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Lights at last for the Cubs? No chance, says state law

The Chicago Cubs are coming out of hybernation, the team's new management optimistically advertises.

But the team is not, it appears, coming out from under the neighborhood curfew that has kept Wrigley Field in the dark for decades. The ballpark's neighbors have successfully pushed through a state law this week effectively banning night games in the nation's only unlighted major league ballpark.

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''We're all Cubs fans,'' says Larry Blandin, spokesman for Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine (CUBS). But for area residents, even the hint of a move to night games in the congested Wrigley Field area was tantamount to strike three on the third out in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded.

The Lake View neighborhood around Wrigley Field has grown up as close to the stadium as the famous ivy on the field's walls. This boils down to a delicate issue of zoning and timing: Neighbors who work during the day don't mind an invasion of Cubs fans while they're out; but they do mind the idea of returning home in the evening to a second wave of rush-hour traffic, a fight for parking, and dinner serenaded by a duet for stadium organ and crowd.

Anyone who counts himself a Cubs fan is used to a trying brand of devotion - the team hasn't come close to a pennant race since World War II. Under the new management of the Chicago Tribune, team officials had suggested that the ball club might have a better shot at the pennant if lights were installed at the stadium. The theory: If the Cubs had a more normal schedule, including night games, the club might also have a more normal record.

One Lake View area resident suggested that day games have not been the problem for the Cubs and that ''if the Tribune is willing to spend the money to get better players,'' the team will play better.

The Tribune continues to say that lighting has never been ''a first priority for Wrigley Field,'' and there was a conspicuous absence of strong opposition from any sector to the antilight measure. The law, which elevates a local zoning issue to a state environmental issue, amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act to ban Chicago sporting events that have noise levels above 45 decibels (roughly the equivalent of a jet engine) after 10 p.m. Nighttime sporting events like those at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears hold forth, and Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, are not affected.

Further, explains a spokesman for Gov. James Thompson, because the state basically is providing a local zoning ordinance, the new law is likely to face a challenge when and if Cubs management sees night games as necessary.

Mr. Blandin says it's common sense that good management would want to maximize profits and that means taking advantage of every opportunity to help the team play better - including getting lights for night games. But he adds that while the neighborhood and team management (old and new) have had good relations, the CUBS organization move was simply a precaution. ''The function (of the law) is to restrict the passing whim of corporate fancy . . . people are more important than the dollar,'' he says.

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