SAN FRANCISCO -- Tuesday, the Cubs will begin their first-ever interleague series at Oakland; they've played the Athletics twice during the interleague era, both times at Wrigley Field (2004 and 2010).
But this isn't the first time a Cubs team has played the A's in the Oakland, now O.co, Coliseum. Just before the ill-fated 1969 season began, the Cubs flew from Scottsdale, where they then conducted spring training, to Oakland for a pair of weekend games. The reasons for this trip -- and the Cubs had to quickly go from there to Yuma, Arizona to play the Padres the next day -- are lost to the mists of time, but it seems likely that the A's, who had just moved from Kansas City to Oakland the previous year and who had just had the first winning season for the franchise in 16 years, were trying to drum up interest for the club.
It didn't work. The game on Saturday, March 29, won by the Cubs 10-4 as Billy Williams hit a two-run homer and drove in three, drew a "crowd" of 1,841. The next day was better, but not much, attendance-wise -- just 2,913 saw a two-homer, five-RBI barrage from Ron Santo in an 8-3 Cubs win. Reggie Jackson homered for the A's in that Sunday game. Cubs second baseman Glenn Beckert, quoted in George Langford's Tribune recap of the game, summed it up:
"It would have been cheaper to fly the crowd to Arizona than bring both teams here."
Maybe not, but close; at the time the Coliseum seated 51,000 for baseball, and even in that era when crowds like that weren't uncommon, those were very, very small gatherings for major-league baseball games, even exhibition games where it's likely no ticket was sold for more than about $5. The weather was described by Langford as "near-perfect." The total attendance of 4,754 for the two games could be seated in today's Wrigley Field bleachers and still leave about 400 seats empty.
To give you another idea of how baseball has changed in the 44 years since that game, former President Dwight Eisenhower had died March 28, 1969 and his funeral was held March 31. As a result, this change was made in the Cubs' spring schedule, according to the Tribune:
The Cubs game in Yuma, Ariz. tomorrow with the San Diego Padres will start at 5 p.m. Chicago time instead of 2 o'clock because of the Eisenhower funeral. Therefore Manager Durocher decided to hold a workout tomorrow in Scottsdale at 1O a.m. for his regular players and will send a team of second stringers on the flight to Yuma for the contest with the Padres ... Durocher said only about 14 players would make the trip and he doubted the teams would be able to play more than four or five innings before darkness. The Yuma stadium has no lights.
It was a different time. As the Cubs prepare to play that first-ever regular-season game in Oakland, I thought you'd enjoy this little now-forgotten slice of baseball history.