Fifty years ago on that date, Wednesday, September 21, 1966, the Cubs also defeated the Reds, by a similar score, 9-3.
Why am I telling you this? Because one contrast between this game half a century and now couldn’t be greater.
The 1966 Cubs were on their way to a franchise-record-tying 103 losses, although their somewhat better play after August 1 (27-32) was a hint at the breakthrough season they’d have in 1967.
But in late September 1966, on a Wednesday afternoon with schools in session, the Cubs more than 30 games out of first place, and a weather forecast that included rain, hardly anyone showed up at Wrigley Field.
This was in an era when few, if any, held Cubs season tickets. There aren’t any reliable records from that era, but I’d guess that in ‘66 there were fewer than 1,000 season-ticket holders, if that. Plus, attendance figures in those days were announced as turnstile counts, not tickets sold as they are today.
Just 530 paying customers walked through the gates at Wrigley Field that Wednesday afternoon. Between 1959 and 1966 there were 11 Wrigley games, all in late September, where the Cubs announced an attendance of less than 1,000. Attendance records before World War II are somewhat sparse, but that 1966 game recorded the lowest announced attendance number since 1943. No Cubs game since 1966 has had an attendance number below 1,000; the lowest since 1966 was 1,171, in a similarly-meaningless Mets/Cubs contest on September 24, 1980. In recent years the lowest Cubs attendance was 5,267 on June 1, 2000, a hastily-scheduled makeup date for the previous day’s rainout. With well over 25,000 season tickets and attendance now announced as tickets sold, no Cubs game will ever have an announced attendance figure like those.
530 people could comfortably fit in about three sections of the newly-renovated bleachers.
Those 530 people saw the Cubs offense put together a pretty good game, just as nearly 80 times that many folks saw the Cubs’ dismantling of the Reds in the last game of the series this week. Don Kessinger went 4-for-5, Billy Williams homered (his 29th and final homer of that season) and Adolfo Phillips also homered, a three-run shot in the eighth putting the cherry on top of that win, similar to Kris Bryant’s eighth-inning homer Wednesday.
Richard Dozer, the Cubs beat writer for the Tribune in 1966, wrote this about the game (in a story that was buried at the bottom of the front page of the sports section, below a headline about the Dodgers/Pirates pennant race):
Rookie Ken Holtzman, who made his first pitching appearance for the Cubs barely a year ago as a teen-ager, became their first 10-game winner of the season at Wrigley field yesterday.
Kenny was on hand for only six innings of a lightly-regarded struggle against the Cincinnati Reds in which the Cubs won, 9 to 3, in the semi-privacy which only 530 spectators can provide.
While the games of September 21, 1966 and September 21, 2016 were against the same opponent, with similar scores, the franchise is in much better shape now and instead of playing out the string, this year’s Cubs are setting up for what we hope is a memorable postseason run.
I like these Cubs better.