A Cincinnati Life

John M. Lane

                  Growing up in Cincinnati and being the son of an ardent baseball fan, it was only natural that I would also become a baseball fan in general, but a Cincinnati Reds fan. 

                  For me, the Reds were, as for most people in Cincinnati when I was growing up, the only game in town. In the late 50s and early 60s, the National Football League was not yet the all-powerful juggernaut it is now; Even then, it was becoming a Sunday afternoon fall television staple. Cincinnati would not become blessed with the Bengals until 1968. I did begin to develop an interest in College Football in the mid-60s. I followed “UC,” the University of Cincinnati. I would later attend a university and am a proud graduate. 

               I knew who the best Reds players were, and I followed them closely: Frank Robinson, Jim O’Toole, Joey Jay, Vada Pinson, and a 1963 rookie named Pete Rose. The Reds ballpark, Crosley Field, was a hallowed, magical place. I can recall attending at least six games there in my youth. The highlight remains sitting in the right-field bleachers for a twilight game with my father,  passing on his appreciation of the game to me. As I recall, my first impression, walking through the seating tunnel opening, was how green the field was. Everything was perfect, the foul lines, the dugouts, the “bullpen,” and the pitchers’ mound. The “Sun Deck,” the name for the right-field bleachers, did not have seats; there were backless benches only. I anxiously sat during the game, with my glove, waiting for a home run to come my way, trying to enjoy every scene. It was sensory overload. My paternal grandfather was also a big baseball fan. He bought me my first baseball glove, mentioned above, and I used it until I wore it out.  Summers always included sitting in the backyard or front porch with my father and grandfather, with a soft drink, listening to Waite Hoyt describing Frank Robinson driving another home run off the left-field screen on WLW.

             My first World Series as a Reds fan was in 1961. It was a different time with different values. From the beginning of the tradition, all World Series games took place in the day, in early October. The Reds and the Yankees, won their league pennants with the best won-lost records in the National and American Leagues. Baseball had no divisions, playoffs, and “wild-cards,” The regular season rewarded excellence. My Reds lost to the powerful Yankees dynasty (five straight American League pennants, 1960-1964) four games to one, and a fourth-grader was heartbroken. So began my life-long hatred of the New York Yankees.

           Throughout the 60s, the Reds remained contenders, and I stayed a fan. In 1970, Crosley Field closed, and the Reds moved to the new Riverfront Stadium, built in the same “cookie-cutter” model of other multi-purpose stadiums in St. Louis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. As the Sparky Anderson era began in 1970, the Reds won their “division” and the National League Championship series. In the 1970 World Series, the last one played entirely in daylight; the Reds lost to the Frank Robinson-led Orioles four games to one. Robinson had been traded from the Reds to Baltimore in 1966, in one of the worst trades ever.  The 70s, however, would be the most significant era in Reds history. The Reds gave tickets to “straight A” students with parents during this time (they still did, as recently as 2019). My sisters (I was not a “straight A” student) and my father spent a lot of time in the “red” seats of Riverfront Stadium watching a great team play. Going to Riverfront Stadium was not a great baseball experience for me or most fans. Riverfront had Red, Green, Yellow and Blue seats, no pennants, quirky signs, no screens, and no “Sun Deck” (my favorite were the blue seats). After it opened in 1970 through the decade of the 70s, what made it acceptable was that the Reds won consistently. Winning made the sterile atmosphere (compared to Crosley Field) forgettable.

          The Reds won the National League pennant in 1972, 1975, and 1976. In 1975 and 1976, the Reds also won the World Series. Experts consider the 1975 victory over the Boston Red Sox to be the most outstanding World Series ever played. My dorm floor lost two nights of study and preparation because of games six and seven of that World Series. In 1976, the Reds swept the Yankees, four games to zero, and established the 1976 Reds, in many baseball historians’ eyes, as the most outstanding team of all time. Check the records and statistics; they speak for themselves. During this era, the Reds could draw 45,000 to 50,000 people for Saturday evening games in August. The Reds fan base stretched across Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee and, because they were a dominant team, the Reds also had a national following. I was in the service and college at that time. Televised games were not familiar then. It did not matter; I preferred Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall anyway. I can recall returning to Fort Riley, Kansas from Cincinnati, listening to Marty and Joe call a Reds game, while driving through western Missouri and eastern Kansas, on WLW. That is how strong WLW’s signal was in the early 70s. 

                      During the 1980s, baseball’s new economics slowly caught up with the Reds, and the Pete Rose gambling scandal certainly did not help. In 1990 the Reds improbably won the World Series, dominating the more powerful Oakland Athletics in a four-game sweep. Since 1990, the Reds had a playoff appearance in 1995 and three playoff appearances in the early 21st century. On-field success has been minimal at best. Three different ownership groups have failed to put together consistently winning organizations. The Reds current park, opened in 2003, has tried to duplicate Crosley Field’s experience with 21st-century amenities. Other than the vertical upper deck red seating, they have, for the most part, succeeded (except for the prices).

Photo by Garret Schappacher on Pexels.com

                  I still occasionally watch the game; this year’s World Series was especially intriguing, despite the games ending around midnight. For me, the spark has gone out. Baseball, however, remains eternal. On the field, the game takes place essentially as it always has been between the white lines. In the end, I return to the backyard or the front porch with my father and grandfather, drinking a soft drink, listening to Waite Hoyt as Frank Robinson drives another home run off the left-field screen. 

Intellectual Property of John M. Lane Copyright@J.M. Lane  – cannot be reproduced or copied without permission.                

4 Replies to “A Cincinnati Life”

  1. Summers in Cincinnati during the 1970’s was all about the Reds. I can still name the Line up of the ‘The Big Red Machine’. Enjoyed this post and the memories it triggered.


  2. Mr. Lane,
    This is Jake Langguth from Covington Latin. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your memories of being a Reds fan. A few months ago, I attended a game and sat in the bleachers. While there I struck up a conversation with a 50 year old stranger sitting next to me. Throughout the game, we shared various stories of what it has been like to have the Reds as a constant in our lives. I shared stories of going to the Reds Hall of Fame every spring break with my grandpa, getting woken up to celebrate the 2010 divisional clinch home run after I had kept the standings on a white board for much of the season, and where we both were when Todd Frazier won the Home Run Derby. He talked about how he and his friends get season tickets every year and drive down from Dayton, with one paying for gas, one driving, and one paying for parking. It can be amazing how much baseball can leave a mark on people and bring people together.


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