Last week I wrote about one of the nice little treats of being a Chicagoland baseball fan: the Red Line double-header. This is when both Cubs and White Sox have home games on the same day and at different times, so you can just take the Red Line on the Chicago Transit Authority from Wrigley Field on the North Side to 35th & Shields on the South Side. (Both stadiums are just barely west of the Red Line.)
My last article covered the basics: the history of dual home game days in Chicago and how often it’s possible to see them both on the same day. Since night baseball came to Chicago, there have been 163 times the city’s two stadiums have hosted a night game and day game on the same day.
Now let’s more closely at those 163 days, the Red Line doubleheader days themselves.
When during the season?
The first thing to look at is, when do these things occur exactly? When are you most likely to have a chance to go to one? Well, breaking it down month-by-month, here’s when they’ve happened.
Month RLDH April 17 May 37 June 24 July 17 Aug. 39 Sept. 28 Oct. 1
About half of them have come in two months, May and August. It isn’t too surprising to see so many August games (or that there are plenty of September games, either). You’d expect some make-up games to take place later in the year causing extra overlaps.
The number of May games is surprising, though. What’s really interesting is how it breaks down within May. From May 11-20, there have been just two Red Line double-header days, and they were both way back in 1963.
Where these games really pop up in tons is early May. The first 10 days of May have had 23 Red Line double-headers, easily the most ever. I’m not sure why that might be, other than the Chicago teams might not mind this doubling up of home days in the early part of the season when crowds are down anyway. Or it could just be a flukish thing that happens for no reason.
It’s worth noting that all of April’s Red Line days come from April 14 onward. Thus, in a month and a half time window, there have been 54 Red Line double-headers.
The earliest one ever, as noted above, came on April 14, 2000. Both contests that day ended with a 9-4 score. The Cubs lost to the Marlins, and the Sox trumped the Angels. The sole October Red Line double-header came on Oct. 3, 1985. That time, the Cubs won and the Sox lost.
When in the week
What might matter even more to people is when in the week a Red Line double-header happens. After all, it’s a lot easier for most working people to make it to a day game on the weekend than on a weekday. Here is how things break down by day.
Day RLDH Sun. 5 Mon. 16 Tue. 36 Wed. 45 Thu. 27 Fri. 21 Sat. 13
So Sunday Red Line days are damn rare. Actually, that makes sense. Almost all teams play day games on Sunday, so a Red Line day would be tough to pull off.
Three of the five Sunday Red Line days have come since 2000, though. I wonder what influence ESPN has there. My hunch is that at least some of those games were ESPN’s weekly Sunday night baseball game. Two of the 21st-century Sunday Red Line days have been day games for the White Sox and night games for the Cubs. As noted last week, there have been only 10 “reverse Red Line” days with the normally nocturnal Sox hosting the city’s day game. Given how rare reverse Red Line days are and how few Sunday Red Line days there have been, it’s a rather curious overlap. Yeah, it’s probably ESPN.
Almost exactly half of Chicago’s Red Line days half come on either Tuesday or Wednesday. That makes sense. Those are really good days to schedule night games, so the Sox will have plenty of late baseball magic. The Cubs, being the Cubs, will have plenty of day games that day regardless. Hence the Tuesday-Wednesday domination here.
The lesson is how incredibly rare these things are on weekends. Last year, the Chicago-area THT gang had our choice of two Saturday Red Line double-headers. I didn’t realize how unusual that is.
“Let’s watch three!”
Next question: it’s nice that Chicago can let you watch two teams play home games on the same day, but let’s get greedy, shall we? How often can you watch three in one day? When will one team host a daytime double-header and the other a night game?
There have been plenty of times one squad played a double-header while the other was in town, but most of those were in the bygone times before night baseball. So the Cubs and Sox would be in town, but you couldn’t watch them both.
As it happens, there have been some occasions when you could conceivably catch a double-header on one end of town and a single game on the other, 10 times in all.
Here is the roll call of honor, the 10 dates you could see three games in one day (and which team hosted the double-header, as well).
Month Day Year DH 9 17 1969 CWS 9 9 1970 CWS 8 3 1976 CHC 9 21 1976 CHC 7 27 1977 CHC 7 19 1978 CHC 9 21 1983 CWS 6 26 1984 CHC 5 24 1988 CHC 7 4 1994 CHC
As noted last week, there were no Red Line doubleheaders at all for 25 years, from the 1930s until the late 1950s, and it didn’t really pick up until the 1970s, so it’s not surprising that there are no early games here. The glory period would’ve been the mid-to-late 1970s, clearly.
Since the Cubs installed lights in August of 1988, it’s happened only once.
Chicago teams have never gone 0-3 in any of these days, but they have gone 1-2 five times. Only once have they gone 3-0: the first time, on Sept. 17, 1969.
Of course, there is no guarantee you’d be able to really see all three games. It depends on start times and how long they took to play, but it would be possible to catch at least part of all three games on these days.
Chicago’s biggest baseball day: June 21, 1961
Once—only and exactly once—has Chicago hosted two double-headers in one day when one was listed as a daytime double-header and the other as a nighttime double-header. Frankly, I’m not sure how that would work. Did they really start the first game of a double-header at night?
At any rate, according to Retrosheet, that’s what happened on June 21, 1961. A crowd of 12,364 streamed into Wrigley Field during the daytime, only to see the Dodgers sweep the Cubs. At night, a much larger sampling of 37,558 rooters saw the Sox stomp the Indians, 15-3 and 11-1.
There have been other occasions when both teams hosted double-headers on the same day, but aside from this 1961 occasion, the next most recent was in 1911. Thus, even if a fan couldn’t see all four games in one day, it’s still the most baseball-rific date in Chicago’s last century.
That 1961 games points to another angle, attendance. How have the teams drawn for these 164 games?
Well, it should come to no surprise to anyone who has followed Chicago baseball over the last 30 years that the Cubs top this one.
In all, the Cubs have drawn nearly 400,000 more fans, 3,796,091 in the North Side versus 3,405,116 on the South Side. And that’s despite there being one Cubs date for which there is no attendance info available (the July 19, 1978, double-header strangely doesn’t have that info). Thus, the Cubs average over 2,000 more fans per game than the ChiSox.
That said, the biggest attendance gap actually favors the White Sox. The first true Red Line double-header took place on Sept. 18, 1959, with the Sox on the verge of clinching their first pennant since the days of Shoeless Joe Jackson, so the South Siders drew 38,323 into jam-packed Comiskey Park. That same day, a sparse “crowd” of 979 saw the Cubs play at Wrigley.
In those early years of the Red Line, the Sox dominated. From 1959 to 1963, the city had only 10 of them, but the Sox outdrew the Cubs by nearly 200,000 in total. The Sox would sell out while the Cubs struggled to draw 5,000 people. No wonder the city stopped having them until the late 1960s, when the Cubs had become good.
The Cubs chipped away a bit at the Sox’s edge in the ensuing years, but through 1977 the Sox still had an edge of about 90,000 fans at these Red Line double-headers. And that’s when the Sox really began to pull away.
As bad as the Cubs have long been, they were at some of their all-time worst play in the early 1980s. By mid-summer of 1984, the Sox had an attendance edge of nearly 350,000 through almost 60 Red Line days. That’s almost 6,000 per game.
Aye, but 1984 was the year of the great sea change in Chicago sports fandom. The Cubs claimed a surprise division title, and combined with the gentrification of the Wrigleyville area, the popularity of Harry Caray, WGN’s superstation status, and a host of other factors that we don’t have the time to get into, the Cubs became the city’s No. 1 team.
Prior to Aug. 1, 1984, the Sox had the attendance edge in over two-thirds of the Red Line double-headers and in over three-fourths of the ones when the Cubs didn’t host a double-header. (The Cubs usually won those days, but the Sox led 35-10 when both teams had just one game.)
But on Aug. 1, 1984, the Cubs outdrew the Sox by nearly 4,000. When another Red Line double-header took place fewer than two weeks later, the Cubs topped the Sox by over 10,000.
And the rout was on. In 1989, Chicago had six Red Line double-headers, and the Cubs, who won a division title that year, pulled in 133,260 more fans than the Sox did. The South Siders staged a mini-rally with their new stadium in the early 1990s, but after the 1994 strike (when the Sox lost a possible chance at the pennant, and their owner was one of the hardliners against the union), the Cubs kept gaining ground.
It wasn’t until April 19, 2002—the 126th Red Line double-header—that the Cubs finally passed the Sox. The Cubs drew nearly 34,000 that day while the Sox had barely more than a third that. The Cubs’ advantage of nearly 400,000 in Red Line double-headers is entirely a product of the last decade.
Five times the teams have combined to pull in over 80,000 fans in one of these days. Three of them came in one weekend series from Aug. 8-10, 2008. A fourth time came later that same month That makes sense, as both teams were on their way to division titles that year. The fifth time came on Aug. 14, 1993, and that still holds the record with 82,062 fans. That mark isn’t likely to fall, either, as the Sox have removed about 4,000 seats from their stadium since then.
Chicago’s greatest day: May 8, 1984
If you want to find the greatest one-day baseball Red Line extravaganza, look no further than this day. Both sides of town saw fantastic games, both had the home team win, and in both cases in came in their last at-bat.
The Cubs’ day game against the Giants looked like a real laugher early on. The Cubs scored seven runs in the bottom of a third for a seemingly safe 8-3 lead. Note, though, I said “seemingly.” The Giants chipped away all day and catapulted to a 9-8 edge by the seventh-inning stretch.
After Harry Caray finished his traditional singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the middle of the seventh, the Cubs took his imploring of “Let’s get some runs!” to heart, tied the game, 9-9, in the bottom of the seventh, and then moved into a new lead with a pair in the eighth. The Giants wouldn’t be denied, as a Jack Clark homer cut the lead in half, and a single and triple tied it up.
The Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, though, and Keith Moreland plated the lead runner for an incredible 12-11 win. After a back-and-forth game like that, you’d figure the Sox would have their work cut out for them trying to top it. So what would they do in the evening?
Well, how about the longest game in AL history? Would that top it well enough for you?
Yup, the Sox hosted the Brewers that night in an affair that went on for 25 innings. It was 1-1 after eight innings, but both teams scored a pair in the ninth. Though the game would go 16 more innings, the faithful on hand that day had to go home after 17 frames. There was a curfew in the AL, and the game ran up against it. So you couldn’t see the full game unless you were able to come back the next day.
Even at 17 innings, though, it was a day like none other—a fantastic slugfest on the North Side filled with plenty of late drama followed by a South Side endurance contest full of great pitching. No, there haven’t been many Red Line double-header days as good as that. But like all ball games, you don’t know what will happen until you get there.