The Original Cincinnati Baseball Team Now Plays in Atlanta
Everyone knows baseball’s first professional team was organized in Cincinnati in 1869. What’s forgotten is that team’s disappointing 1870 season, after which the franchise dissolved. Manager Harry Wright moved to Boston, where he organized, with some former Cincinnati teammates, the Boston Red Stockings in 1871. Renamed the Boston Braves in 1912, that team moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and to Atlanta in 1966.
Red Stockings Were Dangerous
The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings created a sensation by wearing knickerbocker trousers to show off their manly calves, clothed in lurid scarlet, to entice more women to the ballpark. Other clubs adopted Cincinnati’s style, but players reported cases of blood poisoning when they were spiked, because the toxic dyes coloring their stockings seeped into the wounds. By the early 1900s, players started wearing white “sanitary socks” under brightly (and dangerously) dyed “stirrup socks” to avoid infection.
Today’s Reds Are One of Five Cincinnati Pro Baseball Teams
1) The Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 dissolved after the 1870 season. 2) A revived Reds formed in 1875 to join the new National League in 1876 but was expelled from the league and dissolved in 1880 because they refused to stop serving beer. 3) The current Cincinnati Reds team was organized in 1881 to join the rival American Association, then quit the AA in 1889 to join the National League. 4) The American Association returned to town in 1891 with a team known as Kelly’s Killers, who played in the East End. 5) A short-lived professional league, the Union Association, recruited a Cincinnati franchise, the Outlaw Reds, who competed during that league’s only season in 1884.
Too Much Sunshine
Baseball games have been called on account of rain, snow, earthquakes, darkness, and all sorts of factors, but the Cincinnati Reds once had a game called on account of sunshine. The Reds and the Boston Braves squared off on May 6, 1892, in League Park. This ancestor of Crosley Field was built facing west and, after 14 innings of scoreless play, the catchers and hitters complained they couldn’t see the ball as the sun slowly settled behind Price Hill. Umpire Jack Sheridan agreed and called the tie game on account of sunshine. The next day’s Cincinnati Enquirer called the decision “just and sensible.”
Cicadas Are Good Luck
Local superfan Joe Hoffecker notes the Reds have played eight seasons during which Cincinnati endured an infestation of 17-year cicadas. During those seasons, the Reds won a World Series in 1919, two National League pennants, and had two second-place finishes. The combined won-lost record for those eight years is 633–553, for a cumulative .534 percentage. This bodes well for the 2021 season.
Build It and They Will Come
Before settling in at the corner of Western Avenue and Findlay Street, the Reds played ball at Union Grounds, located approximately where the Union Terminal Fountain is today (1867 to 1870); at a park variously known as Cincinnati Baseball Park, Avenue Grounds, and Brighton Park in Camp Washington on Spring Grove Avenue north of the stockyards (1876 to 1880); and at the Bank Street Grounds in Brighton, near where Bank Street ends at I-75 today (1882 and 1883). The team then took root at a former brickyard at the corner of Western and Findlay named League Park (1884 to 1901), rebuilt as the Palace of the Fans in 1902 and as Redland Field in 1912. This venue was renamed Crosley Field in 1934.
On the morning of July 4, 1894, somebody opened the gates at League Park and all the lawnmowers escaped. Groundskeeper John Schwab arrived at the ball grounds early to get the lines painted and stands swept for a doubleheader only to discover that a flock of sheep he employed to trim the grass had wandered off. He still hadn’t located his errant grounds crew by nightfall.
Palms of Seasoned Leather
Second baseman John Alexander “Bid” McPhee was the first major leaguer to play his entire professional career (1882–99) for the Cincinnati Reds. Many years later, Johnny Bench and Barry Larkin also achieved this distinction. But there’s another curious feat associated with McPhee—he was certainly the last second baseman, and some sources claim the very last player, to take the field without a glove. After 14 years of outstanding fielding without a mitt, McPhee donned a glove in 1896 and had a Hall of Fame caliber season.
Let’s Go Out to the Lobby
In 1913, the hottest concept in movie theaters was the airdome, an outdoor set-up under the stars with a piano player pounding away as silent films unspooled. The Reds organization hopped on that bandwagon by opening Cincinnati’s only roof-covered airdome at Redland Field. The nightly theater sat 3,000 viewers, who got to see a feature and four shorts for a nickel. The Reds also leased their ballpark for dances, boxing, wrestling, and track events.
Spring Training in a Cemetery
Although the 1919 Reds went on to claim the World Series crown, the year got off to an inauspicious start. Manager Pat Moran hauled the team to Waxahachie, Texas, for spring training but found the weather anything but vernal. Constant rain and plunging temperatures prevented play on the field at Jungle Park, so the team practiced on the adjacent railroad tracks or crossed the road and found higher and dryer ground in the Waxahachie City Cemetery. It was the “dead ball” era, after all.
Ejected for Napping
Hall of Fame center fielder Edd Roush has the distinction of being the only major leaguer ever ejected from a game for taking a nap on the field. The Reds opened an East Coast road trip on June 8, 1920, facing the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. The defending world champion Reds played miserably but vociferously challenged an eighth-inning call by umpire Barry McCormick. The ump allowed the debate to go on for a good 15 minutes, so Roush made a pillow of his cap and glove and reclined in the outfield. At length, McCormick ejected a couple of players and ordered play to resume, but Roush couldn’t be roused and was sent to the showers. New York won, 5–4.
Three Is Better Than Two
In all of major league history, there have been only three occasions in which two ball clubs played three games on a single day. The last of those rare triple-headers involved the Cincinnati Reds. Fighting against Pittsburgh for third place in the National League, the Reds faced the Pirates at Forbes Field on October 2, 1920, for a marathon outing beginning at noon. The Reds took the first two games, clinching their third-place finish. The Pirates were ahead 6–0 when the third game was called due to darkness.
Postponed on Account of Lindbergh
In May 1927, Colonel Charles Lindbergh flew alone across the Atlantic Ocean. After returning stateside, he embarked on a nationwide tour, arriving in Cincinnati on August 6, 1927. The Reds hastily erected a temporary platform at Redland Field, and the gates opened for a standing-room-only crowd to hear their hero speak. So many aviation enthusiasts filled the stands that the Reds couldn’t clear them out to let the paying baseball crowd in. That day’s game was postponed, and the Reds and Phillies turned the next day’s affair into a doubleheader.
Up, Up and Away!
On June 8, 1934, the Cincinnati Reds became the first major league baseball team to travel to a game by airplane when they journeyed to Chicago. Manager Bob O’Farrell and 19 players flew to Chicago, some said, in a bid to distract attention from their last-place standing. The Reds beat the Cubs that day, 4–3.
No Commies Here!
Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans suspected anyone with liberal leanings of supporting Communism. Nationally televised hearings led by Senator Joseph McCarthy raised anti-Communist feelings to a fever pitch, and no one wanted to be labeled a “Red.” Bowing to popular pressure, the Cincinnati Reds became the Cincinnati Redlegs from 1954 to 1959 to allay any concerns about their patriotism.
Fewer Trains Meant Parking for the Reds
Both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants departed for sunny California in the late 1950s, and New York City was left holding the bag. That bag contained an unfulfilled offer to build what would become Shea Stadium as part of a futile effort to hold either of the National League teams in Gotham. Snubbed by both, New York determined to build the stadium anyway and attempted to lure the Reds to the Big Apple. Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. hinted that he might consider such an offer because he needed more parking. Cincinnati quickly rushed through a plan to demolish Union Terminal’s maintenance facilities to create more parking spaces around Crosley Field.
Rosie Reds Kept the Team in Cincinnati
Despite winning the National League pennant in 1961, the Reds faced dwindling attendance over the following years. When owner Bill DeWitt let it be known in 1964 that he was entertaining an offer to sell the team to a San Diego group, the Queen City panicked. Among the proposals to boost attendance was the successful formation of the Rosie Reds to encourage women to attend games. The Rosie Reds are still going strong after more than 50 years. “Rosie,” by the way, is an acronym standing for Rooters Organized to Stimulate Interest & Enthusiasm.
A tip of the hat to Cincinnati Reds Historian Greg Rhodes, whose research was invaluable in compiling this list.