Eighth 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 1887, while finishing second, the White Stockings set franchise records for total attendance (280,150) and average audience (4,748), according to the game-by-game crowd sizes that I was able to unearth from contemporary newspapers.
Those numbers reflect 59 of the team's 67 home dates.
A year later, despite slipping to third, the Whites broke both records, with a total of 283,642 and an average of 4,890, in 58 of 67 dates.
They did it in 1888 by drawing steady crowds, with fewer big highs but also fewer big lows.
Their peak was 12,500 fans for the afternoon game of a split doubleheader against the Quakers, today's Phillies. That was 2,500 less than their best of 15,000 a year earlier.
They had only 1 other crowd of 10,000, for a Saturday game in late July in which they outslugged Detroit, 21-17. In 1887, they had had 6 total games with 5-digit attendance.
But they played in front of at least 5,000 in 33 more games, compared to just 20 the previous season.
In 1888, there were 12 games at West Side Park witnessed by fewer than 3,000 fans. In 1887, there had been twice as many.
That the Whites would set attendance records by season's end must have seemed impossible early in 1888, when the weather was wretched, game after game.
The Whites swept their season-opening 4-game series at Indianapolis, then won twice at Pittsburgh before dropping the final 2.
'DARK AND CHEERLESS'
The next day, May 1, they triumphed in their home opener, but they did so in front of far fewer fans than had turned out for most of the team's previous Chicago debuts.
"When the Indianapolis players arrived yesterday morning the sky was dark and cheerless, and descending snow flakes suggested that the base-ball magnates were rushing the season," the Chicago Tribune wrote the next day. "By 11 o'clock, when the Chicagos arrived from Pittsburg, the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly. The air, however, was chilly, and it did not improve during the rest of the day.
"The ball grounds, which were wet from snow and rain of the night before, dried rapidly and by 3 o'clock were in fair condition. Still they retained enough moisture to be slippery during the entire game. A crowd of about 2,500 was present to assist in giving the season a send-off."
"Where were the Humane Society agents the last two days?" the Tribune asked in its account of the following day's contest. "Suffering humanity was plentiful at the ball park.
" 'Every man here is insane, and I am just as far gone as any of them,' was the opinion that a shivering occupant of a grand stand seat expressed."
A rival newspaper, the Inter Ocean, said of the same game: "[T]he weather was a regular patchwork affair, rain, shine, rain, cold, moderate, and windy. The weather clerk seemed to have turned on all the faucets, except the warm one, and let the contents out."
On Friday, May 4, the Whites improved their record to 10-2 with their eighth win in as many games against the Hoosiers.
""The weather was raw, and a regular cyclone was blowing across the field, and it was next to impossible to tell how a ball would go after it was hit," according to the Inter Ocean. " The little handful of people shivered through the game, and numbered possibly 500 in all."
A hardy 5,000 showed up for the first Saturday game of the season. Rain then prevented another game until Wednesday. Neither paper specified the crowd at that one, but the Inter Ocean wrote, "Such a queer day as yesterday proved in the way of weather kept the base ball lovers at home."
Even the arrival of New York and Boston, two of the 3 biggest draws in recent seasons, did not attract the usual crowds.
The Inter Ocean remarked, after the Whites beat the Giants on May 12, a Saturday:
"One of the most surprising things about the game yesterday was the attendance of more than 3,000 people who were present of their own free will and accord, and paid for the privilege of sitting two hours upon a hard board in an atmosphere that would make an ice-house feel warm in comparison.
"The reporters who accompany the New Yorks say that in no other league city could such a crowd be called out on such a day.
The players had to keep playing every moment in order to keep from freezing."
The same paper said this of a Thursday contest against the Beaneaters:
"The game yesterday was remarkable for the fact that it was the first time on record when 5,000 people came out in the rain to see a base ball game.
"Such, however, was the fact and it may be imagined how many people would have been present had the day been pleasant.
The game had to be played, however, because there are no blanks in the scheduled, and a postponed game means a game entirely lost."
The Whites won that game, 9-2. Then they throttled Boston again on Friday, 13-0, in front of 3,000. Their record stood at 17-4, good for a 3-game lead over the second-place Beaneaters and 4 over the third-place Wolverines.
The weather finally turned fair and mild in the final week of May, and fans made the most of it. The average crowd from May 1-18 was 3,500, and that excluded 2 games for which no attendance could be found. In 7 games from May 19-26, it was 5,000.
A season-high 8,500 came to the park on the 26th, hoping to watch the Whites complete a 3-game sweep of the Wolverines. They lost, but still were atop the standings by 3 games as they departed on a road trip that lasted more than 3 weeks.
When they returned, on June 20, they were up by 4 games and were greeted by 8,000 -- on a Wednesday afternoon, against sixth-place Pittsburgh, which lagged 14.5 games behind the Whites.
MORE THAN 5,000 PER GAME
They won 3 of 4 from the Alleghenys, lost 2 of 3 at Detroit and took 2 of 3 at Pittsburgh, to take a 36-17 record into their Fourth of July doubleheader at home. They won in the morning, to the joy of 8,500, but lost in the afternoon, to the dismay of 12,500.
Those games kicked off a 12-game home stand. The combined attendance for the 11 games with crowd sizes was 59,700, a healthy average of 5,427. But the Whites won only half of the dozen games. Back-to-back losses to the Giants in the final 2 games, each seen by 6,000, sliced their hold on first place to half a game.
They fell out of first when they lost the opener of a series at Detroit, then quickly regained the lead by winning the next 2.
But they lost the finale and were swept in 3 games at Indianapolis. Two losses at home to Detroit, in front of 7,000 and 6,000, extended their tailspin to 6 games.
They broke the streak with the 21-17 win over the Wolverines mentioned earlier, as 10,000 looked on. But by then they were in third place.
Consecutive losses at home to Pittsburgh, in their last game of July and first of August, left the Whites 4 games out of first. They moved back up to second with a pair of wins over Indianapolis, but remained 4 back and never came closer, ending the year 9 games behind, in second, with a record of 77-58-1. In their final 66 games, they barely won more often than they lost, going 33-32-1.
Yet, fans did not desert the team in droves as they had in previous seasons. A pair of early September games against Detroit on Monday and Tuesday still lured 6,000 and 5,000 to the west side. There were crowds of 6,000 and 7,000 for Boston the following weekend.
And when New York came to town for 4 games, Tuesday-Friday, Sept. 11-14, there were at least 7,000 spectators for each game, and a total of 30,500.
They even drew 6,000 the next day for the fifth-place Quakers.
Without those crowds, the Whites never would have set their single-season records for total attendance and average audience.
After 2 sparsely attended games against Philadelphia, the Whites closed out their home schedule with 5 against last-place Washington and 3 against next-to-last Indianapolis.
Attendance is unavailable for 4 of those final 10 games. Newspapers described the turnout at 2 of the 4 as "smaller than usual" and "rather light."
The total for the 6 other games was 6,700, an average of 1,117, or less than one quarter of the unprecedented season high of 4,890.
Management of the Whites could only dream of an average like that in the years to follow. The team would not come within even 1,000 of matching that number in any of the next 6 seasons.
The Whites slipped to third place in 1889 and were below .500 before going 3-0-1 at home to close out the schedule. Their final record was just 67-65-4, compared to 77-58-1 the previous year, and never shared or held the lead at the end of a single day.
Is it any wonder the typical crowd dropped by nearly 2,000, to 2,950, in the 39 of 69 home dates for which attendance data could be located?
After attracting 4,000 to their home opener on May 8, the Whites played their next 3 games in front of 3,000, then 2,000, then 2,000 again.
Those were followed by a 3-week road trip. When they returned, only 1,300 saw their first game back.
Three weekday games against Philadelphia, June 19-21, were played in front of 2,000, 2,5000 and 2,000.
"The crowds are getting smaller," said the Inter Ocean, "although the base ball weather is at hand."
Even the teams that usually heralded strong turnouts did not do so, on many occasions.
"The crowds are not so large as usual at the New York games," the Inter Ocean noted after 3,600 watched the Whites beat the Giants on Monday, June 24. "This club is the champion base-ball organization of the world, remember, and is here defending it."
There were just 3,000 the following day, then no attendance and a mere 1,800 for the final 2 games of the series.
Boston attracted 7,500 on Saturday of that week, but only 3,250 and 3,000 in games before and after.
The largest crowd all year, as usual, was for the afternoon game on the Fourth of July. But it was only 8,500, significantly smaller than expected on the holiday, perhaps because the opponent was woeful, last-place Washington.
The morning game on the Fourth attracted 5,500, so that single day had 2 of only 6 attendances all year that reached 5,000. Just 1 of those 6 was after Aug. 3: 6,000 for the final game of the year against the Giants, on Saturday, Sept. 28.
20 UNDER 1,000
The Whites' home opener of 1890 must have set off alarm bells among the team's officials.
The good news was that the Whites beat Pittsburgh, 9-4.
The bad news was, they did so in front of just 2,500 fans.
And that would prove to be the 12th largest turnout among the Whites' 66 home dates.
On 20 of those dates, nearly one third, the attendance would be below 1,000, including 3 games each against the Beaneaters and Giants.
The Independence Day doubleheader, also against Boston, drew 4,653 in the morning and 7,563 in the afternoon. No other game attracted more than 3,625.
In fact, the combined 12,216 for the holiday games amounted to nearly 11 percent of the total attendance for the season, 112,841. The average was just 1,711 -- 1,240, or 42 percent, less than in 1889 and 171, or 9 percent, less than the team's previous season low of 1,882 in 1884.
COMPETITOR FOR FANS
In 1890, as in 1884, the Whites found themselves with competition: a team in the new Players (or Brotherhood) League that quickly earned the nickname of Pirates, as it featured no fewer than 7 members of the 1889 Whites.
Among those 7 were 5 of the team's regular position players. A sixth joined another PL club, leaving the 1890 Whites with only first baseman Cap Anson, age 38, and third baseman Tom Burns, 33. The lone returning pitcher, Bill Hutchison, was 30.
Over the course of the season, the team would employ 24 other players, 17 of them not yet 25.
Newspapers called them "Anson's Young Colts," which soon was shortened to just "Colts" and became the team's standard nickname, supplanting White Stockings and Whites.
Chicago fans left no doubt that they preferred familiar players to newcomers.
The Pirates played their home games at a new park on the South Side. Their first was on Monday, May 5.
The next day's Tribune reported:
The Brotherhood Ball Park was opened to the public for the first time yesterday and 2,625 people crowded through its gates. The weather was execrable, and the opening under adverse circumstances must be voted a grand success.
The Iroquois Club was represented by a delegation in a tally-ho, while a large crowd attended from the Board of Trade.
The park presented a handsome appearance, despite the fact that owing to Saturday's rain all the colors in the bunting and streamers with which the stands were decorate had run wild.
The stands are exceedingly attractive with their prettily blended hues and the field is perfect. The continued rains of the last few days made the ground soft in places, but a day's run will put it all right.
The local brotherhood club can truly boast one of the handsomest and most commodious parks in the United States.
JUST 125 FOR REDS
The same afternoon, the Colts hosted Cincinnati, which had jumped to the NL after 8 seasons in the rival American Association.
Here is what the Tribune said about that game:
There was room for one more at the National League Ball Park yesterday afternoon when the game between the Chicagos and Cincinnatis began.
The turnstile wheels would have spun round with greater frequency no doubt had Capt. Comiskey's men and the cold north wind been out of town. As it was, about 125 persons were inside the fence.
When the Ohio people came up from the club-house at 3 o'clock to begin practice not more than half a dozen seats were occupied, and one of these was held by a policeman.
Yet this was the first time Cincinnati had been represented on the local field in several years.
There was no music, and it was too cold for the crowd to make any noise even if it had been large enough. It was good weather for pneumonia, but bad for outdoor sport. The wonder is that more errors were not made, for the players had hard work keeping their fingers limbered.
Even after shivering through the game the spectators were doomed to another disappointment. Umpire Zacharias put a stop to proceedings at the end of the ninth inning, although the scores were then tied [at 2].
The air had grown colder and it was getting dark. No one offered any objection to quitting.
If there was any solace for the Colts, they did not lose, as the Pirates did, by 13-5, no less.
The next day, however, the Pirates won, in front of 1,328, while the Colts lost and drew nearly 1,000 fewer:
"The promise of warm weather drew 386 people to yesterday's National League game between the Chicagos and Cincinnatis," the Tribune wrote. "These figures are taken from Secretary Brown's score-card.
"It will be be noticed that Mr. Brown did not have much more figuring to do than he had the preceding days, when the weather was cloudy. But it was still too cold to figure on the actual drawing strength of the league as against the brotherhood."
'NOT UNCOMFORTABLY CROWDED'
Yet just 2 days later, the Tribune could not resist mocking the size of the gathering on the West Side:
The smiling afternoon swelled the attendance at the National League Park, where Chicago and Cincinnati played the final game of their May series.
It will be remembered by those who have followed the record closely that 386 people were present at Wednesday's game, when the teams played in a chunk of weather left over from last January.
Yesterday the lines of spectators continued filing in until 390 men and boys and one woman, by official count, had found their way inside the fence.
And yet it was not uncomfortably crowded.
PIRATES DRAW MORE
Ultimately, the Colts and Pirates played 44 games in Chicago on the same afternoons, more than 60 percent of each team's contests at home, as the Colts hosted 72 games and the Pirates 69. The Colts played 8 single-admission doubleheaders; the Pirates, 3.
When the teams went head to head at the turnstiles, it was no contest.
Beginning with the May 5 game, the Pirates outdrew the Colts for each of the first 10 days on which both were at home, and for 28 of the first 33 such days.
On Saturday, June 21, the Colts attracted their largest crowd in their first 16 home games, 1,933, against the Giants.
The same day, the Pirates welcomed 4,500, who saw 22-year-old Silver King no-hit Brooklyn-- and lose, 1-0.
It wasn't until the following Friday, June 27, that the Colts finally attracted more fans: 3,625, to the Pirates' 850.
But the next day, the count was Pirates, 4,756; Colts, 2,653.
And on the Fourth of July, fans overwhelmingly favored the Pirates. A throng of 23,523 came to the South Side for a single-admission doubleheader, a staggering 8,253 fans, 55 percent, more than had ever paid to see the Colts.
The holiday attendance for the Pirates also was nearly double the count for the 2 games the Colts played on the West Side: 12,213, with 4,653 showing up in the morning and 7,563 in the afternoon.
On July 26, another Saturday, the Pirates nearly doubled up the Colts again, 6,183 to 3,329.
A week later, they did it and then some: 6,612 to 3,186.
The totals were 3,000 and 1,753 on Monday, Aug. 4. That was the game that made the score 28 larger crowds for the Pirates to 5 for the Colts.
The Colts began an 11-game road trip the next day and did not play at home again until Aug. 16, the day the Pirates left town for 17 games. Another month passed before the teams were in Chicago together once more, on Sept. 15.
COLTS BOUNCE BACK
Beginning that day, the Colts attracted more paying customers than the Pirates on 9 of 13 common dates. But the total difference on those 9 days was only 3,159, an average of just 351. It was only 73 one day, 103 another and 136 a third.
On all 14 days when the Colts had more fans, the average difference was 567 fans, 1,434 to 847. The median difference was even less: 444.
More than a third of the total difference, 7,936, came on that one Friday in late June, when the Colts outdrew their rivals by 2,775.
The average difference on the 32 days when the Pirates had more fans was 1,421, more than 1.75 times larger, 3,263 to 1,842.
For all dates on which both teams played at home, the Pirates averaged 2,639 fans, which was 50.3 percent more than the Colts' average of 1,756.
By mid-September, Chicagoans had seen enough of both teams.
From then until season's end, the typical turnout for a game on the West Side was 1,216; on the South Side, 1,113.
On Closing Day, Saturday, Oct. 4, the count was South, 200; North, 0.
"The wind-up of the base-ball season yesterday was dismal enough to make one shudder to think of it," the Tribune wrote the next day.
"The West Side people did not have the courage to attempt to play, and their game was declared off.
"At the South Side, although the grounds was a quagmire, five inning were played, the score ending in a tie [at 2].
At the end of the fifth inning it commenced to rain and the game was called, to the intense delight of the 200 spectators who sat in the stands and tried to get up some enthusiasm."
The Colts had won their last 5 games and finished 83-53-3, good for second place, 6.5 games behind Brooklyn.
The Pirates had won their final 4 and wound up 75-62-1, in fourth, 10 games in back of champion Boston.
By Opening Day of 1891, there would be only one team in Chicago again, playing its games at South Side Park.
But it would be Colts, not the Pirates, as the Players League went out of business after its lone season and the Colts would take over the home of their former rivals.
TOMORROW: Different parks, sometimes on different days