Cincinnati has long been associated with the birth of professional baseball and many other significant events and personalities of the national pastime. The city ushered in night baseball and is the hometown of Pete Rose and MEARS Auth, LLC (Sorry, I just could not resist). The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, which is the focus of this piece, opened in September 2004. This was my first chance to go through and it was especially worthwhile given the recently opened Pete Rose Exhibit. But more about that in a bit.
The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum is located next to Great American Ball Park along the Ohio River. Actually, some of the site shares space that was once occupied by Riverfront Stadium and is part of a much larger planned development along the Ohio River. At first glance, I was a bit taken back at the size of the building, but once I went in, I quickly learned that the old adage about good things coming in small packages held true once again.
At the beginning of the tour you will be greeted by those who began the professional game, the 1869 Red Stockings and quickly see that Pete Rose dominates the entry way…much in the same way his presence has dominated the game and the city of his birth for almost half a century since his rookie year of 1963. As a Reds fan and one time advanced collector, it was interesting to see some items that were once part of my own collection as part of the Rose exhibit. The generosity of current Reds and Rose collectors has made this an incredible exhibit with uniforms, bats, and equipment that span Rose’s entire playing days.
Rose’s career and highlights are chronicled 12-13 minute film shown in the museum theater. The entrance to the theater is done as gorgeous replica façade of the grandstand to the Palace of the Fans (predecessor to Redland/Crosley Field). The design style comes from the 1893 Chicago Worlds fair. Inside the theater you will find bleacher style seating and other touches from “Old Crosley” in the form of lighting posts and a scoreboard screen. In talking with Visitor Services Manager Chris Eckes, I learned that prior to the Rose exhibit, the theater hosts a film covering the history of the Cincinnati Reds.
After viewing the film, you can make your way out to the back of the building where you will find elevators or stairs taking you to the exhibits on the third floor. Since I had spent the previous 10 hours in the car, I decided to take the stairs in order the stretch my legs. I am glad I did for a number of reasons. The view of both the inside of the museum and the outside make the walk worthwhile. Inside, you will find a wall of baseballs some 50 feet high, and roughly 30 feet wide…the number of baseballs is an unsurprising 4,256…one for each of Pete’s major league record 4,256 base hits. Outside you will be treated, to if nothing else, a spectacular view of the recently renovated Roebling Suspension Bridge built in 1866. The bridge, when it was completed, was the longest bridge of its type in the world and served a model for the Brooklyn Bridge built by Roebling and Sons in 1883. O.K. New York, Cincinnati had professional baseball and a suspension bridge before you did.
The other thing that was worth seeing outside was a group of school children who had just completed their museum tour. Baseball in Cincinnati is something that grabs you at a very early age. I can remember as a kid, we would actually watch Opening Day on TV at school if you could not get downtown for the legendary Findley Market Parade. Chris Eckes explained to me that tours and programs like this are a cornerstone of the Reds Museum effort with respect to community outreach and education. As someone who grew up in Cincinnati, I found the idea both refreshing and unsurprising.
As you begin the main exhibit tour, you find displays centered on the 1919 World Series. The mixture of artifacts and audio-visuals in this area sets an impressive standard for the rest of the floor that never disappoints. On hand are game used bats from:
Pat Duncan: H&B block signature
Heiene Groh: H&B script signature “bottle bat”
Jake Daubert: Block signature, no apparent manufacturer
Ivey Wingo: H&B block signature
Larry Kopf: H&B block signature
Ed Roush: H&B script signature
This display also includes period gloves, trophy/presentation items as well as some artifacts specific to Hall of Famer Ed Roush.
Leaving this area, you move through an area reminiscent of early to mid 20th century office space for the Cincinnati Reds. One thing I found very visually appealing was the color blue that was part of the Reds motif for so many years. The artifacts in this area run the gamut from players like Miller Huggins (yes New York, once again, we had him first) to those dealing with the 1990 World Series Champions.
The museum really opens up at this point as you find a well balanced mix of displays, interactive venues and superb audio-visuals. If there was ever a museum designed to feature something for every aged or level of interest in fans, this has got to be it. Knowing that baseball in Cincinnati has always been a family affair, there are things for kids to do such as try on equipment, through baseballs and even see if the could hit a major league fastball (don’t worry mom, it’s a hand-eye coordination drill. That being said, it is the displays and the manner that they are done in that draws you in and makes the hours seem like minutes. The key is colorful and large player backdrops supplemented by jerseys, jackets, caps, bats, and trophies like MVP awards and Gold Gloves for Bench and Morgan. Managers are also featured with great prominence. Another thing I found particularly eye catching were the bronze-like figures in both the managers area and those in the “Great Teams” room.
As I have alluded to before, baseball in Cincinnati has always been more than a game…it is a love affair with all that is related to it. You are afforded the opportunity to sit and listen to radio broadcast of Joe Nuxhall and Waite Hoyt. Those a bit older than me will tell you that a rain delay at Crosley Field was often the highlight of a season as Hoyt would regal his listeners with stories of the Babe and others he encountered as a player. For me, Cincinnati Reds baseball and the voice of the game will always be the “Ole Lefthander” and broadcast partner Marty Brennaman.
Your tour of the exhibits will finish in the Hall of Fame. The plaques are done up in a “Cooperstown style” bronze, but arranged in a manner that is most striking given the backdrop of the walls and spacing in a tower like fashion. The first two plaques that you find are those of brothers George and Harry Wright. Many of the names may not be familiar to the out of town visitor, but names like Bench, Morgan, Perez, and Lombardi also grace the Halls of Cooperstown. The back of the Hall of Fame takes you down the stairs to the Reds Team shop.
It was after completing my tour that I was able to catch up with Team Historian and Museum Director, Greg Rhodes for some brief Q&A. Greg is a busy man these days with the Rose exhibit and he was just coming from a radio interview, but he still had time for me and I am thankful for that.
I began our interview by asking Greg, that as a former history teacher and accomplished researcher and author, if he considered himself to be one of those folks who felt he had landed his “Dream Job.” With his smile and the look behind his eyes, I knew there was a good story here. Greg went on to explain that he never really thought about ever ending up in such a position…rather it just seemed that he grew into it over the years and it really reflected the culmination of many of his life’s previous efforts. He had always been a Reds fan and educator and one thing he said that he enjoyed most about this job is that it involves the education of adults as well. He also said he loves the idea behind museums in that it is “3-D” leaning in the way that you incorporate artifacts. This was something he enjoyed and began in his work with the Cincinnati Historical Society. Does this guy love his job? Yes he does and it was easy to see.
I then asked Greg if he had a favorite exhibit in the museum. He thought for a moment, with the gaze reminiscent of a small child when asked in a candy store or bakery if anything looks good. He said his favorite was the Hall of Fame Gallery as that was really the essence of the building, but followed closely by the Great Teams Exhibit.
Lastly I asked him if he could travel back in time and bring back three artifacts for the museum, what would they be and why. Once again, same delightful pause and gaze to which followed:
1. A trophy ball or the original scorebooks from the 1869 Reds.
2. One of the original light towers from Crosley Field.
3. Either the Johnny Bench home run ball from Game 5 of the 1972 NLCS ( a game he attended) or the Tony Perez home run ball from Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.
It was the Perez home run ball that I found most interesting and asked if he could elaborate. Greg says that he really started thinking about this during a conversation he had with co-author John Erardi of “Big Red Dynasty: How Bob Howsam & Sparky Anderson Built the Big Red Machine.” John Erardi said he thought that this home run might have been the most important home run of the Big Red Machine era. Consider the Reds had lost Game 6 the night before and were down 3-0 in the sixth inning when Perez, with two outs, hit his two run shot in Game 7. Had this not occurred and the Sox won that game and the World Series, what might have the 1976 season looked like? Would the Reds have dealt Perez away (I still feel this was downfall of the Big Red Machine) or would they even have cut Sparky loose? Remember, that up until this time, Sparky had been to the World Series in 1970 and 1972 without winning the big one. The Reds also came up short in 1973 in loosing to the Mets in the NLCS. Sparky was cut loose after the 1978 season after finishing second the Dodgers in the NL West for two straight years.
What I took from this answer, besides an interesting and new perspective, was that men like Greg Rhodes and John Erardi are truly the essence of baseball fans and researchers. This is the look and feel of the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum and should be experienced by all fans, not just those of the hometown Reds.
If you live in or around Cincinnati and have not been to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, well shame on you. If you are from out of town and looking for a summer vacation spot, consider the Queen City. The Hall of Fame, as mentioned, is right next to the ball park and the Reds offer combined admission discounts for those holding tickets to a game. Lodging is easy to find, and affordable in the downtown area by using any number of the on-line discount sites such as Hotwire or Orbitz. Directly across the River from the Stadium/Museum is the Newport Aquarium and shopping area (accessible by walking over the bridge) as well as the Kings Island Amusement and Water Park just north of the city. Admission prices, hours and a host of other useful information about the Red Hall of Fame and Museum can be found at:
I know, if all of this is beginning to sound like some “homer” trying to convince you his city and ball club are the best in the country….O.K… you got me… guilty as charged. But I am also a person who has traveled our nation in detail and been in some 20 foreign countries as well. Whatever my motives or biases might be, if you are baseball fan you now have more reasons than ever to visit the birthplace of our professional game. Oh yeah, as an aside…the tour of the Boyhood Home of MEARS Auth, LLC is still not getting the traction I thought it might…must be the competition with the Pete Rose Exhibit.
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