Organized Baseball’s Night Birth

By Mark Metcalf

This article was published in the Fall 2016 Baseball Research Journal.

The first night game in the history of Organized Baseball took place in Independence, Kansas, on April 28, 1930. The Independence Producers, a Class C team in the Western Association, had installed permanent lights on their field, Producers Park. They played a total of fifty-five night baseball games at home in 1930.1

One part of understanding the significance of the event in Independence is understanding the definition Organized Baseball—the term used to describe Major League Baseball and the associated minor leagues. The leagues are governed by rules and agreements such as the National Association Rules, Major-Minor League Rules, and the Major-Minor League Agreement. Besides the rules and agreements, the leagues, teams, and players are governed by the Commissioner of Baseball. The commissioner has authority to discipline all those under his management.2

Before the first night baseball game in Independence, the Independence Daily Reporter wrote, “Independence is thus leading the world in the plan which experts say will ultimately result in adoption by practically every minor league baseball team in the world.” The newspaper added that the night game would be a historic first for Organized Baseball since the game would be on their field under their lights. They believed it would be a notable event that would mark the beginning of a new “epoch” for baseball.3

Independence was not the first city to host a night baseball game. Night baseball games took place much earlier, one being on September 2, 1880, in Hull, Massachusetts. Two department store teams—Jordan Marsh and Company and R.H. White and Company—played a nine inning game that ended in a tie, 16–16. Professional baseball showed no interest in the game, and the Organized Baseball leadership would wait fifty years before giving night baseball a try.4

Various experimental night baseball games and exhibitions did take place after the game in Hull. One such exhibition game took place in Wilmington, Delaware, on July 4, 1896. The teams, Wilmington and Paterson, were Organized Baseball teams in the Atlantic League. The game only lasted six innings, but one of its players was notable: Honus Wagner.5 During the sixth inning, Wilmington pitcher Doc Amole threw an explosive instead of a ball. What followed caused the novel experiment with lights to be cut short. When Wagner connected with his bat, the firework exploded, which put a sudden halt to the game. There were no injuries reported, but many upset fans requested refunds.6

Thirteen years later two Central League teams, Grand Rapids and Zanesville, took to the field at night. The seven-inning game took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 7, 1909. Grand Rapids won the game, 11–10, but they did not have the honor of playing the first night game in Organized Baseball, because league rules banned night games. Therefore the game did not count as a league game.7

Newton Crane's 1891 book that explained the game of baseball included the authorized playing rules for all organizations operating under the National Agreement. One rule required games to start at least two hours prior to sunset. That rule is understandable since another rule stated that games would have nine innings, while another granted umpires authority to call games due to darkness. The 1913 official rules for a regulation game include the same game start time and innings requirements as those published in 1891.8

On June 4, 1927, another night game exhibition took place in West Lynn, Massachusetts. The two New England League teams were Lynn and Salem, and Lynn won the seven-inning game by a score of 7–2. The General Electric Company had placed lights on the company's baseball field for the two visiting teams; the lights were removed after the game. The game got the attention of E. Lee Keyser, the Des Moines (Iowa) Demons owner.9

Several Organized Baseball executives also witnessed the West Lynn night game. Managers from the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox attended, and were impressed with the future prospects of night baseball. The success of the West Lynn game had some league owners and managers considering the benefits of nighttime play. It was the final experiment with lights before the “real thing,” a night league game, would take place.10

The Des Moines Demons were part of the Western League. When the annual National Association convention took place in 1929, Keyser announced plans for night baseball games in 1930. But before the Demons could take the field under the lights, the first league night baseball game actually took place in Independence, Kansas, on April 28, 1930. The teams were the Independence Producers and the Muskogee Chiefs. The Chiefs won the game 13–3, but Independence won the honor of hosting the first league game under lights.11

Before the league night game in Independence, the Producers had played an exhibition night game on April 17, defeating the House of David, a professional team that was not an Organized Baseball club. The light projectors used in the game had been purchased from the supplier was the Giant Manufacturing Company located in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Six steel pipe towers were constructed, and when mounted on the field stood sixty feet tall. Lighting technology had significantly improved since the 1927 game in Massachusetts, which allowed Independence to start a new era in baseball.12

A community effort was needed to make baseball history in Independence. The contract to purchase the lights was signed by several city leaders: B.H. Woodman for the Independence Board of Education, L.E. Losey for the Independence High School Athletic Association, Marvin Truby for the Independence Baseball Association, C.B. Smith for the Giant Manufacturing Company, and Independence's mayor, Charles Kerr.13

Truby owned the Producers in 1930 and pushed to bring night baseball to Independence. A business man who loved baseball, Truby will now be remembered as the “father of nighttime baseball.” In 2014 Truby was posthumously inducted into the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame.14

Baseball Magazine, in 1931, gave credit to Independence for hosting baseball’s first league night game, but that was just the beginning. What took place during the 1930 season showed the significance of the event. Night baseball “spread like wildfire” across the minor leagues and game attendance exploded. (The major leagues did acknowledge what was taking place in the minor leagues at the time, but they had little interest in following suit, yet.15) Independence pitcher Ron Vance threw the first pitch in an official night game. By the end of 1930, 38 minor league teams would be playing night baseball on their home fields. And that was just the beginning of things to come.16

By the end of the 1934 season, sixty-five minor league teams had installed permanent lights on their fields. In 1935 The Sporting News reported that Independence had been the first to use permanent lights, and that the Des Moines claim of being first was false. Leagues were investing in permanent lights during the Great Depression.17

The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball credits night baseball with saving the minor leagues. However, the minor leagues were not the only ones interested in night games. The Kansas City Monarchs were not an Organized Baseball team, but they also made the move to artificial lighting. On April 28, 1930, the Monarchs played their first night baseball game, an exhibition game using a portable lighting system. The game was played in Enid, Oklahoma, against Phillips University. Powering the Monarchs’ lighting was what they advertised as the largest generator of its kind, which could be transported by truck along with the telescoping light towers.18

Des Moines, Iowa, was the second city to have a league night baseball game played, and it was under permanent lights. The Independence lights were adequate for professional baseball, but the system Keyser used in Des Moines was superior. The game took place on May 2, 1930, between the Des Moines Demons and the Wichita Aviators. Unlike the game in Independence, the game in Des Moines was partially broadcast live on NBC radio. That broadcast put Des Moines in the national spotlight, while the achievement in Independence went mostly unnoticed by the mainstream media.19

Independence considered their 1930 lighting system to be “elaborate,” effective for night baseball games and believed to be sufficient for all sports. Even so, Truby announced in March 1931 that he was having additional lighting units installed before the start of the season.20

It did not take long for night baseball to migrate beyond the borders of the United States. In 1931, at Athletic Park, the Firemen defeated the Arrows in a baseball game under the lights in Vancouver, Canada. The fans were awed by the lights, and the game announcer predicted that other cities would soon follow Vancouver’s example. Waseda University Stadium in Japan installed lights for baseball games in 1933. The six towers constructed there were one hundred feet high.21

Larry MacPhail, the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1934, attended the National League convention in December of that year. He requested approval—and received it—to play night games in 1935. Cincinnati, Ohio, would become the first city to hold a major league game at night on May 24 at Crosley Field. The Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 2–1, before a crowd of 20,422.22

In summary, Independence, Kansas, achieved two firsts in baseball history. The city was the first to install and use permanent lights on an Organized Baseball field, first using them in an exhibition on April 17, 1930. Independence was also the first to play an Organized Baseball game under artificial lighting, on April 28, 1930. These events defined the start of a new era in professional baseball. After fifty years of experimenting, Organized Baseball finally had night games.

MARK METCALF is a longtime baseball historian who has been doing extensive research on the baseball history of Independence, Kansas. His interest in the city’s baseball history was kindled by the presence of the baseball grandstand there, which was built in 1918 and the state's oldest. Since Mickey Mantle started his professional career as an Independence Yankee, Mark plans to publish a story about Mantle in the future.

  • 1. Jan Sumner, Independence, Mantle, and Miss Able (Jadan Publishing, 2015), 6–40.
  • 2. Jonathan Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1957), 670.
  • 3. “Independence Plays House of David in Epoch Making Tilt,” Independence Daily Reporter, April 17, 1930.
  • 4. Oscar Eddleton, “Under the Lights,” Baseball Research Journal (1980): 37–38.
  • 5. Jeff Samoray, “April 19, 1900: A Basket of Fresh Goose Eggs,” in Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century, ed. Bill Felber et al. (Society for American Baseball Research, Inc., 2013), 272–74.
  • 6. Daniel Levitt, Ed Barrow, the Bulldog who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 25.
  • 7. Oscar Eddleton, “Under the Lights,” Baseball Research Journal (1980): 38–39.
  • 8. Newton Crane, Baseball (London: George Bell& Sons, 1891), 87–91. John McGraw, Scientific Baseball (Richard K. Fox Publishing Company, 1913), 73.
  • 9. Larry Bowman, “I Think it is Pretty Ritzy, Myself,” Kansas History (Winter 1995/1996): 252–53.
  • 10. Oscar Eddleton, “Under the Lights,” Baseball Research Journal (1980): 39.
  • 11. Oscar Eddleton, “Under the Lights,” Baseball Research Journal (1980): 40.
  • 12. Larry Bowman, “I Think it is Pretty Ritzy, Myself,” Kansas History (Winter 1995/1996): 253–55.
  • 13. “Night Ball will add to Game Punch,” Independence Daily Reporter, April 10, 1930.
  • 14. “Independence Baseball Pioneer to be Inducted into State Hall,” Montgomery County Chronicle, December 26, 2013.
  • 15. Clifford Bloodgood, “1931, a Test for Night Baseball,” Baseball Magazine, April 1931, 509.
  • 16. Bob Rives, “Good Night,” The National Pastime (1998): 21–24.
  • 17. “Big Light Rush Staged in 1930 After Two Tests,” The Sporting News, January 24, 1935, 5.
  • 18. Bob Rives, Baseball in Wichita (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia, 2004), 27.
  • 19. Larry Bowman, “I Think it is Pretty Ritzy, Myself,” Kansas History (Winter 1995/1996): 255–57.
  • 20. “Several More Light Units will be Added Ere Season Starts,” Independence Daily Reporter, March 20, 1931.
  • 21. “Night Baseball is Well Received by Vancouver Fandom,” Vancouver Sun, July 4, 1931. “Night Baseball Park is Nearly Ready in Japan,” Sarasota Herald, September 10, 1933.
  • 22. Oscar Eddleton, “Under the Lights,” Baseball Research Journal (1980): 41.