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Golden Age? What Golden Age?

Aug 18, 2010, 12:34 PM EDT

Some of the Bobby Thomson remembrances I’ve seen over the past 24 hours have made references to baseball’s “Golden Age.” Forbes’ Tom Van Riper ain’t havin’ it, though:

Nostalgia holds that the 1950s represented baseball’s golden era. They
didn’t. Thomson’s famous ninth-inning, final-game homer off Ralph
Branca to give the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant over
the Brooklyn Dodgers occurred in front of 34,000 fans in the
55,000-seat Polo Grounds. These days, can anyone imagine a post season
game played in front of 19,000 empty seats?

I’ve always focused so much on those left field seats in the film of the homer that I’ve never realized that there were that many empty seats that day.  Worth noting that, given the park’s configuration, there were a ton of bad seats in the Polo Grounds, but I think the point still holds.

Baseball certainly held greater sway in the public consciousness than the other sports did in the 1950s, but sports didn’t hold as much sway as a whole like they do now.  In some ways that was a bad thing. In some ways it was a good thing.  Times were just different.  I think the most we can say about it is that applying the term “Golden Age” to any age at the expense of others is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Aug 18, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    I would bet that because it was a day game, and only 5-6 years after a war, that people were working and didn’t have the kind of jobs we have today where they could just take the day off and go watch a ball game at a moment’s notice. But I could be wrong there…

  2. Matt in Toledo - Aug 18, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    55,000 seats and 34,000 fans leaves 19,000 empty seats? I bet writers in the 50s would have done their math correctly.

  3. El Bravo - Aug 18, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    2000 attendees were, in fact, not fans at all.

  4. Simon DelMonte - Aug 18, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    19,000 empty seats at a playoff game today? Anyone got ticket stats from recent games in places like Tampa and Atlanta? Because I do recall hearing about difficulty in selling out games in recent memory.

  5. Utley's hair - Aug 18, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    What do you expect from a guy who writes for Forbes? It’s not like it’s a business magazine or anything.

  6. amhendrick - Aug 18, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    Certainly not a Golden Age for competitive balance – there were 6 NY v. NY world series in 8 years from 1949 – 1956.

  7. mike wants wins - Aug 18, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    Wasn’t this the age of racism and greenies?

  8. ScotiaMan - Aug 18, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    It seems a good point to remind everyone that Don DeLillo uses the shot heard around the world as touchstones for two novels: the short Pafko at the Wall, the much longer Underworld (which uses a lot of Pafko at the Wall). DeLillo seems to suggest that the left field bleachers were packed (they have to be to make his tale work).

  9. Simon DelMonte - Aug 18, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    It was an age of a lot less racism than the ones before. I suspect that’s where some of the “Golden Age” stuff came from: for the first time, the best players in America of all races were playing.

  10. Mike garner - Aug 18, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    Whether it was 19,000 or 21,000 isn’t the debating point here. What he’s trying to point out is that over 1/3 of the seats for this game were empty. Atlanta has never had that volume of seats empty.
    Look at the average / yearly attendance figures by teams back then as well. Take the Yankees in 1956. Their attendance that year was 1,491,784. That was Mantle’s Triple Crown year. The last year of the old Stadium they drew 4,298,655, averaging 53,000 per game.

  11. Mike garner - Aug 18, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    Whether it was 19,000 or 21,000 isn’t the debating point here. What he’s trying to point out is that over 1/3 of the seats for this game were empty. Atlanta has never had that volume of seats empty.
    Look at the average / yearly attendance figures by teams back then as well. Take the Yankees in 1956. Their attendance that year was 1,491,784. That was Mantle’s Triple Crown year. The last year of the old Stadium they drew 4,298,655, averaging 53,000 per game.

  12. bgrant - Aug 18, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    Haha!

  13. bgrant - Aug 18, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    It certainly was the golden age for stealing pitch signs!

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