On a gorgeous Wednesday in Philadelphia, the Phillies are playing a doubleheader with the Marlins. Chances are, since about 75 percent of doubleheaders end that way, they’ll split. Chances are just as good that none of the nearly 90,000 fans who will attend the separate day and night sessions, will ever get to see a real DH, two games for the price of one.
Baseball doubleheaders date back to the 19th Century. They derived their name from the railroading practice of doubleheading, using two locomotives to haul an unusually long or weighty train.
Until the 1970s, it wasn’t unusual for the Phillies and most other big-league teams to draw crowds of 3,000-4,000. Owners gradually realized that their fans, like most consumers, appreciated a bargain. Give them two games for the price of one and they were far more likely to show up. Eventually the doubleheader became a fixture on Sundays and holidays.
Between 1938 and 1949, doubleheader crowds were 83 percent bigger than those for single games. On Memorial Day 1961, for example, the Phils drew a season-high 28,793 to Connie Mack Stadium for a DH with the Braves. The next night 4,213 showed up for a night game with the Cubs. The popularity of DHs waned a little in baseball’s divisional era, though they still could guarantee a bump in attendance. Between 1957 and 1986, DH crowds were still 39 percent higher.
That ’61 Phillies DH attendance of 28,793, by the way, was not only their largest of the season, but it was one of just five crowds of 20,000 or more they played before that season, home and away. On the other hand, 79 times the crowds that watched them were less than 10,000. The smallest that year came – hard as it is to believe now – in Wrigley Field, 1,533 on Friday, Sept. 8.
As for doubleheaders, that entire 1961 Phillies season was an interesting one. Fifty years ago, the Phils, who would finish in last place with a 47-107 record, played in 17 of them, 11 at home. In one eight-day stretch from July 4-11, thety played four doubleheaders, including back-to-back twinbills on July 4-5. They played three more in five days from Aug. 25-29.
The Phils lousy pitching staff couldn’t stand the strain. The Phils finished last in team ERA in the NL at 4.61. There’s no indication, though, how all those doubleheaders contributed to their lousy hitting (they were also last at .243). It can be said confidently, however, that it did help their attendance, although they also finished last in that category (590,039).
Philadelphia swept just one of those 17 doubleheaders – their first, on April 23 at home against the Cubs. They split 10 and were swept six times, including twice during their infamous 23-game losing streak.
The days of the DH are gone. But maybe in the distant future, when the Phils have cycled out of contention and Citizens Bank Park seats are again easy to get, management might schedule a real DH – as a nostalgic promotion if nothing else.