparks that were built in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was no need for lights because, as long-time Yankees general manager Ed Barrow once said, “Baseball was made to be played in God’s sunshine.”

There had been night baseball in the minor leagues as far back as Sept. 2, 1880 when, according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), teams sponsored by two prominent Boston department stores, Jordan Marsh and Company and R. H. White and Company, played under makeshift lights at Nantasket Bay in Hull, Massachusetts.

Over the next 50 years there were numerous instances of baseball being played at night in the minor leagues and by 1934, as the Great Depression was still ravaging the United States, 15 of the 19 minor leagues in operation had at least one park equipped with lights. The reason was simple: Many baseball-loving Americans couldn’t afford to attend day games and possibly miss work, but night games were an alternate solution and the gates in some cities often doubled and tripled for the games played after sunset.

Larry MacPhail, a lawyer based in Columbus, Ohio, had purchased a stake in the Columbus Red Birds, a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, and he saw first-hand how popular night games were. So in 1933 when the financially struggling Cincinnati Reds hired MacPhail to be their chief executive and general manager, one of his primary missions was to bring night baseball to the major leagues.

When he learned of this, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis spoke to MacPhail and said, “Young man, not in my lifetime or yours will you ever see a baseball game played at night in the majors.”

Undaunted, MacPhail presented a plan on how to integrate night baseball to the owners at the annual National League meeting in December 1934 and while most had no interest, he was eventually granted permission by NL president Ford Frick - against the wishes of Landis - to schedule seven night games at Crosley Field, the first of which was May 24, 1935 when the Reds hosted the Philadelphia Phillies.

It was quite a night as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, seated in the White House, pushed a ceremonial button and one million watts of electric power from 632 lamps lit up the field. Frick, who despite acquiescing to MacPhail was, like Landis, not in favor of the idea of night baseball, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and the Reds went on to a 2-1 victory.

MacPhail would become GM of the Dodgers in 1938 and one of his first orders of business was to install lights at Ebbets Field in time for that season, and the Reds served as the visitors for the first night game in New York City baseball history on June 15. That was also quite a night because Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer became the first and still only pitcher in MLB history to throw back-to-back no-hitters, this being the second, a 6-0 victory before 38,748 fans, the largest crowd to watch a game in the Brooklyn bandbox that season.

Night baseball continued to spread in both the National and American leagues, but even though Ebbets Fields and the Polo Grounds (1942) were on board, the Yankees refused to light up the Bronx and that remained the case until 1946 and again, it was MacPhail who made it happen.

The heirs of Yankees owner Col. Jacob Ruppert - who had taken control of the team following his death in 1939 - sold the club to the triumvirate of MacPhail, Dan Topping and Del Webb in 1945. Barrow - who had become Yankees GM in 1921 and was still running the baseball operation - was still opposed to night baseball at Yankee Stadium, but MacPhail made it abundantly clear that it was happening whether Barrow approved or not.

And with World War II over, thus allowing for domestic construction projects such as this, MacPhail announced in late October 1945 that a $250,000 lighting system - said to be the best in baseball with more than 2.1 million watts of illumination spread across six banks - would be ready at some point in 1946.

That point was supposed to be May 27 but rain washed out the game, so on May 28 a huge crowd of 49,917 watched as Washington Senators’ third baseman Sherry Robertson drew a leadoff walk against Yankees starting pitcher Cuddles Marshall and night baseball was born in the Bronx.

The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Snuffy Stirnweiss led off with a double and eventually scored on an RBI single by, appropriately enough for the occasion, Joe DiMaggio. But that would prove to be it for the Yankees as they struggled with the knuckleball of Senators starter Dutch Leonard and eventually dropped a 2-1 decision with Leonard himself driving in the winning run with a fourth-inning single.

Just a few days before the historic game, long-time Yankees manager Joe McCarthy resigned and returned to his Tonawanda, New York farm. In a telegram dated May 26, 1946 McCarthy wrote, “It is with extreme regret that I must request that you accept my resignation as manager of the Yankee Baseball Club, effective immediately. My doctor advises that my health would be seriously jeopardized if I continued. This is the sole reason for my decision, which as you know, is entirely voluntary on my part.”

McCarthy had battled problems with his gall bladder in both 1945 and 1946, but it was also true that he had a drinking problem and that was certainly a factor in his decision. But perhaps more than his health, McCarthy and MacPhail did not get along and their relationship came to a head when MacPhail defended pitcher Joe Page, who had been scolded in front of the team by McCarthy on a plane ride from Cleveland to Detroit a week earlier.

And so the night the lights went on, it was Bill Dickey - the future Hall of Fame catcher who in 1946 was back with the Yankees after a two-year military commitment - serving in the role of player-manager. Dickey caught and went 1-for-4 in what would be his last season as a player.

As for Marshall, when you think of all the great Yankee pitchers through the years - several of whom were on that 1946 team including Spud Chandler, Bill Bevens and Joe Page - it was funny that the nondescript 21-year-old with the funny nickname was on the mound making the first start of his brief MLB career in such a momentous game.

Growing up in Bellingham, Washington, Marshall’s hero was former Yankees great Lou Gehrig and it was said that he once told his mother, “You know, Mom? One day, I’m going to play for the New York Yankees.”

Sure enough, he made his Yankees debut on April 24, 1946 with 2.2 innings of relief against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the highlight of which came when he induced Ted Williams to ground into a double play. There were three more relief appearances before this night when Dickey - making his Yankee Stadium debut as player-manager - tabbed Marshall to start.

After the game-opening walk to Robertson, Dickey went out to the mound and asked, “Are you scared kid?” Marshall nodded and Dickey patted him on the butt and replied, “So am I.”

Marshall - who was tagged with the nickname Cuddles by Page who teased him because all the girls wanted to cuddle with him because he was so good looking - settled down and got Stan Spence to ground into an inning-ending double play. He went on to pitch seven innings and allowed Washington’s two runs on seven hits and five walks, taking the loss because Leonard baffled the normally potent Yankees offense.

Marshall appeared in 23 games in 1946 with 11 starts, posting a record of 3-4 and an ERA of 5.33. He spent almost all of 1947 and 1948 in Triple-A with just one appearance for the Yankees in 1948. He then pitched in 21 games in 1949 before ending his career with the St. Louis Browns in 1950. For his MLB career Marshall was 7-7 with a 5.98 ERA in 73 games.

Marshall spent two years in the Army, returned to baseball as a minor leaguer in 1953 and then retired after he was seriously involved while riding as a passenger in a car crash that killed the driver.

1 Comment

Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
7 days ago

With a build-up like that, we need a photo of Cuddles!

Seems like he lives up to billing!

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