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Attendance Woes
Through the Years
 

by Hal Vickery

It seems that no matter what media outlet you turn to in Chicago, even the White Sox own flagship radio station, no mention can be made of the White Sox without mentioning their abysmal attendance.  Just before the start of their current road trip, the Sox, although standing at the top of the AL Central Division were next to last in the major leagues in attendance.

"How can Sox fans do this, when they have such an exciting team?" is the frequently asked question.  Ominous warnings frequently accompany the question, usually in the form of the ever-popular, "If attendance doesn't pick up, the Sox will be forced to leave town!"  This warning was first published in the Tribune by Rich Lindberg, and it could very well be true...unless the Sox fans repeat their past behavior.

Through much of my lifetime, the Sox have been under siege and on the brink of moving, starting in the late 1960s.  At that time Sox owner Art Allyn was entertaining very serious thoughts of selling the franchise to a Milwaukee car dealer named Bud Selig, a man determined to return major league baseball to his city after the Braves packed up and moved to Atlanta.

In 1967, a year in which the Sox finished in fourth place, but only 3 games behind the pennant-winning Red Sox, the Sox only managed to draw 985,634 fans.  The next year, in the wake of riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it wasn't the horrific team that kept people away from the ballpark.  Oh, no!  It was the terrible neighborhood the ballpark was suddenly in.  Attendance dropped to just over 800,000 as the Sox lost 95 games. 

As part of his attempt to convince Selig that he should move the franchise to Milwaukee, Allyn scheduled ten home games in Beertown that year.  Those ten games were responsible for nearly a third of 1968's meager attendance. The next year was even worse.  Apparently the neighborhood was deteriorating badly as the Sox lost another 94 games, and even with the help of more games played in Milwaukee, the Pale Hose managed to lure fewer than 600,000 through the turnstiles.

By 1970, the neighborhood was obviously in deplorable condition, as attendance dropped to under 500,000 for the first time since 1942.  Allyn's deal with Selig fell through when the Seattle Pilots became available, and Selig decided to move them to Milwaukee.  Art Allyn sold the team to his brother John, and the team stayed in Chicago.  Could the record 106 losses have had any effect on the poor attendance that year?  Not the way you heard Sox fans tell it! 

After Chuck Tanner became manager and the Sox finished just 4 games under .500 in 1971, the neighborhood must have improved a lot because attendance nearly doubled!  Those red pinstriped uniforms must have improved the quality of life of the neighborhood's residents.  The next year, the addition of Dick Allen to the roster must have turned the neighborhood into something resembling the Gold Coast because attendance soared to over 1.6 million!

Did the neighborhood suddenly improve, or did the excuses just wear thin?  In those years, the neighborhood received the blame, a claim you'll hear from time to time about the club's current poor attendance.  If it isn't the neighborhood, it's Jerry Reinsdorf.  If it isn't Jerry Reinsdorf, it's the ballpark.  But what it really is is baloney!

Some Sox fans will admit that they won't go to games when the team is bad.  I don't really mind that.  At least they're being honest.  But for every one fan who admits that he doesn't want to spend his hard-earned money on something less that top-notch talent there are ten who make excuses.  I sometimes wonder if the sons and daughters of the fans who made excuses for not going to games in 1968-71 are the ones making the excuses today.  It seems logical.  But now that the team is at the point where they might just be contenders, the time for excuses is over.

I see hope when I hear fans comparing this team to the one in 1990.  Attendance in 1989 was terrible, just over 1 million.  But in 1990 a whole bunch of young talent came up together and was ready to put on a show for the fans.  Through April and most of May, the crowds at Comiskey Park were as low as in 1989.  Then, and I can remember when it happened because I went to a couple of games in that series, when the heavily favored Oakland A's came to town, the fans came out.  It happened in May.  The weather had warmed up, and those of us who were used to getting good seats on game day were consigned to the farthest reaches of the upper deck.  Attendance nearly doubled, and none of the change started until the season was well over a month old.

Could it happen again?  A lot depends on the fans.  Are they White Sox fans first, or are they Jerry Reinsdorf haters?  Do they want to see exciting baseball, or do they want to complain about the steep upper deck and blue seats?  It is time for White Sox fans to re-examine their priorities.  What do they want?  In the past, they have always opted to throw their support behind a team that played good baseball.  The current edition of the White Sox are playing very good baseball.  If the fans don't return this time, and soon, there just might not be a White Sox team in Chicago to gripe about, and a dynasty that should have been ours could be playing in another city.

 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!
 

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