When Indians attendance was truly an issue: Reliving Yesteryear

Cleveland Indians Municipal Stadium
Curteichcolor, Distributed by Wilbur Evans

Editor’s Note: WFNY has recently spent time discussing attendance for the 2015 Cleveland Indians. TD made an appearance to give the 2015 attendance from the viewpoint of a season-ticket holder. The subject was also discussed from the standpoint of recent history in the introduction and comment section of a game recap. Today, Greg Popelka gives us some true historical perspective on baseball attendance in Cleveland.

So, I’m sitting here; on the losing end of a drinking game. And, I’m at work. There’s been no alcohol consumed. I am all hopped up on coffee. Around this office, one is highly likely to hear this one-word reply to any yes/no question: “Correct.” Everyone here seems to say it.

Many colloquialisms are age-specific or perhaps gender- specific. If you hear an, “I know, right?,” an “amirite?,” or a “whoop-whoop,” it’s likely coming from someone who is young, or fancies herself as young-at-heart. Funny, how innocuous those sayings are to me.

But, the habits of folks at work grate on me to the point of becoming pet peeves. I don’t like having pet peeves. It makes me feel like a grumpy old man. Perhaps, I am. And, who knows the things I do that bother others. But, spending so much time around co-workers exposes me to the habits they share, and it can drive me up the wall.

I recall as a young guy back in the 1980s, at a hospital pharmacy where I worked, the buzz-phrase was “touch base.” “I’ll check on that and touch base with you.” “Next week, we’ll touch base.” Some of us tried to force that phrase into every single conversation we held just to mock it.

A full thirty years later, “touch base” remains a common phrase where I am currently employed. It has shown such staying power that I don’t even mind that one anymore. I smile when I hear it. But repeatedly stating “correct?” I bet ten people here say that during most conversations they have. It’s usually repeated twice or three times as a tense, interruptive, affirmative reply while someone is speaking to them. And, every time I hear it, I take another slug of coffee.

I wish such a thing didn’t irritate me. At least, I’m not as bad as another guy who sits near me. Paul is rankled whenever someone repeats an obvious, oft-voiced declaration.

(When it’s nice outside) “Tough to come back in the building on a day like today!”
(When it’s cold/hot outside) “Well, come summer/winter, we’ll be complaining about the heat/cold!”
(When the elevator runs nonstop to an upper floor of the building) “Whoa, we took the express today!”

Back when I was a teenager working at an old mom-and-pop style hardware store, the customers were commonly friendly old guys we’d see on a regular basis. What a treasure trove they were of cliches that were intended for humor:

(While you were carrying something) “Hey, got a match?” (Of course, if I thought I could get away with saying it, equally as tired a retort: “Yeah, your face and my @$$.”)
(If you were painting; from a painter) “Can I see your union card?”
(Here’s one for the ages) “Working hard? Or hardly working?”

There were several other go-to comments that are unfit for polite company. Some say my driving pet peeves are out of control. I’ll be just fine – if you don’t swoop in and cut me off from behind when I am trying to change lanes at a reasonable pace. And, if you sit in the ‘suicide lane’ like you are supposed to and wait for an opportunity to merge instead of driving at the speed of the traffic. And, if you don’t insist on backing into your parking space. Seriously – the purpose of that is to make others wait for you when you park versus you maybe needing to pause when you leave. Right? RIGHT?

I have sports peeves (wow, I do need to lighten up). When players pound their chest or eat out of imaginary bowl or shush the crowd, I’m shaking my head. On a basketball court, the defender guarding the point guard in the half court while clapping in front of his face is an irritation. And, for crying out loud, regardless of what juncture the game is at: when the ball is rolled onto the court from out bounds, FRICKIN’ PICK IT UP.

I don’t want to have so many pet peeves. That’s what I’d like to change about myself.
You’re saying my caffeine intake isn’t helping. Correct? Whoops — set me up for more java.


For all of my grumpiness, I get teased about almost always being upbeat about the Indians. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel (and no, it’s not an oncoming train). Not a lot of things really bug me about them – besides folks complaining about their home attendance numbers. But, I get it; a close second ARE those attendance totals.

As far as I can tell, Indians single-game attendance futility is not easily researched. In looking through, I zeroed in on some crappy Tribe seasons in huge Municipal Stadium to see how low can you go. I began with 1985. It was a very bad season. I noted one game that had a paid attendance figure of 3051.

Do you think that number was padded, to get it over 3000? Uh, maybe. I guess there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement generated by Tribe starter Keith Creel that day. Even with fudged numbers, however, I was certain I could crack the 3000 barrier. I moved on to some early 1970s seasons — there were games in 1973 that drew an announced 3000+.

A 1973 game that caught my eye featured starter Gaylord Perry, who was actually the reigning Indians Cy Young Award winner, and had generated regional excitement in 1972 with an historic winning streak. My audible gasp turned the heads of my hockey-watching wife and dog. I noted the paid attendance that night was 1437. Now, we were getting somewhere.

The thrill of the hunt took over. 1973’s home opener had drawn 74,000+. Of course, it did. The season proceeded to feature several games with the attendance in the 3000s, the 2000s… the onnnne… thouuuusssannnnndssss…

And, there it was. Wednesday, September 19, 1973. A rare weekday afternoon game against the equally woeful Milwaukee Brewers. Paid attendance: 1,009.

Certainly, this game had been a true three-digit draw. Awesome. With a steady hand and a discerning eye, I moved into the box score and the play-by-play of that game. I kept shifting my eyes back to that 1,009.

“You know, Greg, they were terrible, and it was late in the yea-“
“But the weather might have been ba-“
“Greg, you just admitted there was nobody of interest on the Brewer-“
One. Thousand. Nine. Seriously?

I can just picture an accountant-type at the Stadium that day, sporting one of those green eyeshade visors, hurrying past Tribe GM Phil Seghi near his office, while holding a strip of adding machine tape. Seghi was an old-school baseball executive, which is code for: domineering, know-it-all spin-meister. I can see Seghi removing the pipe from his mouth and shouting, “Bean counter! Hold on. How many paid today?”

“Eight hundred and sixty two.”

Dismissively, closing his eyes and shaking his head, then with a self-satisfied smile: “One thousand… and niiiiine.”

Let’s take a look!1


The various 1970s Indians lineups were pretty fun to follow. I’m biased, but take a look at that day’s young lineup. This was after the Tribe had traded 3B Graig Nettles2 to the New York Yankees for OF Charlie Spikes3 , but just before they gifted first baseman Chris Chambliss to them as well.


Buddy Bell

      21-year-old third baseman who’d hit 14 home runs with a .268 average. He was second on the team in WAR, behind pitching ace Gaylord Perry. An American League All Star in 1973.



Oscar Gamble

      23 years old, and in the process of cultivating the giant afro. Designated hitter who hit .267.



Chris Chambliss

      24-year-old first baseman, with 11 homers and a .273 average. He had been the 1971 American League Rookie of the Year.



Charlie Spikes

      22-year-old right fielder with 23 homers and 73 RBI. Was beginning to blossom, just prior becoming ruined by the 1975 arrival of the managerial sledgehammer known as Frank Robinson. (Did I say that out loud?)



John Lowenstein

      26 years old, subbing for the injured Jack Brohamer at second base.



Tommy Smith

      24 years old, subbing for “Joggin’ George” Hendrick in center field.



Walt Williams

      29 years old. “No Neck” was subbing for Rusty Torres in the outfield.



Dave Duncan

      The 27-year old was the old sage among the regulars, behind the plate. He hit 17 home runs in 1973.



Frank Duffy

      26-year-old shortstop. He gets a lot of credit for his glove, but in 1973, Duffy was third on the team in WAR.



Dick Tidrow

      Was the starter; he was a double-digit-winning, .500-ish pitcher in 1973.


TOP OF THE FIRST: The Brewers touched up Tidrow for a run when, with one out, slugger George Scott singled to center. Don Money scored, after having been doubled to third base by Dave May. 1-0 Brewers.

BOTTOM OF THE FIRST: Bell and Gamble singled off starter Jim Slaton, but Chambliss grounded into a double play and Spikes stranded Bell at third. 1-0 Brewers.

TOP OF THE SECOND: Milwaukee struck for another run. Joe Lahoud led the inning off with a single, and stole second. Tidrow struck out the next two before Tim Johnson doubled him home. 2-0 Brewers. Then, both starters settled in for a couple innings, without allowing much of a threat.

TOP OF THE FOURTH: Tidrow loaded the bases with nobody out on a hit-by-pitch, a single, and a walk. He struck out Pedro Garcia before allowing another Tim Johnson RBI. The Tribe was fortunate to escape with only allowing the one run. 3-0 Brewers.

BOTTOM OF THE FIFTH: The Indians got on the board. Slaton walked Williams, who took second on a wild pitch. The pitcher recovered to strike out both Duncan and Duffy, but Bell scored Williams with a single up the middle. 3-1 Brewers.

TOP OF THE SEVENTH: The Brewers knocked Tidrow out of the game. Money stroked a one-out single, and May sent him to third with a double. Scott homered, and Mike Kekich (another Yankee cast-off) came on to retire the side. 6-1 Brewers.

TOP OF THE EIGHTH: Bob Coluccio doubled home Garcia, who’d previously doubled himself. 7-1 Brewers.

BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH: With Slaton still pitching for Milwaukee, Gamble doubled to straightaway center. Chambliss hit the ball to the right side, and Gamble took third. Spikes picked up the Ribeye Steak with a single up the middle. 7-2 Brewers.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: Slaton, whose job at this point was mainly to throw strikes, walked Duncan with one out. Frank Duffy then proceeded to take Slaton deep!4 Ed Sprague came on to record the final two outs of the game, for the out-of-gas Slaton.

FINAL SCORE: Brewers 7, Indians 4.

How did the announcer always say it at the end of the game in those days?
“The totals on the scoreboard are correct.”

He certainly announced the attendance that day: 1,009.

  1. Tribe fan and outfield drummer John Adams had begun his stretch of banging his rally drum about one month earlier, on August 24, 1973! []
  2. and C Jerry Moses []
  3. and OF Rusty Torres, C-1B John Ellis, and IF Jerry Kenney []
  4. The smallish Duffy did hit seven homers that season. []