Last week I wrote that no one was really getting excited about Randy Johnson’s 300th win. That said, I bet that more people turn out for the potential milestone tonight than did for these:
Baseball history is littered with noteworthy achievements that took place in front of sparse crowds. Ted Williams’s last game at Fenway Park managed to draw only 10,000 fans. Still, the crowd dwarfed the 2,000 who came to fete Babe Ruth in his final home game as a Yankee. Fewer than 6,000 bothered to catch Stan Musial’s 3,000th hit at Wrigley Field in 1958. Poor Bill Stoneman threw two no-hitters in his career that drew a combined 13,680 fans — a number that would certainly be a disappointment in Washington.
I’m not sure that anyone would have known it was the Babe’s last game in pinstripes — he wasn’t released until the following February — and no one could have anticipated either of Stoneman’s no-hitters, but, yeah, it’s true that old milestones weren’t celebrated the way they are today. Part of this is because people simply weren’t as aware of impending milestones back then. There was no Baseball-Reference.com in 1958. There was no Sportscenter. People got their box scores once a day — if that — and didn’t have nearly the kind of access to stats and stuff that we do today.
Another part of this: statistical availablity aside, people just didn’t obsess about the game as much then as we do now. For one thing, people didn’t go to ballgames in the numbers people do now. In 1923, the Yankees led baseball in attendance by drawing a hair over a million fans. The Marlins drew 1.3 million last year and were the laughingstock of the league. There are all kinds of reasons for this — and certainly overall population impacts this — but people didn’t build their lives around baseball back then like so many of us sick individuals do now. Everyone knew that Randy Johnson was poised to win 300 games before the season began. I bet you could count the number of people who knew when Eddie Collins was due to get his 3000th hit on one hand.
So, different game, different fans, different time. But it does make me wonder: if people were way more casual and dismissive of fun stuff like this back in the day, why do we still call it the “Golden Age?”
(thanks to Pete Toms for the link)