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Friday, April 16, 2021

How Fernando drew thousands of extra fans

Valenzuela’s starts drew an average of 33,273 on the road, while the remaining Dodger games drew an average of 19,456. That’s a boost of 71%, and so of course, we wanted to know: Is that good? Is that great? Had anyone ever done that? So we went back to 1969, the start of divisional play, and we looked for all pitchers who made at least 10 starts both home and away during a season. There were, as you’d expect, thousands. No National Leaguer topped him. No one came close.

Of course, we’re saying “National Leaguer” for a reason, because there was one American Leaguer who did him one better. In 1971, A’s rookie Vida Blue won both the AL Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player, and he had something of a Fernandomania season himself. (“Blue to Give Yankee Turnstiles A Run for Their Money Today,” ran a headline in the New York Times on Aug. 15, 1971.) Blue’s A’s drew 28,754 on the road when he started, but 13,369 when he didn’t, meaning that he more than doubled the rest of his teammates, so far as attendance goes.

In the National League, though, Valenzuela stands alone.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 16, 2021 at 09:26 AM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fernando valenzuela

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   1. Howie Menckel Posted: April 16, 2021 at 11:58 AM (#6013784)
Mark Fidrych says hi - although I believe most of his attendance boost was for home starts.
   2. Dolf Lucky Posted: April 16, 2021 at 12:21 PM (#6013789)
So the four stated examples (Vida Blue, Fidrych, Fernando, Lolich) are from the 1970s and early 80s. As a hypothetical exercise, do you think it is possible for a player today to have a similar effect?

My working assumption is no, due to higher average baseline attendance, greater media availability (mlb.tv), overall entertainment saturation, and deeper cultural cynicism. I'm curious if anyone disagrees.
   3. Tin Angel Posted: April 16, 2021 at 12:38 PM (#6013796)
Not sure if it showed in attendance numbers but Strasburg's first few outings seemed to have everyone buzzing.
   4. Hombre Brotani Posted: April 16, 2021 at 01:08 PM (#6013799)
If he manages to stay healthy enough to pitch regularly, I imagine Shohei Ohtani would have such an effect on attendance.
   5. AndrewJ Posted: April 16, 2021 at 01:29 PM (#6013806)
Surprised Dwight Gooden's not among those four -- in 1984 and '85, he was something to watch.
   6. Rally Posted: April 16, 2021 at 02:29 PM (#6013821)
Don’t expect a starting pitcher to have that effect today because everyone knows he’ll get pulled as soon as hits his pitch count or a certain times through the order.
   7. Rally Posted: April 16, 2021 at 02:33 PM (#6013822)
I saw Fernando in Cincy in 81. One of 40,928. That was a Saturday. The next day the Reds drew, well, I have no idea. Bbref gives the attendance for that Saturday but not fir the next one.
   8. Nasty Nate Posted: April 16, 2021 at 02:33 PM (#6013823)
So the four stated examples (Vida Blue, Fidrych, Fernando, Lolich) are from the 1970s and early 80s. As a hypothetical exercise, do you think it is possible for a player today to have a similar effect?

My working assumption is no, due to higher average baseline attendance, greater media availability (mlb.tv), overall entertainment saturation, and deeper cultural cynicism. I'm curious if anyone disagrees.
I wonder if this happened in the prior decades. Were people showing up when Koufax or Feller were coming to town?
   9. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: April 16, 2021 at 03:02 PM (#6013832)
I think part of the problem with attendance being impacted dramatically today is how high attendance already is. Go back to 1980 and attendance was much lower than it is today. In 2019 the average attendance was 28,000, in 1980 it was 20,000. The Dodgers led the National League in both years with 39,000 in 1980 and 49,000 in 2019. It just going to be tougher to goose the higher numbers.
   10. winnipegwhip Posted: April 16, 2021 at 04:16 PM (#6013851)
Although not as long I wonder about the immediate boost beyond the first game David Clyde provided?
   11. winnipegwhip Posted: April 16, 2021 at 04:20 PM (#6013852)
I wonder if this happened in the prior decades. Were people showing up when Koufax or Feller were coming to town?


Possible candidates?

Dizzy Dean?
Herb Score?
   12. Traderdave Posted: April 16, 2021 at 04:57 PM (#6013857)
Mario Soto was always a big draw in Cincinnati in '82-84. Star pitcher on a lackluster team.
   13. Froot Loops Posted: April 16, 2021 at 05:04 PM (#6013858)
People said the same thing about Nolan Ryan, but I think Bill James debunked that in one of the earlier Abstracts. By the time he go to the end of his career in Texas, though, I bet it had become true.
   14. sanny manguillen Posted: April 16, 2021 at 05:21 PM (#6013861)
Satchel Paige?
   15. Walt Davis Posted: April 16, 2021 at 06:23 PM (#6013890)
As 2 and 8 note, baseline attendance is much higher. I assume Ichiro ranks well among recent players but as an everyday player, it's probably more the matter of 1,000-2,000 a game for every game rather than a big effect when he starts. Ohtani (already mentioned) probably needs to have a big starter season to have a big effect, such that he breaks into the broader consciousness and a pitcher-hitter. Otherwise it is hard to imagine what a SP could do to generate that kind of excitement now -- be a Kerry Wood type who was born in India and throws no-hitters in his first couple of starts?
   16. Best Dressed Chicken in Town Posted: April 16, 2021 at 07:45 PM (#6013902)
Go back to 1980 and attendance was much lower than it is today.

They were counting turnstiles back then, not total tickets sold.
   17. depletion Posted: April 16, 2021 at 09:10 PM (#6013916)
5. I don’t know about road attendance but , if I recall correctly, a lot of Gooden home starts were 50,000 plus in1985.
   18. The Yankee Clapper Posted: April 16, 2021 at 10:07 PM (#6013924)
One would think Bob Feller’s early career starts, when he was a high school kid, would have drawn big crowds. Of course, that was during the Great Depression, which might have made it difficult for many.
   19. Cooper Nielson Posted: April 18, 2021 at 08:22 AM (#6014109)
In 1971, A’s rookie Vida Blue won both the AL Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player

If you're wondering why "A's rookie Vida Blue" didn't win Rookie of the Year along with Cy Young and MVP, it's because he wasn't a rookie. First full season, though.
   20. Rally Posted: April 18, 2021 at 10:13 AM (#6014114)
I’d guess seeing a 59 year old Satchel would be a big draw. Only 9,289 saw that game. But that attendance was about triple what the A’s drew in the games immediately before and after.
   21. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: April 18, 2021 at 12:03 PM (#6014123)
Maybe there was something in the air that night.
   22. AndrewJ Posted: April 18, 2021 at 07:35 PM (#6014185)
One would think Bob Feller’s early career starts, when he was a high school kid, would have drawn big crowds. Of course, that was during the Great Depression, which might have made it difficult for many.

When Feller came up, the Indians played most of their home games at League Park, playing at Municipal Stadium only on weekends and holidays. I'm guessing after awhile that the Tribe scheduled most of Feller's starts for the much larger Municipal Stadium -- Feller did negotiate for an attendance bonus clause in his contract.
   23. villageidiom Posted: April 19, 2021 at 12:00 PM (#6014248)
People said the same thing about Nolan Ryan, but I think Bill James debunked that in one of the earlier Abstracts. By the time he go to the end of his career in Texas, though, I bet it had become true.
I looked into this a while back, and yes, in his final season(s) Ryan gave a considerable attendance boost.
   24. VCar Posted: April 19, 2021 at 08:14 PM (#6014323)
Gooden proof, small sample size edition: Opening day in PGH, 86. Doc pitches and 50000+ attend. The place was rocking when RJ Reynolds hit one into the RF bleachers 2 rows over our heads. We went back to the next Pirates home game 3 days later in decent weather -- attendance < 2500. I did not leave a zero off that number.
   25. villageidiom Posted: April 20, 2021 at 02:58 AM (#6014377)
Gooden proof, small sample size edition: Opening day in PGH, 86. Doc pitches and 50000+ attend. The place was rocking when RJ Reynolds hit one into the RF bleachers 2 rows over our heads. We went back to the next Pirates home game 3 days later in decent weather -- attendance < 2500. I did not leave a zero off that number.

1987: Pittsburgh home opener featured visiting starter Greg Mathews. Attendance was 52,119. The next Pirates home game attendance was 6,720.

In the 1987 home opener AND in the Gooden game you mentioned, the Pirates started Rick Reuschel. So either the attendance bump was due to the home opener, or Pirates fans loved them some Rick Reuschel. Maybe both. Regardless, it might have had nothing to do with Gooden.

But let's keep looking. In June 1986 Gooden pitched again in Pittsburgh, drawing nearly 30,000 fans on a Saturday. Here are the Saturday attendance numbers in Pittsburgh around that time:
May 24 18,631 (Bill Gullickson/Mike Bielecki)
May 31 15,709 (Rick Honeycutt/Bob Kipper)
June 7 29,770 (Dwight Gooden/Rick Reuschel)
June 2835,385 (Joe Hesketh/Rick Rueschel)
July 19:  8,559 (Ed Whitson/Bob Walk

The Reuschel Theory seems to be holding stronger than I'd thought.
   26. sanny manguillen Posted: April 20, 2021 at 06:20 AM (#6014378)
#25: that Hesketh/Reuschel matchup might have been a Fireworks Night. Last Saturday before the 4th, with the Pirates on the road for the holidays. Fireworks are big in Pittsburgh.

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