Thirteenth 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.
In 1894, the Colts, as the Cubs were known then, won only 57 games, with a winning percentage of .416, and had an average home crowd of 3,835.
The next year they won 72 games, had a percentage of .552 and averaged a team-record 5,864 fans.
They finished 1896 with 1 less win, 1 more loss and a percentage of .553, but their typical crowd fell by nearly a quarter, to 4,498.
So, in 1897, when they won 59 games, with a percentage of .449, naturally their average attendance . . . rose, by more than 500, to 5,021, their highest in any season except 1895.
Despite going 36-30 at home, down from 42-24 a year earlier, the Colts of 1897 played in front of 10 audiences of at least 10,000, including 4 that were bigger than all but 1 in the previous season, when they had just 6 crowds that reached 5 digits.
They won only 3 of their first 14 games, tying 1 and losing 10. After the 14th, a third straight defeat at Cleveland on May 8, the Colts were dead last in the 12-team league, already 8 games out of first place
A loss on May 16 put them 10 games behind and they never came closer after any of their 128 remaining games.
On Aug. 8, thanks to a 7-1 run, the Colts reached sixth place, 19 games to the rear. They won 6 of their next 9, too, leaving them just 2 games below .500, at 49-51, through 9 games of a road.
But that trip had 25 (yes, 25!) games to go, and the Colts went 4-17-4 in them. By the time it ended, they were back in ninth place.
And that's where they finished, equalling their lowest position in any earlier year (1893). They also tied 1894 for their most games out of first place, 34.
Yet, for much of the season, fans continued to come to the West Side Grounds, especially on weekends.
On July 10 and 11, when the Colts were in ninth place, 10,200 turned out on Saturday for a game against Boston, then 14,400 on Sunday, to see Brooklyn.
A pair of games vs. Baltimore the next weekend attracted 12,000 and 11,800.
There were 6,900 and 12,900 for Cleveland on Aug. 7 and 8.
Then, astonishingly, the Colts played just 2 more home games before the season ended, and they were not until Sept. 18 and 19, by which time the teams was back in ninth, 33 games out of the lead.
They were on a weekend, as well, against Louisville. Only 1,800 and 5,100 showed up to pay their last respects to the faltering Colts, in what turned out to be their final games under the leadership of Cap Anson, who had joined the team in 1876 and been its player-manager since 1879.
It was a far cry from their home opener, on May 4, when 14,000 flocked to the park to see the Colts honor Anson, who had turned 45 on April 17.
In the second inning, the next day's Chicago Tribune said, Anson "made the mistake of his life in trying to steal a base.
"Like an agile hippopotamus the Cap'n was moving in a series of undulating contortions toward second base. The ball was waiting for him when he got there, but the Cap'n made a conscientious effort to give a spectacular effect to the performance and slid.
"He soiled and smeared his new white suit irretrievably.
Expert laundrymen may remove the visible traces of the sand and hardpan he plowed up in the act of sliding, but will never be the same suit again. Its glory has departed. Its name is Ichabod, if not Mud."
The aged player's thwarted theft followed a prolonged tribute to him. Here is how the Tribune described it:
The formal exercises of Anson day began by the entry of a brass band into the park playing Sousa's "El Capitan" march, which comes as near to being Cap'n Anson's march as the present unsatisfactory advance of musical science will permit.
The opposing nines drew up in line and faced each other on opposite sides of the temporary stand, upon which was displayed the magnificent array of [silver] plate about to be presented to the hero of Anson day.
Several notable citizens . . . were waiting to receive him.
Uncle Adrian C. Anson will permit the impartial observer and dispassionate historian to record the conviction that he looks better with his mustache than without it.
It assists in a measure to conceal the vivid blush which on all public occasions riots at will over his eloquent and copious countenance.
It acts as a buffer when circumstances compel him to face a hostile crowd or a narrow-minded and bigoted umpire, covers his retreat when the battle goes against him, and imparts a picturesque effect he he launches his time-honored and historic kick.
But this is a digression.
The spokesman, W. L. Shepard, in a few well-chosen words turned over to Cap'n Anson the splendid gift his friends had commissioner him to deliver.
Ansonian Effort at Oratory
To which the Captain responded substantially as follows:
"Gentlemen: This is the proudest moment of my life. Conscious of my unworthiness of this magnificent testimonial I accept it, nevertheless, as the spontaneous offering of friends who do me the honor to believe that I have striven faithfully and conscientiously to build up and render permanent the noble game of which I am now, perhaps, the oldest living exponent in point of continuous service.
[That last sentence is 56 words, for those of you scoring at home.]
"I assure you, gentlemen, that the recollection of this occasion will will abide with me while life shall last. Amid the memories of a professional career devoted to the interests of our national game, there are lights and shadows, the lasting impress of hours of gloom and exaltation, when the fickle populace honored my co-laborers and myself with their plaudits or overwhelmed us with their reproaches.
"There have been seasons when the sun of hope hung low in the horizon, when the return of the Chicago baseball club from a disastrous tour was effected through devious and retired thoroughfares, at unseemly hours of the night, and the organs of public opinion alluded to us as 'loafers and stiffs.'
"There have been times when the minions of the press did not scruple to place us, metaphorically, upon the pillory, and label us as corpses, and back and numbers, and mummies with glass arms.
"And there are memories of other days, when the sun of prosperity shone upon us and we basked in its glare, the ephemeral idols of the thoughtless throng.
"Yet in all these fluctuations of fortunate we have ever been cheered and sustained by the appreciation of friends who have never lost faith in us in the darkest hour, and to the latest syllable of recorded time I shall bear in my bosom the proud consciousness that I have done all that mortal man can do to deserve the reward that comes from the performance of duty, faithfully attempted if not always fully achieved.
Anson's full oration clocked in at 350 words, or about half a page of 12-point type in Microsoft Word.
When he finished, the Tribune noted, there were yells of "Good!" and "Play ball!" Then it reported:
"After the Cap'n's speech, of which this is very imperfect report, a man with a camera photographed the scene for the benefit of posterity, and the Chicago baseball club proceeded to slaughter the ambitious but misguided young men from St. Louis who had come here with a well-defined but utterly unfounded idea that they could play ball."
The final score was 5-2. Anson, batting ninth, had 1 of the Colts' 7 hits. He also was their catcher, a position he rarely had played in his later years.
The Colts would go 8-4 for the year against St. Louis, their best record again any of their 11 opponents. The Browns would not win even half as many games as the Colts, finishing a dreadful 29-102, 63.5 games out of first and 23.5 out of next-to-last.
'A HIGH MARK IN POINT OF NUMBERS'
Five days later, in their first Sunday home game of the season, an even larger crowd -- 16,700, according to the Associated Press box score -- saw the Colts beat the Reds, and the fans were not subjected to any flowery speeches.
From the Monday edition of the Tribune:
The crowd that came out to witness the home-coming of the Colts and welcome back a beaten tail-end aggregation will go down in baseball history as a high mark in point of numbers. While the turnstiles registered but few over 15,000, the whole number probably reached above 17,000.
Contrary to expectation the throng began to rush upon the turnstiles hours before the bell called the visitors to preliminary practice.
When the Colts came out there was not an inch of available room in stands, bleachers, or field seats. The Colts, rearrayed in white, came down [to] the field at 3:15 in a line of white, and as they came the immense crowed arose as a tidal wave and the men who rank last in the race were met with volumes of applause that rolled down from the thousands of throats.
Then the crowd stilled for a few moments, as the Colts went out upon the grounds, and although at times McCormick or Pfeffer or Dahlen was cheered by a section the uproar did not begin in earnest until the bleachers and field seats overflowed into the field and 3,000 of the surplus sun gods scaled the barriers of the seats and swept in a thousand different spring races across the green sward to available seating places on the turf.
When the overflow had formed in serried columns, with the front line seated, Anson, as Chief of Police, led squads of officers on the rounds and when the patrol had finished the work the diamond and outfield were inclosed in a triple rank of seated, kneeling, and standing men, and above them rose the masses of people in the bleachers and stands.
Over the multitude ran a murmur of delight at the picture, for the green field with its clean white leads and the moving masses of people incoling them presented a beautiful sight.
At 3:50 the Colts galloped out on the field and the purse white of their uniforms added the finishing touch to the scene.
Then for two hours the battle raged and at intervals the great assembly poured down its praise or censure upon the men until the last man was out, for the game might have turned at any stage.
The Colts led, 5-2, with 2 on and 2 out in the Reds' ninth.
"With the crowd edging up almost to second, Griffith put an extra twist on the ball and Ritchey put up a weak fly to Dahlen.
"Then the crowd cheered and roared its approval and in its ecstasies went into a pitched battle with cushions. For half an hour the pillows flew into a grand sham fight, while the crowd roared with laughter."
Brooklyn was in town the following Sunday and played in front of a still-bigger audience: 18,300, third most in team history, surpassed only by 22,913 for the afternoon game of a Fourth of July doubleheader in 1895 and 18,921 on May 17, 1896.
"After going away with a rush that carried them three lengths in the lead, the Colts faltered in the sixth yesterday," said the Tribune, "and allowed the Perambulator Pushers to overhaul them, and go a length ahead.
"After that, despite the goading on by the huge, restless Sunday crowd, they could not advance, and were again defeated by one run. The final score was5 to 4. . . .
"Although at times the multitude awakened to cheer some one of the grand plays which followed each other in brilliant sequence, it was unusually quiet, after once settling down to watch the contest.
"Before the game there was the usual breaking of barriers, and when once freed thousands romped all over the field, until driven into columns by the clubs of the police and the persuasive tones of Anson."
TRAIN TO CATCH
That proved to be the largest crowd of the season. Two others came close to matching it, 17,800 on Sunday, May 30, and 18,000 on Monday, May 31, Memorial Day. The latter game was the second of two between the Colts and Orioles during the day, coming after 3,800 had viewed a morning battle.
The split doubleheader "brought to a close the most disastrous series of games on home grounds that the team ever has played," the Tribune declared.
"In the presence of a fair crowd in the forenoon the nine played disappointingly and allowed the champion Baltimores to win a game that should have been on Chicago's side of the ledger [by 6-4].
"In the afternoon, before one of the greatest crowds that ever saw a game of baseball, the Colts played grandly, overcoming a lead of four runs secured by the visitors at the start and tying the score.
"The two teams had to take a 7 o'clock train for the East, and agreed to call the game at the end of the ninth inning, with six runs to the credit of each."
TOMORROW: The biggest crowd of the 19th Century