exploring the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, attendance data in this era should be regarded with skepticism. Almost all of those numbers are eyeball estimates by a reporter, not turnstile counts. Look at another paper's report of the same game and you will likely find a different estimate. As for the Reds' attendance dropoff after joining the NA, there was a pattern of this. A good "amateur" club would have a following, playing games for a local or regional championship and doing well. It would have a handful of games against famous professional clubs, and there would be great excitement at the chance to see the professionals. There was little pressure on the local amateur club to win: merely putting up a respectable show was sufficient. And in any case, the professionals were unlikely to go all out, and often wouldn't use their regular pitcher.The local amateur club looks at this and thinks it is better than it really is, and thinks that it can draw those big crowds for every professional championship game. So it sends a delegate to the professional convention with the $10 entry fee and throws its hat in the ring.They soon discover the difference between being a good regional team and a bad professional one. The other professionals now are playing all out. People will come out to watch a close regional championship contest, but not to see the local team thrashed yet again. This sad story was told over and over again. What you write of the 1875 Reds could have been written of the 1873 Resolutes. The system encouraged weak teams to think they could compete, and set them up to fail.
I forgot who it was that did all the leg work on gathering attendance data for the NA. I keep thinking that it was David Nemec but I wouldn't swear to it. Still, even if the numbers are flawed, they're all we have (and probably all we're going to get) and can be useful. How severe the Reds' dropoff was, between 1874 and 1875 and between championship games and non-championship games in 1875, is still unknown. I have the numbers for the 1875 NA games (obviously) and some attendance data for a few games in 1874 and post-July 4, 1875. But like you say, these are estimates from newspaper reports and are sometimes stated as "several thousand," etc. I can't remember reports of them ever playing before a really huge crowd (although if they did it was probably in 1874 versus the Empires at the Grand Avenue Grounds). If I were to add anything to what you are saying about the Reds' dropoff in attendance, I think I would stress the location of the Compton Avenue Grounds (inaccessible by street car, far from the city's population center) and the fact that, while StL was a hot baseball market in 1874/75, the Reds had only a small slice of that market (fan loyalty divided between Reds, Empires, Stocks, Elephants, etc)and the rest of the market flocked to the Brown Stockings following their victories over Chicago in May 1875. Of course, getting crushed by the big boys game after game didn't help. I'm still a bit perplexed by the fact the Reds outdrew the Browns for the series against the Nationals of Washington. It doesn't make any sense. We could chalk it up to the randomness of numbers and crowds but that's not a very satisfying answer.
Regarding the attendance at the Nationals series, your earlier guess about the weather might be part of the answer. It should be possible to check this. I would also try to pull up accounts from various newspapers, including the Clipper and maybe the Washington papers. You might find different attendance estimates.
I'm always interested in attendance data. Haven't had a chance to evaluate this, but the differences seem too dramatic to disregard, in spite of the necessary caveats.Aside from the general pattern Richard points to, here you have a small-time team of local players trying to compete with an ambitious roster of high-priced imports. There's an interesting comparison here with the Centennials in Philadelphia. They were a team of mostly local players (although with a few veteran professionals) competing against the earlier-established and very strong Athletics and Philadelphias. When the Centennials were the only team playing a home game they drew relatively well, but when they played a game at the same time as one of the two established teams they didn't draw flies.
There certainly was an expectation, specifically in StL Globe, that the Reds would draw better than the Brown Stockings but that obviously didn't happen. It's interesting to speculate what kind of crowd they would have drawn against the Chicagos in early May if the weather had cooperated. In the end, though, it appears that the ceiling for attendance at the Compton Avenue Grounds for Reds games was around 2000. In October of 1875, the Reds played a four game series against the Stocks. The Stocks were on a roll, beating the Reds in the first two games and, for good measure, beating the Empires as well. The series was the talk of the city and got a great deal of coverage in the Globe. The third game was a highly anticipated affair and the reported attendance was "more than 2000 people." A nice crowd but one that the Brown Stockings would match or exceed ten times in 1875.
I'm struck by the idea that anybody would have thought the Reds would outdraw the Browns. Obviously, somebody must have thought they could hold their own, and I suppose they might have been regarded as established local favorites in contrast to the newly constituted carpetbaggers. But is it possible the Globe was biased toward the Reds?By the way, do you know what admission price the two teams were charging? The Reds, I presume, were at a quarter for general admission, but the Browns might have charged half a dollar, which would make the imbalance in drawing power between the teams even more extreme.
It is absurd in retrospect to think that the Reds could have outdrawn the Browns, but that is based on what we know now: spectators care more about winning than about seeing hometown boys play, and multiple teams don't share a market well.By 1875 there was precedent that a winning team would overcome any hometown scruples, but it hadn't really sunk in yet. The ideology of hometown players was still presented with a straight face.Multiple teams in one market was, in 1875, still a reasonable business plan. The Athletics and the Philadelphias had shared a market reasonably well the previous two seasons, and an argument could be made that the local rivalry boosted attendance. The 1875 season brought out the problems, and the NL outlawed it based on this. But at the beginning of the 1875 season it wasn't an implausible idea.And yes, I suspect that the Globe was biased, too.
The Globe (meaning, most likely, William Spink) took a decidedly pro-Reds editorial stance. The Reds were always "our boys" while the Brown Stockings were "the Atlantic/Easton professionals." The idea that the Reds would be a more successful draw than the Brown Stockings, regardless of the differences in talent, was a provincial one. "We" would support "our boys" against a group of "outsiders." I think it's natural. As far as multiple teams in the market, St. Louis was never able to support two teams at this level. Brown Stockings/Reds, Browns/Maroons, Cardinals/Browns-the best on-the-field team always drove the weaker team from the market. While that may be an oversimplification (especially regarding the Cards/Browns situation), it's also true. David brings up a good point about ticket prices. I'm not sure what the teams were charging for tickets and I couldn't find anything in my notes. I'd be surprised though if the Brown Stockings were charging fifty cents.
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