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Cubs' record crowds since 1901, Part 3

Third in a series of posts about the evolution of the Cubs' record for largest home crowd, from 1901 through 1929, when they attracted 51,000 for an early-season game against the Cardinals, a total unsurpassed to this day.

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The West Side Grounds, home of the Cubs for 23 seasons, had a seating capacity of 12,500 when it opened in 1893 and of 16,000 beginning in 1908.

But with standing room and fans packed on the field, behind the outfielders and in front of the fences, the park welcomed more than double its capacity on at least 3 occasions: 35,000 on Sept. 16, 1909, then 33,216 and 33,063 on consecutive days, Aug. 27-28, 1910. All 3 games were against the Giants.

The Cubs won the pennant in 1910, their fourth in 5 seasons. Then they finished a distant second in 1911, followed by third, third, fourth and fourth.

As their fortunes on the field waned, so did the size of crowds.

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FOUND: 297 CROWD SIZES

Baseball-reference.com's Schedule and Results page for the 1911 Cubs does not show an attendance figure for any of their 79 home games.

It has no crowd size for 69 of 70 games in 1913 and is missing sizes for a total of 155 more games in 1912, 1914 and 1915 combined. That adds up to 303 of the team's 359 games -- 92 percent!

By poring through the online archives of contemporary newspapers, I was able to find attendance for all but 6 of the missing 303 games, leaving only 1.7 percent unaccounted for.

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LAST SEASONS ON WEST SIDE

Between 1911 and 1914, the Cubs' largest crowd was 30,000, achieved twice, 2 days apart, on Aug. 15 and 17, 1912.

The biggest audience the previous year had been 27,600. In 1913, it was 24,000 and in 1914, 25,000.

No surprise: each of those games was against the Giants.

But in 1915, their top crowd was only 16,500, for a doubleheader against the Reds on July 5, a day after rain had reduced the crowd for the traditional Fourth of July game to a mere 1,000.

The Cubs were eighth and last in the standings before going 7-2 to jump up to fourth. The first 8 of those 9 games were against the Reds, beginning with 2 doubleheaders and 2 singles games at home that drew a total of just 4,500 fans.

The season finale, a 7-2 win over the Cardinals, was seen by 2,800. It turned out to be the last of their 1,746 games at the West Side Grounds. They won 1,046, lost 668 and tied 32, for a winning percentage of .608.

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FIRST SEASONS ON NORTH SIDE

The Cubs began 1916 on the city's north side, at Weeghman Park, now Wrigley Field. The park had been built 2 years earlier by Charles Weeghman, owner of Chicago's team in the Federal League. When the rival league folded after 1915, Weeghman was allowed to buy the Cubs, which he quickly relocated to the park bearing his name.

Its original capacity had been 14,000. It was about 18,000 when the Cubs moved in.

And 18,000 was the attendance given for their first game at their new home, a 7-6 win over the Reds on April 20, 1916. Their biggest crowd all year was 23,000, for a Sunday contest in mid-May against -- you guessed it -- the Giants. Only 2 other crowds reached 20,000.

There were 28,000 on hand for a game on June 10, 1917. The high in 1918, when the Cubs won the pennant, was 24,000. In 1919, it was 28,000 again, and in 1920, it was 20,000.

Every one of those games was against the Giants. In 1920, the Cubs also drew 20,000 for a game against the Robins, today's Dodgers, who were on the way to winning their first pennant of the Modern Era. The Cubs tied for fifth, 18 games behind.

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PHANTOM 35,000

Baseball-reference has attendance for only 24 of the Cubs' home dates in 1921. Among them is 35,000 for Game 2 of a doubleheader against Brooklyn.

That would have tied the franchise record, set in 1909. But there was no such crowd, nor was there a separate audience of 5,000 for Game 1 that day.

The doubleheader took place on Sunday, Sept. 18, when the Robins were in fifth place and the Cubs were in seventh. An advertisement in the Tribune shows that there was a single admission for the 2 games, with the first starting at 1:30 p.m.

The Cubs won both games, their first victories at home on any Sunday, after 12 straight losses.

The next morning's Tribune said, "Over 15,000 folks rooted as hard as if something depended on the result of the games, because they were watching several young men on whom depends the outlook for next season."

Where baseball-reference's 35,000 figure came from is anybody's guess. There is no such figure in any of the contemporary newspapers, in Chicago or elsewhere, that I could access online.

The Cubs' actual biggest crowd in 1921 was 20,000 -- on Opening Day, April 13. (Their smallest, 677, was on May 2, a day the Tribune's reporter characterized as "colder than a landlord's heart.")

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SURGE IN SUPPORT

There were 20,000 on Opening Day of 1922, as well. Three days later, on the first Sunday of the season, 25,000 packed the park, with as many as 10,000 more turned away.

A weekend series against the Giants in the third week of August attracted 27,000, then 20,000, then 28,000.

Total attendance was 32 percent higher than the year before, with 9 games exceeding the park's capacity.

By the start of the next season, that capacity would change drastically.

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A Wikipedia article, "History of Wrigley Field," describes the changes as well as I could (paragraph breaks added for easier reading):

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By 1922, [owner] William Wrigley had decided that, after nine seasons, both the seating and the playing field of cozy Cubs Park were ready for a major expansion. Rather than rebuilding the grandstand from scratch, Wrigley hired original architect Zachary Taylor Davis to make the expansion around the existing structure.

The grandstand would be sliced into three pieces, with the home plate section placed on rollers and moved roughly 60 feet west (away from right field), and the left field section about 100 feet northwest. Both gaps were to be filled in with more seating, resulting in a significantly longer grandstand and the noticeable "dog leg" shape of the stands on the first base side visible to this day.

Additionally, the foul ground and the height of the fence in front of it would be reduced by additional rows of box seats added in front of the existing grandstand. The diamond and the foul lines would be rotated 3 degrees counterclockwise from their earlier orientation, allowing for those extra box seats.

Home plate was moved with the center section of the original grandstand; in the current configuration, the original location is in the vicinity of the first base coaches box.

The relocation of the grandstand would make right field far more spacious than before, even with the addition of new bleachers in right field from the corner to the center field scoreboard.

The old wooden bleachers in left field were to be dismantled and replaced with newer steel-framed wooden seats like those being installed in right field.

The renovations would boost the park's capacity from roughly 18,000 to 31,000. Its dimensions would be roughly 320 feet in left field, 318 in right, and 446 feet to straightaway center.

Work on the renovations began in December 1922 and were completed in time for the 1923 season opener.

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FROM JAZZ TO BLUES

That opener was on Tuesday, April 17, against the Pirates.

The Tribune's extensive coverage the next day began on its front page, where Hugh Fullerton wrote:

"One wallop changed the tune of 33,500 fans from the jazz of victory to the blues of defeat and spoiled the most brilliant and colorful opening day in the baseball history of the city at Cub Park yesterday."

The Cubs lost, 3-2, with all of Pittsburgh's coming on a 2-out, bases-loaded double in the fourth inning by Charlie Grimm. He would be traded to the Cubs in 1926, play 12 seasons for them, and manage them for 14 seasons, in 3 stints: 1932-38, 1944-49 and 1960, the last for just 17 games.

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More from Fullerton:

Waiving the defeat, the dedication of the new north side stadium was a complete success. The chill breezes off the lake which half congealed the huge crowd (the largest that ever witnessed an opening in Chicago) failed to check enthusiasm, and bright sunshine and cackling breezes added to the beauty of the spectacle.

The character of the crowd was its chief attraction. The long sweep of seats, with tier after tier of boxes stretching from the covered stand down to the new sunken filed, packed with people, made it more like a society assemblage than the opening of a season. The leaders of the social, business, and political life of Chicago were there, and the proportion of women was large.

The gates of the new stadium were thrown open before 1 o'clock, and Chicago had its first real chance to inspect the transformed park. Over the white and green horseshoe the flags fluttered, the national emblem alternating with the flags of the clubs of the National League, and interspersed the white flag of the Cubs, decorated with three bears. . . .

Stands Fill Rapidly.

The crowd, refusing to halt because of the chill breezes, began to flock toward the park shortly after noon, and at 1 o'clock, when the band concert started, several thousand already were in the park. The unreserved seats filled rapidly, while the acres of boxes were freckled with early comers. . . .

By 2 o'clock it was evident that there would be an overflow crowd. The unreserved seats were filled, with the boxes, all sold out, were commencing to show congestion. Outside, the long lines still were charging the entrance.

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RECORD FINALLY FALLS

Impressive as the crowd of 33,500 was, the franchise record of 35,000 remained intact -- and continued to do so for exactly 5 more days.

The Cubs won the last 3 games of the opening series against the Pirates, then rallied on Saturday to beat the Cardinals, 10-8, in front of 7,000. There were 30,000 more the next afternoon, for the first Sunday game of the season.

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"The largest crowd that ever saw a National League game at the north side park yesterday watched the Cubs nose out the Cardinals, 8 to 7, in a ninth inning finish that had the fans on their feet screaming," Frank Schreiber wrote in the Tribune.

"Close to 37,000 were jammed in the park when Ray Grimes smashed one of Bill Doak's benders into the overflow crowd in right field and drove Tony Kaufmann over the plate with the winning marker after two were out."

Grimes' hit also came with 2 out and the bases loaded.

By season's end, the Cubs would play in front of 9 crowds of at least 30,000 and 5 more of at least 20,000.

Total attendance for the year was up by 30 percent, topping 700,000 for the first time in team history.

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FIRST OF 40,000

May 30, 1924, was a Friday. It also was Memorial Day.

The Cubs were just half a game out of first place and had won the previous 2 days against the Pirates. So a holiday doubleheader brought out an unprecedented number of fans.

"Stopped by southpaw pitching -- the kind of stuff they are supposed to thrive on -- the Cubs collapsed yesterday," Irving Vaughan declared in the Tribune.

"They did it gracefully -- so gracefully, in fact, that they never had a chance -- and the banged up Reds hobbled into a twin victory before the largest crowd that ever witnessed a National League program in Chicago. The bad news came in the shape of 9 to 2 and to 2.

"There were 40,596 paid admissions, probably close to 43,000 with the 'dead heads,' packed in the north side inclosure. They filled every seat, every inch of standing room, and made use of every inch of fence rail available, and four or five thousand who had no other place to go were forced on the playing field.

"At least 2,000 others with the cash and the desire to enter couldn't shoe-horn their way into the park."

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SKIMMERS AND BONNETS

Many in the crowd were not on their best behavior, Vaughan noted:

"Being unable to get excited over the cut and dried struggles the crowd, at least a certain part of it, endeavored to provide its own amusement. The dangerous time-worn cushion-throwing stunt was revived about the fifth inning of the afterpiece and from then to the finish the air was filled with missiles.

"The gents in the back of the stand sailed the cushions into the box seats and the box seat holders heaved 'em back.

"More than one straw skimmer met an untimely finish and more than one lady patron had both her dignity and her bonnet jarred. One cushion even sailed far enough to plunk a Red player at home plate."

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No other crowd in 1924 came within 5,000 of the throng on Memorial Day. The second-biggest turnout was 35,000 for a single game against the Giants on July 13.

In fact, the Cubs would not have another crowd of 40,000 until Opening Day of 1927.

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TOMORROW: The record falls, and falls, and falls, and falls

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