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Cubs' home crowds, 1876-1900, Part 10

Tenth 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.

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The Colts, as the Cubs were known at the time, entered 1892 with high hopes.

They had finished second 2 years in a row, with nearly identical winning percentages of .610 and .607.

They had finished no lower than third in any of the past 7 seasons, and only once in a dozen years, beginning in 1880.

The Colts seemed destined to contend for the pennant that had eluded them since 1886, and a for a second straight year, they would have no big league rival in the city.

Indeed, in 1892 there would not be a rival league, as the American Association had ended its 10-year run, with 4 of its teams joining the National League.

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According to my extensive research in contemporary newspapers, attendance at their home games in 1891 had jumped by nearly two thirds in over the previous season, to an average of 2,834, nearly back to the 2,950 of 1889.

At South Side Park, where the Colts played 31 games in 1890, the average had been 3,333, almost exactly 500 higher than in 1889 and nearly double the overall average of 1,711 in 1890.

And in 1892, the Colts decided to play all their games on the South Side, rather than half at West Side Park, where the typical crowd in 1890 had been just 2,163, nearly 12,000 smaller.

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BELATED ANNOUNCEMENT

The decision to have just one home park was not made until the second half of March. The Chicago Tribune disclosed the decision with just a single paragraph, beneath a bold-faced subhead, on March 19, just 5 weeks before the team's home opener on April 23:

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Will Use the South Side Grounds Only.

The Chicago club has officially decided to use only the South Side grounds this season. Last year the playing of games on alternate days on the West and South Sides caused great confusion. Then, too, there was no room on the West Side for the 25-cent seats required under the league rules. These reasons, coupled with the fact that the South Side grounds are much easier of access and much more roomy, decided the club in making the change.

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That "league rule" permitted each team to sell tickets to part of its grounds for half the NL's standard 50 cents, matching the price that the American Association had charged for all its seats.

For the first time, the NL also allowed teams to play games on Sunday, as the AA had, unless doing so was prohibited by city or state law.

There no longer were any such prohibitions in Chicago, but the Colts could not play on the Sabbath all the same, under the terms of their lease with the owners of South Side Park. The "Sporting Life" magazine declared that the owners were "as puritanical as a Quaker Sunday with a sprinkling of ash cloth and a thee and thou prayer."

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FANS STAY AWAY

Still, the Colts eventually would play 67 games at home in 1892. Had they maintained their 3,333-fan average at the site of the previous year, they would have finished with a total attendance of 223,311, third highest in their 16 league seasons.

Instead, they attracted less than half than number, 109,365, their lowest total in 8 years and lowest without a rival team in 11 years.

Their average turnout of 1,764 was their second-lowest ever, only 53 more than the 1,711 when they were competing with the Pirates of the Players League in 1890.

That's what happens when a team goes from 22-13, in second place, at the end of May, to 27-31, seventh of 12 teams, at the end of June.

By July 7, the Colts were ninth, at 28-37, 19.5 games out of first. Over the next 7 weeks, they never were higher than seventh, and they still were ninth as late as Aug. 20, when they were 43-58, behind by 23.5 games.

They won 12 of their next 15 to advance to seventh, and that is where they wound up, 30 games to the rear, with a final record of 70-76-1.

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FIRST-GAME FORFEIT

In retrospect, the home opener on Saturday, April 23 against Louisville, one of the 4 transfers from the American Association, encapsulated the frustration of the season to come. From the front-page story in the Sunday edition of the Tribune:

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Rowdyism of a Chicago crowd turned victory to defeat for Uncle Anson and his Colts.

Everything went on smoothly until the close of the eighth inning, when a fierce fight with chair cushions arose between the crowd on the green [i.e. seated on the field] and the crowd in the grand stand.

Three minutes after the first cushion sailed from the grand stand the air was thick with the stuffed missiles and a yelling, struggling mob of excited men and boys surged over the diamond and made all further play impossible.

The Colts had made four runs against two made by the Colonels, and victory had already perched on Uncle Anson's banner and flapped its wing and crowed. Louisville was about to go through the form of earning a good egg in its last inning when the fight arose.

Knowing that a failure to clear the diamond meant a forfeited game, Capt. Anson picked up a bat and almost single handed made big inroads into the yelling mob around him. In this he was aid in a half-hearted way by half a dozen policemen.

The Louisville boys, seeing that a failure to clear the diamond in fifteen minutes meant a forfeit of the game to them, helped along the sport by throwing cushions themselves, and Uncle Anson seemed to be the only man who realized that the riot was not a huge joke.

By his energy, he twice succeeded in clearing the diamond. Twice he stationed his men ready to play. On both of these occasions Capt. Pfeffer of the Louisvilles refused to play. So the riot went on, the crowd surging this way and that before the wrath of Uncle Anse, but always crowding to the diamond.

The same crowd that had cheered the Colts to the echo now drove them to a disgraceful defeat. The participants only knew what they had done when Umpire Sheridan announced that their rowdyism had forfeited the game to Pfeffer's Colonels.

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21 UNDER 1,000

The crowd had numbered 8,5000, according to the Tribune, "to say nothing of the small boys on the telegraphs poles."

I could find no attendance figure for their next home game, on April 29, but the 4 after that attracted only 1,200, 1,200 again, 1,000 and 900.

Only twice the rest of the season did the Colts play in front of more than 4,000 spectators: 5,000, on the morning of July 4, and 6,500, that afternoon.

They played 21 games, nearly one third of their home schedule, in front of fewer than 1,000, and 8 more with a crowd estimated at exactly 1,000.

Their 13 Saturday dates, one of them a single-admission doubleheader, attracted a total of 43,472, an average of 3,344. On Monday through Friday, 49 dates including 3 doubleheaders, they averaged 1,345 -- a drop of 1,999, or 60 percent.

At each of the Colts' last 5 home games, Sept. 19-21 and Oct. 1-5, the crowd was said to be 400. They had had only 3 earlier crowds with no more than 400, all on rainy days.

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WEST SIDE SUNDAYS

During the off season, James Hart, the Colts' president, and two other men had bought the team from Al Spalding and its other stockholders.

The previous owners kept the team's spring training facility in Hot Springs, Ark., and a large plot of land on the West Side. Hart immediately leased the West Side land, where he set about building a new home for the Colts.

The world's fair, formally the World's Columbian Exposition, was scheduled to open in Chicago on May 1 at a site near South Side Park, and the fair would welcome visitors 7 days a week.

"Mr. Hart expresses himself firmly in the conviction that the new movement means Sunday games, especially in this city during the World's Fair," said the New York Times.

Sunday games there would be -- but not on the South Side. The leaseholder would not allow them.

So Hart scheduled Sunday games at the new West Side Grounds, with weekday and Saturday contests at the other park.

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'DISAGREEABLE' DEBUT

The Colts' home debut, on Saturday, May 13, was witnessed by 3,000 on the South Side.

The next day was "as disagreeable a baseball day as could have been made to order," the Tribune remarked. "Heavy clouds hung down over the grounds, apparently almost to the top of the flagstaffs on the stands, and the grounds were wet, slippery, and treacherous."

More from that story:

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Recent improvements and as recent rains have transformed them into a waste of mud, water, Joliet gravel, sewer trenches, and bedouins. The latter marched around during the game in stately grandeur clad in a surplus of variegated colored flowing robes and dignity.

The bicycle track [surrounding the baseball field] is but partially finished and during the afternoon a steam roller plied up and down in front of the stand. Its managers were unmistakably Chicagoans, with a wealth of home price, for when the locals did anything above the ordinary, the roller's whistle shrieked in a way that mad the afternoon hideous.

When the Cincinnatis became busy a profound silence lingered about the iron horse. It must be confessed that the whistle was not any too active during the afternoon.

For Chicago was beaten from start to finish. It never really had a chance to win, as the visitors went away in the lead and remained in front to the end.

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The final score was only 10-8, but after the Colts scored the first run, they gave up the next 7, and trailed, 10-5, before scoring once in the seventh and twice in the eighth.

The next afternoon, the Colts lost again, 13-12, when the Reds, batting last, scored 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth.

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FIRST ON SABBATH

But the real story was the crowd that streamed to the West Side for the first Major League game on a Sunday in city history.

The Tribune said it was 13,5000. The Inter Ocean and the Post set it at 13,233, the latter saying that figure was "by actual count."

The Post went on to say:

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It was the first game, too, to be played in the new park, and in spite of that fact and the confusion that should have arisen in the seating of the people the vast crowd was orderly as the congregation of a church, and not one unpleasant incident disturbed the serenity of the affair. The character of the vast concourse of citizens was above the average.

A well-known court judge who was present looked around surprised and said: "This crowd is a revelation to me. I had no idea that this is what Sunday base ball is like. I have never before seen such a vast assemblage so completely free from every objectionable feature.

"These people are highly respectable, every one of them. Sunday ball is what Chicago has needed these many years, and I am amazed that we have not had it before. I must congratulate Chicago and the Chicago ball club, the first for being given this splendid out-of-door entertainment and the second for giving it."

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BIG DISPARITY

The Colts played 4 games on the South Side the following Monday through Saturday, averaging 1,228 spectators, ranging from 510 to 2,200.

When Sunday rolled around, 11,700 flocked to the West Side.

Three weekday games on the South Side averaged 3,333.

Then the Colts left town, not returning for 3.5 weeks. In their first game back, on Sunday, they were greeted on the West Side by 11,000; the next day, on the South Side, there were just 1,500.

After those 2 games, the Colts immediately left town again, for 3 games at Cincinnati. They lost them all and fell to 10th place, 10 games out of first, with a record of 19-27.

The last of the 3 losses to the Reds was on Sunday. The following afternoon, at home, the Colts lost again -- but on the West Side, not the South.

The game was moved to the newer park because Hart had leased South Side Park for a 16-team intercollegiate tournament, which began that Monday with Illinois beating West Virginia.

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From Tuesday through Saturday, the Colts played each day on the South Side, in front of a total of 9,700 fans, an average of 1,940. Only 600 had attended on Friday.

On Saturday, July 1, the Colts lost to the Giants, 1-0, with the only run scoring in the sixth inning, when a throw from the right fielder, trying to gun down a runner heading for third, struck the runner's hip and rolled into foul territory, allowing the runner to dash home.

The 2,500 who witnessed that game would be the last ever to see the Colts at South Side Park.

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REST ON WEST

The next day, Sunday, July 2, they beat St. Louis on the West Side, with 8,000 looking on.

Hart already had said the July 3 game would be at the newer park, even if it was a Monday, and 4,000 turned out to see the Colts beat Boston.

The traditional Fourth of July doubleheader took place on the West Side, too. The Colts lost both games, to the dismay of 6,600 in the morning and 9,120 in the afternoon.

The team was idle on Wednesday. On Thursday, it should have hosted the Phillies on the South Side. Instead, they game was played on the West Side. With little fanfare, Hart had let it be known that, henceforth, the West Side Grounds would be the exclusive home of the Colts.

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The 14 games they had played at South Side Park had averaged 1,722 fans. Their 8 so far on the West Side: 8,140. Take away the one odd Monday crowd of 1,200 and the West Side average was 9,475, or 5.5 times that of the South Side.

Starting with the July 6 games against Philadelphia, the Colts played 49 times at home through the rest of the season. They averaged 3,554, more than double what they had averaged on the South Side.

For the full season, the score was: West Side, 4,198; South Side, 1,722 -- nearly 2.5 times more.

And the total attendance on the West Side, 239,280, was nearly 10 times the total of 24,110 on the South Side, in only 4 times as many games, 57 to 14.

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FAR FROM FIRST

The West Side numbers likely would have been even more overwhelming had the Colts been more successful.

They won that July 6 game against the Phillies, but lost the next 2 days and tumbled to 11th place, at 23-35. Eight wins in their following 10 games moved them up to seventh, at 31-37, then 5 straight losses sent them back down to 10th. There they remained, for all but 3 days, for nearly 7 weeks, until Sept. 10.

A victory that day lifted them to ninth, and that's where they wound up, 56-71-1, 29.5 games out of first. Two of the 3 teams behind them were refugees from the American Association, Louisville and Washington. They and Baltimore, another former AA club, were 3 of only 4 rivals against whom the Colts had a winning record.

When the Colts hosted those teams in the second half of the season, few fans bothered to attend: 526 and 747 for Louisville in August, 640 for Washington and 1,125 for Baltimore in September.

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SUNDAY BEST

But Sunday baseball remained popular regardless of the Colts' poor showing or the quality of their opponent.

Their 14 Sundays games lured an average of 9,364 fans. That was 6,000 more than the highest average on any other day, 3,325 on Saturday.

The Monday-Friday average was just 2,206, with a best of 2,801 on Wednesday.

The average for all weekend games was 6,546, nearly 3 times the weekday figure.

The total attendance on Sundays, 131,093, accounted for 49.8 percent of the season total, 263,390.

The Saturday total was 39,904, making the weekend count 170,187, or 64.6 percent of the entire total, in 26 games, compared to 46 on weekdays that attracted barely more than half as many fans, 93,203.

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TOMORROW: A disappointing uptick and a near calamity

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