Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baseball at Crosley Field

Summers on Sander Street:  Baseball at Crosley Field

The old home field of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds from 1912 through 1970, was located on the west side of town  at the Findlay and Western intersection, what is today the Queensgate section, just off I-75 South at the Western Avenue Exit.  

Mid-season, June 24, 1970, the team moved to Riverfront Stadium, and old Crosley Field, built in 1884, was demolished. 

I’m one of the lucky ones to remember watching games played there with my father, mostly during the late 1940s and early ‘50s,  before I became a roaming inner-city teenager. 

I especially remember the night games with Dad, including the dark walks home over the lonesome inner-city streets, where my father would be either happy and joking for the win or quiet because our team lost. We always lived within walking distance of downtown, even if some of our homes were a mile or so away through old Over-the-Rhine streets. 

The night games were magical for me.  I remember the cool night air in the stands and the cold Coke in my hands, the hotdogs and popcorn, the strangely illuminated field and the dazzling bleached white of the players’uniforms. 
 Crosley's lights are visible in this photo, taken in the late 1940s.

 In 1948, I was just a little girl, when my favorite baseball star  was called up to start as first baseman, Ted Kluszewski.   Over the next few years, I watched “Big Klu” rise to super stardom.  It was a thrilling time in baseball, never to be recaptured.

                                                   Kluszewski showing his famous short sleeves

The Reds’ office didn’t like it a lot when Kluszewski cut the too-tight sleeves off his uniform, so he could bat freely, but there wasn’t much anyone could do about it.  When people got a look at those huge biceps, it was plain that this was one strong batter.  He told a reporter, “It was either that or change my swing—and I wasn’t about to change my swing.” 

When Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame manager, was asked to name five of the strongest players in baseball, he did not include Kluszewski, and when later asked why not, he answered, “Kluszewski? I’m talking about human beings!”  (

An added fact about Big Klu, that I could personally brag about among my friends, was that he lived in the same subdivision, Kennedy Heights, as my Uncle Buford on my Mom’s side.  When we visited my uncle’s house for family occasions, it was a thrill just to know I was in my hero’s neighborhood.

If my father wasn’t sitting in the stadium for home games, he was glued to the TV at home with his Hudepohl beer.  It wasn’t as much fun watching the games on television as sitting in the stands, but in my house that’s what was playing.

Another favorite player during the 1950s, of course, was left-handed pitcher, Joe Nuxhall, a local from Hamilton, Ohio. He was only 15 years old when he broke into big league baseball with the Reds, for one game only, on June 10, 1944.  This was during World War II, when players were scarce.  Joe came back to the Reds in 1952 as a permanent player.

I think I remember Joe more as announcer for 40 years, beginning in 1967, when he retired as a player.  That was the same year Johnny Bench came to the team, whom my father loved, along with every other Cincinnati fan. 

I believe we kids had more Johnny Bench paraphernalia and shirts than any other Reds player, including Pete Rose.  Dad began working a second job for the Reds and was known to bring home pennants, bats, pictures, calendars, shirts, and whatever else he could get hold of for the kids and grandkids.  I still have the red Johnny Bench bat somewhere.  I wish I still had my Bench gray shirt.  One year I got a ladies Reds hat, kind of a bonnet-type thing.  It became faded in the sun when I wore it, and now wish I’d kept it safe in the plastic.  You do crazy stuff when you’re young.  At least I did.

By this time, the late ‘60s, Sander Street was just a memory, Dad having moved the family to Mt. Auburn in 1957, and then to Klotter Avenue, back in the Clifton neighborhood, in 1963, the same year hometown boy Pete Rose joined the Reds and won Rookie of the Year. 

Imagine my surprise when Dad informed me of the new start's name that year, and I recalled one of my Catholic high school classmates, Karolyn Englehardt, going steady with Pete Rose. Sure enough, when I saw Karolyn on TV and in the news, I knew it was her.  Her personality was unmistakable.  

I followed Pete's story along throughout his career...and the end of his career.  And I always thought of Karolyn riding the city bus home from school every day, swaying back and forth in middle of the aisle, leading us in singing late '50s hit songs. 

Free and happy times, good memories of being young and loving the excitement.  But the thrills end sometimes in divorce, as both she and I experienced. She married a baseball star; I married a blues musician.      We both grew up one day in different parts of the country.

The Reds continued playing Crosley Field until two years after I moved to Tennessee in 1968.  I knew there was talk of  building a new stadium, but it was still a shock when I heard it was final.  There were so many memories for us.  Old Cincinnati was changing.  The building of Riverfront was one of the first reminders. 

And I was living in Tennessee.  I felt I was losing my sense of home.

The mid-‘50s, when Dad was taking me to the ball games, Crosley Field had already began its decline, mostly  due to its location in the dense West End.  The field was bounded on three sides by factories, and with the increase of automobiles as the new main mode of transportation, parking was a huge factor. 

Additionally, the West End was a major crime area, especially for night games.  We could see the changes in the landscape, the slow deterioration of the city streets, walking home from downtown and West End.  But I guess we just figured everything would stay the same in these old neighborhoods both my father and I had grown up in. 

And there were other factors which demanded the need for a new home for the Reds, including the Bengals football team being granted an American Football League franchise, with the reservation that an appropriate facility be built by the start of the 1970 season.  

The Reds then agreed to build a new stadium on the city’s dilapidated riverfront section, and plans were in place for the last game at Crosley Field. 

The last home game on September 28, 1969, against the Houston Astros was to be the final game at Crosley, but delays in Riverfront’s construction caused the Reds to open the 1970 season in the old location against the Montreal Expos.  New team additions included manager Sparky Anderson and shortstop Dave Concepción.

The last game ended up being on June 24, 1970, against the San Francisco Giants, which the Reds won, and then fans watched mayor Gene Ruehlmann take home plate out of the ground at Crosley and transport it by helicopter, which landed on the field, to Riverfront Stadium and then install it in the new turf.

The first game at Riverfront was on June 30, 1970, against the Atlanta Braves, and the Reds lost 8-2, with Hank Aaron hitting the first ever home run at Riverfront.

Today, Crosley's old left field is now a parking lot, and one can still see the “terrace” area there, next to York Street, probably one of the most famous Crosley Field features. 

Notorious Left Field Terrace ~            

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