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Here’s hoping Wrigley’s empty seats mean Cubs fans sick of losing

ATTENDANCE DECLINING

Only 26,292 fans showed up Monday at Wrigley Field, the smallest crowd since 20,503 attended a game Sept. 11, 2002. The Cubs have averaged more than 30,000 fans per game since 1998, the season of the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home-run chase. They ­averaged just more than 10,000 per game in 1981 and 7,851 in 1966. Here are the Cubs’ attendance ­averages since 2001:

Roeper: Cubs losing grip on the city

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Cubs manager Mike Quade was perplexed about the seagulls that loitered in the outfield during the game Monday at Wrigley Field. On Tuesday, he jokingly asked any media member with a friend at the National Audubon Society to provide some answers.

No need for that, Mike. The reason the normally skittish seagulls were so emboldened is obvious: There weren’t enough human beings inside Wrigley to scare off a worm, let alone a seagull looking for food.

The announced attendance Monday for the fourth game of the season was 26,292, the lowest at the ballpark since 2002.

There was a similar scattering of people in the seats Tuesday, even though it was Starlin Castro Bobblehead Day and even though the sun was shining for what would turn out to be a 6-5 Cubs victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The announced attendance was 27,039, a stunning back-to-back development for a franchise used to sellouts.

On both days, there were fewer people in the stands than the stated numbers.

I see all of this as a sign of hope.

I’m hoping that what occurred Monday and Tuesday is proof Cubs fans are sick of the gruel the franchise has been ladling out for more than a century.

I’m hoping Cubs fans finally realize that, despite their vacant-eyed allegiance to the cult of beer and the sunshine, it’s supposed to be about baseball and winning.

I’m hoping that what we’re seeing is Cubs fans putting their collective foot down and saying, ‘‘Enough!’’ I doubt it, but I’m still hoping.

Sending a message?

Not showing up to the ballpark is the only power fans have. I’m not sure if they fully understand how much influence they have. When they come to the ballpark in droves year after year, they have no say in whether ticket prices increase or whether the player payroll declines. Their collective voice is heard only as a whisper when the conversation turns to publicly funded stadium renovations.

When fans don’t show up, owners get very, very nervous. Cubs fans rarely flex that muscle. But now? Is that a bulging biceps I see?

Imagine if this were a win-or-else ultimatum from the fan base. Think the Cubs might feel some urgency?

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season. The Bulls have built themselves back into something resembling a championship team. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 and look good again this season. The Bears somehow made it to the NFC Championship Game last season.

Maybe, just maybe, Cubs fans would like a little bit of that for themselves.

For the last 25 years, the franchise has been able to count on fans showing up. It didn’t matter how good or bad the team was. You, Mr. and Mrs. Cubs fans and your 2.1 Cubs children, were going to be there. All that fun. All that sunshine. All that bad baseball. And all that heartfelt talk about next year. You wouldn’t dare miss it.

Now you seem to be sending signals that you might, indeed, dare.

It’s a continuation of what we saw at the end of last season, when there were lots of empty green seats at Wrigley. It’s not a vote against the Rickettses’ ownership of the team; it’s too soon for that. It’s a vote against a century-plus of futility.

The Cubs are hoping cool weather is to blame for the low turnout. The first-pitch temperature Tuesday was 45 degrees, but it was sunny. It was 47 and cloudy Monday. In past seasons, neither day’s conditions would have kept people away.

It happened in Cleveland

I was just in Cleveland, where, if you had walked up to the ticket window at Progressive Field, there was a very good chance an Indians employee would have fallen to the ground, hugged your ankles and tearfully begged you not to leave.

The announced crowd for the Sox-Indians game Sunday, the third game of the season, was 8,726. That means a person could have keeled over in the stands and not been found for hours. It means a recluse in the lower deck would have gone in search of human contact.

From the looks of that three-game series, the franchise is in trouble. That can happen if the fan base is upset with the product. The Indians lost a combined 190 games the last two seasons.

Nobody is saying that the Cubs might become the Indians or that Wrigley Field ever could resemble a post-apocalyptic ghost town.

But things might be changing.

The Cubs are banking on the idea that fans won’t be able to help themselves. That when push comes to shove, they’ll find themselves wondering what makes Ronnie ‘‘Woo Woo’’ tick or how Harry Caray might have pronounced ‘‘Kosuke Fukudome.’’ And that they’ll show up.

But what if they don’t?

Seagulls.

Lots of seagulls.



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