Fifteenth 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.
After the final home games of the 1898 season, a doubleheader against St. Louis on Oct. 9, Chicago baseball fans had to wait 200 days, nearly 7 months, before they could see the local team in action again.
That included 13 days, April 14-26, 1899, while the Orphans (today's Cubs) began the new season on the road, where they started out 6-1, then lost 4 of 5.
Baseball-starved fans finally had a chance to gorge themselves on Thursday, April 27, and many did so.
This was the lead story, in the right-most column on the front page of the next day's Chicago Tribune:
HELPED TO WIN
BY HOME CHEERS.
Chicago Baseball Club Plays
Its Opening Game at
League Park and De-
FLOWERS AND BASE HITS.
Burns' Men Are Enthusiastically
Greeted and Play Well Be-
hind Young Taylor's
RYAN'S BAT BRING VICTORY
Cheers, roses, gold watches, silk umbrellas, gold-headed canes, rapturous applause, tumultuous rejoicing, the glad sound of 10,000 people exulting together.
In the center of all this seventeen modest young men, outwardly clad in flowing gray bath robes, salaaming low to the glory that was heaped upon them.
It was the return of the Chicago baseball team and the opening of the season in Chicago.
In spite of lowering clouds and the direful croaking of the weather man the faithful fans and the devoted populace turned out en masse and gave the heroes from the mesquite bushes of New Mexico a fitting welcome home.
[The Orphans had trained in Hudson, N.M.]
The sun-kissed heroes in the bath robes were so deeply impressed with the reception that they straightaway turned in and beat nine young men that a Mr. Ewing had brought up from Cincinnati in a baseball game.
When it was all over the man who writes figures on the south fence with a whitewash brush recorded the fact that the Chicago team had four runs while the person from Cincinnati had only three.
This had a tendency to further enliven the homecoming of the sojourners in a far country, and if there had been a fatted calf at all handy the fans on the bleachers would have most cheerfully killed it.
It was altogether a delightful occasion. There have been a great many much better games of baseball played in the United States since the time when the game first evolved out of that hilarious pastime known as "two old cat," and there have been much more brilliant batting, and hard hitting, and nervy base running, not to speak of such exhilarating features as sunshiny days, talking "sassy" to umpires, and everybody getting mad and walking off the field.
But the game yesterday was wholesome. It was thoroughly good baseball from the time Umpire Swartwood signaled for the game to begin down to the close of the ninth inning.
Whether Mr. Ewing's men appreciated the fact or not it was eminently proper that Chicago should win the first game on its own grounds. Heroes of course are heroes under all circumstances, but they do not look so nice when they are defeated as they do when they are in the act of proudly conquering.
The homecoming greeting of the multitude to the heroes from New Mexico would have been just as genuine yesterday whether they had won or lost the game. But there would have been a minor cadence in the cheers that celebrated the close of the game, and the beautiful roses presented to the players would in all probability have turned to ashes, the gold watch to a nickel-silver alarm clock, and the silk umbrella to a green sunshade.
RAINDROP 'NOW AND THEN'
And the story was far from over! Here is some more of it:
If the day had been fair it is safe to say that the attendance would have gone away ahead of any previous crowd at the West Side park. As it was, with dark clouds overhead and a raindrop falling now and then, the crowd was so great that it filled the grand stands and several of the bleachers.
As the West Side ball park is now arranged the seats extend almost entirely around the grounds, and about the only thing not used for either a grand stand or a bleacher is the proud flagpole in the far center of the grounds.
Altogether there were 10,000 people and more who saw the game yesterday. This count does not include the admiring throngs that adorned the tops of the buildings around the ball park, from which all the game might be witnessed with the single exception of the right fielder's legs.
The crowd came earlier than baseball crowds usually do. It wanted to be present at the glad moment when the returned heroes should first appear and received the plaudits they were due.
After describing some of the dignitaries on hand, the story continued:
The first wildly inspiring moment came when the heroes of the day, seventeen strong, in company front and clad in bath robes, marched across the diamond to their bench in front of the grand stand.
The crowd arose as one man and roared and stamped and waved hats and canes. The seventeen heroes blushes as deeply as the New Mexican tan would permit and bowed acknowledgments. Then they modestly retired to the rabbit burrow that this year takes the place of the old-time players' bench.
The rabbit burrows are two in number -- one for each team. They are about four feet high and painted brown and offer delightful retreats to the young man who dies on first base when he was expected to make a hit that would bring in two or three runs.
After the players had retired to their rabbit burrows and divested themselves of their bath robes and appeared in their brand new white flannel suits the customary warming up exercise was gone through with great applause for every man whenever he caught a ball or even picked one off the ground.
It was one long series of rejoicing cheers all through the game. It never entirely died away, but rose and fell with the progress of the contest, punctuated by the presentations of gifts to the Chicago players as they came to bat.
Of course, there were no gifts or cheers for the Cincinnati players. As before stated, the Cincinnati club was merely tolerated as a necessary evil, and was not expected to do anything but lose the game and look pleasant.
As for those gifts: the gold watch went to outfielder Jimmy "Pony" Ryan, a basket of roses and jonquils to shortstop Gene DeMontreville, and a collection of flowers, umbrellas and canes to catcher Tim Donahue.
Ryan went 2 for 4, including a double. The 2 others finished 0 for 3.
The teams were idle on Friday, which had been reserved as a makeup date had the home opener been postponed.
On Saturday, the weather was iffy again, but did not deter an even larger audience from attending the game, in which the score was 4-0, in favor of the Reds.
"Twelve thousand people came to witness the struggle under the threatening skies and never a chance for the great crowd to turn lose their enthusiasm save just as the start of the game, when Colonel A. J. Graham, proprietor of the Casa Del Consuelo at Hudson, N. M., where the Chicago club trained, presented each player of the club with a cowboy outfit.
10,000 and 12,000 fans despite problematic conditions.
What could the count be on a dry and sunny day?
The Orphans had to wait only 24 hours to find the answer to that question: 27,489, obliterating the previous record of 22,913 on the Fourth of July, 1895, and generally regarded as the most people ever gathered at a ballpark.
In the 1900 Census, Chicago's population was set at 1,698,575. It had grown by an average of 59,980 per year since the Census of 1890, so its population in 1899 can be estimated at 1,638,685.
The 27,489 who flocked to the West Side Grounds on Sunday, April 30, thus represent 1 of every 60 residents of the city!
Here is how the Tribune documented the historic turnout:
CROWD BREAKS RECORD.
CHICAGO-ST. LOUIS BALL GAME WIT-
NESSED BY 27,489 PEOPLE.
Largest Gathering That Ever Wit-
nessed an Exhibition of the Na-
tional Pastime Sees Burns' Men Shut
Out the Visitors at the West Side
Ball Park -- Spectators Throng the
Field and Make Special Ground
Hemmed in and pressed upon by the greatest crowd that has ever attended a ball game, the teams of Chicago and St. Louis fought for supremacy yesterday afternoon, and while the monster mass of struggling people squirmed with glee, Burns' men walloped the tribe of Tebeau, beating it as Cincinnati beat Chicago on the previous day, by a score of 4 to 0.
The game was clean and fast, but the enormous outpouring of the populace hampered the movements of the players and prevented sensational plays.
The crowd itself was the feature of the game. According to the turnstile count given out, 27,489 people witnessed the battle. There were people everywhere fighting for standing-room, struggling for a peephole through the front ranks through which to gain an occasional glimpse of the plays.
The huge bleachers were piled full of joyous but uncomfortable spectators, and around the field, crowding in almost to the diamond, was a circular mass of people, cheering and struggling in immense good humor, charging the lines of police that tried to shove them back and enjoying themselves without much regard to the rapid game going on in front of them.
At times the field crowd would stampede, and, sweeping away all the police, would bear down upon the players as if to break up the game, while the massed in the stands, moved by the exciting picture out on the green field, would rise as one man and cheer while the police in cordons drove back the encroaching mob. Yet not once during the game did the umpires have to call a halt.
While the crowds were gathering, the scene from the grand stand was one of animation. At 3 o'clock the bleachers were gorged with humanity and the gates leading into the field were thrown open.
An unpent torrent of humanity rushed down the field, swamped the seats in front of the grand stand, and before the police had rallied the first waves of the crowd piled over through the boxes and into the grand stand, sweeping all before it.
Meantime, out in the street, another crowd was fighting to gain an entrance to the grounds. Lincoln street was jammed and long lines of perspiring, crushed citizens pushed toward the ticket offices, while hundreds abandoned the idea of seeing the contest, and with broken hats and crumpled clothes, escaped the crowd and departed homeward.
The 27,000 that succeeded in forcing an entrance saw a game well worth the seeing and a scrambled mass of human beings that added color to the picture. Hundreds packed the housetops to add their noise to the cataract-like roar of the immense congregation inside the barricades -- a roar that never ceased but only grew in shrillness and volume when some clever bit of play came to enliven the discomfort of the populace.
The shifting ring around the field seemed to enjoy its misery. A double row sat on the ground and behind that row a tier of kneeling men, behind them a line of men fighting for a sight, and above that line clumps of more lucky fellows standing on boxes, barrels, or anything they could gather up to elevate them to the line of vision, and over that the dark, muttering masses in the high field seats.
So near did the crowd press upon the player that only one base was allowed for a hit into the crowd, to which ground rule the shutout of the leaders was due.
34 BALLS LOST
The Orphans made 11 hits; the newly renamed Perfectos, 12, while failing to score.
The notes column beneath the box score remarked, "Five of St. Louis' hits and three of Chicago's would probably have been fly outs had the field been clear."
It also said:
"Thirty-four balls were lost during the game, most of them falling into the hands of greedy smalls boys. The skirmishes between the police and retreating youngsters who had stolen balls furnished amusement for those who could not break through the ring of men to see the game.
"The crowd broke all records for attendance, and is declared to be the greatest that ever saw a ball game.
"Thirty thousand people in all probably either saw the game or retreated from the crowd after vainly trying to get into the grounds. For half an hour after the game started the street in front of the park was crowded."
The Cubs would not play at home in front of more fans until June 5, 1907, when an estimated 30,000 saw them defeat the Giants.
The next time they had an actual count that was higher was Sept. 4, 1908: 30,247, who saw the Cubs beat the Pirates to set up the replay of the "Merkle's Boner" game at New York to decide the pennant.
They had only 4 subsequent larger crowds, 1 in 1910 and 3 in a span of 7 days in 1912, before leaving the West Side Grounds after 1915. All were against the Giants. The Cubs lost the 1910 game (28,500) but swept the 3 in 1912 (30,000 twice, then 28,000).
FIRST TO EIGHTH
The Orphans won their next 3 games, at Cleveland, then beat the Spiders twice at home to move into first place, with a record of 14-6. They shared the lead after a ninth straight win 2 days later, then fell a game behind when their streak ended on May 11.
They never reached the top of the standings again, trailing by 4 games at the end of May, 7.5 at the end of June, 13 at the end of July, 19 at the end of August, 24 at the end of September and 26 after they lost their final game, on Sunday, Oct. 15.
That loss followed four straight wins, which had lifted the Orphans from ninth place up to eighth, which is where they finished, with a record of 75-73.
On the morning of Sunday, June 25, the Orphans were 35-24, in fourth place, 9 games behind. But they had won 9 of their last 12, including victories on Friday and Saturday over first-place Brooklyn, raising the possibility of a series sweep if they could prevail again that afternoon.
They did not, prompting a sarcastic, dismissive report in the next day's Tribune:
"Interest in baseball is dying out in Chicago. Only 24,421 paid to see Chicago and Brooklyn give a farcical exhibition of the national game yesterday and saw Green and Taylor and Demont throw away a game that should have been easy for the Cowboys [i.e., Orphans].
"Brooklyn was bad, but Chicago was worse, and only the skyrocket exhibitions of fielding by Lange and Jones retrieved the exhibition from utter worthlessness.
"But, in spit of the awful fielding, bad pitching, and even worse batting, the game was one of many possibilities, and the chances for runs kept the big crowd on edge until in the end an accident stopped Chicago's last rally, and the Cowboys went down in defeat, beaten by a score of 7 to 3."
That accident came with 2 on and 2 out in the ninth, when DeMontreville "smashed a vicious liner down towards short. The ball seemed a certain base hit, but it struck Taylor on the ankle, bowled his feet from under him, and, as he dropped writhing on the ground, the last hope fled, and a saddened crowd filed down to where the supper bells were calling."
Two months earlier, 24,421 fans would have set a team record. Instead, it ranked second, between the 27,489 on April 30 and the 22,913 on July 4, 1895.
It was far more than the third-biggest audience of 1898, which was 17,617 on Sunday, May 21 -- impressive, but nearly 10,000 short of the 3-week-old record.
The Orphans ultimately had 9 home games of at least 10,000, in 77 home dates. Only 2 of the 9 came after June, as the size of crowd fell in tandem with the Orphans' place in the standings.
On 16 days, they played in front of fewer than 1,000, all but 1 on July 24 or later.
In all, the Orphans hosted 85 games, compared to 67 on the road.
Four games scheduled for Cleveland were moved to Chicago as part of a league-wide mandate that the dreadful Spiders (final record: 20-134) play 86 of their last 93 games on the road.
Three more were relocated from Louisville.
2 GAMES, 2 OPPONENTS
On Oct. 8, the next-to-last Sunday of the season, the Orphans beat Cleveland, 13-0, and Louisville, 7-3.
A week later, they beat St. Louis, 7-0, then lost to Louisville, 9-5.
Those are the last times that the Cubs have played 2 teams on the same day. There have been only 2 in the Major Leagues since then: the Giants and Braves at St. Louis in 1951 and the White Sox and Twins at Cleveland in 2000.
The unusual doubleheaders in 1899 attracted 5,000 and 7,000, boosting the season total to 371,977, third most after 408,982 in 1898 and 387,193 in 1895.
But in the latter year, the average crowd was 5,864. In 1899, with all the additional home dates, it was more than 1,000 less, at 4,831.
That also was 281 less than the 5,112 in 1898, the second highest in the team's 24 National League seasons.
TOMORROW: Last season of the 19th Century