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Crosley Field

Crosley Field was a Major League baseball park located in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the home field of the National League's Cincinnati Reds from 1912 through June 24, 1970 and the original Cincinnati Bengals football team, members of the second (1937) and third American Football League (1940-41). Contrary to popular belief, it was not the original home of the current NFL franchise of the same name (their home in 1968 and 1969 was nearby Nippert Stadium).

Crosley Field was on an asymmetrical block bounded by Findlay Street (south), Western Avenue (northeast, angling), York Street (north) and McLean Avenue (west). The "Findlay and Western" intersection was the home field of the Reds from 1884 until mid-season 1970, when the team moved to Riverfront Stadium.

The location of the diamond and consequently the main grandstand seating area was shifted several times during the park's existence. Some of the moves resulted in different names being assigned to the ballpark during its 86 1/2 seasons of use:

1884-1901: League Park
1902-1911: Palace of the Fans
1912-1970: Redland Field, renamed Crosley Field in 1934

History

Rebuilding

Between the 1911 and 1912 seasons, the entire seating area of the Palace of the Fans as well as the remaining seating from the original League Park were demolished and rebuilt in steel and concrete, with a double-deck grandstand around the diamond, positioned in the southwest corner of the lot. Beyond first and third base were single-deck covered pavilions extended to the corners, with bleachers in the right field area.

Redland Field, whose name was a reference to the Reds' name and color, was built for $225,000 by Harry Hake architects. It was one of many classic steel and concrete ballparks constructed during the first ballpark boom era of 1909-1923. Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park were also built during this era and remain in use today. Although occupying the site since 1884, the Reds dated their ballpark from the permanent structure opened in 1912.

Throughout its history, Redland/Crosley Field was usually among the smallest parks in either the National or American leagues. It accommodated 25,000 fans in 1912; even at its peak, it never exceeded 30,000 seats, excluding temporary seating areas created for opening day and World Series games. Contributing to this was the fact that there were no bleachers in left or center fields; all outfield seating (about 4,500 seats), were in the semi-trapezoid-shaped right field stands that came to be known as the "Sun Deck" (or, in the case of night games, the "Moon Deck").

Groundskeeper Mathias "Matty" Schwab, who had been hired in 1894 had the sod laid just in time for the Reds' first game at the new park, April 11, 1912. In the game, the Reds rallied from a 5-0 deficit to defeat the Chicago Cubs 10-6, the same team that had opened and closed at the Palace in 1902 and 1911 respectively. Schwab would be the Reds' groundkeeper until he retired at age 83 in 1963,

The Reds' on-field success continued to be sparse most of the time, but the club won the National League pennant in 1919, the franchise's first league title in 37 years, going back to the AA inaugural season. It was also the 50th anniversary of the Cincinnati Red Stockings' historic tour, and was a celebratory occasion for Cincinnati fans, especially when they scored an upset win over the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. The win was tainted by the fact, made public a year later, that the Series had been "thrown" by the heavily-favored Sox. The Reds gradually returned to mediocrity and attendance flagged.

Crosley and lights

When local businessman Powel Crosley Jr. bought the struggling Reds in 1934, team president Larry MacPhail insisted that the ballpark be renamed in honor of the man many thought had rescued the franchise. Thus, the park was renamed "Crosley Field", and Crosley himself took the opportunity to advertise his Crosley cars. Under Crosley's ownership, the park would undergo notable structural renovations. With the effects of the Great Depression in Cincinnati, the Reds convinced baseball owners to allow night baseball at Crosley Field. Without lights, Larry MacPhail insisted, the team would fold because of low attendance. Lights had been installed in a number of Minor League baseball parks in the early 1930s, with positive results. The major league owners acquiesced; 632 individual lamps in eight metal stanchions were erected and on May 24, 1935, the Reds hosted the Philadelphia Phillies and won 2-1 behind right-hander Paul Derringer. In attendance at the game was Ford Frick, President of the National League. In the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a button that lit up Crosley Field, where a crowd of 20,422 fans, sizable for a last-place team in the middle of the Great Depression, came out to watch the game. Lou Chiozza was the leadoff man for the Phillies and thus has the distinction of being the first player to bat under the lights in a night game in the majors.

The sixth night game at Crosley Field was particularly notable for its wildness. The visiting St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds' rival and the defending World Series champions, were in town, and the fans showed up in droves. As the game progressed, the throng of Reds fans forced people onto the field of play which caused mass confusion for the police and umpires. (This was during a time in baseball when overflow crowds were often allowed to sit or stand on the fringes of the playing field.) Reds manager Chuck Dressen could only follow the game via the scoreboard. At one point, he was heard to say: "I see the Cardinals got a run — but I don't know how they got it".

During an eighth inning officials' time out, a local burlesque performer named Kitty Burke came out of the crowd, picked up the Reds outfielder Floyd "Babe" Herman's bat, stepped into the batter's box, and dared the Cardinals' starter, Paul "Daffy" Dean, to throw her a pitch. He accommodated Burke with a soft toss; Burke grounded weakly to first base. The "pinch hit" appearance was never recorded as an official at bat, of course, but nonetheless, Burke began promoting herself as the first woman in major league history. Allegedly, the Reds gave her a uniform.

The late 1930s finally brought some prosperity to the club again, along with some changes to the ballpark. After the 1937 season, home plate was moved out by some twenty feet, decreasing the park's dimensions. The following summer, Crosley was the host site for Cincinnati's first Major League Baseball All-Star Game. In the middle of a pennant winning season of 1939, their first in twenty years, the Reds added roofed upper decks to the left and right side pavilions. This gave Crosley Field some 5,000 additional seats and the appearance it would retain for the rest of its existence. The Reds lost the World Series to the powerful New York Yankees in 1939, but would bounce back to win the pennant again in 1940, and defeat the Detroit Tigers in a seven-game thriller.

Later years

By the 1950s, the Reds were back to mediocrity, but they had some sluggers, including the muscle-bound Ted Kluszewski, who took full advantage of Crosley's cozy dimensions. Crosley Field again hosted the All-Star Game in 1953.

After a poor season in 1960, the Reds put everything together in 1961 and won the National League pennant, an effort documented in pitcher Jim Brosnan's book, Pennant Race. The dream season ended for the Reds at the hand of the Yankees, whose slugging duo of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had demolished the rest of the American League. Maris, who had set a record with 61 home runs that season, also knocked one into the Moon Deck in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the World Series.

Crosley Field was the site of the major leagues' first save, after the save became an official statistic in 1969. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Bill Singer earned the save on April 7, 1969, in the season-opener, working three scoreless innings after taking over for Dodgers starting and winning pitcher Don Drysdale. Singer did not allow a hit, walking one batter and striking out one, as the Dodgers beat the Reds, 3-2.

The Reds would continue to be a frequent contender, gradually building up toward what would become known as the "Big Red Machine". By the time the Reds reached that peak, though, Crosley would be but a memory.

Crosley Field's decline had begun in earnest in the mid-1950s with the automobile supplanting the train as the main method of transportation. The ballpark was located in the dense west end. Businesses (such as the Superior Towel and Linen Service, a.k.a. "The Laundry", as well as a large factory) bounded the park on three sides. The neighborhood was not suited for the automobile; parking increasingly became a major problem in the last fifteen years of Crosley Field's existence, as did crime — especially during night games.

Around 1960, Powel Crosley was courted by a group seeking to return a National League franchise to New York City to replace the Dodgers and the Giants, who had moved to Los Angeles and the San Francisco after the 1957 season, respectively. The moves left the American League Yankees as the city's sole baseball team. Crosley was unwilling to move. However, he sold the club the following year, although his name was retained on the ballpark.

Complicating matters was that legendary football coach Paul Brown, the founder of the Cleveland Browns who had been deposed by new owner Art Modell in 1963, was wanting to get back into professional football. He was granted an American Football League franchise called the Bengals that would play in Cincinnati. A contingency of that agreement was that an appropriate facility be ready by the time the 1970 National Football League season began, which would be the first season that the AFL was fully merged with the NFL.

An agreement was struck to build a multi-purpose facility on the dilapidated riverfront section of the city. Riverfront Stadium seated about 60,000 people and was deemed a logical solution to a myriad of problems. The Reds were part of that agreement, and Crosley Field's end was in sight.

It was believed that the Sunday, September 28, 1969 game against the Houston Astros, which was that year's last home game for the Reds (who won 4-1), would be the final game ever at Crosley Field. However, delays in final construction of Riverfront Stadium, led to the Reds opening the 1970 season at Findlay and Western, against the Montreal Expos. New additions to the Reds that season were figures who would become Reds legends: manager George Lee "Sparky" Anderson and shortstop Dave Concepción, who had actually been signed by the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1967 as a pitcher. The 1970 Reds were pennant-bound, but Crosley Field did not figure into that event.

The Reds last game at Crosley Field was played on June 24, 1970, against the San Francisco Giants. It became a legendary game in Reds history due to the way it ended. With the Reds trailing Juan Marichal and the Giants 4-3 in the eighth inning, catcher Johnny Bench tied the game on a solo home run. The next batter, first baseman Lee May won it on a solo home run of his own. The ninth inning was a relatively easy one for Reds reliever Wayne Granger; Bobby Bonds grounded out to first base.

One of the highlights of the closing festivities was mayor Gene Ruehlmann taking home plate out of the ground and taking it via helicopter (which had landed on the field), to Riverfront Stadium and installing it in the artificial turf. After a brief road trip to Houston, which saw them sweep the Houston Astros, they returned to Cincinnati and opened Riverfront Stadium against the Atlanta Braves. They lost 8-2.

The Terrace

As previously noted, Crosley Field was usually among the smallest parks in Major League Baseball, both in seating capacity and playing field size.

Probably the most famous (or notorious) feature of Crosley Field otherwise was the fifteen-degree left field incline, called "the terrace". Terraces were not unusual in old ballparks. Most of them were constructed as a way to make up the difference between field level and street level on a sloping block. And most of them were leveled out ("Duffy's Cliff" at Fenway Park is one example) or covered by bleachers (as with Ebbets Field and Wrigley Field, for example).

The story of the Crosley Terrace is the reverse of the long-departed "Duffy's Cliff". There was no terrace in evidence during the ballpark's days as the Palace, which had a fairly high wall whose base was below street level. The terrace came about when the new ballpark was constructed for 1912. The club received permission to expand the playing field, by way of the city closing the eastbound lane of York Street. Instead of building a very high wall and retaining a level playing field, the club built a somewhat shorter wall with its base at roughly street level, with the sloping terrace making up the difference in grade.

As baseball boomed during the 1920s, many clubs built additional seating in their once-spacious outfield areas. The outfield area at Findlay and Western was already small, so building inner bleachers was not practical, and the Crosley terrace persisted and became one of the park's trademarks. It was used, as Duffy's Cliff had been, for temporary spectator seating, in the days when standing-room-only crowds would be allowed at the fringes of the field behind ropes. The terrace also served as a "warning track", in lieu of the more typical dirt or gravel warning tracks that began to appear at most other ballparks by the 1950s. The slope was at least as much warning to an outfielder as a flat track was. Although the terrace was most prominent in left field, it extended clear across the outfield.

The Crosley terrace was nowhere near as extreme as the terrace at Nashville's Sulphur Dell, but it still frustrated many outfielders, mostly left fielders and mostly from visiting teams. Babe Ruth was victimized by it on May 28, 1935, playing for the Boston Braves in his brief final season. He was headed for the Hall of Fame, but one day as Ruth was headed up the Crosley terrace, he fell down on his face.

Frank Robinson, however, loved it. In the early 1990s, when the Baltimore Orioles were planning their future home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Robinson, an Orioles executive and one-time Reds star, unsuccessfully lobbied to get the team to install a terrace in left field.

When the Houston Astros' new facility, Enron Field, was being built, a prominent addition to the field was a 30-degree center field incline with a flagpole, which was dubbed "Tal's Hill" in reference to its proponent, Astros executive Tal Smith.

To commemorate their Crosley Field years, the main entrance of the Cincinnati Reds' new park, Great American Ball Park, features a monument called "Crosley Terrace" that features inclines and statues of Crosley-era stars Joe Nuxhall, Ernie Lombardi, Ted Kluszewski, and Frank Robinson. References to the terrace are also visible. This monument was designed by architecture firm HOK Sport Venue Event and sculptor Thomas Tsuchiya.

Other uses

Through much of its history, Crosley Field was used for other events besides Cincinnati Reds baseball games.

The Negro Leagues' Cincinnati Tigers in 1936 and 1937 called Crosley home.

The original 1937 Cincinnati Bengals football team played home games there.

During World War I, the city's police force staged a review at Redland Field on October 17, 1917.

On August 21, 1966, Crosley Field hosted The Beatles, who were in the midst of their final American and Canadian tour. The concert had been scheduled for the previous day, but was rained out.

Other events held there included a Roy Rogers rodeo, a political rally for Wendell Wilkie, and even an Ice Capades show.

After the Reds

After the 1970 season, the Cincinnati Reds and the city, which had agreed to buy Crosley Field, were at an impasse over how much Crosley Field was worth. The Reds wanted $3.5 million; the city countered with a $1.5 million offer. Eventually the case went to court. The city contended that since Crosley Field's playing field was extremely depressed, it would need to be filled — a costly and time-consuming affair. The Reds countered that since Interstate 75 would run by it, the site would become premium real estate. and they should be fairly compensated for the increase in value. They also brought in an expert witness: Peter Edward Rose. Rose espoused the positives of Crosley Field.

Eventually, a jury set the sale price at $2.5 million. After the sale was made official, the city turned the park into an auxiliary auto impound lot while the Queensgate project was finalized. Ironically, given the parking shortage for many years, Crosley had itself become a parking lot. Two years later, the demolition of Crosley Field began in earnest. The park was soon gutted; seats sold for $10 and fans and present and former club employees scrounged for mementos. On April 19, 1974, Pete Rose, Jr. pulled a lever that sent a wrecking ball into the side of Crosley Field. By autumn, just the faint outline of the grandstand remained.

Today, seven buildings occupy the site and a street runs through it. The old left field terrace area is now a parking lot, but it's still distinguishable due to its slope and its location next to York Street. Dalton Street, which formerly dead-ended into Findlay Street, was extended through the former field of play.

Rebirth, Part One

In 1974, Larry Luebbers of Union, Kentucky, built a replica of the Crosley Field playing field on his farm. To that, he added memorabilia that he had harvested during Crosley's demolition, such as seats, signage, and the old Crosley ticket booth; painted advertising on the fences; and opened it for the Cincinnati Suds professional softball team, which he also owned. However, by 1984, it was gone, too. Luebbers was forced to sell his farm to pay off his creditors.

Rebirth, Part Two

At about the time Larry Luebbers' Crosley recreation failed, Marvin Thompson, then city manager of the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash, came up with the idea to make one of the ballfields of a planned community sports complex a recreation of Crosley Field. Administrative aide Mark Rohr was put in charge. He tracked down memorabilia for the park; what he couldn't find was often donated by fans. Items such as usher's uniforms, signage, rooftop pennants, and a field microphone were given to the new project, which opened in 1988 with an Old Timer's game (which has since been discontinued). The scoreboard, which is a recreation, carries information from the final game at the old park. The field also has a white wall with "CROSLEY FIELD" in red letters in the appropriate font. This recreation was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from fans old enough to remember the real park, as well as many retired Reds players such as Pete Rose, Joe Nuxhall, and Jim O'Toole. A wall features a number of plaques commemorating Crosley-era Reds greats. Additionally, 400 seats from the original field were installed at the Blue Ash replica.

In an interview with author Greg Rhodes, Rohr, who wasn't a baseball fan when the project began, stated: "Sometimes I have a hard time understanding the people who come and stare at this place with tears in their eyes; a woman actually hugged the ticket booth and kissed it". The field is also used regularly by teams in various levels of play.

Home runs

Crosley Field was known as a hitter-friendly park, though it was less so in its early days when the diamond was farther from the fences.

  • The first over-the-fence home run struck at Redland/Crosley Field was by outfielder Pat Duncan on June 2, 1921.
  • Ernie Lombardi once hit a home run that landed in a truck traveling beyond the outfield fence. The truck carried the ball for 30 miles. Writers facetiously called this the "longest home run" in history.
  • The Goat Run, additional rows of seats which decreased the right field porch from 366 feet (111.5 m) to 342 feet (104.2 m), was added specifically for slugging, sleeveless left-handed batter Ted Kluszewski, presumably to increase his home run total. However, "Klu" rarely hit home runs in the area and it was removed after the 1958 season. Crosley's normal right field layout had the rare element of a foul line farther away (366) than the power alley (360).
  • On June 11, 1967, Houston outfielder Jimmy Wynn hit a home run towards the path cut for the stretch of Interstate 75 before it was paved, which was located beyond the center field. This shot has been portrayed in many films and television shows.

Flood

In 1937, the Mill Creek flooded, submerging the field under 21 feet (6.4 m) of water. As a lark, Reds pitcher Lee Grissom and the team's traveling secretary, John McDonald, got into a rowboat and entered Crosley Field over the left field fence and rowed to the area of the pitcher's mound. There was a photographer present, of course, and the picture has been well-circulated since then. For example, it can be seen on p.40-41 of Lost Ballparks, by Lawrence Ritter.

Neighbors

Across the left field wall on York Street, a sign on the Superior Towel and Linen Service plant advertised a downtown clothier, Seibler Suits, which rewarded any player hitting the sign with a suit. Wally Post, who won eleven, led the Reds in this unofficial statistical category; Willie Mays led all visitors with seven. Its demolition in the early-1960s netted 38 parking spaces.

References

1.; The editors of the Sporting News (1992). Baseball A Doubleheader Collection of Facts, Feats, & Firsts. St. Louis, Mo.: The Sporting News Publishing Co.. .

  • Cincinnati's Crosley Field: The Illustrated History of a Classic Ballpark by Greg Rhodes and John Erardi, 1995, Road West Publishing
  • Baseball Library.com
  • Green Cathedrals, by Phil Lowry, 1992
  • Baseball Parks of North America, by Michael Benson, 1989
  • The Cincinnati Reds, by Lee Allen, Putnam, 1948.

External links

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