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A brief history of Cubs neutral-site games

At least one of them was historic.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

Tonight’s Cubs/Pirates Little League Classic will be played at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field (its official name) in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This park dates to 1926 and is the home of the Williamsport Crosscutters of the short-season NY-Penn League.

The Cubs/Pirates game Sunday night is officially a neutral-site game, even though it’s only 200 miles from Pittsburgh. Per Retrosheet, the Cubs have played 28 neutral-site games in their history, 25 regular-season games and three World Series games. (Note: In that neutral-site game link, there is an error — there’s a May 17, 1911 listing that says “NL Chicago at NL New York,” but the Cubs were playing at Brooklyn that day. The Cardinals were the Giants’ opponent on May 17, 1911.)

Here’s a brief review of all of the Cubs’ neutral-site games since 1901. (There were 14 others in the 19th Century when baseball scheduling was more casual than it is now.)

May 9, 10, 11 and 12, 1911: vs. New York Giants at Hilltop Park, New York

These were made necessary by a fire at the Polo Grounds in April 1911; the Giants played at Hilltop Park, home of the then-New York Highlanders until late June. The Highlanders wouldn’t be named “Yankees” until 1913. The Cubs split the four games.

September 26 (doubleheader), 28 and 29, 1914: vs. Boston Braves at Fenway Park

The Braves’ home at the time, South End Grounds, had a smaller capacity than Fenway, which was only two years old at the time. Imagine this happening today:

On August 3, 1914, Red Sox President Joseph Lannin sent a telegram to Braves President James Gaffney offering the use of Fenway Park (free of charge) in place of the smaller South End Grounds where the Braves played their home games. A month later, on September 3, Gaffney wired Lannin that the Braves would play their remaining home games at the American League park.

Though the Braves had used Fenway Park before, they officially called the ballpark home for the rest of the 1914 regular season

The Cubs lost all four games; those were the “Miracle Braves” on their way to a World Series title.

May 20, 21, 22 and 24 and July 22, 23, 24 and 26, 1915: vs. Braves at Fenway Park

The Braves used Fenway Park as their home field until Braves Field opened on August 18, 1915. More sweeps: The Cubs won all four games in May and lost all four of the July series.

September 5, 6 and 7, 1918: World Series Games 1, 2 and 3 vs. Red Sox at Comiskey Park

The larger capacity of Comiskey was the reason:

Major League Baseball and the Cubs decided that the team’s home World Series games would be played at Comiskey Park, which was known at that time as “The Baseball Palace of the World.” Erected in 1910, Comiskey Park held twice as many people and had an upper deck, so MLB and the two teams could split more cash from gate receipts by using the White Sox’s ballpark.

The Cubs lost Game 1, won Game 2 and lost Game 3.

June 25, 1956 and June 5, 1957: vs. Dodgers at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, New Jersey

The Dodgers wanted a new stadium to replace aging Ebbets Field. The minor-league team in Jersey City had departed after 1950 and officials there thought having some Dodgers games in Jersey City might help them attract another team. The Dodgers played seven games there both in 1956 and 1957. There was an option to renew the deal for another three years, but the Dodgers left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

The Cubs lost both games, 3-2 in 1956 and 4-0 in 1957.

March 29 and 30, 2000: vs. Mets at the Tokyo Dome

These were the first major-league games played outside North America. The Cubs and Mets were chosen because of the popularity of Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza in Japan at the time. The Cubs won the first game 5-3 and lost the second one 5-1 on an 11th-inning grand slam by Benny Agbayani. I attended these games; the second one ran nearly four hours until 11 p.m. local time and had it run another 30 minutes, it would have caused a transit mess, as Tokyo subways stop running at 11:30 p.m.

September 9, 10 and 11, 2003: vs. Expos at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Expos played 22 games in San Juan in both 2003 and 2004, and the Cubs were part of it in 2003. These games were important for the Cubs in their race toward the N.L. Central title that year. The Cubs lost two of the three and ended the set one game out of first place. I went to these games as well; one thing I remember is the large number of fans who had taken the short flight from the Dominican Republic to see Sosa play. The games drew 15,632, 18,002 and 12,559 in a stadium that held about 20,000.

September 14 and 15, 2008: vs. Astros at Miller Park

These two games were moved to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike bearing down on the Houston area. The first one was historic [VIDEO].

Carlos Zambrano threw the Cubs’ first no-hitter in 36 years in the first of the two games. Incidentally, part of that video is from the Houston TV feed and you can hear Jim Deshaies, then an Astros broadcaster, calling some of it. It was officially a “neutral” site, but due to the proximity to Chicago, nearly all of the 23,441 in attendance were Cubs fans. I went to this one, too, the first Cubs no-hitter I had seen in person. Jake Arrieta has since thrown two, but no Cub has thrown a no-hitter at Wrigley Field since Milt Pappas, September 2, 1972.

Big Z’s no-hitter was the first thrown at a neutral site. Walker Buehler and three Dodgers relievers threw the second one May 4, 2018 at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, the first no-hitter thrown outside the U.S. or Canada.

What’s been nearly forgotten from that 2008 series in Milwaukee is that the Cubs almost no-hit the Astros the next day as well. Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before current Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta singled with one out to break it up. It was the only hit the Astros had in a 6-1 Cubs win, and that was more MLB history:

The Cubs became the first team in major league history to throw a no-hitter and one-hitter in back-to-back games.

No one has done that since.

Overall, the Cubs’ record in neutral-site games is 10-15 in the regular season and 1-2 in the World Series.

Sunday night’s game in Williamsport, Pennsylvania will thus be the Cubs’ 29th neutral-site game. They’ll play two more next year against the Cardinals in London, England, June 13-14, 2020.