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Baseball history unpacked: Sunday double-header

all your yesterdays and then some

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He deserves a day if anyone does
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In our last yesterday, we learned about the numbers on the St. Louis Cardinals’ sleeves and delved into the secret history of the Peanuts baseball team.

“Let’s play two today!” — Ernie Banks.

“Playing a doubleheader sharpens your talent, betters your game, works on your endurance and develops a real love for what you’re doing. It gives you the challenge that athletes really need.” — Ernie Banks

This time around, Baseball history unpacked looks at the tradition of the Sunday double-header* and doubleheaders in general, plus a few neat related pieces. But first...

Today in baseball history:

  • 1901 - John McGraw, manager of new American League’s Orioles, signs Charlie Grant, trying to pass off the black infielder as a Cherokee Indian named Tokohoma. The skipper’s scheme to secretly integrate the major leagues unravels in Chicago when White Sox president Charles Comiskey objects to Baltimore’s new player, after recognizing the true identity of the team’s second baseman.
  • 1933 - A significant earthquake during an exhibition game in L.A. sends the Cubs and Giants scurrying to second base until the tremors stop. The seismic event, which takes place along the 46-mile-long Newport-Inglewood Fault, is estimated at a magnitude of 6.3.
  • 1933 - Rogers Hornsby returns to the Cardinals as a player after being fired as the Cubs’ manager last August. He is waived in July.
  • 1958 - Starting this season, A.L. batters will be required to wear batting helmets.
  • 1961 - At Palm Springs, former president Dwight Eisenhower is a no-show at the Angels’ first-ever exhibition game, an 8-3 victory over the Cubs. Ike had been scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but decided to go fishing instead.
  • Happy Cubs birthday: Dad Lytle, Gene DeMontreville, Bill Heath, Joe Campbell, Darcy Fast, Donnie Murphy.

*Chris Jaffe at Fangraphs wrote two excellent pieces (part one, part two, part three) about the history of the doubleheader. “The Cubs”, says Jaffe, “were the most doubleheader-averse team in the league, something that would continue to be true of them all the way until World War II.”

This even though “the worst teams played in the most doubleheaders”, as the Cubs were a middle-of-the-road club in the 1890s, the Cap Anson era, and “well-established” in the decade when doubleheaders became popular. By the end of that period, “one-fourth of games occurred in doubleheaders”.

The next thirty years were largely a matter of refining what had already been put on the table as the modern era began and baseball became the National Pastime. One of the quirks was that teams scheduled the most games on Saturday, the traditional day off for most working men. Jaffe notes that “The phrase “Sunday pitcher” referred to hurlers who worked the weekly doubleheader”. Blue laws determined that the Sunday games didn’t start in earnest until the 1930s, and the period in which they were most common was the trio of decades from the 1930s through the 1950s. The 1950s especially sported many doubleheaders as owners tried to recoup the losses they experienced due to diminishing attendance.

Once into the 1960s, attendance figures began to be high again as the population mushroomed, and doubleheaders became less lucrative. Pretty easy to figure that out, and that’s where we are now.

Other factoids for you:

  • The record for the most doubleheaders played by a team in a season is 44 by the Chicago White Sox in 1943. wiki.
  • Between September 4 and September 15, 1928, the Boston Braves played 9 consecutive doubleheaders – 18 games in 12 days. wiki.
  • There are three recorded instances of a tripleheader in Major League Baseball, indicating three games between the same two teams on the same day. These occurred between the Brooklyn Bridegrooms and Pittsburgh Innocents on September 1, 1890 (Brooklyn won all three); between the Baltimore Orioles and Louisville Colonels on September 7, 1896 (Baltimore won all three); and between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds on October 2, 1920 (Cincinnati won two of the three). Triple-headers are now prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement, except when the first game is the conclusion of a game suspended from a prior date. This would only happen in the extremely rare case of the only remaining dates between teams being doubleheaders and no single games being left for the suspended game to precede. wiki.
  • There are no scheduled double-headers for 2018. The last scheduled doubleheader was last June 10, when the Rays hosted the Athletics.
  • In 2012 Major League Baseball implemented the 26th Man Rule which allows teams to add a player to their roster when a doubleheader is scheduled. bbref.
  • The double-header used to be a 4th of July tradition. Memorial Day games were also common.

I recommend to you, also, the excellent book Doubleheaders: A Major League History, by Charlie Bevis, which is what precipitated this article.

Jim Caple of ESPN at one point asked if we should bring back double-headers. Al and BCB got a shoutout in the article. I’m going to ask the question again.


Should the Cubs schedule a double-header annually to honor Ernie Banks and other Cubs heroes?

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