What is the history of the Reds?

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Answered by: Molly, An Expert in the History Category
When I first told my dad I was looking into the History of the Reds, I thought he’d be interested. We’re Cincinnatians, born and bred in Mt. Healthy, we know all about Cincinnati, Skyline, the Reds, Union Terminal, the parks, the museums, the architecture, that general, Cincinnatus, but I was not prepared for what my father had to tell me about the history of the Reds.

Honestly, if you ever wanted to know a detail, a fact, any piece of information, you could turn to anyone on the streets of Cincinnati and get an answer. They might not always remember the correct year, or they might get the parks confused, but that’s what makes Cincinnati so interesting-the fact that we don’t always get it right, but we’re somewhere in the ballpark. Why is that, you might ask? Well, it’s because we’ve done so much, we’ve had so much occur and start, end and re-start, fizzle out and take off, and one of the things that has such a detailed history is the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Beginning in 1863, though not official until 1869, the Red Stockings are the first authentic baseball team in the United States of America. I’m sorry, what year is it now? 2013. The Cincinnati Reds/Red Stockings have been around for 150 years, so I think it’s okay if we get a few details wrong, when divulging the history of our team. The Red Stockings, although the first team, lost in 1870 to the Brooklyn Athletics, 8-7 in the 11th inning for the second championship game.

Walter Camp writes in Century Magazine, “A crowd of ten thousand people assembled to witness this match, and so lost their heads in the excitement as to give the Western men a very unfair reception.” What happened in this championship game is probably a precursor to our own explosive hubris for our teams, today. After their loss, the Red Stockings decided to call it quits, losing their name to the Boston Red Sox, and many of their players to teams they’d played against. In 1876, the Red Stockings, reclaiming their name, joined with the National League, but were immediately tossed out due to their rule-breaking (though these rules were not actually in effect at the time), by providing beer for their patrons and using their park on a Sunday. In 1881, the Red Stockings were a founding team for the American division, but despite winning the pennant in 1882, the Red Stockings decided to rejoin the National League, because they felt it was the stronger of the two divisions.

Their first few years with the National League, the Red Stockings became the Reds, Bob Bescher stole 81 bases, which is still a team record, and Cy Seymour had a .377 batting average. Though they were gaining ground as a team, the Reds were not number one in the league, but with the opening of Redland Field (Crosley Field), and a new manager, the Reds sparked up, and they won the National League pennant in 1919, and beat the Chicago White Sox for the Championship. Instead of having this be a time of great excitement for the Reds and Cincinnati, it was discovered that gambling had grown so large in baseball, that some Chicago players were accused of intentionally losing the game, in what is known as the “Black Sox” scandal.

It made the Reds feel like they hadn’t won the game for the right reasons and their own athletic prowess was not up to par. Their playing was no longer the same; there was a loss of luster, and to go with it, their team was bankrupt, in 1931, along with the rest of the U.S., due to the Great Depression. Thankfully, some engineering brothers helped out their team, and bought Redland Field-these brothers are the Crosley’s. We can thank these brothers and the general manager, Larry MacPhail, for the Reds’ spark coming back; a minor league starting under the Reds, the first night game ever played, in 1935, and Johnny Vander Meer, the first professional player to throw back-to-back no hitters. In 1941, the Reds won the championship over the Detroit Tigers, after twenty one years of failure.

During World War II, the Reds were playing with kids and men too old for the league. Joe Nuxhall, at 15, is and probably always will be the youngest player in Major League Baseball, from Hamilton, Ohio. For a time, the Reds changed their names to the Redlegs, because of the Communist scare. In 1957, fans loved the Reds so much, they stuffed the ballot boxes, where they voted for Reds to play in the All Star Game, in which seven Reds were voted, thus banning voting until the 70s. Teams were moving around, and there was a threat that the Reds would be traded to New York, but that was short-lived. The Reds won a multitude of games in the 60s, making them formidable, but they wouldn’t hit their peak until Bob Howsam became their general manager and they said goodbye to Crosley Field in 1970, when they moved into the Riverfront Stadium.


An interesting reality is the rule against excessive hair the Red Stockings’ general manager, Bob Howsam, in the 70s placed on the players. This meant no facial hair, and definitely no long hair. But, that rule was disestablished in 1999, and was only meant to keep the team’s image traditional and wholesome, although it did cost them some pretty good athletes, such as Rollie Fingers, who would not give up his handlebar mustache. Along with the rule about hair, another rule was actually relieved, and athletes could start wearing brand names and getting contracts for publically endorsing a product.

Along with the lack of hair, new product endorsements, and the key to begin winning again, the Reds traded some of their aging athletes and accepted National League wins, and trips to Championships, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey, Gary Nolan, and a slew of amazing athletes. Now, the Reds were a machine, winning consistently. In 1975, the Reds won their first championship game in thirty five years, against the Boston Red Sox. Despite the history with the Reds, and the rivalry against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, Pete Rose joined them, playing against his old team, helping the Phillies win their first ever World Series in 1980.

Now that teams were trading and growing, the Reds joined them, armed with an anger over Pete Rose’s betrayal, and a devastating season. They needed new blood, and dropped veterans for younger, cheaper blood. This strategy did not work, and the Reds fell even lower in their division. Wagner, as team manager, was replaced by Bob Howsam, the original leader of the Big Red Machine, and the Reds perked up. Though Howsam brought them back up, he let Bill Bergesh take over, with help from Pete Rose, and the team came in second four years in a row, but controversies were getting out of hand. Pete Rose was thrown out, and Marge Schott, the owner, was accused of racism. The late 80s was biting the Reds in the ass, despite the actual playing, which was amazing: Tom Browning threw a perfect game, and Chris Sabo was given the title of Rookie of the Year for the National League (1988).

Now, despite the controversies, and thankfully to the players, the 90s brought about one of the most exciting decades for the Reds, since they began. In 1994, the Reds became part of the National League Central Division, and were a game ahead of the Astros when the 1994 Strike started. The strike was in response to another financial breakdown in baseball, where a proposed salary cap for players was received with severity-the World Series was cancelled, along with almost 948 games, in total. I mean, exciting in that things are happening, but that doesn’t necessarily mean good things. Marge Schott gets more involved, replacing manager Davey Johnson with her friend Ray Knight, who plummeted the Reds down. After Knight was replaced, the Reds contended for playoffs, but were beaten by the Mets by one game, ending the season. The Reds made a small comeback, and Riverfront became Cinergy, which would become the Great American Ballpark.

Opening Day, 2006, saw George W. Bush throw out the first pitch, though this didn’t help the Reds very much, either. Now, we love the Reds, and we understand the history, and through what I’ve researched and heard from my dad, more and more information just pops up seemingly out of nowhere. Apparently, in St. Nichols Hotel (which is no longer there), a dispute between the American League and National League was resolved, by August “Garry” Hermann, owner of the Reds. He played host to all the owners of the American and National league teams, in what is sometimes referred to as the Cincinnati Peace Settlement.

They worked out an agreement, which included the establishment of the World Series. There would be no more of a power struggle under one united league-Major League Baseball- and Hermann is thus known as the Father of the World Series. That is the history of the Cincinnati Reds, and my own father has been sending me emails, links, and popping in with more facts than I know what to do with. If you want more fun facts, get in touch.

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