MTM Cincinnati: Major League’s Oldest Team

In 1869, an amateur baseball team did something no other athletic team had done in American history:  They got paid.  That year, the Cincinnati Reds became the first professional baseball team.  Known as the Red Stockings back then, they had actually been in existence since 1866, the year after the Civil War.  In other words, they’ve been around about as long as the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

The Red Stockings became charter members of the American Association, one of the original major leagues, in 1882, but defected to the National League in 1890.

Shortly after the 1870 season, many of the Red Stockings’ best players relocated to Boston to become the Boston Red Stockings.  The Cincinnat team carried on, keeping the name and forcing the Boston team to adopt the name “Pilgrims” and later “Red Sox.”  During the 1890’s, the team shortened its name to the Reds.

In 1912, the team moved to its most famous stadium, a concrete-and-steel structure near Union Terminal named Redland Field, better known as Crosley Field.  There, the team’s fortunes rose, and by 1919, the team won the pennant and the World Series.  Their Series victory was tainted, however, by the infamous Black Sox scandal, where eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of throwing the Series at the behest of gamblers.

The Black Sox scandal dogged the Reds up until the 1930’s, when the team was nearly bankrupt and the stadium in horrible condition.  In 1933, local electronics magnate Powell Crosley, Jr., scooped up the franchise at a bargain basement price and turned it around.  He introduced night games, Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks (who still do the team’s pyrotechnics), and regular radio broadcasts.  The Reds’ most famous player from the 1930’s was Johnny Vander Meer, who pitched two shutouts back to back in 1938.

During World War II, when most regular baseball players were overseas fighting, teams turned to stunt players such as the St. Louis Browns putting a midget in the lineup.  The Reds signed local phenom Joe Nuxhall at the age of 15.  Until the 1970’s, Nuxhall held the record for the youngest pitcher in the Major Leagues.  By the time the record had been broken, Nuxie had retired from playing and moved into the broadcast booth as the Reds’ longtime analyst.

During the 1950’s, the Reds changed their name to “Redlegs” in order to avoid communist overtones in the paranoia of the McCarthy Era.  However, once they returned to their real name in the 1960’s, the farm system began producing some major talent:  Hal McRae, Tommy Helms, Pete Rose, and Johnny Bench.  The nucleus of the most famous Reds team was taking shape.  Soon, they would move into the venerable Riverfront Stadium, which they would share with new football team, the Bengals.

At Riverfront, the Big Red Machine emerged, winning four pennants and back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 76.

In the 1980’s, the farm system was rebuilt under ownership of the eccentric and controversial Marge Schott.  A new crop of farm system phenoms emerged in Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and the Nasty Boys – Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble.  In 1990, the team came out of the gate strong and went wire-to-wire to win the pennant and sweep the Oakland A’s in the World Series.

Since then, the Reds have struggled.  Ownership passed from Schott to local financier Carl Lindner to current owner Bob Castellini.  In 2003, the Reds moved to their current home at Great American Ball Park, signing Ken Griffey, Jr., who wanted to come home and play for his dad’s team.

Under Castellini’s ownership and Dusty Baker’s management, the Reds have gelled into another promising team.

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