In for a dime, in for a dollar….

In a recent post, I debunked a published quote by Vida Blue complaining that his 1971 home starts had been juggled so as to coincide with Monday’s Family Night promotion. Now I’m reading Dan Epstein’s joyous Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s. Touching on Blue’s 1972 contract holdout, Epstein writes that Blue in ’71 had been drawing thousands of extra fans, at home or on the road, whenever he pitched.”

Although the prior post focused on the Family Night question, I also remarked that “the notion of a pitcher boosting attendance is usually bunk, and there’s little reason to think differently in this case,” adding that “the 3 biggest home crowds came to see Catfish Hunter (twice) and Blue Moon Odom.”

I should have looked more deeply, or else left that question alone. Vida Blue in 1971 averaged much bigger crowds than any other A’s starter, even the reigning ace and 3-time All-Star Hunter, who had a fine year himself (21-11, 2.96). This table shows the average attendance for each 1971 Oakland starter, in total and then broken out by home (H) and road (R):

SPGSAvgNetNet %GS-HAvg-HNet-HNet %-HGS-RAvg-RNet-RNet %-R
Blue3923,1109,85474%2018,2597,02363%1928,21612,94085%
Hunter3714,719-1,200-8%2012,775-259-2%1717,005-1,707-9%
Dobson3010,403-6,440-38%176,328-8,406-57%1315,731-3,127-17%
Odom2516,1836394%1115,3552,76022%1416,833-1,838-10%
Segui2112,526-3,585-22%1011,557-1,612-12%1113,407-5,731-30%
Fingers89,650-6,306-40%312,612-372-3%57,874-11,175-59%
Gardner115,8081661%0000%115,808-2,574-14%
TOTAL16115,6438112,9708018,350

 

Notes:

  1. “Net” figures compare the pitcher’s average attendance to the team’s average for games not started by that pitcher.
  2. Doubleheaders were counted twice, crediting the day’s attendance once for each starting pitcher. Thus, these team averages do not match the official figures.

It’s interesting that Blue’s biggest impact came on the road, where the average crowd for his starts was 85% larger than for all other Oakland road games, a gain of almost 13,000 fans:

  • Baltimore’s biggest crowd saw Blue best Jim Palmer, 2-1, with both A’s runs scoring on a wild pitch/E-2.
  • Blue vs. the Red Sox filled Fenway with 1,200 more than their home opener; Rico Petrocelli hit 2 HRs to snap Blue’s 10-game win streak.
  • He drew Detroit’s largest crowd after Opening Day, larger even than a Sunday doubleheader featuring Denny McLain‘s return; the July 25 win put him at 19-3 with a 1.37 ERA.
  • He captured the Royals’ attendance crown.
  • The largest Angels crowd turned out for Blue (and red & white) on July 4.
  • He pitched to two of the four biggest crowds to RFK Stadium in the Senators’ final season; one of those games drew over 40,000, while the prior two in the series combined for just 12,000.
  • More than 30,000 saw Blue in the Bronx on June 1, when the previous day’s doubleheader drew 10,000 less.

Of the seven Oakland games that drew at least 40,000 fans that year, Blue started six, all on the road (and went 5-1).

So while the vast majority of attendance claims for star pitchers aren’t worth a rain check from a completed game, Vida Blue was definitely a huge draw in 1971 — just as another young Golden State southpaw would become ten years later. And your humble narrator is duly … humbled.

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