Holiday Doubleheaders

This article was written by Charlie Bevis

This article was published in 2004 Baseball Research Journal

Some teams today don’t even play a single game on a holiday, providing a stark contrast to the many years when the holiday doubleheader was a staple of the major league baseball schedule. From the 1890s through the 1950s, most major league teams were scheduled to play two games on each of the three national holidays that occurred during the baseball season—Memorial Day on May 30 (originally known as Decoration Day), Independence Day on July 4, and Labor Day on the first Monday in September.

At first, two-game sets on holiday dates were twin bills, or separate-admission morning and afternoon games, not the now conventional two-for-one, single-admission doubleheader. Typically, the morning game started around 10:00 and the afternoon game at 3:00. Back-to-back afternoon games for one admission wouldn’t become standard fare on a holiday until the 1920s.

Indeed, the term “twin bill” originally referred to two separate games on the same day, in direct contrast to “doubleheader,” which referred to two consecutive games for a single admission. By the 1940s, twin bill had become a synonym for doubleheader, with little or no divergence in meaning between the two terms.

The first holiday twin bills in the major leagues were held in the National League on Independence Day in 1881. Two cities, Buffalo and Detroit, hold the distinction of staging the first holiday twin bills, as on July 4, 1881, Buffalo hosted Troy while Detroit hosted Worcester.

There was little newspaper fanfare about the novel holiday twin bills, since the nation was in a somber mood with President Garfield on his deathbed after being shot by an assassin. Detroit won both its holiday games with Worcester. In Buffalo, Mickey Welch pitched and won both games for Troy, as the Buffalo Express remarked, “In the afternoon contest the stands were filled to sardine compactness and the assemblage was very enthusiastic.”1

The two-game slates in Detroit and Buffalo were ploys by team owners located in small cities to improve their club finances by attracting larger crowds on a day most working people had off, a problem that Chicago and Cleveland did not need to contend with in their Fourth of July contests. As the Worcester Evening Gazette reported, “There were good crowds at the Western games: 8500 in Chicago, 5000 in Cleveland, 1500 at the first game in Buffalo and more in the afternoon, over 2000 at the morning game in Detroit, and over 3600 in the afternoon.”2

Troy captured the essence of the twin bill concept in the two games it hosted on Decoration Day in 1882, the first time teams played two games on that holiday. Not only were separate games played in the morning and afternoon between Troy and Chicago, but the games were also staged at separate venues. The afternoon game was played on Troy’s regular grounds, after the morning game had been played five miles down river near Albany.

The attempt to increase overall attendance for the day by staging the morning game at a different location than its regular grounds didn’t pay off for Troy. Less than 700 people witnessed the morning game at the Greenbush grounds outside Albany. Four times as many showed up at the afternoon game in West Troy, where the Troy Daily Times reported the attendance to be 2,878. The afternoon crowd may have even been inflated by this Albany Morning Express newspaper report: “The witching announcement that 50 good-looking girls from a leading collar shop here have expressed their intention to attend in a body the Decoration Day game in West Troy will doubtless secure a goodly representation of our lahdedah youths.”3

Holiday twin bills soon became economically important to all teams, not just the weaker franchises in smaller cities. In the National League before Sunday baseball was adopted for the 1892 season, holidays were the only time that most working people could attend a ball game. A six-day work week was then common practice, with Sunday the only day off for most people. Working people swelled attendance figures for holiday games, at a time when team owners predominantly sought to attract middle- and upper-class patrons as a measure of respectability. In the competing American Association, where Sunday baseball was played in many cities and working people could more easily attend games, holiday twin bills were less essential to team finances, but were nonetheless an important source of revenue.

In addition to Troy’s use of alternate locations for two games in a twin bill, another technique used to differentiate the two games in several early holiday twin bills was to have the home team play one team in the morning game and a different team in the afternoon game.

On Decoration Day in 1883, Boston and Providence hosted twin bills in their cities, with their opponents, Cleveland and Buffalo, shuttling by train between the two cities. After a morning game in Boston, Cleveland took the train to Providence for an afternoon game with that team. Likewise, Buffalo played a morning game in Providence and took the train to Boston for an afternoon contest there.

Similar twin bill setups occurred at this time between New York and Philadelphia in the National League as well as in the American Association between Brooklyn and the Metropolitan team from New York. There was a snag, though, during the 1885 Decoration Day twin bills in Boston and Providence. After Chicago played a morning game in Providence, the train was late getting into Boston due to rainy weather and the start of the afternoon game there was delayed 45 minutes. The Chicago-Boston game was stopped in the fourth inning by the rain and thus did not constitute a complete game to count in the standings.

The demise of the double-switch twin bill came after Brooklyn and Metropolitan switched opponents in a holiday twin bill on Decoration Day in 1886 (which was played on May 31 since the 30th was a Sunday, the general rule for holidays falling on a Sunday). Providence left the National League after the 1885 season and the Metropolitans from the American Association after 1887, resulting in fewer proximate league cities to efficiently stage a double-switch twin bill.

But the 1886 Decoration Day twin bill in Brooklyn was very telling for another reason—the attendance. Brooklyn’s two games with Cincinnati and Louisville on the holiday were “played before the largest assemblage of spectators ever seen on the Washington Park ball grounds, over thirteen thousand people witnessing the two games played there on Decoration Day.”4

Attendance became so large for holiday twin bills that the holidays attained significant political importance in the development of league schedules. For instance, in 1888, the New York Times reported the displeasure of New York owner John Day about the holiday scheduling. “On Decoration Day the Pittsburg nine—a club that does not draw well—is scheduled to play here, and on the Fourth of July the Giants are booked to play in Detroit,” the Times wrote. “On the whole, as Mr. Day remarked, the Philadelphia Club got all the plums, and it is surprising to him that Manager Wright, in his effort to eclipse all past performances, even allowed the tree that bore the fruit to remain.”5

Up until 1888, holiday scheduling could be relatively simple, as each team could be allocated one holiday date, there being eight teams in each of the National League and American Association to divvy up the eight home dates for Decoration Day and Fourth of July (holidays which interestingly always fell on the same day of the week). Labor Day changed all that.

Several states began to officially celebrate Labor Day in 1888, notably New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, before it became a national holiday in 1894. In 1888, two teams rearranged their schedules, not an uncommon occurrence in those days, to play a twin bill on the new state holiday in September—Boston in the National League and Brooklyn in the American Association. In 1889, the leagues began to recognize the Labor Day holiday in their preseason schedules, as well as grapple with the consequences of dividing up 12 holiday dates among eight teams.

Labor Day brought about new approaches such as three games in one day (at Brooklyn in 1890 and at Baltimore in 1896) and a home-and-home twin bill between New York and Brooklyn in 1903. However, the introduction of this third holiday also significantly elevated scheduling politics, since it was inevitable that some teams would get two holiday dates during a year, while others would get just one.

It was not until the late 1930s that holiday scheduling achieved a level of symmetry and relative equity among teams in a league. In the 40 or so years following Labor Day scheduling in 1889, holiday scheduling was by necessity intertwined with Sunday scheduling. Even though the National League had dropped its prohibition on Sunday baseball for the 1892 season after its merger with the American Association, there was the matter of the “where legal” conditional clause in its new policy. At the turn of the century, Sunday baseball was legal only in the National League cities of St. Louis, Chicago, and Cincinnati (it was legal also in Louisville, which was dropped from the league after the 1899 season).

The ability to play baseball on Sunday, the only day other than holidays that working people could generally attend a baseball game, was an enormous facet of baseball economics around the turn of the century. Consequently, cities where Sunday baseball could be played generally were not allocated holiday dates, these instead being reserved mainly for cities without the ability to generate large crowds by playing on Sunday.

For instance, during the three years 1895 to 1897, Sunday-playing St. Louis received just one holiday date while Sabbath-observing New York and Philadelphia hosted games on all nine holiday dates (at the time, both teams did not even play road games on Sunday to earn a visitor’s share of a Sunday gate).

This bias toward eastern cities for holiday dates continued for many years, and after the turn of the century extended to western cities that couldn’t play Sunday baseball. Cleveland had an over-allocation of holiday dates in the American League until the Sunday law was changed there for the 1911 season. Pittsburgh used its Sunday-law prohibition to gain excess holiday dates for three decades. Until Pennsylvania law was changed to permit Sunday games in the 1934 season, Pittsburgh was a host team for all three holiday dates every year from 1903 to 1933.

Another factor in holiday scheduling was the Boston holiday wrinkle, which was created in the 1901-1903 turf battle between the established National League team and the upstart American League entrant. In 1901 the Boston Americans, looking to attract fans from their rival Boston Nationals, booked two games for June 17, which was Bunker Hill Day, a city holiday. Then the following year, the National League team scheduled two games for April 19, which was Patriots Day, a state holiday.

Patriots Day and Bunker Hill Day became staples of the holiday schedules for both Boston teams, typically alternating each year between the two teams. For instance, in 1913, the Braves hosted a Patriots Day twin bill and the Red Sox a Bunker Hill Day twin bill; in 1914, the Red Sox had the Patriots Day games and the Braves the Bunker Hill Day games. Because both Fenway Park and Braves Field were near the route of the Boston Marathon, which is conducted on Patriots Day, spectators at the morning game of the twin bill could exit the grounds to watch the marathon runners pass by on their way to the finish line and then return to watch the afternoon game.

As the automobile became a more mainstream mode of transportation and other amusement activities gained popularity on holidays, the morning/afternoon fixture of the holiday twin bill gradually declined and converted to a single-admission doubleheader. By 1916, the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns were both playing single-admission holiday doubleheaders, a concept that gained popularity during the war years of 1917 and 1918 as teams tried to attract spectators to empty ballparks.




First Played

Last Full Schedule

Last Scheduled

Memorial Day




Independence Day




Labor Day




(Two-game sets, either separate or single admission)


After World War I ended, clubs in Boston and St. Louis as well as the New York Yankees regularly scheduled single-admission doubleheaders on holidays, while the other clubs stayed with the traditional structure of morning and afternoon games. Newspapers usually designated box scores of single-admission doubleheaders as “first game” and “second game” while box scores of separate-admission twin bills were typically labeled “morning game” and “afternoon game.”

One reason for the change to single-admission holiday doubleheaders after World War I was that Sunday baseball came to the East Coast. Legal blessings for Sunday baseball in Washington, D.C., in 1918 and New York in 1919 lessened the financial pressure on eastern teams to schedule two separate games on a holiday. By 1924, more than half of the holiday slates were single-admission doubleheaders rather than separate-admission twin bills. By 1930, only the two Philadelphia teams and Pittsburgh were not playing doubleheaders on national holidays, because these three clubs were the last major league teams not able to play Sunday baseball.

A second reason was that Sunday doubleheaders became popular in the 1920s, as teams that could legally play Sunday games began to schedule single-admission doubleheaders on Sunday to maximize attendance (and eliminate a poorly attended weekday game). Fans began to expect that two games on one day would be a single-admission event, not requiring separate admissions. Sunday doubleheaders escalated in frequency during the Great Depression, when baseball owners were desperate to balance their books, thus rendering the holiday twin bill virtually obsolete.

Once Pennsylvania law finally permitted Sunday baseball for the 1934 season, holiday schedule allocations became more straightforward. Teams rotated schedules for playing two holidays one year and one holiday the next year. For instance, in 1937, the National League teams in Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, and St. Louis hosted two holiday dates and Boston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh had just one holiday date. In 1938, the reverse was the case, with the latter teams hosting two holiday dates and the former teams just one.

For the 20+ years from 1934 to 1958, the single- admission holiday doubleheader was a fixture on the major league schedule, with just a few exceptions:

  • Brooklyn reinstituted separate admissions for two- game sets at Ebbets Field in 1947 in a quest to accommodate all spectators that wished to see the popular Dodgers play in the tiny ballpark (and to shore up the fiscal condition of the club). The New York legislature tried to stop the Dodgers from charging separate admissions for games played on the same day, with passage of the Murphy-Rosenblatt bill in 1950, but Governor Thomas Dewey vetoed the bill when it got to his desk. After Walter O’Malley took over leadership of the Dodgers, the club reverted to single-admission holiday doubleheaders.6
  • Boston teams continued separate-admission twin bills for the unique Boston holidays of Bunker Hill Day and Patriots Day, which were last scheduled during the 1949 and 1955 seasons, respectively.7
  • Kansas City played morning/afternoon holiday twin bills from 1956 to 1958, as the relocated Philadelphia Athletics tried to increase revenue.

Attendance for holiday games began to decline, though, by the 1950s. The last year that major league baseball had a full slate of holiday doubleheaders for all three national holidays was 1956. Night baseball, along with franchise relocations, hastened a swift decline in holiday doubleheader scheduling. Working people, now with a standard 40-hour five-day work week, could attend games on Saturday and during the week at night, greatly lessening the promotional value of the second “free” game of a doubleheader. A wider variety of holiday leisure activities also drew fans away from attending holiday doubleheaders.

By 1970 less than half the major league game schedule for the three holidays consisted of doubleheaders, with the rest being single games, many played as night games. The last year that at least one doubleheader was played on each of the three holidays was 1981, and even then the July 4 doubleheader at Seattle was a twi-night affair starting at 6:00. There were no doubleheaders scheduled for Memorial Day in 1982, and the last scheduled holiday doubleheader was conducted in San Francisco on July 4, 1984.

Romanticized memories of the traditional holiday doubleheader have been periodically rekindled over the 20 years following the last scheduled holiday doubleheader in 1984, as teams sporadically play a holiday doubleheader on an ad hoc basis with the second game making up an earlier postponed game. For example, the Chicago Cubs hosted a doubleheader on July 4, 1994, to make up a previous rainout.

However, the reality of the time required to complete two baseball games today quickly settles in, and was magnified in the 1994 holiday doubleheader in Chicago. Whereas two holiday games used to be played in about five hours, the 1994 Fourth of July doubleheader at Wrigley Field lasted an agonizing 10 hours. The second game spanned seven and a half hours, due to three rain delays and six extra innings.

“It’s the longest doubleheader I’ve ever been involved in,” Cub catcher Rick Wilkins said after the game. “We even ran out of food. That’s a long day right there.”8

The holiday doubleheader should not be forgotten, as for decades it helped to build attendance in the major leagues. But don’t look for its return to the major league schedule any time soon.



  1. Buffalo Express, July 5, 1881.
  2. Worcester Evening Gazette, July 5, 1881.
  3. Troy Daily Times, May 30, 1882, and May 31, 1882; Albany Morning Express, May 29, 1882.
  4. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 1, 1886.
  5. New York Times, April 4, 1888.
  6. New York Times, March 23, 1950, and April 12, 1950. “This is still a free country,” Governor Dewey observed in vetoing the bill. In a memorandum, Dewey wrote, “It is not the business of the state to determine by law when baseball games shall be played in the absence of any showing that the health, welfare or safety of the people is involved.”
  7. Both holidays had brief twin bill scheduling revivals, Bunker Hill Day in 1955 and Patriots Day from 1963 to 1967. Today, Boston retains a vestige of that morning/afternoon holiday twin bill with the 11:00 a.m. start every year for a single game played on Patriots Day, which now occurs on the third Monday in April rather than fixed on April 19. This tradition began in 1968.
  8. Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1994.