People seem to like retro things a lot these days. Retro styles, retro cars, retro clothes, or at the very least, imitations of things that are retro. Even in sports, a lot of spectators seem to pine for the older times they presume were better. So today, I'm going to adhere to that demand. I'm going retro back, Back, BACK!!! All the way back to the founding of Major League Baseball! You want retro? I'm giving you the very first team in the history of Major League Baseball! The first team, in fact, in the history of professional sports in North America!
The original team here was the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and in fact they go back even further than their official founding year of 1869. 1869 was merely the year the went professional. They were actually started in 1863. Upon going professional in 1869, though, the Red Stockings proceeded to win 130 straight games throughout 1869 and 1870 before they were finally beat by the Brooklyn Atlantics. They had star players too, even way back during these early days: Harry and George Wright, Fred Waterman, and Asa Brainard. You would think such an incredible run - that loss to the Atlantics was decided by a single run in eleven innings and was their only loss, ever - would be a precursor to bigger, better things, but the team randomly dissolved in 1870. The Red Stockings name made its way to Boston in 1871, where a new team featuring some of the Cincinnati team stars became the Boston Red Stockings, who eventually became the Boston Braves en route to turning into today's Atlanta Braves. (I know, you thought I was going to say they became the Boston Red Sox, didn't you?) A new Cincinnati Red Stockings team was formed in 1876, though, when it became one of the charter members of the National League. THAT team was expelled for violating primitive rules that weren't even on the books; they had the gall to serve beer at their park and (GASP!) play baseball on Sundays.
Third time is the charm. A third team with that very same name was created in 1881, and that one became a founding member of the American Association. They played in the American Association for nine seasons, winning the Pennant in 1882. The 1882 team still holds the record for the highest winning percentage - .688 - of any team the Cincinnati Reds ever fielded. In 1890, the Red Stockings joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in bolting for the National League, dropping the "Stockings" part of their name in the process. They made the move because a lot of their stars jumped to the new Players' League, maybe the earliest attempt to break the notorious reserve clause. The Players' League wasn't around very long, but it did weaken both of its competing leagues, so the team accepted an invitation from the National League to drop in. On the field, the team was stuck playing with older veteran players, and they never finished above third place.
The turn of the century wasn't a whole lot kinder to the Reds. Although Cy Seymour won the 1905 batting title, they still spent most of the century in the second division. It wasn't until the latter half of the 10's that the Reds were able to start lifting themselves into respectability. Hitting stars like Edd Roush and Heinie Groh and pitchers like Hod Eller and Slim Sallee brought the Reds their first whiff of real glory in 1919, when Cincinnati won the Pennant. Now, the 1919 Cincinnati Reds are actually a historically underrated squad. They won 96 games to the 88 games won by their opponents, the Chicago White Sox, and Dolf Luque's 2.63 ERA as a pitcher was the worst in the rotation. Their deep and talented staff would be a great advantage in a World Series which had been extended from seven games to nine. Still, they were expected to get rocked by Chicago, with the league's best player in Joe Jackson, the only third baseman Ty Cobb was afraid to bunt at in Buck Weaver, a 29-game winner leading the pitching rotation, and a pioneering use of batter-specific positioning when the other team was at bat. To everyone's shock, the Reds rose to the occasion and put the White Sox away, winning five games to Chicago's three!
Or did they? As early as the World Series itself, people began to smell something funny when they saw the White Sox players making bush league errors which everyone knew they were above and beyond. The worst of peoples' suspicions turned out to be the truth: The 1919 World Series was fixed. It wasn't any of the Reds' fault, mind you; most of the blame can be indirectly laid at the feet of Charlie Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox and one of the worst penny-pinchers in the history of the league. The direct blame can be put on eight players who conspired to throw the Series after getting pissed off at Comiskey. The scandal nearly ruined baseball, and it put a tint on what should have been a euphoric moment for the Reds. The result of the 1919 World Series, however fixed, still stands as a victory for Cincinnati.
It also turned out to be their apex for some time. The Reds moved back into the second division for the remainder of the 20's, and they were bankrupt by 1931 thanks to the Great Depression. Powel and Lewis Crosley bought the team out of bankruptcy in 1933 and hired the legendary Larry MacPhail as their general manager in order to develop the farm system. In the meantime, the organization started pioneering again. In the 30's, the Reds were the first team to host a night game (I could have sworn this particular honor went to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I think I mentioned that in my review of them. Peter Golenbock may have some explaining to do), the Crosleys started the team's flagship station with WLW, and their pitcher Johnny Vander Meer was the only pitcher to ever throw two no-hitters back to back. The team started getting better in the late 30's, and in 1939 they were Pennant winners again. They were swept in the World Series by the Yankees, but that didn't slow them down. They won the 1940 Pennant too, and then won the World Series by beat the Detroit Tigers in seven games.
It was a good thing those Reds struck when they did too, because age was catching up to their players by 1940. That was going to be detrimental as it was, but World War II also came up and threw everything off the rails. The Reds were ruined again, back in the second division. (I'm sensing a pattern here.) The ruination continued into the 50's. They had a player named Ted Kluszewski lead the league in home runs in 1954, which might have meant something had the rest of the team not been populated by people who were either too old or too young. Also during 1954, the Reds changed their name to the Redlegs because it was the Red Scare and people were seeing communists everywhere the same way… Well, the same way people to the extreme right do now. In 1956, the Reds signed rookie Frank Robinson, who was a real boon because he made the team good enough for people to want to pay to see. It was a big deal at the time, because there had been talks for some time of moving the Reds.
Frank Robinson was getting serious help by 1961 with players like Vada Pinson, Wally Post, Gordy Coleman, Gene Freese, Joey Jay, Jim O'Toole, and Bob Purkey. They also decided it was safe to call themselves the Reds again that year. It was a good sign, and the Reds captured another Pennant, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants only to lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series. In the 60's, the Reds were good, and I mean GOOD. It was just that other teams were better. They fielded a 98-game winner in 1962, which was good enough for third. In 1964, they managed to briefly steal first place when the Philadelphia Phillies started to collapse, but lost it to the Saint Louis Cardinals. Manager Fred Hutchinson of that 1964 club was tragically dead because of cancer just weeks after the season ended, and afterward, a lot of the team's key members were sold because the owner was now anticipating relocation. In 1965, after the season, he traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and outfielder Dick Simpson. He thought Robinson might be done, but when Robinson won the MVP, Triple Crown, and World Series, it's a sure bet the owner had a few regrets. That trade is considered one of the most lopsided in baseball history.
The Reds needed time to recover from the Robinson trade. In the 60's, their farm system began bearing fruit, and in 1967, new general manager Bob Howsam was appointed. Talent started popping up everywhere: Gary Nolan. Dave Concepcion. Tommy Helms. Tony Perez. Pete Rose. Johnny Bench. In 1970, a little-known third base coach named George Anderson was hired as the team's new manager. "Sparky" made a big difference, getting the Reds to the World Series, where they ran out of gas against the Orioles in five games. 1971 was a write-off, though, but the Reds loaded up again for the following season with Joe Morgan and George Foster.
In 1972, the Reds made it back to the World Series, only to lose to the Oakland Athletics. In 1973 and 1974, they were a real threat. And in 1975, the Reds became a great juggernaut, or a well-oiled machine as it were. The team that came up came to be known as The Big Red Machine, and they dominated through their 108 wins, taking them to the Pennant, and then a classic World Series against the Boston Red Sox, which many baseball fans and insiders continue to argue as possibly the most exciting World Series ever played. The Reds took it in seven games, then returned to the World Series in 1976 to terrorize the Yankees, sweeping them. The Big Red Machine is considered the best ever fielded by the Reds, and in baseball discussions about the top teams ever, anyone who waves off the 1975 Reds in particular is not a real baseball fan.
The final year of The Big Red Machine had ended on that high note, which was good because all great dynasties end someday. For The Big Red Machine, that someday arrived the very next season. They started unloading, and they even got rid of Cincinnati native Pete Rose after 1978. In Rose's last season, he challenged Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, going on an incredible streak which ran for 44 games for second-best. Chaos started ruling the team, and while Cincinnati had the best overall record in baseball for the 1981 season, that season was divided into two halves and the Reds finished in second in both of them. By 1982, the mighty Machine was gone, and the Reds lost 100 games. A year later, Johnny Bench retired.
Howsam returned in 1983, and the Reds did improve with him back at general manager. In 1984, he brought back Pete Rose to be a player/manager. Howsam was gone again soon and replaced by Bill Bergesch, who kept building. With Bergesch and Rose in charge, the Reds finished second four times from 1985 to 1989. Rose became baseball's all-time hits leader during this era, but I should also mention right now that Rose is a bastard of a human being. He got in trouble for racist remarks he never apologized for, kept mistresses in every city, and there's a lot of other dirt by all accounts. But he also had this minor gambling problem. See, after the 1919 World Series, baseball instituted a zero-tolerance policy toward gambling to avoid fixes. Now, ballplayers can do as many drugs as they please, get totally drunk, have 50 kids with 50 different women, and they're fine. That's their problem. But "NO GAMBLING" is the sacred rule of baseball. Every season, the rookies have to go to a special meeting which tells them not to gamble. The rule is literally embossed in every locker room so players never forget. So far, its been an effective deterrent. Over the years, there have been a handful of problem figures whom the league has felt the need to sternly talk to because of their connections with this gangster or for betting on other sports. If you're caught gambling on BASEBALL, however, that's different. If you get caught gambling on a game you're IN, you're out of baseball for life. I guess Pete Rose was sick when they tried to tell him that. He gambled, evaded taxes, and lied about everything. There have been lots of players who haven't been able to return to baseball after bad incidents, but those were silent agreements at best. Rose was banned by executive order.
Rose was a real dick about it for a long time too. He denied, then when he saw he wasn't going to get reinstated to receive his Hall of Fame jacket, he wrote a tell-all. He flopped with that confession, then flopped in promoting it. Even his most ardent defenders have given up on him. Now, I make no secret of the fact that there are a lot of transgressions I'm willing to overlook in athletes. I'm with Charles Barkley when he says athletes shouldn't be role models. But Rose's particular form of gambling involved shady bookies with possible mob connections, which means that had things gone south, other peoples' lives could have been in danger. He should stay the hell out of the Hall of Fame, save an exhibit about people who have disgraced baseball. There are people who believe exception should be made for Rose because he's the all-time hits leader. I say nuts to that. As my father says, dem's da rules. Pete Rose knew the rules. He knew the consequences. He did it anyway.
So back to the narrative. In 1990, the Reds hired a new manager named Lou Piniella, a hero of the Yankees' Bronx Zoo teams from the 70's, and also a guy who had managed the Yankees from 1986 to 1988, becoming one of The Boss's famous managerial casualties. He wasn't expected to do a lot of damage, but he took his squad on a wire to wire run, after which they swept the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. Piniella was replaced in 1993 by Tony Perez, who in turn was succeeded by the great Davey Johnson. Unfortunately, team owner Marge Schott wasn't a politically correct person. In fact, she was an outright bigot who believed Hitler was initially good for Germany at first, called black ballplayers "million dollar (n-words)" without the censorship, and didn't understand why "Jap" is a slur. (To be fair to her, though, I didn't realize myself that "Jap" was a slur until a couple of years ago. I had thought it was just a shorthand way of referring to Japanese people. I quickly corrected my manner of speaking after learning otherwise.) She was also a penny-pincher who didn't even hire scouts. Davey Johnson was fired because Schott didn't believe men and women should live together before marriage, no matter how good he was as manager. She was eventually banned for pro-Hitler remarks, which resulted in her selling her controlling interest in the team in 1999.
The Reds fell on hard times since Johnson left. They've been shit for most of the millennium, although they've been turning as of late. They won their division in 2010 and 2012 and are looking strong.
The Reds have fielded a lot of Hall of Fame players like Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, and Joe Morgan. They have nine retired numbers, not including Jackie Robinson. However, they have surprisingly few Hall of Famers who are exclusively in the Hall based solely on their contributions to the Reds. Twelve covers the number, and most of them aren't A-list players. Edd Roush? You've never heard of him until you read this. George and Harry Wright, Bill McKechnie? Who are these guys? You've heard of Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Sparky Anderson. Maybe Tony Perez. Bench is possibly the greatest catcher in league history.
The Reds share some serious rivalries in their division, especially with the Saint Louis Cardinals. But they also once shared an Ohio rivalry with the Cleveland Indians, competing for an arbitrary award with them called the Ohio Cup. It stopped in 1997 with the start of interleague play, but started again in 2008.
The Reds try to promote the image of the good, wholesome, picket fence America. For decades, they instituted strict rules about hair length, facial hair, and uniforms. Those rules have provided controversy, even though the New York Yankees have abided by the same rules for almost their entire existence. There was one incident in the 80's in which the Reds could have picked up pitcher Rollie Fingers, but when they told him he had to shave his famous mustache, he told them to go fuck themselves. The Reds took a pass on him. Sparky Anderson in particular enforced the rules with an iron fist because the image the Reds were using them to promote was the image of the America he had grown up knowing and believing in. Cincinnati's 1972 World Series against the Oakland Athletics was called Hairs vs. Squares, because it was such a theatrical example of the older, traditional ways of the Reds against the wild, free-spirited Athletics, who were an emblem of the countercultural rebellion which had shifted the mainstream in the 60's.
The Reds have a lot of incredible moments. There's that World Series against the Boston Red Sox, of course, featuring a sixth game which is universally considered the most exciting World Series game ever played. When a Red Sox player made it to first base in game six, him and Pete Rose reportedly had a brief chat in which Rose called the game the most fun game he ever played in. There was the Nasty Boys crew of 1990. I find it a hell of a coincidence that the Reds were involved in the 1919 World Series, which was the reason for baseball's gambling crackdown, directly resulted in one of their greatest and most beloved players getting banned for life.
The existence of the Cincinnati Reds is history itself. Unfortunately, Cincinnati is a small Rust Belt city which is on the downside, declining, and rapidly losing its population, which means the team is going to keep being a target of movement rumors. The team's fans are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable in baseball. The Reds could eventually end up moving one day, if things in Cincinnati get that bad. I hope that day never comes, because with everything the Cincinnati Reds have in their past, it would be a travesty for them to become the Portland Reds or the San Antonio Reds.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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