Cubs' home crowds, 1876-1900, Part 9

Ninth in a series of posts about attendance at Cubs' home games in 1876-1900, the 25 seasons of the National League before the Modern Era began in 1901.


Its name has changed twice, from the original Weeghman Park to Cubs Park to Wrigley Field.

But for 106 seasons, the Cubs have called the same place home, the ballpark bounded by Addison, Clark, Sheffield and Waveland on Chicago's North Side.

During their first quarter century in the National League, 1876-1900, as the White Stockings, Colts and Orphans, the team played at 5 different parks.

Some historians count 6, considering one twice that had extensive renovations.

In 1891, as the Colts, they moved to their fourth (or fifth) home: South Side Park.

Like today's Wrigley Field, it was built not for them, but for a defunct team. The Colts took over the lease on the park after the Pirates, the city's club in the Players League, folded along with the rest of the league following 1890, its one and only season.


The South Side Park where the Colts relocated was the second of its name. The first had been home to Chicago's entry in the Union Association, another league that lasted just one year, 1884.

The south end of the property on which South Side Park stood later became the site of Comiskey Park, home to the current White Sox in 1910-90, and is now a parking lot for Guaranteed Rate Field, where the Sox play today.



Al Spalding, owner of the Colts, jumped at the chance to have his team play at South Side Park.

"It could seat between 10,000 and 11,000 people, with room for 5,000 more," Jack Bales writes in his indispensable book, "Before They Were the Cubs," and "street car and railroad lines provided spectators with convenient transportation to the grounds."

Better yet, the estate of the former mayor to whom the park belonged were asking for rent of $1,500 a year, 20 percent of what the Colts were paying at West Side Park, their home since 1885.

But many of the Colts' most loyal fans lived on the West Side. They were quite vocal in insisting that the team continue to play there.

South Siders were just as insistent that the Colts should make the move to their neighborhood.



The Chicago Tribune described the dispute, and its resolution, in its sports section of Monday, March 23, 1891:


"On which grounds will the Chicago club play its games this season?" is a question that has often been propounded since the club added the South Side grounds to its possessions. The question has been an exceedingly hard one for the management to answer.

It knows that a great number of patrons reside in the West Division and would object strenuously to the closing of the Congress street [i.e., West Side] grounds, where for so many seasons the Chicagos have battled for supremacy.

The residents of the South Side claimed that it would be little less than a sin to abandon what are unquestionably the most desirable and best equipped base-ball grounds in the country.

The management was between two fires, and at a loss as to which park to close.

Letters protesting against the closing of either grounds came in numbers and couched in language which could not be mistaken. Suggestions were invited and received, and it was finally decided that there was but one way to adjust the question, and that was the play the championship games at both parks.

This made it necessary to devise some plan by which confusion of grounds could be avoided, so that people would not make a journey to one of the parks to find that the game was at the other.

This will be easily arranged by the decision to play all Monday, Wednesday, and Friday games at the West Side grounds and all Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday games at the South Side grounds.



The National League, unlike the rival American Association, continued to prohibit games on Sunday, making the even split possible.

It made for some interesting 4-game series.

For example, on May 6, a Wednesday, the Colts hosted the Cleveland Spiders on the West Side. The next day, Thursday, on the South Side. The day after that, Friday, the teams were back on the West Side. Then they closed out the series, on Saturday, by returning to the South Side.

The Colts played 4 such series between their home opener, on Friday, May 1, and their last game at home, on Saturday, Oct. 3.


Because of postponements due to weather, they wound up hosting consecutive games at the same park during the same home stand 3 times.

They played 3 games in a row on the South Side in late May, against 2 different teams: Thursday, May 21, and Saturday, May 23, vs. the Phillies, then Tuesday, May 26, vs. the Giants.

They played 3 straight against the Grooms, today's Dodgers, in early July: a doubleheader on Saturday, July 4, followed by a single game on Monday.

Only once did the Colts play back-to-back games on the West Side: their debut at home, on Friday, May 1, and Monday, May 4. Both were against Pittsburgh, which had just changed its name to the Pirates after 9 seasons as the Alleghenys.



The Tribune published this delightful report on the opener:


Various neighborhoods have various ways of determining the arrival of the merry springtide [sic]. Near the parks people know by the perfume of the lilac bushes and downtown they are notified by the billy goat on the muslin sign -- glad harbinger of bock beer.

But out on the corner of Loomis and Congress streets and in the vicinity of that corner folks never pretend to dust behind the pictures till they hear such a noise in the baseball park as a man-hole cover makes when it is blown up against a street car.

They they look out from their windows, and if the crimson championship flag is whipping from the pole and a row of men with red necks can be seen on the top of the wall, they take down the lace curtains and send a boy around the corner for grass seed.

Spring doesn't really come in that part of the town till old friend Adrian Constantine Anson swings his mighty club against an ambitious curve and catching it midway causes the overhanging blue to tremble with the concussion.

When this happens it is time to put the ear-muffs in camphor and invest in the spring tile.

Capt. Anson arrived in the city yesterday, bringing the spring in his train, and at 4 p.m. he opened the season by belting a ball so hard that Uncle James Galvin, his old old friend, shrank up like a woolen undershirt as the projectile shot toward him.

The Captain, in spite of his 84 [!] years, is looking exceptionally well. His blue eye is clear and he can read fine print without the aid of spectacles.

When he rode through the streets yesterday bankers and merchants came out to doff their hats to him. He was led to the grounds by a brass band.

Before he went out he met many of his admirers at the Tremont House and affably shook hands with them. Then he climbed into his carriage, and, accompanied by the members of his team and the Pittsburg ball club and President James Hart, followed a tumultuous band through the principal highways of the commonwealth.

The park was crowded when the team arrived. Memories of the war of the leagues had perished and the Captain beheld once more an undivided kingdom.

All the familiar faces were there.

The old man who lost the use of his legs kicking at decisions was wheeled up to a front seat where he would beat his fists against the fence and wheeze his applause of the fine points of the game.

The man with the voice, who roars, "Well, well, we-el" at proper intervals, was in his old section.

The fanatic who sits silently and stews when the game is close had his coat and vest off before the second inning and was fanning himself with his hat, while perspiration gurgled from his pores.

The crank who becomes cataleptic when a player starts to steal a base and the nervous person who works pleats in his trousers and eats his program before the second inning were side by side.

They were all there.

And the Chicago boy, the stoutest champion of the game through good and evil report, he was there, and the women were there, and the stringy man was on the roof across the street seeing the game for nothing.

It was a great reception Capt. Anson got.

First, the Pittsburgs came out led by the brass band and were cheered. Then the band went back over the field and returned leading the immortal man of many battles.

The crowd arose and roared as the Captain stalked across the diamond with his young men. He took off his cap and disclosed a blushing face and a large delighted smile.

The crowd continued to howl, and the Captain removed his cap again, placed his hand belong his heart, and bowed low.

Then the game was permitted to go on, and the baseball season of 1891 in Chicago began.


How wonderful is that?

Two items of note that are not in that remarkable piece of writing:

1. The Colts lost, 5-2.

2. The attendance was 6,500.



Fewer than 10 percent of that number saw the rematch on Monday.

"Balmy May took a day off yesterday," the Tribune said, "but the Chicagos and Pittsburgs were scheduled to play ball at the West Side park and the game was played.

"Six hundred people, according to Treasurer John Brown, were brave enough to face the March weather. These enthusiasts started off with a great hurrah and pretended to be enjoying themselves hugely.

"They even made a show of cheering the home club when it came on the field. But the deadly lake breeze soon did its work.

"Even the players seemed unable to warm up, though all of them were clad heavily enough for an Arctic expedition."



After the Colts completed a 4-3 victory, the players packed up their uniforms and equipment and made the first transfer to the Colts' second home, where they concluded the series on Tuesday, May 6.

"It was the first game played on the South Side grounds, and while the weather was anything but propitious for baseball 1,800 enthusiasts braved the nipping winds to see the opening," the Tribune explained.

"The grounds were in good shape, but a trifle soft in places, and a ball hit down the infield attained but little speed. Thus the infielders were kept busy pulling down hits that on hard ground would have easily broken through into safe ground."

Third baseman Bill Dahlen, for example, finished the day with 9 assists, while Pittsburgh's second baseman, Lou Bierbauer, had 7.

The final score was 1-0 in favor of the Colts, prompting the Tribune's reporter to declare: "Runs were like angels' visits, few and far between. . . . Chicago managed after a deal of trouble to secure one, but Pittsburg's score was as bare of runs as the Sahara is of verdure."

(That may well be the only time the word "verdure" ever has appeared in an account of a baseball game!)



Only 500 showed up on the West Side the following afternoon for the first of 4 games against Cleveland. But there were 2,500 on the South Side the day after that, then 2,500 again on the West Side, and 6,000 on the first Saturday of the season, on the South Side.

"It looked like old times to see a sweltering mass of humanity packed tightly in the stand," said the Tribune "and bleachers cheering the good plays and guying the bad ones with an enthusiasm worthy of the palmy days of the game, before the brotherhood nightmare came across the spirit of the cranks' dreams.

"The crowd was composed almost entirely of the better class. A number of ladies occupied seats in the stand and boxes.

"While the home club naturally caught the crowd the Clevelands were warmly applauded for every good play, and when Power in the ninth inning declared Gumbert [of the Whites] safe at third when he appeared to be out he was roundly hissed.

Chicago audiences are certainly impartial, if nothing else."

The Inter Ocean, a rival newspaper, chimed in with: "And what a crowd it was! Six thousand people!

"There are always twice as many ladies at the South Side grounds as at the West, and there were more than usual."



Over the ensuing months, the Colts ping-ponged from South to West and back again.

Each of their 5 largest crowds was on the South Side, as were 7 of their top 10 and 13 of their top 20.

Two of the 5 biggest throngs came to South Side Park on the same day, the Fourth of July: 7,000 for a morning game, then 11,117 in the afternoon. The Colts hadn't played in front of that many fans since welcoming 12,500 on the same holiday 3 years earlier.

The Colts began the 1891 holiday in first place by 1 game. They ended it 1 game behind.

Two more losses followed, then 3 wins, followed by a 15-6 thumping by the Giants in front of 9,331 on the South Side.


After winning at Pittsburgh on July 21, the Colts were just 7-8 starting on Independence Day. But the win over the Pirates tied them for first place, and they gained sole possession of the lead the next day, when they outslugged the Reds at home, 16-8.

"It was a queer game," according to the Tribune. "The errors were few and the batting terrific. Ordinarily those conditions would make the style of game the cranks delight in, but it didn't yesterday. It was slow, and the audience of 1,600 was as quiet as a church meeting.

"Nothing exciting happened. Nothing to arouse enthusiasm came in sight. One man on the left field bleachers sent up a feeble howl in the third, but it was not caused by anything the players did.

"It was simply an outburst of joy, a cry of gladness, inspired by the umpire's coming in contact with the ball. It was fiendish gratification, perhaps, but everybody forgave him, for it was the only happening that broke the monotony of the day."


Wins in 7 of their next 8 games put the Colts in front by 3.5 games. Losses in 8 of 12 cut their advantage to just half a game. But they finished a 21-game road trip with 4 straight wins, the last 3 at Pittsburgh, and returned home to play Cleveland on the South Side on Thursday, Aug. 20, with a 2-game lead.



With 3,400 looking on, they won that day, too. And the next 2 days. They rested on Sunday, then won Monday through Thursday, pushing their winning streak to 11 games, their record to 66-39, and their lead to 5 games.

The streak ended with back-to-back losses to the Phillies on Friday and Saturday.

On Monday, Aug. 31, the third-place Giants came to town for 3 games. The first, viewed by 3,800, was scoreless when darkness descended after 11 innings.

Tuesday, on the South Side, the Colts won, 4-1, to the roars of 10,500. There were 5,100 on the West Side for the next day's 14-2 romp, then 2,500 (south) and 3,500 (west) for 10-1 and 5-3 wins over runnerup Boston that left the Colts ahead by a season-high 7 games.


Their lead stood at 6 after they lost the series finale to the Beaneaters in front of 7,000 on the South Side. Then they did not play at home again until Sept. 24. By then, they led by only 2 games.



"It was the first game the Colts played on the home grounds since Sept. 5 and a crowd of 2,500 people went to the South Side grounds to greet them," the Tribune wrote.

"It was not a particularly enthusiastic gathering, strange to say, and the greater share of the applause fell to the Smoky City team. This is hardly fair.

"On the last trip East the Colts won nine out of fifteen games played, a good enough showing surely. Their battle for the pennant with the resources at their command has been one of the remarkable events of the history of the national pastime and they are deserving of every encouragement in these exciting days."


There was no lack of excitement the next day on the West Side. With the Colts down by 2 runs in the eighth inning, Anson hit a home run and Tom Burns scored from second on an infield out.

The Pirates were so abusive in expressing their opinion of the umpire's call of safe that the umpire forfeited the game to the Colts.

But that was their last win of the season at home -- and they had only one on the road, going 1-5-1 in their final 7 games. They were tied for first after a 14-13 win at Cleveland, then lost to the Spiders the next day, 12-5, and dropped 3 straight at home to the Reds, 6-1, 17-16 and 19-5, to finish second, 3 games behind Boston, with a record of 82-53-2.

Since beating the Beaneaters on Sept. 4, the Colts had gone 12-12-1, while Boston had closed with a rush: 25-4-1.

The Colts' 3 season-ending losses to the Reds were witnessed by only 2,000, 1,200 and 1,000.



By poring over contemporary newspapers, I was able to find crowd sizes for 66 of the team's 67 home games. The total for those games was 187,058, an average of 2,834.

That was 1,123 more than their franchise-low 1,711 of the previous season, when they were fighting for customers with the Pirates of the Players League.

The year-to-year increase of 65.7 percent was by far the largest in team history, the previous high having been 52.2 percent in 1885, another year that followed the demise of a rival league.

Of note: the Colts finished second in both 1890 and 1891, with all-but-identical records: 83-53-3 the first year and 82-53-2 the second!


The typical crowd for their 36 games at South Side Park in 1891 was 3,333, or nearly double the 1,711 for all games in 1890.

The 3,333 also was 1,170 more -- 54 percent -- than the 2,163 for 31 games at West Side Park.

Those numbers clearly showed that the Colts should play all of their games in 1892 on the South Side.

And so they did, but not with the results they might have expected.


TOMORROW: The Colts and the World's Fair

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