June 2, 2023 [LINK / comment]
City population and baseball attendance
After many hours of number crunching, I have at long last finished revising and updating one of the most prominent reference pages on this website: the Baseball cities page. Like the last major revision in 2011 (November 28, to be exact), it includes data on population for the major metropolitan areas of the United States and Canada, along with the number of pro sports franchises in each city, stadium capacity, and MLB attendance trends. For the first time, it now includes the attendance trends for the most recent decade (2010-2019) as well as the previous decade (2000-2010). There was no attendance at any regular season games during the peak of the covid-19 emergency in 2020, so for our purposes the previous decade only lasted nine years.
When I first put together the early version of that page in 2003, the primary motivation was to demonstrate that the combined population in the Baltimore - Washington D.C. region was more than enough to support two MLB franchises. Hardly anyone would dispute that contention nowadays, but before the Washington Nationals were (re-)born in 2005, there were plenty of skeptics. During the last major revision of that page in 2011, I presented data on attendance in Baltimore and Washington from 2005 through 2010 compared to the preceding final years of the Montreal Expos to show that "the franchise relocation yielded a 1.0 million net increase in overall Major League Baseball attendance." Since that is no longer an issue, I have deleted that section of the page, but I may end up posting it on some other page in the near future.
In the world of today, there is a similar controversy brewing: the Oakland Athletics' plans to relocate to Las Vegas some time in the next few years. With that in mind, I added additional lines to that table, including the cities that are most often mentioned as candidates for either an expansion MLB franchise or a relocated franchise. (Montreal was an actual major league baseball city for 36 years, and is therefore part of the table, not included in the list of potential MLB cities, which are as follows, ranked here in order of likelihood of getting an MLB franchise (NOT in order of population):
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Orlando, Florida
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Portland, Oregon
- San Antonio, Texas
- San Juan, Puerto Rico *
* NOTE: San Juan was the "part-time" home of the Montreal Expos in 2003 and 2004.
Perhaps I should add that I am extremely skeptical about the suggestion that Major League Baseball should embark on another round of franchise expansion. Too many small-market franchises (such as Oakland!) are struggling already, so why make that situation worse?
Anyway, another new feature on that page is a column showing annual attendance for the most recent year (2022) relative to stadium capacity. In general, the higher the percentage, the more successful we may deem the franchise in question, but there are many caveats. As noted at the end of that table, the official capacity figures are sometimes artificially reduced, or in one case (Dodger Stadium) exaggerated. Also, several of the early-phase "retro stadiums" (such as Coors Field, Chase Field, and T-Mobile Park) ended up being just too big, as American demographics changed. That page features a revised map of baseball cities as well as this brand-new graph comparing the population of MLB cities with annual attendance at baseball games:
Note that the team names are color-coded according to league (red = AL, blue = NL), and that the aggregate total numbers for the four multi-baseball-team cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco-Oakland) are shown in black. Based on those data, here are my preliminary assessments of the teams that regularly "overachieve" or "underachieve" in terms of their attendance records relative to their population:
- New York Mets
- Chicago White Sox
- Miami Marlins
- Oakland Athletics
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- San Francisco Giants
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Colorado Rockies
- Milwaukee Brewers
Nats shake off more bitter blows
A recurrent theme in the Washington Nationals' better-than-expected performance for the first two months of this season is that almost every time something truly awful happens to them, threatening to plunge them deeper into the proverbial Dungeon of Doom, they manage to recover their wits and pull off a spectacular win. For example, after a 5-run 8th-inning rally on Thursday May 25, they were close to winning the final game of the series with the the visiting San Diego Padres. With two outs in the top of the 9th, Rougned Odor hit a 3-run homer just inside the right field foul pole to retake the lead. Hunter Harvey blew the save and took the loss, which really stung. Final score: 8-6.
But that didn't seem to affect the Nats as they took a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning, and then staged an 8-run rally in the 6th inning. Luis Garcia got six hits in six at-bats, tying the Nationals' record set by Anthony Rendon in April 2017. Final score: Nats 12, Royals 10. On Sunday Mackenzie Gore had his best day yet on the mound for the Nationals, striking out 11 batters in 7 innings, while giving up just one run. But the Royals tied the game in the 8th inning, and in the bottom of the 9th, Nats' first baseman Dominic Smith let a ground ball go through his legs (just like you-know-who), and two batters later a walk-off RBI single ended the game 3-2, in the home team's favor. The Nats really should have swept that series, but instead had to digest yet another "bitter blow."
On Monday, the Nationals arrived in Los Angeles, and their starting pitcher Trevor Williams was doing pretty well, and his team had a 1-0 lead unti the bottom of the 5th. That's when second-year shortstop C.J. Abrams misplayed a ground ball that could have been a double play, but instead served as the spark of a 6-run rally by the Dodgers. Six unearned runs! Nobody else scored in that game. There wasn't much hope for the Nats in the Tuesday game, as rookie pitcher Jake Irvin struggled mightily. On Wednesday, the Dodgers scored 3 runs off two homers in the first inning, but then the Nats came right back with two homers of their own in the 2nd inning. Patrick Corbin somehow managed to escape multiple jams, and as if by a miracle, was in line for the win after Jeimer Candelario hit a 2-run homer in the 5th inning. It was just a crazy back-and-forth slug-fest, in which Luis Garcia hit two home runs, and the Nats ended up with FIVE (5) four-baggers for the first time this year. Final score: Nats 10, Dodgers 6.
And so, the Nationals finished the merry month of May with a 14-15 record, much better than the 10-17 record of late March and April. Attendance at home games averaged just over 20,000, about the same as in the month before. This has been duly recorded on the Washington Nationals page.
After a day of rest, the Nationals returned home to Washington where they took an early 6-0 lead against the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this evening. (It was the first matchup between those division rivals this year.) Starting pitcher Josiah Gray did well until the 6th inning, but the Phillies staedily narrowed the gap as the Nats relief pitchers failed to contain them. Another error by C.J. Abrams (his 11th of the year, tied for the MLB lead) allowed the Phillies to tie the game, 8-8. Then with two outs in the bottom of the 8th, Lane Thomas hit an ultra-clutch RBI single to retake the lead. Kyle Finnegan, who had just blown the save, returned to the mound in the 9th inning and this time he held firm, as the Nats just barely won it, 8-7. WHEW!!! Against all odds, the Nationals are now tied with the Phillies (4th place) in the NL East, the latter team having lost five games in a row. If the Nats somehow pull off a series sweep this weekend, they'll go ahead of the Phillies in the NL East race. Anything's possible!
I should note that the Nats' usual designated hitter Joey Meneses went on another hot streak this week, and now has a batting average of .305, the 7th best in the National League. Does he deserve your vote for the 2023 NL All-Star team? Absolutely YES! And you may find this very difficult to believe, but thanks to Meneses, Garcia, Candelario, Thomas, and others, the Washington Nationals now have the highest team batting average (.265) in the major leagues!! Unfortunately, they're near the bottom in home runs. Also, the Nationals rank 3rd in the majors in errors, behind the Giants and the Braves. There is plenty of room for improvement, but in general things are going quite well.