It’s become something we do here at THT.
For each of the last two years, the Chicago contingency at The Hardball Times has a special day at the ballpark—because it’s a special day at two ballparks. We get together and catch a day game on the North Side of town and then sojourn to the South Side for a night game.
It’s an easy trip, as both Wrigley Field and Sox Park are just west of Chicago’s Red Line “L.” (Even with this year’s Red Line construction on the South Side, it’s still a really short walk from the nearby Green Line stop not far from U.S. Cellular Field.) While the interleague crosstown classic where the Cubs and Sox play each other gets more attention, the Red Line double-header gives you two games and four teams a day, a nice little perk of life in Chicago.
This year, for example, the THT gang got to see both Chicago squads lose in unusually cool weather on Friday, June 7. Last year we went during warmer August weather on a Saturday.
Chicago has long had two baseball teams, of course. And while the schedule is set up to assure that they are almost never home at the same time, there are typically a few times in the year when both are in town at the same time. Often it’s impossible to see them both at the same time. They might both be playing day games or night games, for instance.
This year’s THT shindig got me wondering about the history of these games. How often has their been a day game on one side of town and a night game on the other? What are its highlights? How often has there been a double-header involved? Has Chicago ever hosted a pair of double-headers in one day?
Let’s look up these questions. Before we look at a true Red Line double-header—day game on one side, night game on the other—we first have to look at how often both teams played in Chicago on the same day.
The early years: an initial eruption
From 1901 to 2012, there have been 406 occasions where both Sox and Cubs played at home on the same day. They were never so likely to do as in those very first few seasons. In 1901, the Cubs and Sox played at home on the same day 24 times. From July 12 to Aug. 4 alone they did it 13 times. In 1902, they did it 16 more times&mdash. That’s 40 times in two years, a tenth of the times they’ve ever done it.
There is a simple explanation for this. Back then, the AL was the upstart league trying to prove itself. The NL was its rival, not yet its partner. The Sox had the better team—they won the first AL pennant in 1901—so they played in Chicago up against the Cubs frequently.
In the 1902-03 offseason, however, the two leagues came to a truce, agreeing to work together instead of fighting one another. Not so coincidentally, the Cubs and Sox hosted games on the same days just 12 times in 1903 and then nine times in 1904. They still had joint home game dates about 7-10 times a year, but nothing like the 1901-02 explosion.
Decline of mutual home games
Even this wouldn’t last, however. In 1912, the Cubs and Sox had nine mutual home games, for a total of 124 through 12 seasons. It would be a long time before they had as many as nine days like this again. In 1913, they set a new low with just six dates where they both played at home. In 1914, it fell further, to three days. That became common.
What’s more, the nature of the double home date changed. It used to be that the two clubs would host entire series opposite each other. Now, it was more like a one-day affair. The last day of a Cubs home stand would be the opening game of a Sox home stand, or vice versa.
And even those games became increasingly sparse. In the 1910s, there were 46 times both Cubs and White Sox played at home on the same day, but in the 1920s it happened just 24 times. Only once in the 1920s was there back-to-back days with each team at home: the last two days of the 1925 season. Conversely, the 1923 season became the first one without a single day where both squads played at home.
The dormant years
And then it stopped. Completely. On Sept. 3, 1933, the Cubs lost to the Cardinals, 3-1, while the Indians trampled the Sox, 14-3— and then there were no more mutual home game dates for a long, long time. Not for the rest of the 1930s and not for the entire 1940s. Not until July 1, 1958, did it ever happen again. What the heck happened? Why did it stop entirely?
Well, a few ideas can be offered. First, these games clearly had become rarer and rarer for quite some time. Ending these games was less a break with the past than it was the continuation of an ongoing trend.
Second, let’s look at the timing. 1933 was the bottom of the Great Depression. Teams were desperate for cash as fewer fans wanted to waste their dwindling income at the ballpark. The Cubs were one of the best teams of this period, and despite that saw their attendance drop by almost two-thirds from 1929-33. Heck, after winning the 1932 NL pennant, they lost 400,000 fans in 1933. That isn’t normally how it plays out.
As bleak as it was for the Cubs, they still easily outdrew the Sox, who had two years under a quarter-million fans from 1932 to ’34. With turnstile clicks down so badly, the teams didn’t want anything to happen to reduce the number of fans coming in. Thus, the days of mutual home games came to an end.
There’s one other factor to be noted: the rise of the double-header. I wrote about this a few years ago at THT, and the short version is that the double-header really entered its golden age during the Depression. Apparently, teams sought two-for-one deals as a way to bring more fans out to the park.
As double-headers became more frequent, it became far less likely that both Chicago teams would host games on the same day. After all, more double-headers means more off days. It also means clubs are more likely to schedule rainouts on days where there is already a game than on a free day (when the other squad might be in town).
So the teams never played in Chicago on the same day.
The aborted return
Finally, the pattern came to an end in July of 1958. Why go back to the old ways? Again, it’s hard to say exactly. I will note that if the golden age of double-headers began with the Great Depression, their long, slow phase-out began in the late 1950s. So, with fewer off days and more one-game days, a mutual home-game date became more likely. Besides, the Great Depression was long since a memory.
At any rate, these double home-game dates were pretty rare. It happened once in 1958, once in 1959, and twice in both 1960 and 1961. It picked up a little after that, and in July, 1962, baseball schedule-makers did something long forgotten in Chicago. From July 12-14, 1962, for the first time in about 40 years, both the White Sox and Cubs hosted a series at the same time. It wasn’t just a one-off date, it was a full series.
Alas, rather than being the harbinger of a new era, schedules for Chicago teams quickly reverted to the 1933-58 era. From 1964-74, there were only seven days both teams played at home at the same time, including five straight years where it never happened from 1964 to ’68.
Red Line double-headers: 1970s onward
In the mid-1970s, the comeback began and essentially never has gone away. Only twice in the last 42 seasons has Chicago been deprived of at least one time a year when both teams played at home on the same daet: 1982 and 2010.
It’s actually picked up over time. There were just 20 of these games in the 1970s, 46 in the 1980s, 70 in the 1990s, before dipping a bit to 62 in the 2000s. It peaked with 14 such days in 1999, the most in any season since 1902. From 1958 to2012, there have been 224 days both teams have been in town at the same time.
Here is how these days break down by decade:
Decade Both 1900s 105 1910s 46 1920s 24 1930s 7 1940s 0 1950s 2 1960s 14 1970s 20 1980s 46 1990s 70 2000s 62 2010-12 10
All this brings up another question: why don’t the Cubs and White Sox push back against the schedule-makers on this, if that’s probably what happened way back when?
There’s a similar underlying trend in all this: attendance. Back in the day, the Chicago teams wanted to end these overlapping days due to attendance fears, but that really isn’t as big an issue any more. The new era of two home games in one day began in the mid-1970s. That’s also when attendance began to pick up all across baseball. It was stuck around 15,000 a game for 20-25 years across the big leagues but began a rise in the mid-1970s.
This was when you had the Baby Boomers coming of age with more income, and there was an overall national shift to spending more money on entertainment. The same years baseball’s attendance went up, Jaws and Star Wars shattered box office records. (Previously, the biggest grossing flick was Gone with the Wind, way back in 1939.) The Super Bowl became a national secular holiday. Rock ’n roll, just a decade removed from when the Beatles were the only band that could play stadiums, entered the era of arena rock.
Look back at Chicago for a second. Prior to the 1970s, the combined attendance for the Cubs and Sox had never been more than 2,454,230 (a figure that happened in 1960). That mark was bested each year from 1971 to 1973. In fact, from 1977 onward, there has been just one full season in Chicago history where the Cubs and Sox haven’t topped their 1960 total. The old ceiling is below the modern-day floor.
Ultimately, playing on the same day doesn’t hurt the clubs, so it keeps on happening.
Red Line double-header: day game and night game
The above tells us when the Sox and Cubs are in town the same day. But for a true Red Line double-header, you need to have sufficiently staggered start times. What you really need are a day game at one end of town and a night game at the other.
Neither park had lights until the Great Depression. In fact, no baseball park did. Night baseball came to the South Side in 1939 and to the North Side nearly a half-century later, in 1988.
The first true Red Line double-header came on Friday Sept. 18, 1959. That was a strange time to do it. The Sox were on the verge of clinching their first pennant in 40 years while the Cubs were playing out the string in another dismal season. Just 971 showed up for the weekday afternoon game at Wrigley Field while 37,352 flooded into Comiskey Park that night. Given how absurdly one-sided attendance was that day, it’s amazing the Cubs didn’t protest loud enough to prevent schedule-makers from letting this happen again.
From 1959 to 2012, there have been 164 Red Line double-header days with a day game on one side off town and a night game on the other. That’s three-fourths of the times both teams have been at home on the same day. Here’s the list from above, but with the chart now also showing how many Red Line double-headers there have been per decade.
Decade Both Red 1900s 105 0 1910s 46 0 1920s 24 0 1930s 7 0 1940s 0 0 1950s 2 1 1960s 14 13 1970s 20 18 1980s 46 43 1990s 70 46 2000s 62 35 2010-12 10 8
You can see the impact of night games at Wrigley. Even since that’s happened, there are more occasions when you can’t see both teams play, even if they’re both at home on the same day. It makes sense if you think about it.
Obviously, they’ve almost all been Cub day games and White Sox night games, but not always. The first reverse Red Line double-header—South Side day game and North Side nightcap—came on June 7, 1990. They’ve happened sporadically since then, 11 times in all. Even now, 25 years after Wrigley got its lights, the Cubs still play far more day games than any other team.
There is plenty more to look at with these Red Line doubleheaders, but this column has gone on long enough. We’ll pick it up again later.