Cincinnati Post, 12 April 1916; Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand
The 1916 baseball season was not the most bizarre in the history of the Cincinnati Reds. But that baseball season was rather unusual, even by Cincinnati standards.
The previous year had seen the collapse of the Federal League, an upstart “third major league” that had, briefly, fielded a competing major-league team just across the river in Covington. With the Federal League kaput, dozens of quality players were suddenly available to sign with the surviving major league teams.
Among the players picked up by the Reds from the defunct Federal League was Hal Chase. In 1915, Chase had popped 17 home runs for the Buffalo Blues, second in the major leagues that year and surpassed only by the 24 home runs hit by Philadelphia’s “Gavvy” Cravath. Although Chase was an outstanding player, arguably the best first baseman at the time, he was suspected of throwing games and gambling against his own team. With the Reds in 1916, he batted .339, by far the best batting average on the team and best in the National League that year. His fielding was almost flawless.
Spring training in 1916 found the Cincinnati Reds in new quarters in Shreveport, Louisiana. In previous years, the Reds had wintered ay Alexandria, Louisiana, but were evicted after 1915. The Shreveport accommodations were available because the Chicago Whalers, a Federal League team, had gone out of business.
Training rules were somewhat lax. Manager Charles “Buck” Herzog had only three, according to the Cincinnati Post [22 March 1916]:
“No smoking in the clubhouse or while in uniform. Don’t drink in crowds. Don’t smoke two cigarets in succession.”
The 1916 season was also noteworthy in that three managers led the club that year. It took three managers, it must be noted, to pilot the Reds to seventh place. The Reds have only employed three managers in a season five times, 1902, 1916, 1934, 1952 and 2003.
The third of those managers, Christy Mathewson, was acquired mid-season in an unusual trade. In late July, the Reds sent manager Buck Herzog and an outfielder named Wade Killefer to the New York Giants. In return, they got Mathewson, who was winding down a Hall-of-Fame playing career. Although Mathewson pitched a single game for the Reds in 1916, he was really hired to become the team’s manager. In addition to Mathewson, the Reds got Bill McKechnie, who later became a Reds manager, and outfielder Ed Roush. According to Cincinnati baseball historian Greg Rhodes, this is the only time in baseball history that three Hall of Famers were traded in a single deal.
In addition to Buck Herzog and Chrsity Mathewson, the third manager for the 1916 Cincinnati Reds was catcher Ivey Wingo, who took the helm for a double-header with Philadelphia on 20 July 1916 while Herzog and Mathewson were in transit. Wingo’s Reds won one game and lost the other.
The year began with the Reds in contract talks. Fans were nervous because ace pitcher Fred Toney was a holdout. As spring training loomed, Toney was nowhere in sight and the fans were dreading an opening day without their ace. Rumor had it that Toney wanted $6,000 to show up, a huge increase over his 1915 salary of $4,000. Toney eventually signed, according to the newspapers, at some amount that was higher than $4,000 and considerably lower than $6,000. Toney posted the best ERA among Reds pitchers that year—2.28—but won only 14 games, while losing 17, including Opening Day.
Toney’s real claim to fame occurred the next year. On 2 May 1917, in a game against the Chicago Cubs, Toney and opposing pitcher “Hippo” Vaughn both pitched flawless no-hitters for the first nine innings. The Reds scored in the 10th inning while Toney retired the Cubs in order. Under the rules in place at the time, both pitchers received credit for a no-hitter, the only “double no-hitter” in major league history.
As noted, the Reds finished 7th out of 8 teams in the National League in 1916. This was not unusual. The Cincinnati team had ended up in last place or second-last for much of the previous five years. If the fans thought of 1916 as a “rebuilding” year, they could be forgiven. The next three years saw rapid improvement. The team finished 1917 in 4th place, 1918 in 3rd, and 1919 as National League and World Series champions.
Still, in the balmy spring of 1916, it appeared that the Cincinnati Reds were heading toward another lackluster year. Although ticket sales for opening day on 12 April suggested a record crowd of 25,000 or more at Redland Field, the Cincinnati Post found one reprobate who adamantly refused to attend, even when offered a free ticket.
Adam R. Renaker, a clerk at the Union Central Life Insurance Company, was discovered when the Village Gossip columnist of the Cincinnati Post printed an appeal to find an American-born Cincinnatian who had never seen a Reds game and had no intention of doing so. Mr. Renaker, who lived in Covington but worked in Cincinnati, fit the bill. He told the Post [12 April 1916]:
“I don’t want to see those Reds. I have lived here 10 years and I haven’t seen them play and don’t want to. And I like baseball. I love to see good amateurs play, but I bar those Reds. I might be induced to go to Redland Field when the Reds win a pennant, but i will be too old by then. I suppose this town is baseball mad today. If that is so, I am proud to be one of the few sane ones.”
The Post tried tempting Adam Renaker with a box-seat ticket worth $1.25 in 1916. That would be equivalent to $27.50 in today’s dollars, approximately the price of nosebleed seats in the outfield these days. Today’s $257 seats behind home plate would have cost under $12 in 1916.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities