The Tribune’s Paul Sullivan answers your questions (or, this week, question). Ask Sully your question here.
Why don’t the Sox stage a free ticket giveaway like the A’s? They would at least sell a lot of beer, hot dogs and merchandise, and Guaranteed Rate Field would be packed. J.K., Chicago
Good question, though I’m not sure it would be as successful as the A’s giveaway, which takes place tonight against the White Sox in honor of their 50th anniversary in Oakland.
Like the A’s, the Sox have had trouble drawing fans this early. The Tampa Bay Times reported only 974 actually attended the April 9 game at Sox Park when it snowed in the morning and was brutally cold.
I don’t blame the 9,000 or so fans who ate their tickets, but it suggests even if the Sox gave away all of the 40,615 seats in this weather, they would have a hard time filling the park. It could work out in the summer, but remember, the A’s announced their promotion in January, giving them three months to work out the kinks. The Sox probably would have to announce it now and have the free day in July or August.
History tells us the Sox draw well when playing the Cubs or in the postseason. Of the 20 highest-attended games at the 27-year-old ballpark, 14 were interleague games against the Cubs, five were postseason games (1993 versus the Blue Jays and 2000 versus the Mariners) and one was the 1993 All-Star Game. (Ballpark renovations reduced capacity in 2004, which is why no games since then are on the list.)
The largest home attendance in Sox history is 55,555 on May 20, 1973, at old Comiskey Park. I happened to be there that day, a doubleheader against the Twins, because it was Dick Allen Bat Day.
The Sox opened the doors early, at 10 a.m., to disperse 25,000 souvenir bats to kids 14 and under. The bats were about 20 to 22 inches long, a far cry from the 41-inch bat Allen used, and they were signed “Rich Allen,” though Allen was known as Dick by then.
“The only bat I’m interested in is this one right here, the one I carry to the plate,” Allen told the Tribune’s Richard Dozer the day before the promotion
The Sox expected a big crowd, but no one knew what was in store. The game sold out quickly, and ticket sales were cut off at 12:15 p.m., after the last of the souvenir bats had been given away. The Sox actually refunded 2,608 fans with tickets who opted to leave when they couldn’t get the bat.
“There were just a lot more kids than adults,” general manager Stu Holcomb said. “They came in droves.”
Many came only for the bats and went home, missing the doubleheader, which the Sox split.
Perhaps the biggest unofficial crowd at old Comiskey was for another promotion on July 12, 1979, the notorious Disco Demolition Night when Steve Dahl blew up disco records and tickets cost 98 cents (plus a disco record).
The official paid crowd was 47,795 for the first game of a twinight doubleheader against the Tigers, but thousands more were turned away outside and some fans simply climbed the walls and got in for free. The second game was forfeited after fans stormed the field and held an impromptu party. (I plead guilty, and Tigers coach Alex Grammas politely took my pint of whiskey when he saw me sitting in the dugout.)
It was either the best or worst promotion in Sox history, as marketing director Mike Veeck — who had persuaded his dad, owner Bill Veeck, to let him stage the event — soon discovered.
“He said to me at 3 o’clock in the morning, ‘Sometimes, “McGill,” they work too well,’ ” Mike Veeck recalled last year at an event in Elmhurst. “Because he really did understand that obviously none of us set out to do it. … Sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle. If I could do it every time, I’d still do it. Hell, I’d dig (my dad) up today if I could draw people. And he wouldn’t care.”
Well, that’s an idea for another day.