Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Day they Gave a Game and Almost No One Came

Most of the members of the 1880 Squad were back for another Pennant Run the next year.

On September 27, 1881 the Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Chicago Cubs) played a game before the smallest “crowd” in their long history—12.  It may also be the lowest attendance in Major League history, although there are other contenders.  Which was strange.  Under legendary player/coach Cap Anson the Chicago Nine had been the top professional team for some time and dominated the early seasons of the National League.  On that Tuesday afternoon in Troy, New York, the team was coasting to another pennant with an eight game lead.
Perhaps it was because the Troy Trojans—you didn’t expect any other nick name did you—were a lousy team.  They struggled in 5th place and finished the season 39-45, 17 games behind Chicago.  But the White Stockings were so laden with talent that they were a draw everywhere, even when the host teams were certified mopes. The Trojans would be disbanded after the next losing season.  More than half of their players jumped to a brand new franchise in New York City, the Gothams—later known as the Giants.
Perhaps the low attendance was due to the weather.  My attempts to ascertain conditions that day in Troy have been unsuccessful.  But it can get a mite nippy and/or rainy and raw in Upstate New York in late September.  My guess is that is what kept the crowd below the combined number of players on the field.
The Cubs would go on to have their own attendance problems, even in beautiful Wriggly Field when they seemed mired in particular futility in the early 1950’s.  But they have gone on to become one of the most successful teams in baseball in terms of selling tickets. 
At least in contention for several years running they continued to pack the house for home games until the wheels started coming off the squad in 2010. Promises that new ownership and rock star baseball execs imported from the Boston Red Sox turnaround have so called failed to turn the ship around.  The Boys in Blue are crawling to a 100 loss season, which would make them proportionally a much more miserable failure than the hapless
Trojans of old.   
Naturally, attendance is down.  But not by a whole lot.  Despite hand wringing dipping attendance usually meant that a few scattered seats here and there and in the upper deck corners were unfilled.  Compared to the nearly empty stadiums you see on television for some teams, they are still the envy of baseball.  With an enormous national fan base, they draw just as well on the road.  Mean while on the South Side, the team that has been in first place most of the season but seems to be trying to blow it at the end still often plays to half empty stands and is still giving away or discounting tickets.
But back to 1881 the White Stockings won that game in Troy 10-8.  Bet the 2012 squad wishes they could play them.

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