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Best Streaks Ever: Do they invigorate the fanbase?

You're running the wrong way.
You're running the wrong way.

The 1869-1870 Cincinnati Red Stockings won 130 straight games, which included a perfect 1869 "season" mark of 57-0. After suffering a loss at the hands of the Brooklyn Atlantics, fan interest fell off sharply and the team soon dissolved, with most of its stars shipping up to Boston. That barnstorming squad, the first fully professional outfit of its kind, was built on a kind of Harlem Globetrotters logic, with fans flocking to witness the spectacle of dominance. Opposing teams, all apparently named after insurance companies (New York Mutuals, Great Westerns of Cincinnati and the Kalamazoo AIG Financial Products Corporations) were in the role of the Washington Generals.

Just the right combination of spring fever and drug abuse might have had fans believing that this season's 5-0 start could grow to Red Stocking proportions. But while the 1860s seem mostly like a charmingly irrelevant and sepia-toned caricature, fan confidence is still linked to team performance trends. Home game attendance can spike during win streaks and impending player milestones, as witnessed in 2008: Great American Ball Park averaged over 35,000 fans both home weekends while Ken Griffey was sitting on the cusp of 600 HRs. As much as baseball fans like history, they like big round numbers even more.

More for fun than an effort to make any hard conclusions, I thought I'd run down a sampling of the best six game starts in Reds history and put them alongside attendance trends. The last two columns have list weekend per-game attendance averages during the streak and in the next two home weekends.

Year W-L RS RA Final Finish WKD During Streak Next Two WKD
1990 6-0 39 17 91-71 WS 26,694 26,695; 24,894
1897 6-0 34 19 76-56 4th N/A N/A
1980 6-0 39 12 89-73 3rd 19,245 28,399; 29,140
1919 6-0 31 7 96-44 WS 11,000 (?) 17,988; 5,500
1878 6-0 33 12 37-23 2nd N/A N/A
1983 5-1 33 19 74-88 6th 8,640 18,631; 14,754
1987 5-1 38 18 84-78 2nd 23,054 28,303; 34,651

Again, this is very far from empirical. Is there a halo effect during any of the seasons with attendance data? Possibly, but it's very hard to tell. If a strong start is a factor, it's probably not very explanatory during the early part of the season. Much of the low attendance during Games 2-6 is probably accounted for by the post-Opening Day fall off. Sometimes the next home weekend after the first homestand is separated by a lengthy road trip and it's difficult to know how directly or for how long a strong start affects attendance. Fans generally come back in bigger numbers to welcome the team back home. Even in seasons that started 0-6, like 1995, attendance followed this same pattern.

There always seems to be a gap between enthusiasm and attendance in the early-going of a Reds season. But the town loves a winner. It just kinda has some other stuff going on. At least until the summer.

The meaning of 5-0

Since the 1870s, the Reds have started the season 5-0 eight times. Two of those teams went on to win the World Series, three were first place finishers and five finished at least second. Of all franchises during that period, 107 have started the season 5-0 and their ranks are littered with division clinchers, pennant winners and world series champions.

So while it should be noted that the sample 5-0 starts in Reds history is small, these numbers span across different eras and starting the season 5-0 is not, in effect, different than having a 5 game win streak any time, the 2011 Reds are in good company. And while they started the season at home, playing two of these games against the hard-luck Astros, the psychological boost of going 5-1 in your opening home-stand is not to be discounted. The true test lies ahead - tougher opponents, west coast swings and 156 games left to play.