What a regular season in Major League Baseball: The most exciting finish in memory, and now into the books as No. 5 all-time in attendance with 73,425,568 fans.
MLB announced Thursday that the 30 clubs surpassed the attendance of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. This season's total attendance was 0.5 percent greater than last year's total of 73,054,407, which included six more games played (2,424) than this season (2,418).
"Major League Baseball is grateful to all of the loyal fans who filled our ballparks in such remarkable numbers this year and witnessed a historic final night of the season," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "The resiliency of our sport never ceases to amaze.
"Earning the fifth-highest attendance in history amid such challenging economic times reaffirms the incredible passion and enthusiasm of the fans of our national pastime. There is no doubt that this sport is more popular today than it has ever been in its long, storied history."
Overall, the last eight years make up the eight best-attended seasons in MLB history, including four record-breaking years. Eighteen clubs finished with an increase over their 2010 attendance. Nine clubs drew more than three million fans this season, while 13 topped the 2.5 million mark.
The increase from last year happened despite unusually inclement weather throughout much of the regular season, including that spate of delays and postponements caused by Hurricane Irene. The last time a regular season had more rainouts than this year's 51 was 1997, which had 54. One rainout was not made up, Dodgers at Nationals.
The Phillies finished with the best overall record, and for the first time in their history they also led MLB in overall and average attendance with franchise records of 3,680,718 total fans and a per-game average of 45,441 at Citizens Bank Park. That stadium has now hosted 204 consecutive regular-season sellouts.
The Yankees led the AL in attendance for the ninth year in a row, drawing 3,653,680 fans and averaging an AL-high 45,107. New York had 20 sellouts, the most in the three-year history of the current Yankee Stadium. Many clubs saw milestones in their markets, too. In addition to the Phillies, three other clubs -- the Brewers, Giants and Rangers -- set franchise records.
There was no World Series title repeat in San Francisco, but the Giants' fans put up huge numbers. The club drew 3,387,303 fans to set a single-season record in the franchise's 128-year history -- surpassing the previous best of 3,277,244 set in 2001.
The Red Sox sold out each of their 81 home games, extending their Major League-record streak of consecutive sellouts at Fenway Park to 712. The Red Sox totaled 3,054,001 fans at Fenway, the second-highest mark ever behind their total of 3,062,699 in 2009.
The Indians saw the largest year-to-year increase by drawing nearly 450 more fans per game than in 2010. The Rockies and Pirates drew their largest season totals since 2001, with the latter a surprise contender into midsummer.
The Cubs, with 3,017,966 fans attending, reached the three-million mark for the eighth season in a row and are one of only four Major League franchises to surpass the mark in every year since 2004. The Cubs had eight crowds in excess of 42,000, including a season high of 42,374 on Aug. 20 vs. St. Louis, the largest regular-season attendance at Wrigley Field in more than 33 years.
Think Royals fans were excited about the development of their up-and-coming team? They had an average attendance of 26,532 during September games, a 39-percent increase over September/October 2010 (19,141) and a 57-percent increase over September 2009 (16,879).
The excitement of both Wild Card races and the competition for home-field advantages helped fuel a big final weekend for attendance, with 1,629,105 fans showing up from Friday through Sunday -- the second-best overall crowd totals of any weekend in 2011. The weekend was highlighted by 626,838 fans attending the 17 games on Saturday, the seventh-highest single-day attendance total in MLB history and the best one-day total since May 17, 2008. Last Saturday's contests drew an average crowd of 36,873 per game.
The 2011 season total was the most since 78,588,004 in the 2008 season.