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Cubs' home crowds, 1876-1900, Part 11

Eleventh 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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In the 19th Century, when they were known first as the White Stockings, then the Colts, today's Cubs had a peculiar habit of winning nearly the same number of games in back-to-back seasons.

In 1881, they won 56 of their 84 games; the next year, 55.

In 1890, they went 83-53-3; a year later, 82-53-2.

In 1893, they had finished 56-71-1. So, naturally, in 1894, they wound up 57-75-5.

Their average crowd in 1894 contained exactly 125 more fans, 3,835, than it had the previous year, 3,710.

While the 1894 average was their highest in 6 seasons, since a team-record 4,890 in 1888, it still was something of a disappointment, given that they played all of their 68 home games at the West Side Grounds.

For the 57 games they had played there in 1893, they have averaged 4,198 fans, nearly 2.5 times their average of 1,722 in their 14 games at South Side Park before abandoning it, once and for all, after a game on July 1.

Their 3,835 for all of 1894 was a decline of 363 per game, 8.6 percent, from the 4,198 on the West Side a year earlier.

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'ENTHUSIASM UPROARIOUS'

The Colts were 2-7 during a season-opening road trip, which left them mired in 11th place among the National League's 12 teams.

Their home debut, scheduled for May 4, was delayed for a day because of rain. The Colts rallied from a 3-2 deficit with 3 runs in the sixth, then added 1 each in the seventh and eighth, to defeat the Reds, 6-3. The game took only 1 hour, 40 minutes and was witnessed by 5,423.

"The attendance, in the face of cold weather and the poor record of the team, was remarkable," the Chicago Tribune declared, "and the enthusiasm uproarious from start to finish. Nearly all the old Section A cranks were out in force, and delegations from every theater in town were perched among the boxes."

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Saturday's game was called off.

"The rain Friday night and yesterday morning simply flooded the West Side ball park," according to the Tribune, "and only a web-footed team could have played upon the field. The weather during the afternoon was warm enough for a game, but the base-paths refused to dry, and [player-manager Cap] Anson gave up the idea of playing."

By Sunday, the sun was shining, the temperature was mild and Chicagoans galore made the most it.

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'FEARFUL AND WONDERFUL'

"Nearly fourteen thousand people -- the largest crowd ever gathered at the new West Side grounds -- saw the first tie game of the year yesterday," the Tribune reported, "and also witnessed a contest which in some details was, indeed, fearful and wonderful."

The Colts, batting first, trailed, 2-0, after an inning; led, 3-2 midway through the fourth; then surrendered single runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. A 3-run rally in the seventh knotted the score at 6 and that's where it stood when the game was called after the ninth, as the Reds needed to catch a train that was departing at 6:20 p.m.

"The Colts came out even, but it was a close call and they were glad enough to let their visitors escape from an undecided field. If wild pitching, ridiculous error-making, and a series of the most startling, headless blunders ever seen upon a diamond could lose a game, the Colts would have been overwhelmed.

"They were outbatted; they were outfielded; they were all at sea half a dozen times, and the Reds played a cool, steady game. Yet, it was a tie . . . "

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The crowd officially was 13,747, making it the biggest for any of the team's home games, at any park, since an estimated 15,000 on July 10, 1886, nearly 8 years before.

The following Sunday, the Colts outlasted Louisville, 14-12, in front of 12,890.

Those proved to be their 2 largest audiences all year, even surpassing the 12,731 for the afternoon half of their traditional Fourth of July doubleheader. They lost that game, 12-11 to the Phillies, which left them in 10th place, 20.5 games out of first.

That, in turn, was their last of 5 games with at least 10,000 in the park. The 2 others after May also had been 1-run losses, on consecutive Sundays, 11-10 to Baltimore, with 11,788 looking on, on June 24 and 10-9 to Cleveland, in front of 10,873, on July 1.

By season's ends, the Colts would lose 18 times by a lone run, while winning only 7 such games.

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TRUE COUNTS

Did you notice that each of the attendances cited is a very specific number, none of them ending in "00" or "50"?

The Colts announced actual crowd sizes for every game in 1894, even a season-low 407 against Washington Sept. 24 and 622 against Pittsburgh on May 21.

There was only one other crowd of fewer than 1,000: 988, once more against Washington, on July 5. A Sept. 20 game against Philadelphia barely reached 4 figures, with a turnout of 1,022.

For some unknown reason, baseball-reference.com lists the attendance for every date when the Colts were at home in 1894 (as well as all but 3 on the road).

That's 67 dates, on 1 of which they played a single-admission doubleheader.

In all other years from 1876-1900 combined, B-R shows a crowd size for only 24 games, for a total of 91 out of 1,452.

As described in the first of this series of posts, by poring through the online archives of contemporary newspapers in Chicago and elsewhere, I was able to document the crowds at exactly 1,200 more games, raising the number to 1,291 of 1,452, which is 88.9 percent.

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SUNDAY SURGE

The attendance figure by day of week in 1894 are eye popping.

The average crowd at the Colts' 44 games played on Monday through Friday was 2,903.

On their 10 Saturdays, it was 3,981, an increase of 37 percent over Monday-Friday.

But on their 13 Sundays, it was 8,908, an increase of 6,005 over Monday-Friday, 290 percent higher, and 4,927 over Saturday, 124 percent more.

The total attendance on Sundays was 45 percent of the count for the entire season, in slightly less than 20 percent of all 67 games.

Saturday and Sunday together accounted for 60.6 percent, in slightly more than one third of all games.

The smallest Sunday crowd, 4,873, was the only one below 5,000. It came in September, as did 3 of the 4 others Sundays with fewer than 8,000. The last of those 3, at the Colts' final Sunday of the season, attracted 7,960.

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FIRE AT PARK

On Aug. 5, another Sunday, 9,446 watched the Colts defeat the Reds, 8-1. The game was lead story on the front page of the next day's Tribune, but not because of the outcome:

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PANIC AT A FIRE.

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Crowd Tears a Way Through

Barbed Wire Fence.

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AT THE BASEBALL GAME.

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Flames Under a Stand Cause the

Awful Stampede.

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HUNDREDS ARE INJURED.

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Clothes Torn to Shreds and Skin Cut

and Bruised.

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ANSON'S MEN DO YEOMAN SERVICE.

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Fire and panic drove 5,000 people in a wild stampede through a high and strong barbed wire fence at the West Side Ball Park yesterday afternoon.

Not less than 500 men and boys were torn and lacerated by the sharp barbs. Sunday suits by the hundred were ripped to ribbons, the whole medical staff of two big hospitals were kept busy the rest of the afternoon patching scratches and cuts, about $5,000 worth of grand stand was eaten up by flames that were hot enough and fierce enough to burn the paving blocks in the street outside -- but your Uncle Anson's Colts beat the Cincinnatis.

Altogether it was a pretty wild Sabbath and Polk and Lincoln streets. That a few dozen people were not killed is exceedingly wonderful.

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The paper then listed the names of 3 fans who were "seriously injured," with a broken leg; burns to the head, face and hands; and severe cuts to the back "while saving his nephew, 4 years old."

After listing others who suffered less injuries, the story continued:

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Most of the people hurt, however, got away to their homes and attended their own injuries. One drug store in the neighborhood of the ball park sold $50 worth of court plaster within an hour after the panic. The whole West Side is full of men who have to be fed -- their hands are too badly clawed to be of any use.

The whole affair is tragically ridiculous, but when the 5,000 men and boys stood trapped between a roaring fire on one side and a barbed barrier, meant to withstand any mob, on the other side, the ridiculous features sank from sight.

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The barrier had been put in place 2 seasons earlier, after fans in the 25-cent "cheap seats" had swarmed onto the field, resulting in a forfeit by the Colts.

"It started at the top of the wooden rail, three feet from the floor," the Tribune explained, "and was continued to a height of eight feet, the wires being put so close that a slam boy could scarcely slip through.

"The management flattered itself that it has a fence that was 'horse high,' 'pig tight,' and 'bull strong' -- a fence that would make trouble for anybody who might try to break into the field.

"Which it did."

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CALM, THEN RUSH

It was in the seventh inning, shortly after 5 p.m., where the first spectators claimed to see a fire under the grand stand.

More from the Tribune:

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There was no noise and little excitement at first, but men began to make their way towards the narrow exits. "Go slow," "keep cool," "plenty of time," called some of the cooler fellow. There was no wild alarm -- not at first.

But within half a minute after the false [sic, should have been "first"] alarm there was a thin wisp of smoke coming up through the dry boards that floored the stands. A big yellow flame -- no bigger than a gas jet -- flared up through the planks.

And the stampede began. There was a rush -- a scramble for the exits; the flood of men choked them in an instant. The whole 5,000 men -- fortunately there were very few women there -- were packed and jammed at the bottom of the stand.

The little spurt of flame had grown. It spread up and down the dry structure as if it traveled on trains of powder. If a man had set to work to disp0ose of a given amount of pine lumber in an effective bonfire he could not have done better than to have built it into that stand.

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'STRIPS OF SKIN AND FLESH'

Men began to climb the barbed wire separating the area from the field. Some made it over the top, then were fallen upon by those who followed. Others were caught in the barbs:

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The wires were strung with hair and strips of skin and flesh. The blaze behind was growing with tremendous force; it drove the last of the people in the stand and some of them there made ready to die, for there were still hundreds ahead of them, snatching at the wires.

But the last 500 of these people got out more easily than the rest; the terrific pressure of the crowd had finally forced the wires from their staples, and the last men out, shielding their faces from the flames, jumped blindly out of the burning structure into the field.

The last two men out were quite dazed and blinded by heat and fright and the bruises of the scramble, and they had to be carried away from the grounds.

All of this had happened in less than a minute. When the people in the grand-stand realized what was happening they did what they could to pull the wires at their end and the ball players, led by Wilmot, Ryan, and Decker, tried with their bats to pray and beat down the barrier along the field.

But it was all over before any one could think; it seemed as if the entire field was covered with bleeding men, some of them half stripped of their clothing. . . .

Of course there was no more ball game and the Colts have one more [victory] to their credit.

And today they will play ball again at the West Sides.

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2,000 SHOW UP

As indeed they did. The Colts won that game too, 12-9, in front of 2,062 fans -- the largest of their 8 Monday crowds so far in the season. They would play 3 more, only 1 of them in front a bigger audience. For the year, they averaged 1,581 on Mondays, fewest of any day.

That 2,062 was 529, or 35 percent, higher than the average of 1,533 on all Mondays that did not follow a devastating fire.

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For whatever it's worth, through the day of the fire, the Colts' average crowd for 41 home games was 4,132. For the 26 dates that followed, it was 3,366, a drop of 18.5 percent.

Of course, the Colts were 39-47-2, a winning percentage of .456, through the day of the fire. After it, they were 18-28-3, just .398.

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TOMORROW: More wins and more fans

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