You’re missin’ a great game

In what passes for real life, I write science fiction. One of the enduring tropes of SF is time travel: hop into a glittering machine or stumble through some weird portal, and suddenly you’re in another age, past or future. Wonder and excitement await you, as well as danger. Perhaps the greatest hazard is that you will make some change to the past, great or small, that will alter the course of history, turn your home era into some unrecognizable nightmare, even wipe you out of existence. (Ray Bradbury’s story “A Sound of Thunder” is a classic exposition of this theme. Back to the Future isn’t bad, either.)

What in the world does this have to do with baseball? Well, how many of us haven’t fantasized about going back to some celebrated game of the past and sitting in the stands as it all unfolds? Of course, we don’t fantasize about the part where we take somebody else’s seat at a sold-out game, and that disappointed fan sets off some unfathomable butterfly-effect chain of events that leads to Hitler winning the war or the Soviets beating America to the moon. Much safer to pick some game with a few thousand empty seats, or more. That at least cuts down the odds of calamity.

(Here I must categorically deny causing the election of your least-favorite President by buying a hot dog at the Eddie Gaedel game.)

This offbeat line of speculation led me to an interesting question: What great games of the past have played before the most disappointing crowds? We imagine every World Series game, every playoff, taking place in a packed stadium. Though this has usually been true in recent decades, there have been very important, famous, and thrilling games that drew much less than a sellout.

Even more so those ordinary regular-season games that became extraordinary through some outstanding performance or long, long deadlock. Either one would leave tens of thousands of fans kicking themselves because they could have, should have made the effort to go to the ballpark, and didn’t.

I’ve put together a list of 10 such games, six singletons and two pairs of games bound together by history as well as disappointment. I had no rigid objective attendance criteria, but some strong principles did guide me. I expected lower numbers at day games than night games, and more fans on weekends than on weekdays.

Bad teams received some forbearance (which is why the “crowd” of 8,375 at Arlington in late September 1984 for Mike Witt‘s perfect game falls short), as did old teams for lower populations and smaller fan bases. World Series and playoff games drew a virtual presumption of sellout status—though perhaps I should have lowered my expectations for playoffs, as you will see. I will list the mitigating and aggravating factors with each game, to inform and occasionally astound you.

This is probably not a perfect and comprehensive list, and if your criteria are different from mine, I’m sure you’ll find reasons to disagree. Consider it a jumping-off point for further discussion. (If I don’t read about at least two games in the comments section that make me smack my head, I will be disappointed.) Speaking of jumping off …

10. May 15, 1981: Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians in Cleveland Stadium. Attendance: 7,290. Capacity: 76,977.

Why the game was great: Despite that deceptive stretch of three* perfect games in a month in 2010, the perfecto is a special event whenever it happens. On this drizzly Friday night, Len Barker joined exclusive company, throwing the 10th perfect game in major league history en route to a 3-0 victory.

* Armando Galarraga was perfect. Not his fault if Jim Joyce wasn’t.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: As mentioned above, it was raining softly in Cleveland that night, keeping away fans (but according to Barker, giving him a better grip on the ball). And yes, the awful Blue Jays were the opponent. But the Indians were in first place, and it was a Friday night. And still they could not even fill a tenth of the seats. I could forgive 15,000 thousand, 12, maybe even 10, for a misty May game. But 7,000 and change puts you on my list.

9. May 1, 1920: Brooklyn Robins at Boston Braves in Braves Field. Attendance: 4,500. Capacity: 40,000.

Why the game was great: Time machines are expensive, so you need to economize where you can. And this is a prime opportunity: pay for nine innings of baseball, get 26.

Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger both went almost three complete circuits in a display that would give strokes to modern pitching coaches. Each hurler surrendered just one run on the day, and both finished strong, no-hitting their opponents over the last six innings to close out the greatest tie game ever. And the whole contest took a mere three hours, 50, which is about average for a nine-inning Yankees-Red Sox game today*.

* Okay, I actually tallied it up. 3:24:45 in 2011 for games that didn’t go extra innings. Dratted facts ruining my punch lines.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: Some leeway must be given for games played by second-division teams three generations ago, and 4,500 isn’t all that terrible for 1920. Except that it was a Saturday afternoon, in a city that still prohibited Sunday play. This was the lone baseball opportunity of the week for a lot of folks—and boy, did they miss their chance.

Bonus trivia nugget: The Robins, dodging Boston’s Sunday baseball ban, traveled to Philadelphia to fit in a game against the Phillies. It went 13 innings, ending in defeat. They then boarded the train back for Boston to play again on Monday. That game went 19, another loss. Despite this stretch of 58 innings in three days for two losses and a tie, Brooklyn would win the pennant that year. (Oh, and the Braves’ next game after that stretch went 11. Hard habit to break.)

Bonus beg: If anyone actually does go back in time to see this game, please explain to me the 1-2-3-2-3-2 double play I see in the box score. I’m stumped.

8. Sept. 29, 1959: National League playoff, Game Two, Milwaukee Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Attendance: 36,528. Capacity: 94,600.

Why the game was great: After a nip-and-tuck opening win in Milwaukee, the Dodgers found themselves down 5-2 in the ninth inning of Game Two, Sandy Koufax having just walked the bases loaded with two outs. Clem Labine entered to douse the fire, and the Dodgers stormed back with a five-hit rally to tie it up.

The teams traded bases-loaded jams in the 11th without anyone scoring. Two outs into the home 12th, L.A. strung together a walk, two singles, and Felix Mantilla‘s throwing error to win the four-hour marathon, and the pennant.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: Tuesday afternoon is a dead zone for ballgame attendance, one showing up more than once on this list. Of course, the next Tuesday afternoon, Game Five of the World Series would play here before 92,706 fans, a smidgen higher than Sunday’s Game Three and Monday’s Game Four. Light attendance for the playoff is accentuated by playing at the wildly inappropriate Coliseum, but the Dodgers would sell out even the worst seats there during the Series. Bad as this was, it was better than the previous day’s game in Milwaukee. (See below.)

7. May 8, 1968: Minnesota Twins at Oakland Athletics in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Attendance: 6,298. Capacity: 50,000.

Why the game was great: Catfish did it all. In the seventh, his squeeze bunt not only scored Rick Monday to break a scoreless tie, but he beat it out for a hit. In the eighth, bases loaded and two gone, his two-run single stretched Oakland’s lead to 4-0.

Oh, and there was the perfect game he pitched, the first in the American League in 46 years. (That Larsen guy did his in inter-league play: doesn’t count.) Driving in three of his team’s four runs with the full intense pressure of a perfect game on his shoulders gives his feat added dimension.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: It was a Wednesday night, not optimal for attendance, and yes, the Athletics had been a 10th-place team the previous season. The Kansas City Athletics, that is. Oakland had had its own big-league ballclub (slightly used) for less than a month, a team chock full of young and exciting players like Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, and, by the way,Catfish Hunter.. They would produce the franchise’s first winning season since 1952. And the bloom was off the rose three weeks after the home opener? It makes you think they should have stayed in K.C.

6-5. Oct. 2 and 3, 1962: National League playoff, Games Two and Three. San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. Attendance: 25,321 and 45,693. Capacity: 56,000.

Why the games were great: The rubber game of this series is more famous, but Game Two was pretty wild itself. The Giants knocked out Drysdale with a four-run sixth to go ahead 5-0, but the Dodgers stormed right back with seven in their half, routing three Giants hurlers. San Francisco rebounded for two in the eighth to tie, but two walks and two sacrifices won it for L.A. in the last of the ninth.

And then there was Game Three: 4-2 Dodgers after eight, but just like 1951 it all fell apart for them in the ninth, as every move manager Walter Alston made or didn’t make was the wrong one.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons are not the best times to fill your stadium—but a winner-take-all series for the pennant against your bitterest rival should be. Maybe fans were too dispirited by San Francisco winning the opener. That could explain the large bump for a Game Three that makes this list mostly on the previous game’s coattails. (I’m not trying to pick on Dem Bums, honest.) These NL playoff under-performances are becoming a trend, and we aren’t through yet.

4. Sept. 28, 1959: National League playoff, Game One, Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Braves in County Stadium. Attendance: 18,297. Capacity: 43,091.

Why the game was great: This was a taut affair, with multiple lead changes and no team ever ahead by more than one. John Roseboro’s solo home run broke a 2-2 tie in the Dodgers’ sixth, then Larry Sherry—pitching in relief since the second—took over. He shut down the Braves, allowing one baserunner over the last four innings to seal the opener for L.A.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: Monday day game aside, this one is just aggravating. Less than half capacity for a playoff game. Four thousand fans below their season average attendance. Almost a thousand fans fewer than the nondescript contest in late May against the Pirates that turned into Harvey Haddix‘s epic 12-inning perfect game. (Too bad it went 13.)

Could it be that pennant playoffs drew a different reaction then than today? Has institutionalized playoff baseball conditioned modern fans to a greater pitch of excitement for such games? I have to wonder.

3. Oct. 10, 1926: World Series, Game Seven, St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. Attendance: 38,093. Capacity: 62,000.

Why the game was great: Grover Cleveland Alexander, the Game Six winner “fresh” from his subsequent celebration (of a type forever open to speculation), replaced starter Jesse Haines in the seventh inning up 3-2, bases loaded, two outs, and Tony Lazzeri at the plate. He got the critical strikeout, and retired the next five, but with the championship one out away, walked Babe Ruth.

Babe promptly erased all memory of his early go-ahead homer by getting caught stealing second, and Alexander had insured he’d get portrayed in the movies by a mid-level leading man with a political itch.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: The excuses for this one don’t really hold water. The game was on a Sunday, and while a few fans may still have been put off by Sunday baseball (New York’s law against Sunday play had been repealed seven years back), there should have been ample numbers to take their place. Morning showers had come and gone, leaving behind a damp, gray, dreary day, temperatures barely crawling out of the mid-40s by game time. This would be a good argument for clemency, except that the previous year’s Game Seven had been played in even worse weather, and Forbes Field sold out past capacity.

Game Six at Yankee Stadium, on a Saturday, drew only 48,615, after sellouts of Games One and Two. A World Series at Yankee Stadium, with Babe Ruth, failing to sell out its last two games? The mind boggles.

2. Oct. 3, 1951: National League playoff, Game Three, Brooklyn Dodgers at New York Giants in the Polo Grounds. Attendance: 34,320. Capacity: 54,500.

Why the game was great: Thomson. Branca. Russ Hodges repeating himself. If you need any further explanation, you’re probably at the wrong website.

(This game was the seed of my article. Apropos of another project, I was searching for a famous baseball game with a few unsold tickets an imaginary time-traveler could pick up, and found this stunner. And to think of how many people claim to have been there.)

Mitigating and aggravating factors: I’ve sung this refrain before. It was a Wednesday day game, but it was a pennant playoff involving the Dodgers and Giants, the best rivalry in the National League. Even if Giants fans couldn’t pack the Polo Grounds, Dodgers faithful coming in on the subway should have made up the difference.

Management blamed “dark, threatening” weather for the poor turnout. Okay, plausible: It was very cloudy that day with high humidity. But then why did the previous day’s Game Two, a possible Giants pennant-winning day with sun and gloriously warm temperatures for October, have 16,000 empty seats? Had it not been a 10-0 rout, it would have made this list. In these numbers, one can start to see the attendance malaise that would drive the two teams to California.

1. Oct. 16, 1912: World Series, Game Eight, New York Giants at Boston Red Sox in American League Park (later known as Fenway Park). Attendance: 17,034. Capacity: 35,000.

Why the game was great: Snodgrass’s Muff is the historic shorthand for this game, but that sells it short. This was the only World Series to go past the limit (Game Two was called for darkness after 11, going into the books as a tie), and the game itself was a tense pitchers’ duel between Christy Mathewson and Boston’s Hugh Bedient, relieved after seven by Smokey Joe Wood (of the 34-5 record).

The game reached extra frames knotted at one, and when Wood yielded a run in the New York 10th, Mathewson looked sure to nail down the championship, especially after leadoff pinch-hitter Clyde Engle lofted an easy fly ball to right-center. One muff later, Boston had life. Aided by a foul pop that fell between three Giants (including Fred Merkle, in arguably his second “bonehead” play), the Red Sox pushed across two to win it all.

Mitigating and aggravating factors: The stands half-full for the deciding game of the World Series, one day after a near-sellout? There had to be a catch. And there was. Iffy weather, yeah; weekday, sure. But both had been true the previous day. The amazing truth was, the fans had gone on strike.

The Royal Rooters were a Boston institution, an organized cheering section 300 strong gracing Red Sox games with, among other things, their modified versions of the contemporary song “Tessie” that drove opponents batty. (Pittsburgh Pirate Tommy Leach credited them with winning the 1903 Series for Boston with that song.) They were so well-established, Giants management gave them their own section for two Series games at the Polo Grounds. For Game Seven at brand-new Fenway, though, the Royal Rooters found their accustomed left-field space had been given away.

Incensed, they marched across the field in protest just as Smokey Joe Wood was taking the mound. Mounted police herded them off behind a left-field bleacher fence (it wasn’t the Green Monster yet). They bashed through it and rushed the field again, holding up the game as the Red Sox manager and players joined with police to force a second expulsion. They waited for the final out to resume their protest, marching around the field as they traditionally did, this time inciting boos for Boston’s owners and a cheer for the New York ownership that had treated them better.

Boston management had the Royal Rooters’ accustomed seats reserved for the final game, one day too late. The Rooters boycotted the game, backed by a denunciation of the Red Sox brass from Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald (after whom future President Kennedy was named). Thousands of fans joined their beloved Rooters in the boycott, and that is how one of history’s greatest World Series games unfolded before more empty seats than spectators.

“Honorable” mentions: Mike Witt’s perfect game (8,375/41,097); the first of Johnny Vander Meer‘s two consecutive no-hitters, at Crosley Field (5,214/33,000); Bob Feller‘s 1940 Opening Day no-hitter at Comiskey (14,000/50,000); Roger Maris‘ 61* at Yankee Stadium (23,154/67,000); Milt Pappas‘ almost-perfect no-hitter at Wrigley (11,144/37,702); Roger Clemens‘ 20-K game at Fenway (13,414/33,368).

And that rounds out my list, not including whatever other worthy contenders you’ll nudge me about below. If there is one thing I want a reader to take away from this article, anxiety over time-travel paradoxes is not it. Someday, you’ll have an opportunity to go see a baseball game, but concerns over lackluster records or an incoming cold front or the fear of witnessing a painful postseason elimination will have you on the fence. When that day comes, go see the game. You don’t know what you could be missing.

References & Resources
Retrosheet
Baseball Reference
Online archives of The New York Times, various dates
Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals (2006 edition)
And lastly, I acknowledge lifting the title of Whitey Herzog’s memoir for the title of this article. Too good not to.

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Comments

  1. sleepyirv said...

    While we like to think a perfect game to the product of a pitcher, we know it has to do a lot with circumstance. If we say you can’t count things out of the players control then we would have to rewrite the records book.

  2. bucdaddy said...

    Since some of these (perfect games, Maris 61) are great individual landmark achievements, not necessarily great BALLgames, I’ll throw in this one:

    Sept. 30, 1972, Three Rivers Stadium (50,235), Pittsburgh, Mets vs. Pirates: Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th (and, as it turned out, last) regular-season hit. Pirates were on their way to a division championship (96-59 record), though they had clinched well before Sept. 30, and were the defending world champions.

    On September 30th, 1972, the closest available weather station to Pittsburgh, PA (PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL AP, PA), reported the following conditions:

    High Temp:    66F
    Low Temp:    48F
    Average Temp:    55.4F
    Dewpoint:    48.9F
    Wind Speed:    10.3 Knots
    Precipitation Amount:    n/a
    Snow Depth:    n/a
    Observations:    Fog, Rain/Drizzle

    Attendance: 13,117

    It’s hard to imagine this kind of thing happening today. When did the modern mania for media tracking a player’s march to a hitting or pitching milestone begin? Aaron’s march on Ruth’s record in 1973/1974? Rose’s assault on Joe Dimaggio’s hitting streak in 1978? The advent of ESPN in 1979? A combination of stuff?

    There’s no way any ballpark anywhere today wouldn’t be sold out or close to it for a 3,000th hit or 300th win. Certainly not filled to one-quarter of capacity.

  3. scott said...

    As a lifelong Tribe fan i had to lol at #10.  I was 18 at the time and was already used to the annual “we’ve turned the corner!” talk we heard from the team and sportswriters, and didn’t give it a 2nd thought because we knew, just KNEW, that with Seghi and Paul running the club they had as much chance of winning the AL East as a bunch of girl players at a marshmallow roast.

    Anyways, all of your games are pre-1982.  It wasn’t until sometime in the 1980s that sports became less “sport” (followed by people into sports) and more entertainment, and everybody just HAD to be at the big games.  Heck, a World Series game in Detroit in (I think) 1907 drew a whole 7,000!

    If you expand to the minors, I would include the 33-inning game between Providence and Bowie (?), even with the big chill factor!

  4. Lee Gregory said...

    Great article on a fascinating topic. For what it’s worth, while it probably doesn’t crack your top 10 list, let me offer this “gem” from April 1992:

    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1992/B04121CLE1992.htm

    A day after 65,813 witnessed Cleveland’s 19-inning home opening loss to the Red Sox at the “Mistake by the Lake”, Matt Young took the mound for the visitors with less than 1/3 that total in the stands. In the opener of a damp and chilly twin bill, Young twirled an eight-inning complete-game no-hitter – and we all know what that means.  Walks, errors, and the baserunning of Kenny Lofton and crew conspired to hang the L on Young, 2-1.

    In the second game, Roger Clemens was rushed into service, having not initially made the trip as he was not scheduled to pitch. But when the series opener chewed through much of the Sox staff, Clemens hopped a plane and arrived in time to spin a nifty complete-game two-hitter, striking out 12 and walking three.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  5. aweb said...

    1-2-3-2-3-2: Pitcher to catcher to firstbase, catcher, 1b, catcher.

    OK, a bunt/roller to the pitcher, who comes home with the ball, quick tag (or force), catcher tries to complete the DP at first, doesn’t quite make it, but another runner (started on second?) tried to sneak home, the firstbaseman catches him halfway, runs at him (fundamentals!), and a short rundown ensues. Seems plausible, especially in a game where players would have been trying to score on absolutely anything at some point.

  6. bucdaddy said...

    I might add that the Pirates have long had an aversion to scheduling Saturday afternoon home games, claiming they don’t draw well, for reasons I don’t think anyone has ever been able to explain (unless it’s just that the ‘Burgh is such a happenin’ place and there’s SO MUCH ELSE going on). The 9/30/72 game started at 2:15 p.m. on a Saturday.

    It’s strange now how many people in Pittsburgh today claim Clemente was their hero/idol etc. growing up. If everyone I’ve ever heard make that claim had been in the seats for No. 3,000 the place would have been filled.

  7. Paul G. said...

    My nominee is:

    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1954/B07310BRO1954.htm

    In what is often regarded as the greatest single game batting display, Joe Adcock hits 4 home runs and a double which, at least according to some sources, just missed clearing the fence at Ebbets Field.

    Attendence: 12,263
    Capacity: 32,000 (more or less)

    Aggravating: Saturday.  Brooklyn had won the pennant the previous year and Milwaukee had finished (a distant) second.  Dem Bums were in the heat of a pennant race currently 3 games behind the first place Giants, and they were playing the third place Braves.  The Dodgers drew better on both the Friday game before and the Sunday game afterwards, both against the same team.

    Mitigating: The Dodgers were not the only thing in the heat of things.  The high temperature in NYC that day was 100 degrees F.  It was a day game.  OK, I think I see a decent excuse there….

  8. kds said...

    I don’t think #9 should be on the list.  The Braves averaged about 3,000 per date in 1920, so 4500 was considerably above their average.  The game by game attendance is so incomplete one cannot compare to Saturdays in general, especially Saturdays without doubleheaders.

  9. diskojoe said...

    How about Ted Williams’ final game? I don’t think that too many people attended that game in Fenway.

  10. Lee Gregory said...

    Quote:

    “diskojoe said…
    How about Ted Williams’ final game? I don’t think that too many people attended that game in Fenway.”

    (endquote)

    10,454 according to Retrosheet.

    And I didn’t realize that the Red Sox had a three-game road trip to NY to end that season, which Ted skipped.  Guess they wanted him to end his career at home, but I don’t imagine a player would get that same treatment today.

  11. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Bucdaddy:  There’s my head-smacker number one.  You can almost forgive the fans skipping a drizzly Saturday and saving their money for the playoffs, but between missing a chance to see #3000, and never having the chance at #3001, that is a worthy entry to the list.  And I wish I could pin down when the milestone mania truly set in.  Maybe Aaron hanging so close for so long triggered it.  It was definitely set in stone by the time Pete chased down Ty.

    Scott:  It happened twice.  The Tigers drew 7370 in 1907, and 6210 in 1908, to the last game of the World Series.  But both Series were lousy, and Detroit fans didn’t want to watch the Cubs win it all on their turf.  I’m a little forgiving of that.

    Lee Gregory:  One heck of a doubleheader.  I didn’t know how to judge those against single games, so I avoided the matter altogether, but that day deserves a spot in the argument.  And on Williams, I thought it was his choice to end his career at Fenway, and one that wasn’t publicized beforehand, but I might be mis-remembering.

    Aweb:  You know, maybe.  The thought I had was that the first baseman might have switched positions at some point in the game, and it never got noted down.  They weren’t as obsessive as us in 1920, bless them. wink

    Paul G.:  Not bad at all, especially as it was a Saturday.  Still, 100 degrees is fairly mitigating—and several other adjectives. (Say hi to Paul, folks.  Good chance he’ll be the co-author of my next article here.)

    KDS:  Fair point if you disagree on how much higher Saturday attendance should have been.  All the better if you’ve got a nominee to take that game’s place.  Maybe you can borrow Bucdaddy’s.

  12. Lee Gregory said...

    Contrast the Clemente 3000th hit game with the Nolan Ryan 300th win game in Milwaukee in 1990, where 51,533 showed up at Country Stadium on a Tuesday night:

    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1990/B07310MIL1990.htm

    BTW(hijack warning), one of the classiest things I ever saw at a ballpark was when Bud Selig had over 50,000 certificates printed up and handed out to attendees as we left the stadium that night, certifying that we had attended that game.  An example is shown in the link below. For a visiting player.  And if Ryan doesn’t win that game, they just go in the trash.  Bud gets his share of well-deserved criticism, but this was a terrific move.
    </hijack>

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Nolan-Ryan-300-WIN-FULL-TICKET-w-CERTIFICATE-1990-MINT-/260948946863?pt=Vintage_Sports_Memorabilia&hash=item3cc1c4efaf#ht_858wt_905

  13. Andy R said...

    Nice article, Shane- a few thoughts on #7—

    The game was a Wednesday getaway day game starting at 6pm. The Coliseum was, after one month, getting a reputation for being the mausoleum it was referred to as in later years. Charlie Finley had already upset a lot of fans around here by being Charlie Finley- he was already complaining about low attendance, lease issues, and such. Why the A.L. ever let him move his franchise still confounds me…

  14. bucdaddy said...

    Re: Williams

    I seem to recall from one of his biographies that Cobb would ditch the team as soon as it was eliminated so he could go hunting in Georgia. Of course, who was going to tell him he couldn’t and risk a thrashing? I seem to recall he also would stage a “holdout” many springs so he could stay in the duck blind that much longer before he felt like he should report to camp. From the record of course, it’s pretty easy to see Cobb was never out of shape and needed spring training about as much as … um, someone doesn’t need something.

    Don’t recall if Ruth ever pulled the same thing, but being Ruth, he probably could have gotten away with it. Maybe not though, he seemed to like playing the game too much, though like Cobb he certainly had enough outside interests to pull him away. Few of them IIRC involved a duck blind though. He could find what he was looking for in most any restaurant and hotel room down the street from the ballpark.

  15. Steve I said...

    bucdaddy-

    re: Cobb

    I have a vague recollection you’re right in re: spring training.  But as for bailing on the team as soon as they were eliminated, I’m less certain.  How does one explain 1924?  I might do a quick & dirty analysis later, to satisfy my own curiosity.

  16. Geoff Young said...

    Fun stuff, Shane; thanks. I wrote about the Cadore/Oeschger game here a while ago (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/epic-pitchers-duels-part-1/). It includes a description of the double play as provided by the New York Times:

    In the seventeenth inning one of the most remarkable double plays ever seen in Boston retired Brooklyn. The bases were filled and one was out when Elliott grounded to Oeschger. Wheat was forced at the plate, but Gowdy’s throw to Holke was low and was fumbled. Konetchy tried to score from second and Gowdy received Holke’s throw to one side and threw himself blindly across the plate to meet Konetchy’s spikes with bare fist.

  17. bucdaddy said...

    Shane,

    My best guess, from having lived near Pittsburgh in that time, is that Clemente wasn’t nearly as beloved in Pittsburgh in 1972 as Pittsburghers today want to pretend he was. (And for sure nowhere near as popular as, say, Rose in Cincinnati or Ripken in Baltimore, to mention two other milestone chasers.) To start with, he was of course black—very black, actually—and he talked funny, and he was proud (or uppity, depending on your POV), and he had a rep of being something of a hypochondriac, and he’s somewhat infamous for bunting to get on base in a late-game situation that called for a home run and explaining, “I no feel like a home run,” so no doubt there was an undercurrent of racism involved. You might recall that Dave Parker, another proud (and mouthy) black superstar, did not exactly have a warm relationship with Pirates fans, nor, IIRC, did Barry Bonds.

    It took Clemente’s death in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission for fans to begin to see and accept him (or try to compensate for earlier generations’ ignorance) as the extraordinary man he was. So now, 40 years later, he draws big cheers when his image is shown on the Jumbotron at games from many thousands more people than bothered to show up to see him get 3,000.

    My excuse is that I was 15 years old at the time and probably had to mow the lawn or something.

  18. Bob Timmermann said...

    The NL tiebreaker playoffs tended to draw fewer fans because all the seats were available to any one. Season ticket holders usually didn’t get their seats for those games. I doubt the Giants or Dodgers had nearly as many season ticket holders back in 1951 as they do now, but it was still a factor.

    In 1959, the Dodgers playoff game likely didn’t draw well because it was a midweek game and late September and early October can be very hot in California. And the Coliseum was known for keeping the heat.

    In 1962, I presume Dodgers fans were discouraged by the team’s late collapse. Also, the weather was very hot and smoggy for both games.

    Air quality in Los Angeles after World War II until the late 1980s was far worse than it is in the area today.

  19. Steve I said...

    Lee, Shane -
    In My Turn at Bat, Williams said he chose not to go to New York for the final series because he was worn down.  Speculatively, if he hadn’t hit the homer in his last at bat at home, he might have made the trip.

    Bob -
    True enough, but the early Catholic missionaries reported smog-like conditions, and the AmerIndians referred to the “bad air” in the LA area.  Apparently there is a combination of weather and topology there that has always contributed to air quality problems.

  20. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Steve I:  Regarding Williams, my memory’s clearing up a bit.  It was an MLB Network show that said Williams had decided not to make the final road trip of the season before the last game at Fenway.  Their radio announcer was informed, but told to keep it quiet.  When Williams hit his parting shot, though, that bean got spilled.  If MLBN is accurate, Williams knew that was his last at-bat, ever.

    Geoff:  Thanks for the info and the link.  Tough to square the reporting with the official scoring, but I’m starting to think the scorer goofed.  And if that’s true, how many other long-past plays were marked down incorrectly that we’ll never know about?  Oh boy …

  21. Lee Gregory said...

    Interestingly, the Red Sox replaced Williams with Caroll Hardy in the 9th (defensive move, no doubt) – but it was a 5-4 game at the time.  So it was a non-trivial possibility that Williams’ slot in the lineup could have come up again.  Seems like they were playing to the legacy at that point – ensuring that Ted’s 8th inning HR would be the last AB of his career.

  22. Jim C said...

    Sep. 12, 1962, Washington Senators at Baltimore Orioles, Washington wins 2-1 in 16 innings, Tom Cheney fans 21, goes the whole 16 for the win, and still holds the record for strikeouts in a game, in front of 4,098 at Memorial Stadium.

  23. David said...

    I was sitting in the bleachers at Fenway when Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in 1986.  Eleven years later, I had tickets to see Clemens pitch for Toronto at (the new) Comiskey park on the evening of April 9.  But the weather was so cold, that they moved the game to the afternoon in the last minute, and also converted it to unreserved seating.

    The attendance was only 746. I thought for sure I’d get a foul ball, but didn’t.

    The game was good, and Clemens only gave up two hits and won 5-0, but had to leave the game in the sixth with an injury.

    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1997/B04090CHA1997.htm

  24. AndrewJ said...

    RE: attendance of the 1951 Giants/Dodgers tird playoff game… According to Wikipedia, “The official attendance of the third game was 34,320, a shockingly low number considering the importance of the game, the location of the opposing team (just a 45-minute subway ride from the Polo Grounds), and the bitter rivalry between the two teams. However, most historians agree this figure represents only the number tickets sold before the game, and does not account for the New Yorkers and Brooklynites who had left work early and gone to the Polo Grounds. Careful study of photographs and film of the event show that the 56,000-seat stadium was nearly full, and McLendon’s live broadcast features him commenting more than once that the Polo Grounds was packed.”

  25. Paul G. said...

    I did a quick Google search on the “Shot Heard Round the World” game.  The only source I could find that makes the claim for higher attendance is Wikipedia.  (Well, that and several sites that obviously plagiarized Wikipedia word for word.)  Everything else, including Thomson’s obituary, claims the official number often noting how shocking low it was. 

    Now, the official attendance may be wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time that the accepted truth proved to be factually challenged.  However, I will note that the relevant passage of the Wikipedia article uses the weasel words “most historians” without actually mentioning any historian in particular in support or dissent.  Nor does the passage have any citations to verify the claim.  Nor does the References section appear to include anything on point.  For all practical purposes it is an unsupported statement.

    I use Wikipedia a lot.  Whenever I see a claim against conventional wisdom like this and the writer provides no supporting evidence (especially when he or she knows there is a dispute), that throws up a flag that (a) the claim is not as strong as the author would like you to believe and/or (b) the author has an axe to grind.  (And, yes, there are Wikifolk who are passionate over relatively minor issues.  Often they are more successful since less people are paying attention to their edits.  You’d be surprised by some of the obvious nonsense and personal insults that persist for months in minor articles.)  Since this claim lacks any verification, I would assume the official number is correct until said evidence to the contrary is produced.

  26. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    AndrewJ:  Well, this is a jolt, though I admit I’m a little skeptical of Wikipedia.  For one, why would the Giants lowball themselves by reporting only the pre-game sales number? (Trying to entice fans, maybe?  “Plenty of seats available” and all that?)  A radio announcer might also fudge the attendance to make the team look good.  Recall how Yankees broadcaster Red Barber was fired in 1966 after reporting on the tiny attendance [413] at the last home game of their disastrous tenth-place season.  If there’s somewhere we could study the photos and film of the Thomson game to judge for ourselves, that could be convincing.  Right now, though, it doesn’t quite add up for me.

  27. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    My parents went to the wild deciding game 5 of the 2002 Division Series between Oakland and Minnesota.

    Do you know how they got tickets to this do or die playoff game?

    Shortly before first pitch, they went to a ticket window and said “Two please.”

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