Monday, December 6, 2010

The 1887 World Series: Almost Lifeless

Although it was a cold, disagreeable day, from 12,000 to 15,000 people saw the Detroits play a very good game and the Browns a very bad one in the world's championship series. The home team's rank errors, particularly those of Latham and Boyle, gave the Detroits their first four runs. The work of the Browns was almost lifeless as compared with that of yesterday, their fielding, except that of O'Neill and Carruthers, being wretched, and their base running very sleepy. both pitchers were hit freely, but had Foutz received proper support the hits against him would not only have been fewer but the Detroits would not have made more than one run. Hanlon, for the visitors, earned a run on splendid base running, stealing second and third.
-Boston Globe, October 12, 1887

I'm not going to get into the fact that we have sources estimating the attendance of game two at somewhere between 7,000 and 15,000. However, given the ticket prices and the weather, I'm inclined to think that the Globe-Democrat, with 7,000, was closer to the truth than were the others.


David Ball said...

Was the admission price a flat one dollar for everyone, or a dollar for general admission and extra charges for preferred sections?

The famous 25 and 50 cent admission prices that were standard for the era were prices for general admission only, with extra charge for grandstand seating, so that actual average revenue per capita of attendance always exceeded the official price. In Cincinnati, the standard rule of thumb newspaper writers used to calculate gate revenue under the AA's regular 25-cent general admission charge was 35 cents per capita or, a little more simply, one dollar for every three people attending. Some of the club's records survive, and they verify these are pretty good estimates.

If the same figures can be generalized to cover St. Louis, and I would think they can't be too far off, even 7,000 paid attendance at a flat one dollar charge would have produced income equivalent to that from a crowd of more than 20,000 attending a regular season AA game. That's a lot of money to take in by the standards of contemporary ball clubs. Of course, given the huge discrepancies in the crowd estimates, we can't be sure the real attendance wasn't smaller than even the smallest figures given.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I don't think it was a flat one dollar. The Globe mentioned, before the series started, the general one dollar ticket price and then mentioned tickets going for five and six dollars as well. I just kind of dismissed that; the idea that you could charge five bucks for a baseball game in 1887 seemed ludicrous. I was paying less than that for bleacher seats a hundred years later. But if the dollar ticket was simply general admission than I guess it would be reasonable to think that the good seats in the grandstands would sell for more.

David Ball said...

I do remember now seeing your writeup of the $5 and $6 prices, but I was assuming those were scalpers' prices. That may well have been an ill-considered assumption, I don't my knowledge the extra charges for preferred seating were never remotely that high relative to general admission cost.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I was going to look that reference up and see what the context of the five dollar ticket was but then I saw that I had forty posts on the 87 series. With fifteen games, I was thinking that I might be writing about this until opening day 2011.

Did they have scalpers in 1887? I might have to check Game of Inches on that one. I wonder if Peter covered that because the history of scalpers from the first enclosed park to Stubhub would be interesting.

David Ball said...

From the second edition of "Game of Inches, " page 538:

"Ticket fakirs made a harvest at yesterday's game. Ten cents was the advance on the regular price." (Boston Globe, June 1, 1886)

This is news to me, and it cannot have been very common because the demand for tickets to most games was not so heavy that seats of all classes were not readily available at the box office. Still, the quote does make it sound as though this were already an established practice. This demonstrates the heavy attendance in Boston that allowed that club to spend make itself back among the NL powers in the late 1880's, by the way.

At any rate, if the Browns and the Detroits were collecting one dollar for general admission and as much as five and six for preferred seating, they could produce a lot of revenue with many fewer in attendance than 7,000. Even at one dollar per capita, an attendance of 6,000 would have produced revenue of $4,500 just from this one game for the team ultimately won the series and claimed the 75% share, and $4,500 would have been more than enough to defray the entire season's salary of the highest player on either team, unless perhaps Comiskey got a little more for his services as manager as well as player.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

They probably had ticket scalpers at the Roman Coliseum. Market forces are powerful things.

I went back and found the post that mentioned the ticket prices. It was in the Globe on October 8. They mentioned that ticket prices in StL were 50 cents but 50 cents extra for a grandstand seat. There was also special reserved seating for $1.25. VdA said that tickets in Detroit were $1 with reserved seats going for $1.50. He quoted Stearns saying that "late purchasers bought the early birds out for $2 to $5 a seat..."

VdA also mentioned that the Detroit game had sold out. I don't know how many seats the place had but they didn't have a huge crowd for game three in Detroit. The attendance mentioned was 7,000, so we can assume that it likely was well under 10,000. The first three games of the series just didn't draw that well. The weather was poor for all three games which I'm sure was a problem but you have to think that the ticket prices also played a role. It'll be interesting to see how they draw outside of StL and Detroit.

But as you point out, even with mediocre attendance, it looks like the teams made decent money on the series.