Vida Blue and 1971 attendance, revisited

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



  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.

90 thoughts on “Vida Blue and 1971 attendance, revisited

  1. 1
    Hartvig says:

    I also recall reading somewhere (BJNHBA maybe?) of the late, great Mark “The Bird” Fidrych drawing huge crowds during his fantabulously wonderfullistic 1976 season.

    • 5
      Jim Bouldin says:

      Oh yeah. Mark packed stadiums single-handedly.

    • 7
      Richard Chester says:

      Of the 21 games with the highest attendances for the Tigers in 1976, 14 were started by Fidrych.

      • 12
        John Autin says:

        The Bird drew some big road crowds, too:

        – 45,000 in Yankee on Tuesday, Aug. 3, double the Monday crowd.

        – 37,000 in Cleveland on Saturday, July 24, almost triple the Friday crowd.

        – 30,000 in Minnesota on Tuesday, July 20. The Monday game drew 5,000, and Wednesday against Boston drew 8,000.

        – 26,000 in Oakland on Sunday, Aug. 29. The Friday-Saturday games combined drew 15,000.

        – 53,000 in Yankee on Sunday, Sept. 12. OK, it was a doubleheader, and the Yankees were steaming towards their first division title. But Sunday drew more than Friday & Saturday combined.

        • 17
          Richard Chester says:

          John: Those 21 games were for home and road.

        • 45
          Jason Z says:

          The Bird at Tiger Stadium in 1976 (according to Wikipedia)…

          June 11 against Nolan Ryan, 36,377

          June 28 MNB against the Yankees, 47,855

          July 3, against Baltimore, 51,032

          July 9 against KC, 51,041

          July 16 against OAK, 45,905

          July 24 against CLE, 37,405

          August 11, Wednesday against TEX, 36,523

          August 17, Tuesday night, season high crowd of 51,822

          August 25, Wednesday night Chisox, 39,884

          The Tigers for 80 home games drew 1,467,020,
          an average of 18,338 (of course includes Fidrych’s

          I would like to know what they averaged at home
          for his starts and then for everyone else.

          He was and attendance machine that year.

          • 56
            Richard Chester says:

            Here’s what I came up with. Fidrych attracted 605,677 fans in 18 starts for an average of 33,649. None of the 18 starts was part of a double-header.

            For the remaining 62 Tiger home games there were 865,856 fans. This averages out to 13,965 fans per game or 15,462 fans per date as there were 6 double-headers.

            Jason: My total home attendance for the Tigers does not exactly match yours. Why, I don’t know. I may try to track it down tomorrow.

          • 60
            John Autin says:

            Richard @56 — The total attendance listed on the ’76 Tigers team page (1,467,020) doesn’t match the totals of each individual listed game (1,471,533).

            I confirm the home averages you presented for Fidrych and for all other starters — 33,649 and 13,965. However, for these purposes, I think it’s better to double-count the crowd at a doubleheader, and by that method I get 15,687 for the average of all other starters. Even so, Fidrych more than doubled the rest.

    • 13
      e pluribus munu says:

      No experience in baseball frustrated me more – or causes me more regret today – than the fact that I was overseas all of ’76 and never even had a chance to see Fidrych on TV. All I could do was read brief reports in the English-language newspaper and Time or Newsweek and pray that he’d still be pitching when I got back. My prayers were not answered.

  2. 2
    scott-53 says:

    Pitcher’s are always a big draw aren’t they? I’m sure you would find lots of examples. Koufax for the Dodgers,Roger Clemens for any of the teams he pitched for. Nolan Ryan…

    • 8
      John Autin says:

      Scott — Your assumption illustrates why I go out of my way to say that cases such as Blue, Fidrych and Valenzuela are exceptions. In general, ace pitchers have very little impact on attendance.

      Take Nolan Ryan. He broke out in 1972, then started throwing no-hitters in 1973. His first no-no came on May 15, on the road. His next home start, 4 days later, drew 15,000 fans — on a Saturday. They drew 1,000 less on Friday, and 1,000 more on Sunday. No impact.

      His 2nd no-no was July 15 in Tiger Stadium (the only no-hitter I’ve ever attended). At home 4 days later, 21,000 on a Thursday night to see Ryan against Baltimore. On Friday, same foe, 40,000 showed up. Maybe it was a promotion, as the Saturday-Sunday tilts averaged less than 14,000. Still, hardly a phenomenon.

      In his last start that year, Ryan had a chance to break Koufax’s season strikeout record, and so he did. But only 9,000 turned out.

      Bill James debunked this myth a long time ago. He found that the identity of the starting pitcher was a very minor factor in individual game attendance; the main factors (in no particular order) were the day of the week, whether the home team had been winning, the popularity of the opponent, the weather, and promotions.

      • 11
        scott-53 says:

        John, You sure can come up with the numbers in a hurry. Wow that was fast! But… After first no-no 15,000 on a Saturday. After second no-no 21,000 on a Thursday. Was it a 5th place Angels team?

        • 15
          John Autin says:

          ’73 Angels were 4th in a 6-team division, with a decent 79-83 record. They were middle of the pack in attendance, just topping a million, averaging about 13K.

          Ryan did draw almost 30,000 at home in the start after his 4th career no-hitter, in 1975. But the start after his 5th no-no (1981) drew about the same as the night before (25K), with the host Reds and Ryan’s Astros going down to the wire for the 2nd-half crown.

          Randy Johnson drew 15,000 in Comiskey after his first no-no in 1990 — about the same as the previous night’s game between the same teams. The start after his 20-K game in 2001 drew 32K at home, a little less than the previous day’s game between the same teams.

          Roger Clemens’s first 20-K game came in April 1986, when his star was just rising. His next game, a Sunday, drew 25,000, or 5K more than the day before. In the start after his 2nd 20-K game, Sept. ’96, a modest 23,000 came to Yankee on a Monday; the Sunday game in that series drew 34K and Saturday 55K, and Boston’s home game Tuesday drew 29K.

          Instances where SPs significantly affect attendance are rare.

          • 53
            scott-53 says:

            Nolan Ryan clearly was a bigger draw than most in 1992 and 1993 even though he his W-L record was 10-14 and he had already passed 300 wins. 60,000 at Cleveland stadium.

          • 55
            John Autin says:

            Scott @53 — That’s true, Ryan drew huge crowds in ’93. If I were an owner deciding how much salary a player is worth, I would definitely consider whether he was an iconic 25-year veteran holding various all-time records who was now embarking on a farewell tour.

            Not many fit that bill, though. 🙂

            I’d be very surprised if any modern pitcher had more than one year as a significant attendance draw. As a fan, there’s only one “first time” to see the latest phenom. Even if they continue to perform at a very high level, the novelty wears off. By the end of Fernando’s career, nobody was dazzled by how he rolled his eyes towards heaven just before he delivered; it was old hat. It’s just the way of the world.

          • 58
            scott-53 says:

            Agreed on both points. Only one “first time” for phenoms and one “last time” for iconic vets.

            Players that maintain a sustained high level of play seem harder to find anymore.

          • 67
            scott-53 says:

            Actually there might be more players maintaining a sustained high level of play. The percentages are just lower.

            In 1960 there were only 16 teams. Only room for 128 everyday players and 64 starting pitchers.(4 man starting rotation)

            In 2012 there were 30 teams. Enough room for 240 everyday players. Enough room for 150 starting pitchers. (The expanded and playoff- fueled 5 man starting rotation).

            1960 =192 starters. 2012 =390 starters.

            An increase of 198 starters.

      • 18
        Doug says:

        I remember seeing this game at the Oakland Coliseum.

        The anticipation of the pitching matchup, Dave Stewart vs. Clemens, was incredible after Stewart had beaten Clemens 1-0 in Boston 5 days earlier.

        Yet, the attendance for that 3-game series ranged from 41,850 to 44,008. No difference.

        Hard to believe those are Oakland attendance figures.

        • 21
          scott-53 says:

          It is often a guessing game on what starting pitcher you will see. Especially if you like to make your plans 6-10 days in advance.

      • 49
        Luis Gomez says:

        “His 2nd no-no was July 15 in Tiger Stadium (the only no-hitter I’ve ever attended)”

        That is a good idea for a thread: what is the biggest game or individual performance that you ever attended?

  3. 3
    scott-53 says:

    The past 3 years would be a good time to check.(2010-2012) Attendance has been below 74 million for all 3 years after peaking above 79 million in 2007 according to(

    • 35
      scott-53 says:

      @3–Make that the past 4 years that MLB was under 74 million total attendance. (Yankees,Mets,Twins and Marlins all have new stadiums)


  4. 4
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Blue was THE MAN in 1971, I remember it fairly well. Just a flame throwing phenom. He and Lolich had an enormous number of innings if I recall right. Possibly the last guy with a legit chance to win 30 games.

    It’s interesting looking at those attendance figures, that the A’s were more or less suffering with the same problem they have ever since–small crowds. However, I believe 1971 was the first year they showed the real promise that made them the mini-dynasty they became the next three years, so the fans were just beginning to be drawn in most likely. It was a heckuva run though–white shoes, flashy uniforms, moustaches, interesting players, crazy owner.

    • 10
      John Autin says:

      Oakland won 5 straight division crowns, 1971-75 — and averaged about 12,000 per home date during that run, averaging 7th out of 12 AL teams.

      • 24
        Ed says:

        I think Oakland suffers from several issues re: crowd:

        1) It’s really more of a football city.

        2) It’s mostly a blue collar city so lots of people can’t afford to attend.

        3) Competition from the Giants

        4) Not a tourist city (e.g., Giants games probably contain a fair amount of tourists since San Francisco is a tourist draw)

        5) Stadium isn’t located in that great of an area. It’s not a horrible area but not that great either. (It is accessible by public transport though I’m not sure when that particular stop was built.)

        There are probably other issues but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

        • 25
          Richard Chester says:

          Bay Area Rapid Transit began there on 9-11-72.

        • 28
          Steven says:

          When the A’s came to Oakland, not only did they not draw big crowds, but the Giants’ home attendance also dropped off dramatically even though they, too, had competitive teams through 1971.

        • 30
          John Autin says:

          According to Wikipedia, the latest census puts the San Francisco/Oakland metropolitan statistical area (MSA) as the 11th most populous in the U.S., with about 4.4 million. That’s just a little less than Boston and a little more than the Detroit and Phoenix MSAs.

          The Tigers drew 3 million in a pennant year and it’s considered a great feat. The Bay Area teams, also in pennant years, combined for over 5 million. That’s a pretty strong fan base there. Oakland’s problem is the breakdown: Giants 3.4mm, A’s 1.7mm.

          It might seem that SF has a natural advantage, and maybe they do. But in the 20 years before SF’s new park (1980-99), Oakland outdrew SF by 1.67mm to 1.56mm per year. Since the new park opened, SF has dominated by 3.19mm to 1.84mm.

          I would never advocate spending public funds on a baseball stadium. But it would be really interesting to see the effect of a modern facility in Oakland.

          • 83
            RJ says:

            This seems like the right place to say that Candlestick Park is easily the coldest, most depressing sports venue I have ever spent time in.

          • 84
            John Autin says:

            RJ @83 — Coldest, I’ll grant you.

            Most depressing has to be Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The entire experience was like being on the dark side of the moon — without the fun of 1/6 gravity or trippy Pink Floyd music.

    • 14
      Doug says:

      When a rookie pitcher makes the cover of Time magazine as Blue did in August of 1971, then you know that the average American has taken notice.

      • 19
        John Autin says:

        Just for giggles, though … Wilbur Wood was the most effective and valuable pitcher in 1971. More innings than Blue, better ERA+, tougher opponents. Blue started 16 games vs. teams at .500+ and 23 against losing teams; Wilbur’s starts were split 22 apiece.

        Wood’s 11.5 WAR that year ranks 8th in modern history. Out of 6 such years in the CYA era, Wood is the only one who didn’t cop the prize. The others: Gooden ’85, Carlton ’72, Clemens ’97, Pedro 2000, Gibson ’68.

        • 33
          e pluribus munu says:

          Well, WAR is what it is, but Wood’s total run average was much worse than Blue’s: 2.56 vs. 2.11 – 25% of Wood’s runs allowed were uneared. In Wood’s case, the likelihood (although I haven’t researched it) is that those unearned runs were at least as much tied to his knuckler as to poor fielding skills, and were a hidden cost that may have contributed directly to some of his losses. I thought Wood was a wonderful phenomenon during his years as an uberstarter, but I think the Cy Young voters got it right in ’71.

          • 40
            bstar says:

            Since rWAR uses RA9 as the basis of its WAR calculations, all of Wood’s unearned runs counted, so disregarding his unearned runs is not one reason Wilbur’s WAR was higher in ’71.

            Other reasons Wood’s WAR is higher in ’71 than Blue’s (other than those listed by JA) include:

            -Wood pitched in front of a crappy defense while Blue had a very good one backing him up.
            The difference in their RA9def is over half a run per 9(Wood -0.29 to Blue +0.24).

            -Park factors favor Wood over Blue also. Wood’s PPFp for all stadiums he pitched in during ’71 was 103 while Blue’s was 95.1.

            -JA mentioned the IP. Wood threw 22 more innings than Blue, but even if you pro-rate Vida’s WAR out to match Wood’s IP total, Wilbur still out-WARs Blue by 2+ wins.

          • 44
            John Autin says:

            It’s true that there were 22 passed balls with Wood pitching, and only 10 with the rest of the team. The impact of those extra bases, however — since few of them actually put a man on base — would not likely be large.

            Meanwhile, Wood pitched 23% of Chicago’s innings and allowed 26% of their unearned runs. Tommy John allowed 23 UER in 229 IP; Wood allowed 24 in 334 IP. The evidence, in addition to what bstar cited, is that the ChiSox were a lousy defensive team.

          • 48
            e pluribus munu says:

            Even though I wouldn’t recognize PPFp if I passed her on the street, I can recognize when I’m out-argued. Good responses, guys.

          • 68
            bstar says:

            Ha. PPFp is in the WAR section, and it’s basically an average of all the 3-year park factors of the parks that the pitcher pitched in over the course of the year, weighted to the exact number of batters faced in each park. That’s pretty thorough, I think.

    • 16
      Andy R says:

      Interesting fact about Vida Blue- I believe he is the only pitcher to have a 300-strikeout season, and never reach 200 K’s in another season…

      That summer of ’71 was fun for me- saw Vida Blue pitch an 11-inning, 17 strikeout game in July, then saw James Rodney Richard make his major league debut at Candlestick two months later with a 15 strikeout effort…

      • 22
        Richard Chester says:

        You’re right about Vida Blue never reaching 200 SO aside from that one season of 300+.

      • 23
        John Autin says:


        Wow, I see that J.R. fanned Willie Mays 3 times that game. There’s a passage in Joe Posnanski’s The Machine about a 19-year-old Gary Nolan whiffing Willie 4 times in just his 11th MLB game (June 7, 1967 — 15 Ks for Nolan). It was the first time Willie had ever K’d 4 times in a regulation contest, or against a single pitcher. The next day, Joe writes, Willie sought out the kid during pregame shagging and told him, “Son, I was overmatched.”

        • 51
          Andy R says:

          I remember listening to the Gary Nolan game on the radio. I believe he was interviewed on the Giants’ pre-game show (15 minutes long in those days!), as he was from Oroville, a bit north of Sacramento. He struck Mays out 3 times on nothing but fastballs, and Willie McCovey hit a 3-run homer in the 8th to win the game. Gary Nolan’s arm problems were unfortunate- would have been fun to watch him progress from 18 with that great fastball…

          • 52
            Andy R says:

            Oops- 4 strikeouts!

          • 61
            John Autin says:

            Though Gary Nolan was amazing as a young pitcher, I’m more fascinated by the transformation he made once the blazing speed left him, and especially when he finally made it back after missing almost 2 full years.

            For his first 5 years, age 19-23, Nolan averaged 6.7 SO/9 and 2.8 BB/9. At age 24, those rates fell to 4.6 SO/9 and 1.5 BB/9; his control went from good to great.

            And after the surgery, he couldn’t fan a soul, but his control was otherworldly: For 1975-76 combined, he averaged just 3.7 SO/9, but a microscopic 1.1 BB/9, leading the majors in control both years, and posting a solid 107 ERA+. Deduct the intentional walks and his rate was 0.96 BB/9 for those 2 years.

            But then it fell apart again in ’77 and he was done.

    • 88
      Howard says:

      Wilbur Wood dusted both of them in pitching WAR at 11.5 to Blue’s 8.7 and Lolich’s 8.2.

  5. 6
    Jim Bouldin says:

    And judging by that guy’s site, I think that’s a book I need to read. Blast from the past and all that.

  6. 26
    Jim Bouldin says:

    And then there was the ol’ plastic grass…other forms of grass were also rumored to exist, or so I was told.

  7. 27
    e pluribus munu says:

    John, you’ve mentioned James’s study before – can you point us to it? It doesn’t seem to be in any of the items of his I have around the house (including the Historical Abstract).

    It doesn’t feel surprising that Blue escaped James’s model: he was incredibly exciting (I was one of the masses crowding in to see him in Detroit). What made Blue such a sensation – apart from his amazing season and his perfect baseball name – was that 1971 was set up by his explosive appearance in 1970: as a September call-up, he’d pitched a one-hit shutout, and then a no-hitter ten days later against the division leading/winning team. Look at that sentence in the post about his Detroit appearance: 19-3 (and over 200 K) in *July* with an ERA of 1.37 as a rookie (well, not technically, but really)!

    The parallel with Valenzuela’s ’81 start is a good one, but Valenzuela’s invincibility began to crack much earlier.

    The thing that Valenzuela, Fidrych, and Blue have in common is that their exceptional drawing power was tied to their rookie status and the notion that they represented something really new. Ryan, your counter-example, had an erratic start, and was overall only an above-average pitcher with well recognized weaknesses. His break out period wasn’t of the same type and his run at the SO record was not only a long shot (he needed 16, and got them), but it’s questionable how many LA area fans would have been excited to see an 8 year-old “adopted native son’s” record broken by a less charismatic player.
    So I wonder whether, if you were to restrict the data to attendance effects of true “pitching sensations,” like Blue et al. (and shorter-term situations like McLain’s run-up to 30 games in ’68 – a truly mind-blowing event), you wouldn’t find that James’s findings don’t apply.

    • 29
      e pluribus munu says:

      I should add that it’s consistent with everything you do that you’d devote so much research time to documenting your own error.

    • 31
      John Autin says:

      epm — I believe the James research I referenced was in one of the yearly Abstracts. I haven’t found it online yet, but it’s mentioned in this Fox Sports article from last year:

      Pull up the article and search for the word “marquee”.

      Here’s another one — a thread on a Posnanski post about James, with a commenter quoting JoePos (I think — can’t find the full post): “Take one question in particular: Do great and exciting pitchers like Nolan Ryan draw more fans than others? Why that question? Who really cares? But I think that question was a particular breakthrough for Bill James because it seemed so obvious (OF COURSE Nolan Ryan outdrew other pitchers) and it was relatively easy to answer…. And what he found was: No. Nolan Ryan absolutely did not draw more fans than other pitchers.”

      P.S. This is a little weird — I googled “Bill James + starting pitcher affect on attendance”, and the #6 hit was this post. I’m not ready for Being John Malkovich yet!

      • 32
      • 34
        John Autin says:

        Another thread, quoting(?) a S.I. article on James; search for the word “attendance”:;wap2

        • 42
          e pluribus munu says:

          Thanks, John. I appreciate the work. I’d found the Posnanski post through a Google search too, but was hoping to find the James original – I’m not doubting its existence; I have a vague memory of it and wanted to read it. I have no doubt James is right in general; I was just interested in how he conceived “conventional wisdom” in refuting it.

          One of the strings in your link mentioned an interesting issue that was in my mind. I can recall, when a kid, waiting to look at the pitching match-ups in the morning paper to decide whether I’d take the subway to the park (I had an agenda – see the Yankees lose – so I was always more inclined to go if Frank Lary was pitching). Information on rotations and scheduled starters was harder to come by 50 years ago, so unless there was some specific publicity about a particular pitcher in the news, fans would have been much less likely to be able to make advance plans to see particular pitchers.

          On the other hand, think of the match-up of September 6, 1912, when Walter Johnson “defended” his AL record of 16-straight wins against Joe Wood, who had won 13 straight. I’ve stolen this paragraph from a SABR journal article by Emil Rothe:

          “Jake Stahl, Boston manager, aware of the sporting nature of the proposal, agreed to start Wood a day earlier. The fans responded over 30,000 strong far more than Fenway Park could accommodate in those days. On the day of the game, fans who could not be seated overflowed onto the playing field. Standing room was established behind ropes in front of the outfield walls and bleachers. Other spectators crowded along the foul lines. The teams were not even able to use their own dugouts, but were obliged to use chairs set up in front of the multitudes ranged along the foul lines.”

          Wood won 1-0, of course. (There’s a great photo of Wood trying to warm up in the middle of a crowd of men wearing straw hats and ties – it’s in The Glory of Their Times.) Imagine how important baseball must have been for that sort of turnout to occur on short notice in the days before the internet, before TV – before radio!

          • 54
            John Autin says:

            Glad you mentioned the Smoky Joe-Big Train matchup. That game (and that photo from TGOTT) was the first thing that came to mind as I tried to think of counterexamples to my thesis. 🙂

            Of course, that sort of pitcher-to-pitcher setup — or even a pitcher-to-team setup — never happens any more, because virtually every team stays locked into a 5-man rotation.

          • 63
            Richard Chester says:

            According to the Charlton Chronology the run scored by the Red Sox came on back-to-back doubles by Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis. Speaker’s double was hit into the overflow crowd and would have otherwise been an easy out.

          • 76
            Jason Z says:

            That matchup between Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood always makes me think of an article
            that Roger Angell wrote for the July 20, 1981
            issue of the New Yorker magazine.

            It is titled, “The Web of the Game.” Roger Angell picks up a soon to be 92-year-old, Smoky Joe Wood and takes him to a game between
            Yale (where he had coached the baseball team from 1923-42), and St. Johns. The pitchers that day in West Haven, Connecticutt were Ron Darling and Frank Viola.

            Everybody on this site needs to find this article and read it.

            Roger Angell is awesome and this is one of
            his very best.

        • 73
          David Horwich says:

          The SI quote is from Daniel Okrent’s article on Bill James in the May 25, 1981 issue of Sports Illustrated:

          My understanding is that the Okrent article was an important moment in James’ early career, one of his first mentions in the mainstream media.

      • 38
        John Autin says:

        I guess I won’t find the James research first-hand, but here’s a more focused reference to it:

        Look for “7. The Mark Fidrych Award for the Greatest Attendance-Boosting Pitcher”. BTW, the author claims to have debunked James’s debunking in a separate publication, but doesn’t link to it.

        • 43
          e pluribus munu says:

          Thanks again – this came in while I was working on #42.

        • 74
          David Horwich says:

          James wrote about pitcher effects on attendance in both the ’77 and ’78 Abstracts, at the very least:

          but it’s not clear whether he mentioned Ryan specifically in either case; apparently the initial impetus to conduct the research was a comment by a NY sportswriter’s about Tom Seaver’s effect on attendance at Shea.

          • 78
            e pluribus munu says:

            What an interesting link – thank you, David. It brought back to mind the freshness of reading those early Abstracts; I doubt I’ve ever seen the very first ones, though I do remember that they were at one time stapled.

            It’s hard to tell from Rich Lederer’s summary just what James wrote about pitchers as draws in the ’78 Abstract (and the word “attendance” draws no hits for the later Abstract abstracts), but judging from the account of the ’77 discussion, James found three pitchers who had significant impact on attendance in 1976: Fidrych, Randy Jones, and Tom Seaver. Fidrych was, as we’ve discussed, a case of the Young Pheenom effect. But Jones – in his CYA year – and Seaver – in a mediocre year for him – are more in the model of Pillars of the Franchise, which is just where I think we would have expected an attendance boost according to common wisdom (of course, there would have been other teams whose Franchise Pillars, if they had one, did not draw, which was James’s main point). So perhaps what we should be drawing from James’s analysis is not that the identity of the starting pitcher has little effect on attendance, but that its effect cannot be assumed as it occurs only in the rare cases of pitchers of various types (Nolan Ryan clearly not being such a case).

    • 36
      John Autin says:

      Tough to separate McLain’s pursuit of 30 wins from Detroit’s chasing their first pennant since 1945. I do find apparent attendance boost both home and away in some of his September starts, but then his final road start — in Baltimore, with chance for win #32 — drew 8,000.

      I would not doubt that a pitcher chasing an historic seasonal feat could be a draw for some number of games. But over the course of a season, I think only the rare “phenom” can do it.

      And not every phenom; and sometimes it’s hard to separate the factors.

      In 1945, Boston rookie Dave “Boo” Ferriss won the first 6 starts of his MLB career, with 3 shutouts; the 6th game was a 1-hitter. His 7th start, at home, drew 4,306; he won again. His 8th start, at home again, was a doubleheader that drew just 9,389. (BTW, he won that one as well, 5-2, on a tidy 14-hitter.) The Red Sox were bad that year, finishing 7th. A phenom on a lousy team may not be a draw.

      In ’46 Ferris again started out blazing, winning his first 10 decisions en route to a 25-6 season. But this time, the BoSox were also smoking. When Ferriss went for his 10th straight win, the club was 38-9(!) and going for *its* 10th straight win. They drew 33,000 to a Sunday doubleheader. How many came for Ferriss?

      • 47
        e pluribus munu says:

        Yes, for McLain, the big draw ends with number 30. When I was looking at this earlier this evening, I came across McLain win number 31 at home – 9100 loyal fans – and saw that the night before there had been 46,000 – for Joe Sparma! So James’s theory holds. But wait! – Sparma’s game was the date the Tigers were first able to clinch the pennant after waiting since 1945, and they did, at home. So McLain, one day late and one victory over, was simply an anticlimax. And, in fact, I remember thinking exactly that way (“Well, that’s nice.”), after holding my breath each time he’d pitched from midseason on.

        As for the Boo Ferriss phenomenon, I’d guess WWII had something to do with the tepid response in ’45. After all, Boston attendance in ’45 was 600K, so Ferriss’s 8th start was, at least, above average – and you have to wonder whether any player on any team in ’45 could have been perceived as a pheenom, given the competitive environment.

    • 62
      Doug says:

      To your point about the excitement that Blue engendered in 1971, the diagonal subtext across the top-right corner of the Vida Blue cover of Time Magazine (8-23-71) reads “New Zip in the Old Game”.

  8. 37
    Luis Gomez says:

    I was watching the news the other day about the NY storm. It look really bad. Hope you guys in the area are all safe.

    • 39
      John Autin says:

      Thanks, Luis! My home in southwestern Westchester County has been among the lucky ones; most of my town has been without power since Monday night, but we only lost our phone/internet/cable. And I have a full tank of gas in the car. 🙂

      • 64
        Luis Gomez says:

        That is good news, John. You might wanna take a look at Mexicali´s weather to feel warmer, we´re still fighting mid-90´s heat these days. 🙂

  9. 41
    John Autin says:

    Here’s a lead for anyone who wants to look for a “phenom” attendance effect: A list of the 18 pitchers since WWII with 15+ wins and 200+ strikeouts in their first or second season.

    Dwight Gooden (1985) — 24 Wins, 268 SO
    Teddy Higuera (1986) — 20 Wins, 207 SO
    Herb Score (1956) — 20 Wins, 263 SO
    Roy Oswalt (2002) — 19 Wins, 208 SO
    Tim Lincecum (2008) — 18 Wins, 265 SO
    Mark Prior (2003) — 18 Wins, 245 SO
    Barry Zito (2001) — 17 Wins, 205 SO
    Kirk McCaskill (1986) — 17 Wins, 202 SO
    Dwight Gooden (1984) — 17 Wins, 276 SO
    Mark Langston (1984) — 17 Wins, 204 SO
    Yu Darvish (2012) — 16 Wins, 221 SO
    Hideo Nomo (1996) — 16 Wins, 234 SO
    Bert Blyleven (1971) — 16 Wins, 224 SO
    Andy Messersmith (1969) — 16 Wins, 211 SO
    Tom Seaver (1968) — 16 Wins, 205 SO
    Herb Score (1955) — 16 Wins, 245 SO
    Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007) — 15 Wins, 201 SO
    John Montefusco (1975) — 15 Wins, 215 SO

    • 46
      Luis Gomez says:

      The only two pitchers that I would consider were really a “phenom” during their rookie years are Dwight Gooden and Hideo Nomo. The others, I don´t remember a great deal of publicity about them, although I wasn´t born until Montefusco´s ROY season.

      Before you made that list, I was going to ask for a Fernandomania attendance analysis, but I´m not sure if I want to make my memories being erased by facts.

      All this threads about Vida Blue remind me of one of the first books I read in English. It was Rob Neyers´s Big Book of Facts (or something like that), were stories that were in the popular domain, are corrected by numbers and actual facts.

      • 50
        bstar says:

        I agree, Luis. I had the same thought, that most of these pitchers didn’t have the hype factor of Fidrych/Fernando. I was going to do an attendance study of Fernandomania, but I’m just not up for it right now.

      • 57
        John Autin says:

        Fernando definitely was a draw in ’81. It’s hard to tell so much in the home games, since LA averaged over 43,000 at home. But their 6 biggest road crowds (38,000+) all saw Fernando pitch.

        And he was still an attendance phenomenon in ’82; 4 of their top 5 road crowds saw Valenzuela, the exception being a SF game on the final weekend with pennant implications that drew 53K to Candlestick. (Fernando started the last game of the year; SF was eliminated, but they had a chance to knock out LA, and 47K came to see that mission accomplished.)

        But then he had a couple of so-so years, and after that he was just another good pitcher.

        • 59
          Luis Gomez says:

          In 1981, Fernando made 12 starts at Dodger Stadium. Of those starts, 5 were made before the strike, averaging a little over 51k per start, in comparison with 48k the day before and 44k the day after.

          After the strike, the Dodgers average attenance before, during and after Fernando´s starts were 31,154, 46,528 and 41,768 in that order.

          He was and still is, an icon in the Los Angeles´ latin and baseball community.

        • 85
          Brent says:

          But check out the road crowds for Fernando in 1981:

          (starting in May, after his first 5 starts were wins)

          May 3 (Sunday), @ Montreal 46,405 (Saturday attendance 22,820, Friday, 28,179)

          May 8 (Friday) @ NY Mets,39,848 (Saturday 16,776, Sunday, 12,102

          May 23 (Saturday) @ Cincy, 40,928 (1st game of DH), Friday, 27,943, Sunday, 36,113

          May 28 (Thursday) @ Atlanta, 26,597, Monday 11,911, Wedenesday, 17,581

          June 6 (Saturday) @ ChiCubs, 30,556, Friday 7815 Sunday 20.024

          June 11 (Thursday) @ StL, 39,250, Tuesday 19,654, Wednesday 17,779

          So, in the 6 road starts from the beginning of May to the strike, the Dodgers drew an average of 37,264 in Fernando starts and 19,891 in the other games. He almost doubled the crowds on the road for those two months.

    • 65
      Doug says:

      I remember the Gooden craze quite distinctly, and the numbers bear it out.

      Home, ALL, 22,749
      Home, Gooden, 27,716
      Home, others, 21,526
      Home, Gooden over Others, +6,190

      Away, ALL, 21,850
      Away, Gooden, 24,621
      Away, Others, 21,220
      Away, Gooden over Others, +3,401

      Other points:
      – Best home draw in a Gooden start – Cubs with Dick Ruthven starting
      – 2nd best home draw in a Gooden start – Cubs with Dick Ruthven starting (not a typo)
      – 6th best home draw in a Gooden start – Dodgers with Valenzuela starting (go figure)
      – Best away draw in a Gooden start – Dodgers with Valenzuela starting (that figures)

      Doesn’t mean anything, but I thought I’d mention it anyway:
      – the four lowest attendance figures in Gooden’s away starts (in Montreal, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) all went to extra innings, the only extra inning games among all of Gooden’s starts that year.

      • 66
        scott-53 says:

        Interesting coincidence that Gooden’s 4 lowest attended road starts all went to extra innings.

      • 69
        bstar says:

        Doug, were those figures ’84? ’85? or ’84 and ’85?

        I ask because Gooden was great in his rookie season but took it to another level entirely in ’85. My remembrance of it was that Goodenmania didn’t really reach critical mass until ’85, but you’re the Mets fan and I’m sure you remember it more vividly than I.

        I put Gooden’s ’85 season on the very short list of the greatest pitcher seasons of the last fifty years.

      • 71
        John Autin says:

        “Best home draw in a Gooden start – Cubs with Dick Ruthven starting”

        That was 9/7/84, my first Mets game since leaving Ann Arbor for NYC that August. A throng of 46,301 at a Shea showdown with the 1st-place Cubs. Gooden came in with a 5-start win streak, then tossed a 1-hit shutout with 11 Ks, the lone hit a Keith Moreland dribbler towards 3B to start the 5th. Foster hit a 3-run shot off Ruthven, Straw hit a 2-run blast off Rick Reuschel, Sandberg (his MVP year) fanned twice and grounded out. The energy was infectious, and I was hooked.

        That was Gooden’s signature game to date (92 game score), but his next outing was a 16-K shutout (93 GSc), followed with another 16 Ks in a 2-1 loss. That was the high K figure between 1980 (18 by Gullickson) and 1986 (20 by Clemens). No NL pitcher topped 16 until 1990 (18 by Ramon Martinez).

        Gooden would never top the 93 game score from his first 16-K effort. He would match the 16 Ks once in ’85, and had no other 15-K games in his career. (Sigh.)

        • 75
          David Horwich says:

          I was at that game, too. My recollection is that Knight didn’t attempt a throw on Moreland’s squib, and I was mad at him for not at least trying and perhaps drawing an error on the play. I mean, the Mets were already up 7-0 by the 5th, what he did have to lose? And then Gooden might’ve had the Met’s first no-hitter…

          • 77
            Jason Z says:

            I was not at the game, but I remember it the same way you do David.

            For years when it seemed the Mets would never
            throw a no-hitter I would think of this game.

            I too was mad at Ray Knight for not making that
            throw. Moreland wasn’t exactly a burner on the
            base paths.

            I am to young to remember Tom Seaver’s gem
            that was ruined by J. Qualls.

            But, I have read about it.

            12 for 47, give me a break.

            Good nite and good luck.

          • 79
            John Autin says:

            Yes, Knight “put it in his pocket,” and many Mets fans have never forgiven him. Watching the play, I didn’t think he had a shot at Moreland, but yeah, he might as well have heaved it.

          • 80
            Jason Z says:


            I felt at the time that maybe he would have been given an error on the play.

            You know, hometown scoring…

            The reality though is that he probably would not have. As you say, he really didn’t have
            a shot at Moreland.

        • 89
          Howard says:

          Gooden did not walk a single batter in either of those 16-k games. Incredible.

  10. 81

    John, it takes a big man to admit you were wrong. And then to write 600 words about attendance as penance.

    • 86
      scott-53 says:

      Vida Blue did have lots of reasons to hold out in 1972 other than attendance. Take your pick.

      -1967 Kansas City Athletics 2nd round draft pick.
      -Won/Loss record of 24-8 in 1971.
      -$ 14,750 salary in 1971. ($567 per week)(26 week regular season paycheck)
      -Athletics swept 3-0 in 1971 ALCS by O’s 3-0. (best of 5)

      P.S.-Minimum wage was $64.00 dollars per week in 1972. $1.60 per hour. Only 40 years ago.

  11. 90

    […] High Heat Stats ≫ Vida Blue and 1971 attendance, revisited2012. 11. 2. – 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 … […]

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