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A brief history of Cubs neutral site games

This weekend, Cubs will play their first games outside North America since 2003. But they’ve played at other neutral sites before and since.

Outside the Tokyo Dome for the Cubs/Mets series in 2000
Al Yellon

LONDON — Tomorrow and Sunday, the Cubs and Cardinals will meet for a two-game series in London, England. It’s the second foray into the UK by Major League Baseball for a London Series after the Yankees and Red Sox met there in 2019.

While the Cardinals will be the “home” team and bat last, these games are being played on a neutral site, the Cubs’ first since last year’s Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa, and the sixth and seventh games the Cubs will have played outside North America. Up to now, that consists of two in Japan vs. the Mets in 2000, and three vs. the Montreal Expos in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2003.

Here are complete lists of all MLB neutral site games in the 20th Century and in the 21st Century, via Retrosheet. (There were 14 other neutral site games for the Chicago N.L. ballclub in the 19th Century when baseball scheduling was much more casual than it is now.)

Per those Retrosheet links, the Cubs have played 30 neutral site games in their history (since 1900), 27 regular-season games and three World Series games. Here’s a brief review of all of the Cubs’ neutral site games since 1900.

May 9, 10, 11 and 12, 1911: vs. New York Giants at Hilltop Park, New York

These were made necessary by a fire at the Polo Grounds in April 1911; the Giants played at Hilltop Park, home of the then-New York Highlanders until late June. The Highlanders wouldn’t be named “Yankees” until 1913. The Cubs split the four games.

September 26 (doubleheader), 28 and 29, 1914: vs. Boston Braves at Fenway Park

The Braves’ home at the time, South End Grounds, had a smaller capacity than Fenway, which was only two years old at the time. Imagine this happening today:

On August 3, 1914, Red Sox President Joseph Lannin sent a telegram to Braves President James Gaffney offering the use of Fenway Park (free of charge) in place of the smaller South End Grounds where the Braves played their home games. A month later, on September 3, Gaffney wired Lannin that the Braves would play their remaining home games at the American League park.

Though the Braves had used Fenway Park before, they officially called the ballpark home for the rest of the 1914 regular season

The Cubs lost all four games; those were the “Miracle Braves” on their way to a World Series title.

May 20, 21, 22 and 24 and July 22, 23, 24 and 26, 1915: vs. Braves at Fenway Park

The Braves used Fenway Park as their home field until Braves Field opened on August 18, 1915. More sweeps: The Cubs won all four games in May and lost all four games of the July series.

While you might say these weren’t “neutral site” games as the Braves used Fenway as their home for 87 total home games from late 1913 through mid-1915, the Retrosheet link lists them as neutral site and says “fire at Huntington Street Grounds” and “delay in opening of Braves Field” are the reasons for the switch. I’m going to go with Retrosheet and consider the 12 games the Cubs played against the Braves at Fenway in 1914 and 1915 as “neutral site” contests.

September 5, 6 and 7, 1918: World Series Games 1, 2 and 3 vs. Red Sox at Comiskey Park

The larger capacity of Comiskey was the reason:

Major League Baseball and the Cubs decided that the team’s home World Series games would be played at Comiskey Park, which was known at that time as “The Baseball Palace of the World.” Erected in 1910, Comiskey Park held twice as many people and had an upper deck, so MLB and the two teams could split more cash from gate receipts by using the White Sox’s ballpark.

The Cubs lost Game 1, won Game 2 and lost Game 3.

June 25, 1956 and June 5, 1957: vs. Dodgers at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, New Jersey

The Dodgers wanted a new stadium to replace aging Ebbets Field. The minor-league team in Jersey City had departed after 1950 and officials there thought having some Dodgers games in Jersey City might help them attract another team. The Dodgers played seven games there both in 1956 and 1957. There was an option to renew the deal for another three years, but the Dodgers left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

The Cubs lost both games, 3-2 in 1956 and 4-0 in 1957.

March 29 and 30, 2000: vs. Mets at the Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan

These were the first major-league games played outside North America. The Cubs and Mets were chosen for these games because of the popularity of Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza in Japan at the time. The Cubs won the first game 5-3 behind a strong outing from Jon Lieber and lost the second one 5-1 on an 11th-inning grand slam by Benny Agbayani. I attended these games in Tokyo. The second one ran nearly four hours until 11 p.m. local time and had it run another 30 minutes it would have caused a transit mess, as Tokyo subways stop running at 11:30 p.m.

Here are articles I wrote on the 20th anniversary of those games on March 29 and March 30, 2020.

September 9, 10 and 11, 2003: vs. Expos at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Expos played 22 games in San Juan in both 2003 and 2004, and the Cubs were part of that in 2003. These games were important for the Cubs in their race toward the NL Central title that year. The Cubs lost two of the three and ended the set one game out of first place. I went to these games as well; one thing I remember is the large number of fans who had taken the short flight from the Dominican Republic to see Sosa play. The games drew 15,632, 18,002 and 12,559 in a stadium with a capacity of about 20,000.

The Cubs won the first game of the series 4-3, lost the second 8-4 and lost the third 3-2.

September 14 and 15, 2008: vs. Astros at Miller Park, Milwaukee

These two games were moved to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike bearing down on the Houston area. The first one was historic [VIDEO].

Carlos Zambrano threw the Cubs’ first no-hitter in 36 years in the first of the two games. Incidentally, part of that video is from the Houston TV feed and you can hear Jim Deshaies, then an Astros broadcaster, calling some of it. It was officially a “neutral” site, but due to the proximity to Chicago, nearly all of the 23,441 in attendance were Cubs fans. I went to this one, too, the first Cubs no-hitter I had seen in person. Jake Arrieta threw two after that and the Cubs had a combined no-hitter in 2021, but no Cub has thrown a no-hitter at Wrigley Field since Milt Pappas did it September 2, 1972.

Big Z’s no-hitter was the first thrown at a neutral site. Walker Buehler and three Dodgers relievers threw the second one May 4, 2018 at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, the first no-hitter thrown outside the U.S. or Canada.

What’s been nearly forgotten from those two 2008 games in Milwaukee is that the Cubs almost no-hit the Astros the next day as well. Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Mark Loretta singled with one out to break it up. It was the only hit the Astros had in a 6-1 Cubs win, and that was more MLB history:

The Cubs became the first team in major league history to throw a no-hitter and one-hitter in back-to-back games.

Fifteen years later, the Cubs are still the only team to do that.

August 18, 2019, vs. Pirates in the Little League Classic at Williamsport, Pennsylvania

The Cubs embraced the spirit of Little League ball, having fun with kids before and during the game, especially Anthony Rizzo:

They crushed the Pirates 7-1. Here is my recap of that game, which included home runs by Rizzo, Nick Castellanos and Jason Heyward.

August 11, 2022, vs. Reds in the Field of Dreams Game at Dyersville, Iowa

The Cubs scored three runs in the first inning and got five shutout innings from Drew Smyly and defeated the Reds 4-2. Here’s my recap of the game, and here’s an scene that will be remembered forever, Cubs and Reds players walking onto the field together, out of the cornfield:

Overall, the Cubs’ record in neutral-site games is 12-15 in the regular season and 1-2 in the World Series. The two games this weekend in London will thus be the Cubs’ 28th and 29th regular season neutral site games and 31st and 32nd overall (since 1900).