The 25 percent capacity cap for games at Wrigley Field, for now, limited paid attendance to 10,343 for Thursday’s Opening Day Cubs game against the Pirates.
As you surely know, that’s far fewer than the 40,000-plus who normally crowd Wrigley Field for Opening Day.
Here are a few notes about the size of this crowd.
First, the 10,343 number implies that the official seating capacity of Wrigley Field is 41,372, as 10,343 is exactly 25 percent of that number. I have seen other capacity numbers online in that range, ranging from 41,149 to 41,649. There’s quite a bit of information about Wrigley on the Cubs website, but they don’t list an official capacity.
The last time there was an official crowd of fewer than 10,343 at Wrigley Field was June 1, 2000, when the announced crowd was 5,267. That one requires an explanation. It was a hastily-arranged makeup of a rainout the previous night. The Cubs refunded season-ticket holders for the postponement and sold all new tickets for the makeup game. Thus only that many purchased tickets and showed up (I was one of them) for a 12:05 p.m. start that the Cubs won 5-3.
Previous to that, the last announced paid crowd at Wrigley smaller than 10,343 was September 28, 1992, when 9.603 saw the Cubs lose 10-3 to the Pirates. There were six crowds smaller than 10,343 that year and there’s an explanation for why announced attendance that small stopped after ‘92 (except for that 2000 game).
In 1993, the National League began counting attendance as tickets sold rather than turnstile count. In those days before MLB operations were centralized, the American League had done so several years earlier. The 1993 Cubs, who finished with a better record than the ‘92 squad, had no home attendance smaller than 16.255, a cold Friday in April. There were only two other announced crowds in 1993 under 20,000.
For an Opening Day crowd smaller than the one Thursday, the 4,867 who attended the season’s first game in 1983 holds the mark. As was the case in 2000, this was a makeup game. The scheduled opener on April 5 had been rained out and thus only the turnstile count was announced. The weather wasn’t much better on the makeup date (45 degrees, cloudy) and the Cubs got shut out by the Expos 3-0.
For a scheduled Wrigley opener that wasn’t a rainout makeup date with a smaller announced crowd than Thursday’s we have to go all the way back to 1962, when just 9,750 paid to see the Cubs face the Cardinals on a chilly (38 degrees) Friday, April 13. This shouldn’t surprise you. The Cubs had lost 90 games in 1961, their second straight 90+ loss season, and drew just 673,057 that year, the smallest total attendance for a Cubs season since the World War II year of 1944. The team was lousy and there wasn’t much hope it would get better.
The ‘62 Cubs began to prove that right in the ‘62 opener, blowing a 4-2 lead in the eighth and finally losing 8-5 in 15 innings. They lost 103 games that year, still the franchise record. There were quite a few games in the 1960s with crowds of under 10,000 — heck, under 5,000 — until the team finally started improving in 1967.
Of course, eventually Wrigley Field and other MLB parks will be opened up to larger capacities, perhaps even full houses by mid- or late summer. But if you were part of the Opening Day crowd Thursday, as I was, you were part of something not seen on the North Side of Chicago in decades.