A Million Fans Can’t Be Wrong

AUGUST 25, 1983 | LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY • A million fans can’t be wrong. The Louisville Redbirds became the first minor league baseball team to draw more than a million fans in a season on this date in 1983. Not long before that, a million was considered good for a major league team.

Louisville, the St. Louis Cardinals’ triple-A team, reached 1,006,103 in attendance with a crowd of more than 31,000. The Redbirds outdrew three major league teams that year – the Cleveland Indians (768,941), Seattle Mariners (813,537) and Minnesota Twins (858,939).

Minor league baseball experienced an attendance renaissance at the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st. According milb.com, the official website of minor league baseball, minor league baseball draws more fans than the NBA or the NFL. By drawing 39.8 million in 2004 it broke the total attendance record of 39.6 million fans set in 1949.  Minor League attendance peaked in 2008 at 43.2 million.

While attendance has dropped in the last decade or so, it remains above 40 million each year.

[Minor league baseball does not include numerous independent leagues around the country that are not associated with major league teams.]

Contributing Sources:
Minor League attendance 2016
Minor League Baseball history
Major League Baseball attendance 

The Fall and Rise of Rick Ankiel

AUGUST 9, 2007 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURIRick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals hit a dramatic 3-run home run on this date in 2007. It was the culmination of the fall and rise of Rick Ankiel. He had gone through an agonizing public collapse as a pitcher seven years earlier. It got so bad he gave up pitching, but he didn’t give up baseball.

Rick Ankiel was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in 1997. He received a big signing bonus and progressed through the minor leagues fairly quickly. There was no hint of the trouble ahead. He was Minor League Player of the Year in 1999. Ankiel went 11-7 in 2000, his first full season with the Cardinals, striking out an average of 10 hitters every 9 innings.

The problems surfaced in the playoffs. Though only 20-years old when the season started Ankiel got the start in game one of the National League Division Series. That’s where the trouble started. He gave up a hit and two walks in the first, but got through unscathed, no problems in the second, but mysterious wildness that would eventually drive him from the mound started in the third.

Here’s how it went:

• Greg Maddux walks
• Rafael Furcal pops out
• Wild pitch
• Wild pitch
• Walks Andruw Jones
• Wild pitch
• Strikes out Chipper Jones
• Walks Andres Galarraga
• Brian Jordan singles
• Wild pitch
• Walks Reggie Sanders
• Walt Weiss singles
• (Ankiel relieved)

The Cardinals won the game, swept the series and Ankiel shrugged off his wildness, but he didn’t make it through the first inning of game two of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets. Five of the first 20 pitches he threw went back to the screen, but only two were counted as wild pitches because no one was on base… yet. He was lifted after three walks and a double to drive in two.

Ankiel’s pitching troubles continued. He was sent down to the minors in 2001 and his wildness got worse. He finally gave up pitching in 2005. He became an outfielder, eventually making it back to the Cardinals and a tremendous reception on August 9, 2007. He drew a prolonged standing ovation in his first at-bat on this date. He popped out in his first at bat, struck out in his second and hit the 3-run homer in his 3rd plate appearance.

Rick Ankiel ended up playing 11 years in the majors, 7 of those were after the fall and rise of Rick Ankiel.

Cardinals-Padres, August 9, 2007
2000 NLDS Cardinals-Braves, Game 1, October 3, 2000
2000 NLCS Cardinals-Mets, Game 2, October 12, 2000

Dodgers score 12 runs after 2 outs

AUGUST 8, 1954 | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – There are rallies and there are rallies. How about one the Brooklyn Dodgers had on this date in 1954? The Dodgers scored 12 runs after two outs in the eighth inning. They scored 13 total. They went on to pound the Cincinnati Reds 20-7 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Here’s a good indication why the official scoring for earned runs should be changed. Amazingly, only one of the 13 runs given up in the eighth was earned, despite four Reds pitchers giving up seven hits and seven walks. Neither Cincinnati pitchers Jackie Collum nor Frank Smith got anybody out, but their ERAs did not go down a lick (there’s something not right about that type of scoring) because twelve of the runs scored after an error by Reds third baseman Chuck Harmon long before Collum or Smith got in the game.

Here’s another example of what’s wrong with ERA scoring; a relief pitcher can be called into a game because the starter is showing some weakness. He could give up a bases clearing triple. None of those runs are charged to him. I get that. But here’s what’s crazy. Despite giving up a bases clearing triple, if he gets the next batter out his ERA goes down.

Contributing Source:
August 8, 1954 box score

Walter Johnson’s road to immortality began on this date

AUGUST 7, 1907 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – Only Cy Young did more amazing things on the pitcher’s mound than Walter Johnson, and they named an award after Young.

Walter Johnson’s road to immortality began on this date in 1907. He grew up on a farm outside Humboldt, Kansas. Johnson was just 19-years old when he pitched the Washington Senators to a 7-2 win over the Cleveland Naps (today’s Indians) – the first of 416 career wins . Only Cy Young has more career wins (511) than Walter Johnson.

Johnson’s accomplishments are stunning. From 1910 to 1919 he won 25, 25, 33, 36, 28, 27, 25, 23, 23 and games.

  • He started 666 games in his 21-year career, completing 531.
  • He pitched 110 shutouts (11 in 1913).
  • He pitched over 300 innings 9 times.

Johnson could hit, too! He had a .433 batting average in 1925 – 42 hits in 97 at bats. He hit .283 in 1924, .270 in 1921, and had a career average of .235 with 24 home runs and 255 runs batted in.

Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train, by Henry W. Thomas, 1995


One of the Greatest Pitching Duels of all-time

AUGUST 6, 1952 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURISatchel Paige got a rare start on this date in 1952, and ended up in one of the greatest pitching duels of all-time.

Despite the consensus among players, black and white, who played with and against him that he was the greatest pitcher of his day, Paige didn’t make the majors until after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

Paige had been playing professional baseball in the Negro Leagues since the mid-1920’s. He was finally invited to play for the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He was 41.

Paige pitched mostly relief. But on August 6, 1952, now with the St. Louis Browns, he got the start against Detroit Tiger right-hander Virgil Trucks. They were two cagey veterans; though Paige had 10 years on Trucks. Virgil was 35 years old. Satchel was 45.

They matched each other pitch for pitch, inning for inning. Trucks pitched 9 scoreless innings. Paige pitched 12 and won 1-0.

Satchel Paige’s long overdue major league career lasted six seasons. He went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA in his first year, helping the Cleveland Indians win the 1948 World Series. He retired in 1953 at the age of 46, but came back to pitch in one game in 1965 at the age of 58. His career mark was 28-31, but three of those years were with the Browns who usually lost 100 games a year. He finished with a career Earned Run Average of 3.29.

August 6, 1952 Tigers vs Browns game stats