Anybody Out There? Lowest Post-War Attendance by Franchise (Part 2)
Continuing our franchise by franchise look at the seasons with the lowest attendance since World War 2.
1965 Los Angeles / California Angels
Total Attendance: 566,727
Lowest Game: 945 (9/20/65 vs. BAL); 476 (9/19/63 vs. BAL)
The Angels were vagabonds early in their history. They played in the old Wrigley Field (LA version) their first year, and then were tenants of the Dodgers for four more seasons until the Big A was open. Unlike the Dodgers, the Angels crowds were solely based on how well the team did through about 1977. After that season, the lowest they drew was 1.75 million. The 1965 team was brutal on offense. Jim Fregosi led them in runs scored (66) and RBI (61). No wonder people stayed away. That late season 1963 game that drew just 476 was the final home game of the year and it even featured Bo Belinsky as a starter.
1968 Los Angeles Dodgers
Total Attendance: 1,581,093
Lowest Game: 8,928 (8/27/68 vs. HOU)
On the other hand, the Dodgers seemingly can just open up the gate and get a great crowd in Chavez Ravine, at least for a few innings (heh). Their worst stretch of attendance happened from 1966-1972, after Koufax retired and the team plummeted in the standings before slowly rising up again. The 1968 team was last in the NL in runs (during the year of the pitcher, no less), and had no star power except Don Drysdale. Not a lot of panache for Paul Popovich and Len Gabrielson.
1954 Brooklyn Dodgers
Total Attendance: 1,020,531
Lowest Game: 522 (9/16/54 vs. CIN)
They didn’t win the pennant in 1954, but they finished with 92 wins. Maybe a season like this, where attendance was okay even though the team was good, is what cause O’Malley to move (it was a smart business decision, considering the LA markets embrace of Dodger Blue). Brooklyn had another sub-1,000 crowd game about a week later from the one listed above (on a Friday, no less). I wish we had the weather report for some of these games. BTW, Tommy Lasorda pitched in the Cincy game and I wonder if anyone asked him what it was like to pitch in front of friends and relatives in Ebbets Field.
2002 Florida Marlins
Total Attendance: 813,118
Lowest Game: 4,466 (4/11/02 vs. MTL)
Marlins fans fed up? It seemed that way in 2002. Any World Series run would be incomprehensible to fans in South Florida. All they knew is that this carpetbagger art dealer bought the team in an MLB-endorsed shady deal that basically stripped the Expos franchise down to parts – and they played in a football stadium that was a ways away from the heart of the city and on the main commuter highways. This after the Marlins were basically gutted just like the Expos were after their big year of success. To this day, few people in the area like Loria. I think baseball can thrive down there, but they need a team who can reach out to the Cuban community, while at the same time incentivizing the rich old folks to come to games with their grandkids.
1972 Milwaukee Brewers
Total Attendance: 600,440
Lowest Game: 2,884 (9/12/72 vs. CLE) (Doubleheader)
The Brewers have drawn a million fans every year since 1975, and have drawn two million every year since 2004. Early on, though, you’d have to wonder why they moved from Seattle. The 1972 Brewers drew LESS than the 1969 Pilots. It was a bad team, sure, but for all the kvetching Bud Selig did to get a new franchise in Milwaukee you’d think he’d have known if fans would support a bad team. Frankly, no one likes to watch faceless teams lose 4-2 or 3-1 constantly, with only the occasional Boomer Scott or John Briggs home runs to wake up the crowd.
1969 Seattle Pilots
Total Attendance: 677,944
Lowest Game: 1,954 (4/29/69 vs. CLE)
There’s an interesting book titled Becoming Big League: Seattle, the Pilots and Stadium Politics by Bill Mullins that lays out the entire history of how MLB wound up in Seattle, and how the Kingdome was finally built. Basically, the city was supposed to have the Kingdome ready by 1972 at the very very latest, but delays and political infighting stalled the project. Sicks’ Stadium was really just an adequate AAA park for the time – nowhere near MLB standards. The ownership made a lot of mistakes in all aspects on and off the field. Even in a minor league park with an expansion team that turned over personnel like crazy (53 players total), they outdrew Cleveland, the White Sox, the Phillies and San Diego.
1974 Minnesota Twins
Total Attendance: 662,401
Lowest Game: 2,182 (4/11/74 vs. CHW); 547 (9/20/65 vs. KCA)
As horrific as the 2016 Twins are, they’ve almost drawn a million fans as of this writing. They didn’t draw a million the first two years in the Metrodome, and only hit that spot twice between 1971 and 1984. The Twins teams of that era were average at best, and horrid at worst (when Clark Griffith decided to hell with free agency and didn’t even try). The Met was cold in the early season, in the summer the Minnesota State Bird (the mosquito) hung around, and it got cold in the late season. That low water mark of attendance was a 4-4 tie that lasted six innings before it was called. I bet it was a peachy keen night there in Bloomington, MN.
1955 Washington Senators
Total Attendance: 425,238
Lowest Game: 765 (9/24/55 vs. BAL) (Doubleheader); 460 (9/7/54 vs. PHA)
By God, I don’t care if the team can’t draw 1,000 fans to late season games in September, we have to have baseball in Washington. No, not really. The ‘crowds’ during their last two seasons (1959 and 1960) in Washington were the highest since 1953, and 1960 had the most fans watch the club since 1949. Of course, that was just 743,404. A constant loser, in the inner city of Washington, using an outdated facility, with a transient population among the fans that had the most time and capital to spend, meant big time struggles. Minnesota was no panacea, though, as it turned out.
1979 New York Mets
Total Attendance: 788,905
Lowest Game: 3,890 (9/13/79 vs. PHI)
Meet the Mets! Greet the Mets! The team that listened to a hack sports columnist and got rid of their franchise pitcher two seasons earlier, so it wound up they had one marketable star (Lee Mazzilli), and one well-loved but mediocre local kid (Pete Falcone). Looking at this roster, I don’t know if I would have risked a subway ride to a night game in Flushing to see Frank Taveras, Craig Swan, or Joel Youngblood lose baseball games. Would you?
1972 New York Yankees
Total Attendance: 966,328
Lowest Game: 3,927 (10/2/72 vs. MIL); 413 (9/22/66 vs. CHW)
The 1972 team lost a couple of home dates due to the strike, so the title may also be claimed by the 1969 team that barely drew a million. These were not the salad days in Yankee fandom. The fan base was spoiled by winning (They dropped 500,00 fans from 1961 to 1964) and when the team was bad, the die hards showed up and the spoiled fans just stayed home. It’s a shame that more fans didn’t see the absolutely spectacular season Bobby Murcer had in center field in 1972 (8.1 WAR). To be honest, attendance wasn’t all sunshine and roses during the Big Stein era. Only 1.75 million showed up in 1992, which was 11th in the league, only topping Seattle, Detroit and Cleveland.
1979 Oakland A’s
Total Attendance: 306,763
Lowest Game: 653 (4/17/79)
Everyone always references the game listed above as a “hey look how low attendance was then”, but as you can see it wasn’t unusual in the 50’s or 60’s to draw less than 1,000 for a bad, bad team. Oakland never really embraced the A’s in the Finley era. The 1972 A’s drew less than the 1958 and 1959 Kansas City Athletics, and the 1974 team didn’t draw 900,000 for the year. Of course, he was always talking about moving to Louisville, Denver, Anchorage (not really, I don’t think), anywhere but where he was. The stadium, believe it or not, was in worse shape during the late 70’s than it is now in amenities and necessities for fans. This 1979 team was foul in every way, though, but it did feature the Henderson / Murphy / Armas outfield late in the year – so anyone producing a used ticket stub from late 1979 has some bragging cache.
1965 Kansas City Athletics
Total Attendance: 528,344
Lowest Game: 690 (9/23/65 vs. WAS)
By this time the love affair between bad major league baseball and the city of Kansas City was over. Charlie O. Finley had tried everything he could think of to market the team, but his hands-on meddling in every aspect of the franchise turned off the city. It could have been worse. The game Bert Campaneris played every position on the field drew over 21,000, though the game Satchel Paige pitched at age 58 (allegedly) drew under 10,000 on a Saturday.
1954 Philadelphia Athletics
Total Attendance: 304,666
Lowest Game: 1,092 (6/4/54 vs. BAL)
Man, being a Philadelphia baseball fan was rough after 1932. Connie Mack sold off his best players, leaving the Athletics a bare bones (but profitable) operation, and the Phillies, well…um. Bad. There were glimmers of hope, as the Mackmen finished over .500 from 1947-49 and posted their first, second, and fourth highest attendance totals in their history. But by 1954, the losing started up again thanks to cost cutting. Intra-family feuds in the Mack family, lousy attendance, and pressure from the AL led to the sale of the team and the move to Kansas City in the 1954-55 off-season.
1969 Philadelphia Phillies
Total Attendance: 519,414
Lowest Game: 1,189 (9/16/69 vs. PIT)
Connie Mack Stadium was old. The Phillies were bad, despite a monster year from Dick Allen and a good year from a young Larry Hisle. To be fair, the team was rebuilding by necessity and had a pretty young pitching staff that got rocked a few times. Veterans Stadium opened in 1971 and the Phillies have never really had an attendance problem since then. I’m sure the Phillies of the 20’s and 30’s look down and see almost two million fans watch a team that was as bad as they were and are just flabbergasted.
1955 Pittsburgh Pirates
Total Attendance: 469,397
Lowest Game: 1,044 (4/27/55 vs. CHC)
The early 50’s Pirates weren’t just a rebuilding project – they were an exorcism. This was the fourth straight last place finish for the team, and fifth in six years. The problem was offense. Dale Long hit 13 triples and 16 home runs and scored just 59 runs. Somehow Bob Friend went 14-9 with this team. About 3 1/2 times for fans poured into Forbes Field to watch the 1960 squad – so the Pirates fans wanted good product to watch, at least then. A side note: the Pirates of the 70’s, playing in Three Rivers, had attendance issues (under 1MM in 1978), and the end of the cocaine years only 3/4 of a million saw Chuck Tanner’s teams try and fail.
1969 San Diego Padres
Total Attendance: 512,970
Lowest game: 2,156 (9/16/69 vs. HOU); 1,413 (9/11/73 vs. HOU)
I looked to see if San Diego changed stadiums between 1973 and 1974, but nope, they were in the same digs that they called home until Petco opened. The franchise gained 400,000 more fans between 1973 and 1974, even though both teams were 60-102. Perhaps the almost-sale to Washington, DC got some civic minded folks on the stick buying tickets. The Padres attendance their first five years was under three million. They drew three million to the new Petco Park in 2004. Something tells me that rank-and-file of San Diego didn’t think much of the expansion team.
1974 San Francisco Giants
Total Attendance: 519,987
Lowest Game: 748 (9/16/74 vs. ATL)
Maybe it was the hippies invading town, or the realization that watching baseball in Candletstick Park sucked ass, but despite their success in the 60’s attendance dropped off a cliff from 1966 to 1968. The team only drew a million fan once from 1968-1977, and that was their NL West winning year of 1971. The 1974 team was a part of a rebuilding project, with only one regular 30 or over. The Bay Area was really fickle on baseball for years. As late as 1985, the team drew just 818,697 to watch a 62-100 team. This one I put squarely on the park, though. Even when the team was winning, it was tough to convince people to go to a night game when the temps in the summer resembled football weather in November.
1956 New York Giants
Total Attendance: 629,179
Lowest Game: 1,193 (9/19/56 vs. CHC) (Doubleheader)
Horace Stoneham probably saw the writing on the wall, when the season after they won the world series only 824,000 people came to the Polo Grounds. The Giants were more loved in nostalgia than they were in person, it seems. The last two years in New York featured poor teams and worse crowds. About 84,000 fans came to the last Giants – Dodgers series in New York in September, but the final game attendance was just 11,606, when the Pirates blasted the home team 9-1.
1983 Seattle Mariners
Total Attendance: 813,537
Lowest Game: 1,891 (4/26/83 vs. BOS)
If you win, and / or have a cool stadium, Seattle fans will come watch you play. The Mariners will never replace the Seahawks in the hearts and minds of the region’s fans, and the Sounders are probably ahead of them in die-hard fans, too. But as long as you give them a reason to cheer, fans will go see the Mariners play. The early Mariners gave fans no reasons, really. The Kingdome was sterile, and the teams were mismanaged from the owners box to the field. You’d think in year seven a team would be better than 60-102, but when your most marketable player is 44-year old Gaylord Perry, then you can see why no one bought tickets.
1955 St. Louis Cardinals
Total Attendance: 849,130
Lowest Game: 3,267 (9/21/55 vs. CHI)
Ever since Busch Stadium II was opened in 1966, the Cardinals had not been hurting for fans. 1.2 million saw a abjectly blah team play in 1976, and now Busch Stadium III is just a reason to print money. However, Sportsman’s Park / Busch Stadium I was a different beast altogether. This 1955 team was 68-86 and even without the Browns around fans in St. Louis didn’t think it was worth it to go the old park for a game.
2003 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Total Attendance: 1,058,695
Lowest Game: 8,193 (8/4/03 vs.TOR)
Given that the park is an embarrassment, and hard to get to, never drawing under a million fans is some kind of accomplishment, I guess? There were 34 home dates with under 10,000 tickets sold in 2003. Looking at the roster, it’s not hard to see why the area never embraced this team, nor would want to drive to a stadium, park, walk a mile, and see baseball in a dome where catwalks are in play. Catwalks! And no sight of Right Said Fred.
1972 Texas Rangers
Total Attendance: 662,974
Lowest Game: 3,011 (9/5/72 vs. KC)
The first two years in Texas found Bob Short probably wondering why the hell he moved the team there, except for the bucket load of cash the city of Arlington gave him for stadium upgrades. Still, even the upgrades made the stadium look like a puffed up minor league park. There wasn’t a second deck until 1978, and many of the seats were bleacher seats. It also was hot as hell, and the only other place around was Six Flags. The first two years in Texas barely outdrew the last year in Washington, and in 1973, only 2,513 saw a September 21st game against California. Ironically, David Clyde started that game for Texas – and he was brought to the majors just so the gate would improve. Fat lot of good that did.
1963 Washington Senators
Total Attendance: 535,604
Lowest Game: 1,578 (4/23/63 vs. LAA); 1,069 (9/12/68 vs. BAL)
I wrote about the 1971 team in my Most Disappointing Series. Besides the fact that politicians threatened anti-trust legislation against baseball, there was no reason to put another team in Washington right after the original Senators left. No one supported the old team, and no one supported this new bunch. This 1963 bunch lost 106 games, and managers Mickey Vernon and Gil Hodges could have outhit 2/3 of this squad even though they were in their 40’s. I wonder how many games those bloviating politicians made during the 60’s?
1982 Toronto Blue Jays
Total Attendance: 1,275,978
Lowest Game: 10,086 (4/13/82 vs. DET)
They’ve been a legitimate expansion success story. Sure, in the early 2010’s the Rogers Centre was a little barren, but they’ve had few problems selling some tickets in their history. Exhibition Stadium wasn’t really suited for baseball, and it was always interesting to see the stands in the outfield continue straight on and not follow the fence line. It was bloody cold in April and late September for the most part, but they didn’t care up there.
2009 Washington Nationals
Total Attendance: 1,817,226
Lowest Game: 12,473 (4/20/09 vs. ATL)
The early version of the Nationals were full of whozywhats and whatshisnames. But a nice stadium that’s accessible to the Metro (well, when that’s running) and marketing to the chattering classes in DC (the most insufferable Twitter is Politicians and Journalist Twitter about the Nationals) really have paid off. Still, I’d rather have kept a team in Montreal and given Washington the expansion slot that went to Tampa Bay. Can we haz do-over?
1976 Montreal Expos
Total Attendance: 646,704
Lowest Game: 2,107 (9/7/76 vs. STL)
OK, I’m not counting the 2001 season where they drew 642,745 because frankly that’s on MLB’s hands (and Loria, the fucker). Baseball gave Montreal a franchise on the promise they’d get a real major league stadium soon after the 1969 season. Well, it took them long enough, but fans crowded into Parc Jarry until 1975, when they drew under a million for the first time. This 1976 team was up against the Summer Olympics, which caused traffic and logistical snarls. This 1976 team was also 55-107. On September 26th, though, in game two of a double header, 14,166 fans saw the Cromartie / Dawson / Valentine outfield for the first time. That’s something to tell the petits enfants.