In early June 1938, Johnny Vander Meer was an unknown 23-year-old lefthander with a live fastball. After tossing back-to-back no-hitters—first against Boston at Crosley Field, then four days later against the Dodgers in Brooklyn—he was a national celebrity. Hailed as a “Vander Miracle,” he received offers to endorse everything from breakfast foods to clothespins. Vander Meer turned down $1,000 to appear on Rudy Vallee’s radio program. He went fishing instead.
In 1961, the lovable “Ragamuffin Reds” shocked the league by capturing Cincinnati’s first pennant in more than two decades. The Reds—led by National League MVP Frank Robinson, hard-hitting Vada Pinson, and young hurler Joey Jay—took control of the race with a doubleheader sweep of the Dodgers before 72,140 fans at the LA Coliseum. The season ended with a raucous celebration downtown, featuring liquid soap in the Tyler Davidson Fountain and a man tumbling through a candy store window.
Return of the(Hit) King
Riverfront Stadium’s atmosphere was electric on August 17, 1984: Pete Rose had returned after five-plus years in exile, and Rose-mania consumed the city. The game was delayed to accommodate all the walkup ticket buyers, and by the time Rose stepped in for his first at-bat, the crowd was in a frenzy. Rose responded by lacing a pitch into the gap, tearing around the bases, and finishing with his trademark head-first slide into third base. Cincinnati had its hometown hero back.
When Billy Bates first entered the Reds clubhouse in September 1990, some of his new teammates mistook him for a clubhouse attendant. A month later, the 5-foot-7-inch Bates, known mostly for racing a cheetah in an on-field promotion, was called upon to pinch-hit in Game Two of the World Series. He delivered with a single—his first hit as a Red—off Oakland’s fearsome Dennis Eckersley, and ultimately scored the winning run. Bates never played in another MLB game.