Off to Cincinnati today for 4 days of fun with the Red Stockings. This is a club — not unlike the Cubs — with a long, colorful past; one full of intrigue, deception, and moronic moves that rival anything the Cubs have been able to pull off during the longest championship drought in professional sports history. Still, the average guy on the street can’t tell you much about the Reds. Yeah, everybody knows about Pete Rose, but Reds knowledge basically starts and ends with his whining buttocks gettin’ broomed from the game, with some Big Red Machine thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, the same guy who flunks Reds 101 can recite in painful detail incidents like Bartman, and the black cat, and the billy goat, and Lee Elia’s meltdown, and tradin’ Greg Maddux, and a bunch of other things that have helped define the Cubs as the door mat of the National League over the past century.
So, to brighten my day, and maybe make you feel like we’re on an even playing field — historically speaking — I thought we’d have a little Red Stockings history lesson.
1) A charter member of the National League, Cincinnati was booted after only 4 years. When I found that out it made me warm and tingly all over. Until I found out why. They were selling beer in the stands! That was a deal-breaker for the league president so out the door they went. Can you imagine that happening today?! I mean, for a lot of people, beer is what makes baseball fun to watch.
2) They went bankrupt right after that: A theme that’s hung around Cincinnati like the mold growing in the corners of the clubhouse, and has reared its bigoted, cheating head in the forms of the morally bankrupt Marge Schott and Pete Rose.
3) Nobody wanted them after that, so the Bankrupt Machine formed a new league by sending a deceptive telegram to some of the other owners who’d previously been invited to a meeting for this very purpose, but had declined. The telegram to each stated that he was the only jaggoff who didn’t attend that first square dance, and that the other owners were enthusiastic about the new venture. The lie worked, and the American Association was officially formed with the new Reds a charter member. This adds fraud to bankruptcy. Nice.
4) Only 9 years later, the Reds bolted the American Association to rejoin the National League. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. The reason the National League was happy to have them back (along with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms — perhaps the stupidest name in the history of sports) was in part due to the formation of the Player’s League. This new league was an early failed attempt to break the reserve clause in baseball and, as such, threatened the status quo. So, the Reds made a decision that helped maintain the slave-like conditions of professional baseball for another 85 years. Thanks. Nice move.
5) The mediocre Reds didn’t do much for most of the next 30 years, but in 1919 the won the National League pennant, then won the world championship in eight games over the Chicago White Sox. Of course, that was the Black Sox White Sox, which totally calls into question whether the Reds would have won that Series had it not been thrown. Not likely. (Side note: This is one of the main reasons to despise the Sox by the way.) Anyway, it was a tainted victory.
6) By 1931, the Great Depression was in full swing and the Reds were bankrupt. Again.
7) When Crosley bought the team, things finally started to turn around for the Reds. Hey, maybe they could go for awhile without going bankrupt again. Yep, and they won the pennant in ’39. While they werebusy patting themselves on the back, though, they had their asses handed to them by the Yankees. They did repeat as NL Champs the next year and narrowly got by Detroit for the Series Championship.
8) Nothing much good happened after that for some time. And, in fact, fearing their traditional club nickname would associate them with Communism, the Reds officially changed it to the “Cincinnati Redlegs” in 1953. I guess I can understand that thinking, given the times and all, but if Horneytown, North Carolina, Hookersville, West Virginia and Hell, Michigan can go through life without worryin’ what people think, why couldn’t the Reds?
9) On par with the Cubs trading Maddux after his first Cy Young award, was the trade that is largely regarded as the most lopsided in baseball history. In 1965, Cincinnati sent former Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun, and outfielder Dick Simpson. Robinson went on to win the 1966 MVP and triple crown in the American league, and lead Baltimore to its first ever World Series title in a sweep of the Dodgers. That pretty much killed the Reds until the rise of the “Big Red Machine.”
10) Sparky Anderson was pretty much the architect of that movement. And I totally admit, the Reds of the 70s were friggin’ great. And the ’75 Series against the Red Sox was monstrous. But … the best part was Carlton Fisk’s yard shot off the foul pole in game 6. It didn’t win the Championship, but it’s gotta be one of the greatest moments in sports history, and it happened at the expense of the Reds.
11) Along in there you have the human freight train, Pete Rose, betting on his own ball games and getting banned from the sport for life, and Marge Schott — the chain-smoking, bigoted, St. Bernard-towing owner with such an unfiltered mouth that she was forced to give up her team by Major League Baseball. Quite a classy pair.
12) More recently, I think Junior (Griffey) was a bright spot, along with Lou and Dusty as managers, cuz they also both managed in Chicago. In fact, under Lou in 1999, the Reds lead the league wire-to-wire and swept the heavily favored A’s in the Series. As a result, though, it was perhaps the most boring World Series ever.
13) I think we’ll end here, on lucky 13, where I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the Reds finished with the second worst record in the league last year. A feat they topped by also trading flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees.
I’d say we look pretty friggin’ good compared to the Reds, history and all. And I say after the next 4 games we’ll be lookin’ even better.