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Let's Play Two, Like We Used To!

Although the clock read a few minutes past eight on a lovely spring evening on Saturday with the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth, the Union Pacific could easily have navigated a freight train through Sox Park without putting anyone in grave danger.

That's because only a few patrons remained from the announced crowd of 26,327 who showed up for the Sox-Tigers' doubleheader that began about seven hours earlier. Had it not been for the Detroit faithful who made the drive over for the Memorial Day weekend, the place would have been near empty.

During the first game the ballpark was alive as Tyler Danish, called up from Charlotte to face the Tigers, pitched five scoreless innings - followed by four more by the bullpen - to get the win in his very first major league start as the Sox triumphed 3-0.

So where did the people go? Apparently the vast majority of Sox fans had alternate plans. Doubleheaders simply aren't on the fans' radar these days. None have been scheduled in the major leagues since 1996, so the Sox and Tigers were tangling twice only because they had to make up a postponement from April 5.

Decades ago doubleheaders were scheduled almost every Sunday in addition to Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The twinbills outdrew single games, and - get ready for breaking news - the owners were looking for greater revenue. A typical schedule would feature night games Tuesday through Thursday before another club came in for a night game Friday, a single day game Saturday, and a "big doubleheader on Sunday," as legendary Sox announcer Bob Elson used to say. Rarely did the Sox play on Monday.

Take the 1960 season at Comiskey Park. The perennially competitive Sox were coming off a pennant-winning season the year before, and were the biggest game in town. They played 15 doubleheaders that year, 10 at home. And the Sox were very good when they played two, going 20-10.

The team averaged 30,453 for doubleheaders played on the South Side. For single games they drew 21,966. It all added up to a then-franchise record of 1,644,460, a mark that stood until 1977. In addition, according to John Snyder's White Sox Journal, that was the only season when Sox' attendance doubled what the Cubs drew.

Back in '60s, single games on Sunday would have had much less appeal than two games. The Sox had a big following among the working class, so night games during the week gave workers a chance to get to the ballpark. And spending most of the day at Comiskey on Sunday before the beginning of the work week had a nice ring to it. See two games. Drink a few beers. Maybe catch a couple of Z's around the fifth inning of the second game. And more than likely see the Sox win. I've heard worse ideas.

However, despite all the conversation of baseball losing its appeal; of speeding up the games; and of a lack of kids' interest, almost twice as many people go to games today than in 1960 when the average gate was 16,167. Last season that number was 30,059. Hence, a ballclub would have to be foolhardy to schedule a doubleheader instead of two single games.

Besides, the factory worker, cab drivers, and the people flipping burgers at McDonald's in many cases have been priced out of the market. Catering to those folks ended long ago. At the present time, there are a dozen more doubleheaders on the major league schedule for this season due to rainouts earlier in the year. The Sox will host the Twins on August 21 beginning at 4:10 p.m. so mark your calendars accordingly.

We also should note the appropriateness of our athletes playing two over the Memorial Day weekend since it was back in 1960 when one of the more entertaining twinbills ever staged at Comiskey Park occurred on Memorial Day. The Sox lost two to the Indians, but the day ended with Cleveland centerfielder Jimmy Piersall gleefully firing baseballs at Bill Veeck's new exploding scoreboard.

Piersall, a fiery and volatile fellow who later became a Sox broadcaster and helped coach the outfielders, wasn't impressed with Veeck's newest brainchild. Of course, today every team has some kind of celebration for home runs, be it pyrotechnics or Bernie Brewer speeding down his slide in left field. Imitation remains the highest form of flattery.

The White Sox very well could have swept the Tigers on Saturday and seemed primed to do so after Yolmer Sanchez's one-out triple scored Matt Davidson and Tim Anderson. Rookie catcher Kevan Smith, who was 6-for-15 in his previous four games, was due up. However, manager Ricky Renteria opted to pinch hit Todd Frazier, who had had one hit - albeit a home run - in his previous 16 at-bats. With the infield drawn in, Frazier struck out followed by Omar Narvaez suffering the same fate as Sanchez was stranded.

Renteria has been an elixir for this club, bringing a sorely-needed fresh approach where players actually run out ground balls and continue playing hard regardless of the score. Nevertheless, his move on Saturday was somewhat questionable since Frazier has been in a season-long slump. This also would have given Smith confidence that his manager was going to stick with him in a clutch situation.

Oh well, the Sox came back on Sunday with Miguel Gonzalez retiring the first 18 Tigers as the Sox built a 7-0 lead en route to a 7-3 victory. The aforementioned Frazier hit his sixth homer of the season to join Melky Cabrera and Davidson, who also smacked round-trippers off Jordan Zimmerman, he of the $110 million contract.

Davidson, along with Sanchez and Leury Garcia, have been among the most pleasant surprises of the season. Davidson has 10 home runs to tie Jose Abreu for the team lead. More importantly, he's driven in 25 runs and is hitting .269. This from a guy who as recently as 2015 hit .203 with 191 strikeouts in Triple-A. Davidson and Frazier have been trading off between third base and DH. Frazier is 31; Davidson is 26. The Sox are rebuilding. We're going to see a lot more of Matt Davidson.

Just when you might think that the Sox are going to swoon, they fool us. Having been swept in a three-game series by the Diamondbacks in Phoenix last week, the boys dropped to a season-low five games under .500 at 20-25. But then they bounced back against Detroit, leap-frogging the Tigers in the standings.

The highlight this week will take place Tuesday evening when we'll see Chris Sale return to his roots wearing a Red Sox uniform and sporting a 5-2 record and 2.34 ERA. With 101 strikeouts, Sale has 12 more than any other pitcher in baseball. He'll be opposed by Jose Quintana, who, let's say, hasn't been as impressive.

The place will be jumping with an expected big crowd. One game will suffice. We won't have to wonder where everyone went for the nightcap.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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