Friday, September 27, 2013

White Stockings All Honey But Couldn’t Draw Flies in Troy

Almost all of this 1880 Championship team was back for another romp to the crown a year later.  Cap Anson front and center.   

The Cubs are coasting to the end of their third straight abysmal season this weekend in St. Louis, 28 games behind that perennial rival and National League Central leader.  But the most loyal fan base in baseball continues to turn out to cheer their team on.  26,000 fans still turned out on a Wednesday afternoon to see the team close out their home stand at Wrigley Field—far from a sellout, but not at all bad for a humiliated cellar dweller. 
And the team continues to be the biggest visiting team draw in baseball as the vast Chicago diaspora turns out and well-heeled fans travel to follow their team.  Even in St. Louis, the likely Division Champ and a favorite to win the NL Pennant yet again, blue Cubs caps and gear will be seen liberally sprinkling the seas of red.
That perspective makes todays baseball yarn even more of a head scratcher,
On September 27, 1881 the Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Cubs) played a game before the smallest “crowd” in their long history—12.  Probably also the smallest crowd for any Major League regular season game.  Which was strange.  Under legendary player/coach Cap Anson the Chicago Nine had been to 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 championship 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.  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.  Until the recent run of humiliating seasons, home games have routinely been sold out.  And even this year, hand wringing about dipping attendance usually meant that 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 the envy of baseball. 
Confident of that fan base, Cubs owners are planning a major renovation to Wrigley Field to accommodate the faithful for years to come. The team’s broadcast revenues reflect the many fans across the nation who tune in by TV or radio.
Oh, by the way, back to that game in Troy—the White Stockings won 10-8.

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