The Night the Lights Went Out at Shea

Four decades later, the black and white images serve as static reminders of the dark days (and nights) of life in New York at the time.

The infamous 25-hour blackout on July 13, 1977 has gone down in history as a night of chaos and terror throughout the city that resulted in damages and looting to  1,616 stores, rioting that led to 1,037 fires and 3,776 arrests. According to a congressional study, the blackout resulted in more than $300 million in damages (or roughly $1.2 billion today).

When Shea Stadium went dark just after 9:30 p.m. Mets third baseman Lenny Randle was in the batter’s box leading off the bottom of the sixth inning. Just as Cubs starter Ray Burris wound up … boom.

Lights out.

“It was pitch black, so I swing, make contact, and take off,” Randle said. “What would you do? The Cubs Manny Trillo and Ivan de Jesus tackled me as I coming into second. I’m from Compton so I’m used to playing with no lights, having games lit with candles and car high-beams. We had great eyes and great vision. I figured the game was going to continue, but I guess everyone in charge was too concerned about the ice cream melting.”

Burris added:

“Lights had gone out during games before, so I just stood there on the mound. I noticed Lenny had taken a phantom swing, pretended he hit the ball, and started running the bases. I thought, ‘What in the world is he doing? I had the ball in my hand. If memory serves, I tried to hit him as he rounded second. Lenny was a colorful character, loved to compete.

Burris and the Cubs were staying at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. In an interview with Vice Sports, Burris still remembers the experience clearly:

“Seeing the rioting and looting firsthand was unbelievable, guys everywhere just walking down the street with stolen TVs and stuff. It was like people were possessed. We didn’t say a word, but you start thinking ‘This is not good, this is not good.’ What if they storm or hijack the bus? Or they realize there’s professional athletes making good money on here? Being young men, we would have protected ourselves. We told the bus driver, do not stop. I don’t know the driver’s state of mind, but he did an amazing job getting us through the mayhem.”

With the elevator out of order, Burris climbed the stairs to his room on the 16th floor. “I can’t see my hand in front of me and I don’t know which way to go,” he said. “I was scared to death. I didn’t know if there was someone hiding in the hallway or what. I went room to room looking at the numbers up close until I found mine. There was no air conditioning, so I hardly slept. The next morning, I was so happy we were headed to Philadelphia, but I still had to carry everything back down the stairs.”

Of course, never at a lose for words, Randle remembers the night saying, “I thought it was my last day on Earth. I thought God was calling.”

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