1946. There was a really interesting thing that happened in Wrigley Field in this year, but I already wrote about that in last year's history series.
The Bears won the NFL title in 1946. That game, though, was played in New York, so it doesn't qualify for a "Day in Wrigley Field History".
Well. That sent me looking through the Cubs' game logs for something else interesting; the team, though still good coming off the 1945 NL championship, was never really in contention. They did get somewhat close in July, though, winning 12 of 19, including the first game of a doubleheader over the Phillies July 21, 3-0, behind Hank Borowy, who had helped lead the team to the World Series the previous year.
What was more interesting than the results that day -- and the Cubs lost the second game 4-2 -- was the huge crowd that showed up. Irving Vaughn's Tribune recap:
The Phillies, after serving as the victims of Henry Borowy's reappearance as a nine inning performer, turned on the Cubs in the second game of a double header yesterday and thus knocked the 1945 champions five games in arrears of the Cards and Dodgers, league pace makers. The Cubs' profitable venture ended with a 3 to 0 count, after which the visitors made short work of Claude Passeau and then coasted to a 4 to 2 victory before 45,615, the largest paid crowd in Wrigley field history. The huge crowd increased the Cubs' attendance to 867,083 in 43 playing dates, an average of 20,164.
According to ballparks.com, the official capacity of Wrigley in 1946 was 38,396, so this enormous throng included over 7,000 beyond capacity, likely because the Cubs in those years often oversold to the point of letting everyone in who showed up.
What's more interesting is that 20,164 average cited in Vaughn's article. The Cubs didn't average 20,000 fans for a single season's worth of dates until 1969, when they set the team attendance record that stood until 1984, the first time they drew two million. In 1946, there was obviously still high interest in the team coming off their previous year's title and at only five games behind in July, there was clearly still a chance that they could contend for the pennant. Further, in the first year after World War II ended, baseball attendance jumped in most cities, as people were looking for entertainment and, since television was in its infancy, the only way to see the game was to go to the game.
However, the Cubs faded after that late-July run. They played just two games over .500 (35-33) for the rest of the year, and though they drew 1,342,970, third-most in team history at that time (behind 1929 and 1930), they drew just 475,887 in 28 remaining home dates following that July doubleheader, an average of 16,996.
Cubs attendance would hold up for a couple more years, in the afterglow of the 1945 pennant, but by 1951 began a slow decline as the team got worse. The Cubs drew over one million just once between 1951 and 1968, in 1952, not coincidentally the only non-losing season between 1946 and 1963, and the year the popular Hank Sauer was National League MVP.
The single-game record set July 21, 1946 would be broken the following year. But that's a story for the next article in this series.