Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm"

There's not a whole lot to say about the Cubs' 8-4 loss to the Braves that hasn't been said 84 other times this year (I say 84, because before last night, that's how many games the Cubs had lost.

I do want to point out a couple of shake-your-head-how-could-they-have-said-or-written-that quotations, both from the above-linked Yahoo/AP recap, and from the CSN telecast last night.

First, even the AP is dissing the Cubs. AP writer Paul Newberry first says the Braves are desperately trying to stay in the wild-card race and

They're facing the right team to get something started.

While that happens to be true, it's still jarring to see it in an actual game summary. Later in that article, Dusty Baker says of Turner Field:

"I had hoped that in this big park, we'd keep the ball in the park," manager Dusty Baker said.

Big park? Since when? Turner Field isn't the launching pad that the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was, but I have never heard it described as a "big park" before.

And finally, Angel Guzman's take on his 4.1 IP, 7 H, 3 HR performance:

"When you fall behind in the count, you have to go for the strikeout and you have a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate," Guzman said. "A lot of mine were in the middle, and they hit them pretty hard."

Well, duh, Angel. This was one of your worst performances, but Len and Bob, who have in the past been critical when warranted, were spouting the company line last night, saying that Guzman had "thrown well". Well? What's their definition of "well"? Guzman was awful last night, and I do not see how he can be counted on for next year. His next turn, and the rest of the year, should be given to Jae-Kuk Ryu, someone who has a much better chance at being a successful major league pitcher.

Anyway, I'm done with that game -- as should we all. I want to use the rest of this post to talk about some stuff I found out while I was looking up something else -- always fun. Today is the 41st anniversary of the last time the Cubs were no-hit -- Sandy Koufax' perfect game. As you may know, that was the second no-hitter thrown against the Cubs in a three-week period; Jim Maloney of the Reds had no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 19, 1965; that was the last CG, extra-inning no-hitter (10 innings) thrown in the history of baseball.

What you may not know, and I didn't till I started looking things up, is that the Cubs were also one-hit two other times in the second half of 1965 -- on July 23 by Bob Friend of the Pirates at Wrigley Field, and on the second-to-last day of that season, October 2, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, by ex-Cub Don Cardwell, who had thrown a no-hitter in his first Cub start on May 15, 1960.

It was in the process of looking up those games that I noted the small attendance at many Cub games in the mid-1960's, and since attendance is now becoming a hot issue, I thought you would like to know this:

Between 1959 and 1966, there were nine games at Wrigley Field in which the announced attendance was less than 1000. They were all mid-to-late September dates, pennant races long ago decided, and I'd think likely the weather was bad on most if not all of those dates. They are as follows (date, with attendance):

9/17/1959, 598

9/26/1962, 930

9/27/1962, 617

9/28/1962, 595

(Note: there were no such games in 1963, a year where the Cubs briefly contended for the pennant and wound up with a winning record, 82-80.)

9/22/1964, 961; this game included beating Don Drysdale and an 8-inning relief appearance by Cal Koonce.

9/24/1964, 629

9/21/1965, 892

9/16/1965, 550; in this game, Sandy Koufax recorded one of his nine career saves. I have a vague memory of seeing this game on TV, with Jack Brickhouse noting the bad weather and the very small crowd.

9/14/1966, 961

9/21/1966, 530; this is the lowest attended game in at least the last fifty years.

In 1967, the Cubs suddenly broke through their two decades of losing, and attendance rose accordingly, never again dropping to this level, even for September games. Remember, in those days very few season tickets were sold, and the announced attendance was the turnstile count. In recent years, the closest a single game attendance has come to those levels was on 9/22/1980, 1171.

There's a point to all of this, so stay with me. Attendance rose through the 1980's, peaking in 1984 and 1985, in the first division title years, then declining till the next one in 1989. In 1992/1993, the National League shifted the way attendance was announced (the AL had done this several years before) -- before 1992, it was turnstile count, but in 1993, they changed to tickets sold, with the following result:

1992, sixteen crowds under 20,000
1993, two crowds under 20,000

This despite the fact that the '92 and '93 teams were substantially the same in performance, and the '93 team had lost Greg Maddux under the bad circumstances you all know about.

The last home crowd under 10,000 was 5,267 on 6/1/2000; that was an extenuating circumstance, as the game the day before had been rained out and that was a makeup game. The last "legitimate" crowd of less than 10,000 was 9,603 on 9/28/1992.

And before last Thursday, the last crowd under 30,000 was 29,236 on 5/2/2003, just before that team took off and created the attendance boom we have seen up to this year.

Here's the point of all of this; thanks for patiently plowing through to find it. The current attendance total for 2006 is 2,722,472, an average of 39,456 for the 69 dates (one rainout). To make 3 million the Cubs will need 277,528 or 25,230 per date for the eleven remaining home dates. That many tickets have likely already been sold, considering that four of the upcoming dates are weekend dates and four others are night games. But to break the club record of 3,170,184, they will now need 447,713, or 40,702 per date -- so that event, which only two weeks ago I was certain was going to occur, is now clearly not going to happen.

And therein lies the tale for Cubs management -- they ought to realize that they cannot simply open the gates any more and have people just file in. Winning baseball is the way to accomplish this on a continuing basis. Even the Tribune Co. suits ought to stand up and take note of the crowds this past week, which, as I have noted, were about 50% of the tickets sold.

Next year, unless there are bold moves made to improve this club, the actual tickets sold numbers could decline to levels we haven't seen in nearly 20 years.

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