Growing up in Cincinnati and being the grandson of German immigrants, the little guy always seemed just like a member of the family. He bespoke the city’s cultural and sports history for just over a decade spanning the 1950s and 1960s. No, I am not talking about the clean shaven version Bob Howsam brought to the City in 1968, but the “Original Mr. Red” with his handlebar mustache and Turn of the Century pillbox cap. In local Cincinnati parlance he is also frequently referred to as the “Bürgermeister Man”. (“Bürgermeister” is roughly the German equivalent of a mayor, not all that surprising for a ball club also referred to as the Rhinelander’s).
The MLB website http://mlb.mlb.com/cin/fan_forum/mr_red.jsp) provides this scant and somewhat inaccurate information on Mr. Red; “Mr. Red, the Cincinnati Reds oldest and most beloved mascot, has been a big part of the Reds’ organization since 1955!”
While he most certainly is beloved, he is actually a bit older than this. From the mid 1930s through 1952, the ball club was officially known as the Cincinnati Reds or simply “The Reds.” Why then the need for a mascot and bring back the “Red Stockings” in 1953 and 1954 and then the “Redlegs” from 1955-1958?
The early to mid 1950s found the nation focused on “The Red Scare”… While Ted Klusewski, Wally Post, Gus Bull and Ed Bailey certainly had the attention and respect of National League pitchers, many in America wanted to see a Communist or “Red” as hiding behind every bush… looking to undermine the nation at every step. By 1954, millions’ were glued to television sets at home and in department store windows in order to watch the live coverage of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as they investigated communist organizations.
I certainly don’t have an MBA nor am I an advertising or branding expert, but I can’t help but think that having people link of the nation’s oldest professional baseball club to its darkest of foes by way of naming convention to be a good idea. Enter “Mr Red” and the rebirth of the “Red Stockings” in 1953 (not 1955) and his first cover shot on a Cincinnati Team Yearbook. This caricature would continue to be a staple image and the poster child for the organization on subsequent editions well into the 1960s. He was finally replaced by the clean shaven, #27 Mr. Red in 1968. Mr. Red would also appear on the 1954 Topps baseball card offerings as well, so yes…once again, he is older than 1955.
Mr. Red made his first appearance as part of the uniform on opening day 1955. This may have been the reason why MLB cited that year as opposed to 1953. His image appeared as patch worn the left shoulder of both the home and road uniforms. What many of you may not know is that there were actually two versions of this patch for 1955. The one worn on opening day was square patch and by the All Star Game of 1955, it had become a patch only the size of outline of the image.
In 1956, when the Redlegs switched to vest style uniforms, Mr. Red appeared on the dureen (yes, as in football jersey material) road jerseys. The 1956 Cincinnati Redleg’s yearbook describes him as a “little man with a baseball head and black moustache.” Interestingly enough, he also appeared on some uniform styles that never made it to majors. Film footage from the Reds 1956 spring training (Reds: The Official History of the Cincinnati Reds; The Phoenix Communications Group 1987) will show him on the left breast of a button down sleeved jersey that may also have been of dureen material. Mr. Red’s likeness also appears on a style jacket worn by the ball club through the 1966 season. In addition to this, his toothy smile can also be found on nylon jackets worn under the vests of the period. Sad to say, he never made his way to gracing a cap or batting helmet so don’t buy them if they are offered to you as “gamers.”
I can remember my first trip to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum prior to the start of the 2007 season (see article in MEARS Archive). When talking with then Museum Director Greg Rhodes, Greg informed me that “Mr. Red” would be making a comeback in 2007. My only question was what took them so long?
Not only will you find this famous mascot on uniform items, but he also graces just about every other form of Cincinnati Reds baseball memorabilia you can think of from the period. Depending on the item and condition, they can be both as attractive as they are valuable. I don’t know of anyone who has a specific collection along these lines, but it’s hard not to imagine that there is someone out there who is a monogamous mustached-man maven. If you are such a collector or know of someone who is, I would love to hear from you.
Why do I spend so much time a simple image? Partially out of renewed interest in the team of my youth and their history that I grew up with. Also because as I looked into this, I came across information that was either incorrect or incomplete. Lastly, it is my hope that someone reading this will consider writing a similar piece for publication on their team’s history and some of the lesser known aspects of it. If you are such a person, I know our readers would love to hear from you.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect. Look into it in detail and you will enjoy it all the more.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.