Seventh 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.
From 1887-91, their last 3 seasons as the White Stockings and first 2 as the Colts, Chicago's National League team was consistently good, but never good enough to win a pennant.
It had a winning record at the end of each of the 5 years and its combined record was 380-279-16, a .575 winning percentage, equivalent to 93-69 in a modern, 162-game schedule.
Yet the Whites finished second 3 times and third twice, trailing the championship team by 3.5 to 19 games.
During the first 4 years, the Whites held first place for a total of only 67 days.
During the last, they led for 97 days, 60 of them consecutively, only to collapse down the stretch.
Chicago baseball fans, perhaps spoiled by the team's 5 pennants in 7 seasons from 1880-86, for the most part went to the ballpark in large numbers in 1887-91 only on holidays and when top teams were in town.
Of the franchise's 20 crowds of at least 15,000 people in the 25 seasons before 1901, first year of the Modern Era, only 1 came in 1886-91: 15,000 on the nose, for the afternoon half of a split doubleheader on July 4, 1887.
There were 9 turnouts during those 5 years of 10,000-14,999: 3 on the Fourth of July, 3 for games against Detroit and 2 for games against Boston.
One of the Independence Day games was against New York, the morning game in 1887, as was a game on Sept. 1, 1891. The latter was the second of just 2 such crowds after July 28, 1888. It was the only one in all 5 years that happened later than Aug. 16 of any season.
ALMOST TWICE AS MANY
As defending champions typically do, the Whites enjoyed an increase in attendance in 1887. It was a big one, too, as they averaged 4,748 fans per game, which was 46 percent more than their 3,257 en route to the 1886 pennant.
That 4,748 smashed a team record of 3,364 that had stood since 1876, the first season of the National League.
In 1888, the record fell again, but far less dramatically. The average crowd of 4,890 was less than 3 percent higher than in the previous campaign.
Then the average plummeted by nearly 40 percent in 1889, to 2,950, and by 42 percent in 1890, to 1,710 -- a 2-year drop of almost two thirds from the record 4,890.
The 1890 average, the lowest in the team's NL history, was due in large part to the existence of a rival team, the Pirates, in the Players League.
That league folded after a single season, and in 1891, as the Colts, the future Cubs gained more than 1,000 additional fans per game, welcoming 2,834. Just a year later, however, the number returned to 1,764, only 54 more than it had been 2 years earlier, and in 1892 there was no rival for fans' attention and money.
'ALL THAT COULD HAVE BEEN DESIRED'
Back in 1887, the Whites lost 3 of 4 games on the road to start the season, then had their home opener, against NL newcomer Pittsburgh, postponed for 24 hours, until the afternoon of Friday, May 6.
"The weather was bright," the Chicago Tribune reported the next day, "and with the exception of a slight chill in the air was all that could have been desired for the occasion. Fine weather, together with curiosity to see the new members of the league compete with the reorganized champions, caused a large audience."
That audience was 6,000, about 1,000 less than the park's capacity, comprised of 4,000 reserved seats and room for 3,000 in the bleachers.
"The opening was more of a success than any similar event in the history of base-ball in this city," the Tribune declared. "About 3 o'clock the two teams formed in double ranks at the east end of the grounds and, preceded by Austin's full band, marched up to the diamond.
"At the home plate the band dropped to the rear and the ballplayers formed in line facing the grand stand, the visitors being on the right of the home team.
"After saluting he grand stand and receiving the applause of its occupants, the two teams formed in double file and marched behind the band to the flagstaff at the lower end of the right field. There the championship pennant won by the Chicago team last year was unfurled and hoisted. It bore the following inscription:
1882 OF THE
1885 UNITED STATES
"After studying the inscription the spectators indulged in a prolonged manifestation of enthusiasm."
The Whites then lost the game to the Alleghenys. They lost the next day, too, falling to 1-5.
DIP FOR DETROIT
The following weekend, they hosted Detroit, the team they had nipped by 2.5 games for the 1886 championship. According to contemporary newspapers, the 3 games attracted 22,000 fans (6,000, 7,000 and 9,000). But that was 8,000 fewer than had seen the teams in the heat of the pennant race the previous September (8,000, 10,000 and 12,000). Both series had run from Thursday through Saturday.
After winning the first game of the 1887 series, the Whites lost the next 2, leaving them sixth in the 8-team league, 6.5 games behind, as they began a 24-day, 18-game road trip.
They were fifth when they returned, but 8.5 games to the rear after losing their first game back, in front of just 2,000 supporters.
On June 14, a Monday, "There were only 1,200 or 1,500 people present at the game between the Chicagos and Indianapolis team yesterday," according to the Inter Ocean, even though, "The day was warm and exactly suitable for a good exhibition of ball playing."
The Wolverines returned later in the week, which lured 22,000 for 3 games, the same as in May, but in a different distribution: 5,500, 6,000 and 9,500.
SMALL CROWD, LONG GAME
The following Thursday, June 23, the attendance was said to be a mere 800.
"The threatening sky kept a good many people away," the Tribune explained, "and a drizzling rain at 3:20 made the prospects of a game pretty slim, but [Philadelphia Manager] Harry Wright said it ought to be played as the club has no open dates on which it could be played off.
"At 3:45, the shower having let up, the game began."
The intimate gathering was treated to 13 innings of baseball that ended in a 7-7 tie because of darkness.
Just 24 hours later, there were 15 fans in the stands for every 1 that had been present the previous day, as 12,000 flocked to the park on Friday, then 12,000 more on Saturday.
And after a day off, there would be another 12,000 on Monday and Tuesday combined.
There was a simple explanation for the sudden surge in attendance: King Kelly.
Kelly, a 29-year-old catcher, outfielder and infielder, was arguably the biggest star in baseball in 1887.
He had played for the White Stockings in 1880-86. In each of the final 3 years, he had led the league in runs scored. In 1884 and 1886, he had ranked first in both batting average (.354 and .388) and slugging. (.414 and .483). His OPS those seasons had been .938 and 1.018; his OPS+, 185 and 193 -- meaning, he was nearly twice as good as an average player.
But on Valentine's Day of 1887, the Whites had sold him to Boston, for $10,000, which was equivalent in purchasing power to $263,418 at the end of 2021.
The Beaneaters made him their player-manager.
The series that began at the West Side Park on June 24 marked his first visit back to Chicago.
This what the Tribune had to say after the first game, a slugfest in which the Whites trailed, 5-1; led, 9-5, 9-7 and 15-7, then barely held on to win, 15-13:
AH THERE, MIKE, OLD BOY?
YOU DIDN'T TAKE THE GAME FROM
OLD ANS, DID YOU?
A Royal Reception to "the Only Kel"
Yesterday -- Flowers, Music, and Great
Enthusiasm, Notwithstanding Which
Port Was Victorious Over Beans
Michael Kelly, he came down to sing a little chanson; says he, "I've come from Boston Town to do up 'Baby' Anson. I love Chicago, but you know the Hub spondulicks bought me -- I hated like the deuce to go, but $10,000 caught me.
"I've come to lay Chicago flat and knock you all to blazes, for I'm a corker, don't forget -- the daisy of the daises. Away with every Bill and Jim that's in the base-ball cycle -- the dickens take the whole of them! Sure, I'm the only Michael."
With these remarks, or with remarks equally as bad as these, did the Imperial Quartet, backed by a big brass band a crowd of 5,000 people, greet the Hon. Mike Kelly yesterday at the Leland [Hotel]. Mr. Kelly was the biggest man in the city yesterday afternoon, take him against the field with nothing barred. . . .
So when the Only Mike came back to town yesterday it was merely proper than he should be given a reception by his many admirers. These admirers spread themselves out at the park -- spread themselves in flowers and spread themselves in yells.
But before going to the park they performed the reception act at the Leland, where Kelly and his confreres are stopping. At 2 p.m. the street opposite the north entrance to the Leland was jammed with people. Not less than 5,000 were in the crowd. In the middle there was a big brass band playing "See the Conquering Hero" and other things of an adulatory character.
In the hotel rotunda Kelly was holding a levee. A circle of people twenty deep craned their necks and jostled each other to see the hero, and those in his immediate vicinity shook hands with him until his patient gave out.
The Imperial Quartet crowded in and surrounded him and sang at him, Mike meantime looking as if he wished they would all go to Jericho and leave him alone.
Then the White Stockings arrived, and a row of carriages and horses driven by coachmen in drab liveries drove up, and the White Stockings got into the three first carriages, and Anson and Kelly into the next, and the Bostons into the next three carriages; next followed by a lot of lordly sporting reporters in other carriages.
Then band struck up "Biddy McGee," and the procession started as grand as could be to parade the streets just like a circus, 5,000 people cheering the start and other thousands cheering all along the line. The procesh went parkwards.
When the carriage gates at the lower end of the grounds swung open and there appeared the towering white bearskin of the gorgeous millionaire who consented, in view of the Hon. Mr. Kelly's arrival, to march ahead of the ban and flourish a silver-headed baton, there were 10,000 people present who got up and began yelling.
They kept yelling as the procession wended its way around past third base, back of the home plate, and over toward Anson's territory. When the fourth carriage with its four proud horses stopped in front of the grand stand and the Hon. Mr. Kelly stretched his red-hose legs and hopped out to the ground, the volume of yelling was doubled.
The Hon. Mike took off his gray cap and smiled. The crowd howled some more.
[The story then briefly describes the crowd's reaction to each team's pregame practice -- yes, pregame practice -- then continued:]
[W]hen the bell tapped for the game [to begin] 12,000 people were packed into the grand stand and side seats, on the ground in fro9nt of the grand stand, and formed into a border four of five deep down both sides of the field to the lower edge of the bicycle track. . . .
Before [first batter] Hornung had stepped to the base as the game walled Mr. W. L. Shepard walked out on the grounds and on behalf of a number of friends presented Kelly with a pyramid of flowers.
Later two ushers marched up to the plate staggering under the load of an immense floral design from P.J. Quinn -- a miniature diamond filled in with white flowers with "Kelly" in red letters in the center.
There was also a gift of a gay satin jockey cap of red, white, and blue, which the Hon. Mr. Kelly was induced to wear during a part of the first inning.
The notes beneath the game's box score informed readers that "Anson was not forgotten by his friends. At the close of the first inning, he was presented with a big basket of flowers, "Old Man" in immortelles standing out in the centre."
Anson and Kelly each had 3 hits in the game, one of Anson's a double. Kelly made the final out, on an infield grounder with a runner on base.
Anson also walked twice but scored only 2 runs to Kelly's 3. Kelly, playing second base, was charged with 2 of Boston's 4 errors; Anson, with none of the Whites' 8.
'GOOD BUSINESS MANAGEMENT'
The scene was much the same the next day, Saturday. So were the attendance, 12,000, and the outcome, the latter by a score of 8-7.
Boston prevailed, 11-7, in the third game, viewed by 7,000, a unusually large crowd for a Monday.
Then the Whites won the finale, 19-6, in front of 5,000 witnesses. It is unknown how many fans stayed away, suspecting that Kelly would not play, as proved the case.
"As THE TRIBUNE intimated yesterday he wanted a runner [whenever he reached base], but as he seemed to get along all right in Monday's game in the ninth inning Anson thought he might do as well yesterday" and insisted that Kelly run for himself. "As a result, the only Michael did not show up."
The paper also said:
"About 34,000 people attended the Chicago-Boston series. Fully 17,000 represented 75 cents each and the others 50 cents each. This gives a total in the neighborhood of $21,000. They got $10,000 for Kelly and the club is still playing winning ball. This is some evidence of good business management on President Spalding's part."
The Tribune's own attendance figures for the 4 games actually add to 36,000, so the team may have made an even larger profit off Kelly's homecoming.
The Tribune says the 3 wins lifted the Whites into third place, but multiple other sources show them still fourth, half a game behind New York, and 5.5 in back of first-place Detroit.
FROM 1,000 TO 15,000
Only 1,000 and 1,500 felt a need to watch the Whites split games the next 2 days against Washington, followed by 6,000 to see them win the rubber game with the Nationals on Saturday, July 2.
Double that number were on hand for the morning game on Monday, July 4, when the Whites beat the Giants, 5-1, and 15,000 roared their approval in the afternoon, when they swept the day, 4-2, and did jump over New York into third place.
On Tuesday, 6,000 watched the Whites sweep the Giants, 15-3. With that win, they rose to second, at 31-20, although still 5.5 behind Detroit.
The Whites played 29 games between July 7 and Aug. 11, going 9-7 on the road, then 8-5 at home. Three of the home games were against Boston, with the Whites winning 2 in front of combined audience of 21,500.
After every 1 of those 29 games, the Whites remained in second place.
They were second again after an 8-2 win on Saturday, Aug. 13. But that win, in front of 12,000, was over Detroit, in the opener of the team's final series of the season at Chicago.
The Whites began their next game, on Monday, just 1 game behind the Wolverines, so when they beat them again, 6-4, the weekday crowd of 7,500 let loose a thunderous ovation in honor of the Whites tying for first place.
According to the Tribune, 11,000 fans filled the park on Tuesday, hoping to see the Whites claim the top spot alone. The Inter Ocean estimated the turnout at 12,000.
Alas, the Whites lost, 5-3, and they never shared first again, as they failed to win consecutive games until they swept a doubleheader against Indianapolis nearly a month later, on Sept. 10.
After improving to 50-32 when they had pulled even with the Wolverines, they went 5-12. They were only 4 games out of the lead after a win at Detroit on Sept. 5, then dropped 2 games there on the seventh to trail by 6 games.
They never drew closer than 5 games through their final 30 games, winding up 6.5 to the rear. And when they went 0-4-1 to finish the season, they wound up in third, with a final record of 71-50-6.
As the Whites faded from contention, West Side Park understandably became emptier and emptier on game days. In the team's final 21 home games, between Sept. 8 and 29, there were more than 4,000 fans only once, for a Saturday afternoon game against the Giants.
They even played a split doubleheader against Boston in late September that lured only 1,200 and 2,000.
The Beaneaters had been in third place, 3 games out of first, on Aug. 1. After ending the month with 3 straight losses at home to Detroit, they found themselves in fifth, 9 games to the rear. That's when they fired Kelly as manager. They finished fifth, 16.5 games in back of the Wolverines and 10 in back of the Whites.
Following the doubleheader sweep at Detroit, the Whites' first game back in Chicago generated minimal interest.
"The crowd numbered 2,200 yesterday but there was a great cloud of silence over all, and it was as quiet as if there had been nobody present but the players," the Tribune said of another loss, to Indianapolis.
"The champions played like tail-enders, and the ill luck that has dogged their steps on the recent trip refused to be shaken off when the team got home," the paper declared.
"It was manifest incapacity on the part of the Chicago players that lost the game, and President Spalding left his seat in the officer's box in deep disgust before the game was completed. He realized that the recent disastrous tour of the club was directly due to poor playing on the part of the men, and to no other circumstances. . . . The idea that Chicago ball-players should at this critical moment play such poor ball seems preposterous."
The Whites promptly launched a 5-game winning streak, and over the next 4 weeks won 16 of 20 games. But few people seemed to care.
SMALL CROWDS = BEST GAMES
After the Whites' 9-0 win over Washington on Monday, the 19th, the Inter Ocean said: "There were 3,000 people present a yesterday's game, and it was a good one. The small crowds see the best games."
On Tuesday, the Whites blanked the Nationals again, 5-0.
"There were 2,000 people present yesterday to witness Van Haltren's splendid work," the same paper observed. "Again did a small crowd see what large crowds are always anxious to see."
Then, on Saturday, the Whites played a split doubleheader against Pittsburgh under conditions so bad that the Inter Ocean could only marvel at the hardy souls who braved the elements:
"About 1,200 people were interested enough to put in an appearance for the first game yesterday at 1:30 o'clock in spite of the raw, cold weather.
"Some people would go to see a game of base ball if it snowed a regular blizzard, and what is more, pay for the privilege.
The players hugged the stove in the dressing-room till the last minute, and only came out on the grounds when Umpire Powers called the play."
Another doubleheader the next day concluded the Whites' home schedule for 1887. In the 59 games, of all 67 played, for which I could unearth attendance figures, they drew a total of 280,150 spectators.
Of that total, 74,500 came to see Detroit, 61,500 to see Boston and 58,000 to see New York. The first 2 numbers are for 9 games; the third, for 7.
Together, they amount to 194,000, which is 69 percent of their entire attendance.
The average crowd was 7,760 when the Wolverines, Beaneaters or Giants were in town -- more than 3 times the 2,534 when the Whites hosted any of the 4 other teams: the second-place Philadelphia Quakers, sixth-place Pittsburgh Alleghenys, seventh-place Washington Nationals or last-place Indianapolis Hoosiers.
TOMORROW: A record high, then a record drop