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Bright Night in Brooklyn
Maury Allen
October 07, 1963
The first major league baseball game under lights at Ebbets Field 25 years ago provided a memorable drama
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October 07, 1963

Bright Night In Brooklyn

The first major league baseball game under lights at Ebbets Field 25 years ago provided a memorable drama

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A noisy crowd of close to 40,000 people squeezed into Ebbets Field on June 15, 1938 to watch the first night game ever to be played in Brooklyn. Larry MacPhail, the Dodgers' imaginative general manager, had introduced night baseball to the majors on a limited scale in Cincinnati three years earlier, but the spectacle of a game under lights was still a big curiosity to most people around the country.

The skeptical Brooklyn fans were no exception. As they piled into the tiny ball park that chilly, damp night, they speculated on how the lights would affect the players and what the cool night breezes would do to a pitcher's arm.

The lights blazed up for the first time at Ebbets Field at 8:35, but the fans had to wait another hour before they would find out how the starting pitchers—Max Butcher for the Dodgers and Johnny Vander Meer for the Reds—would do under the lights. MacPhail first had to put on a lavish pre-game show that featured Jesse Owens, the 1936 Olympics hero, running against members of both teams in a series of handicap races.

Finally, at exactly 9:45, Butcher threw the first pitch of the ball game to Lonny Frey, the Reds' second baseman. Night baseball was on at Ebbets Field.

The Reds failed to score in the first two innings. The Dodgers didn't score either, and not only that, they didn't even get a base hit off Vander Meer. In the third inning, however, the Reds erupted for four runs, and Butcher was through for the night, almost before he had a chance to get warm.

Brooklyn had no such luck. Vander Meer moved through the fourth, fifth and sixth innings without allowing a hit. All eyes were on the tall lefthander. He was pitching his first game since throwing a no-hitter against Boston four days earlier, and the cool night air wasn't bothering him a bit. He was throwing hard, and his curve was snapping sharply. The lights, if anything, seemed to make his fast ball even more effective.

Third Baseman Cookie Lavagetto became the first Brooklyn runner to reach second base. He made it in the seventh inning when he walked and moved up a base when Vandy walked First Baseman Dolf Camilli. Vander Meer was just a little off the plate for both men.

"He fired hard all through the game," Lavagetto recalled. "Fie wouldn't let up. That's why he had control trouble."

But with Cookie two bases away from a run, Vander Meer settled down. He struck out Ernie Koy, and Leo Durocher rolled out to end the inning. He now had pitched seven innings without giving up a run or a hit.

In the eighth, Vander Meer bore down even harder. Woody English batted for Relief Pitcher Luke Hamlin, and Vander Meer struck him out. Kiki Cuyler flied out, and Vandy got Johnny Hudson swinging at a curve. He was now three outs away from a second no-hit game.

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