The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Turn Back the Clock: Nighttime Baseball Comes to New Orleans in 1936.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s minor-league baseball likely would not have survived if night-time baseball games had not been adopted by many teams in Organized Baseball. One historical account has the first official game played under the lights occurring in Independence, Kansas on April 28, 1930. It ushered in a new era of baseball. The local New Orleans Pelicans baseball team didn’t follow suit until May 15, 1936, but nighttime games ultimately became a staple of the franchise.

Like many minor-league franchises who were struggling financially, the Pelicans (a Cleveland Indians affiliate) had been losing money for several years. The team installed permanent lighting of 310,000 watts on steel structures, providing a well-lighted diamond at Heinemann Park. It was said to be on a par with the best lighted ballparks in the country. Pelicans club official Fred Baehr commented about the overflow crowd of 11,149 fans for the first game, “It was a great turnout. It looks like night baseball is going to be our salvation.” He added, “It will keep the club out of the red.”

On May 15, the Pelicans opposed a hot Atlanta Crackers team, who had won nine consecutive games and 24 of their last 29 games. Long-time Pelicans manager Larry Gilbert, who had been seriously ill for a month, showed up for the historic game, but ended up leaving after only a few innings.

The Crackers demonstrated why they were at the top of the Southern Association standings. They pounded Pelicans pitchers for 15 hits, banging out six extra-base hits on their way to an 11-5 victory. After seven innings, the Pelicans were still in the game, behind by a score of 5-4. But Atlanta broke open the floodgates in the ninth inning with six additional runs.

First baseman Alex Hooks was the hitting star for the Crackers, with two doubles and a home run. Future major-league player and manager Paul Richards chipped in a home run and a double.

The Pelicans’ offense was paced by future New York Yankees star Tommy Henrich, who went 3-for-5, including two doubles. Crackers pitcher Bob Durham pitched a complete game, although he allowed 10 hits and two walks.

After the game, comments about the lights were favorable. Crackers president Earl Mann said, “Your [Pelicans] system is plenty good. It is one of the very best I’ve seen. I am sure that New Orleans is going to like night baseball. Jesuit High School athletic director Gernon Brown, offered, “This crowd speaks for itself. Night baseball is going to be a great success in New Orleans.”

Local lawyer and former Tulane football star Harry Talbot was impressed with the lighting conditions. “It was better than I expected. It is really surprising how well you can see the ball.” He added, “Night baseball will catch back all the ground the game has lost around here.”

The predictions regarding how baseball under the lights would improve the Pelicans’ financial outlook proved to be true. The team realized a significant uptick in attendance in 1936, with 135,890 fans coming through the turnstiles. It represented a 47% increase over the previous year.

Minor-league baseball had adopted night games well before the majors, as the Cincinnati Reds became the first big-league team to host a game, on May 24, 1935, at Crosley Field. Over the next 13 seasons, the rest of the original 16 major-league clubs, except the Chicago Cubs, installed lights. The Cubs finally put lighting at Wrigley Field in 1988.

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