On May 1, 1912, as a result of a contract dispute, press operators walked off or were locked-out, of their jobs at 10 Chicago newspapers. The following day, drivers and newsboys walked out in sympathy, and ultimately three more unions joined.
The dispute, which at times became violent, lasted until November.
The New York Times said at one point during the strike’s first week, less than 50,000 copies of the city’s four morning newspapers—limited to just four pages each– were distributed to a metropolitan area with a population of nearly four million.
Every Chicago paper, with the exception of The Day Book, Edward Willis Scripps’ advertisement free, pro-labor publication, suffered decreases in circulation and were forced to publish smaller editions for the first weeks of the strike.
The strike also had a negative impact on two other Chicago institutions.
The New York Tribune noted that during the first two weeks of May, while most of Chicago’s papers provided a minimum amount of baseball coverage, attendance at White Sox Park (renamed Comiskey Park the following season) and West Side Grounds “dropped off 30 percent.”
Writing in The Chicago Herald-Record after that paper had again begun publishing full-sizes editions in mid-May, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton was not surprised that less baseball news resulted in smaller crowds at the ballparks:
“Various major league club owners have, during their recent years of great prosperity, declared that baseball was independent of the newspapers. Indeed such intellectual giants as C. Webb Murphy and Charles Ebbets have practically stated that the newspapers depended upon baseball for their circulation. Of course, printing baseball news makes circulation for newspapers; else the newspapers would not print it.
“But during the last ten days Chicago has given the club owners and object lesson in the relative values. There has been a strike of several trades allied with the newspaper printing business which resulted in crippling ten big dailies, restricting their circulation, besides cutting down the amount of baseball news and gossip printed. The instantaneous result must have been a shock to the baseball magnates, who thought that the game was independent of the advertising.”
Fullerton, like the New York paper, said the attendance decline was “at least” 30 percent.
“I scouted around the city and discovered, rather to my amazement, that the lack of baseball news was received rather as a welcome relief from a necessary evil than as a bereavement. A score of men told me they were glad they couldn’t get the news, that their employees could attend to business and that there was less waste of time…The town, which has been wild over the sensational race of the White Sox, cooled off in an instant. I met fans who had been rooting wildly, who inquired whether or not the team was in town.”
Fullerton’s observations led him to the “startling proof that interest in baseball largely is manufactured by the papers.”
And, if the strike were to result in a further decrease in baseball news:
“I really believe that if the newspapers were to be suppressed for a couple of months, and one was to mention Walsh, people would say, ‘Walsh? Ed Walsh? Who’s he?’”
While the strike continued through the entire season, circulation and baseball coverage increased in June, giving no one the opportunity to forget Chicago’s best pitcher.
Attendance at Chicago’s ballparks rebounded as well. By season’s end, Walsh’s White Sox drew more than 600,000 fans, despite a 20-34 swoon in June and July and a fourth place finish; while 514,000 fans came out for the third place Cubs.