Into the wayback machine Monday, April 3, 2006

Today's Reds share many similarities, issues with the Reds of 90 years ago



Cincinnati's Opening Days are intertwined like grapevines climbing a trellised arbor.

Opening Day roots go back to 1869 - the first season for the oldest professional sports franchise in America, the Cincinnati Red Stockings - but the vines intersect throughout their upward growth.

Edd Roush, shown at right in an undated file photo, is also shown taking batting practice before Game 2 of the 1919 World Series. In 1969, he was voted the most popular Red of the team's first 100 years.

It is all but impossible to separate the shoots. One leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to yet another.

The snow flurries on Opening Day in 1985 (Pete Rose, 2-for-3 and 3 RBI in a 4-1 Reds victory over Montreal before 52,971 fans in Rose's first Reds opener since 1978) reminded one of the four inches of snow that had to be cleared off the Riverfront Stadium carpet in 1977 (Reds won, 5-3, before 51,917).

Joe Randa's walk-off home run last year conjured memories from 1994 when Reds owner Marge Schott gave the back of her hand to the team's Easter Sunday night opener (32,803) on ESPN and treated the Monday afternoon game (55,093) like the real opener, and Kevin Mitchell won it in the 10th inning with a monstrous home run to left field for the 5-4 victory.

Todd Walker's 3-for-4 day and Barry Larkin's game-winning slide across home plate in the ninth inning of the 2002 opener - the last one at Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field - hearkened back to Joe Morgan's huge 1978 opener (3-for-4, 1 HR, 2 doubles, 5 RBI, and a stolen base) in an 11-9 victory over Houston before 52,378.

The background for this year's Opening Day is remindful - OK, mostly only to Reds' historians - of 1916, when a sign on the left wall at Redland Field urged fans to vote for the upcoming rapid transit bond issue to build a subway system.

Although the bond issue would later pass by a whopping 6-to-1 margin, the transit project was never completed. It ran out of money. (Oh, please, please, please, don't let that be the fate of the proposed Banks project between Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.)

Over two miles of those subway tunnels still run beneath the city. And just this past winter, Enquirer headlines announced that a study is under way to determine the tunnels' future usefulness.

In 1916, that bond issue being touted on the wall was going to provide $6 million for a subway and above-ground commuter rail system. The Reds supported the campaign because the subway system would have provided easy transportation for fans, and eased auto traffic in the West End, which was becoming congested.

In 1916, Reds owner August Garry Herrmann was just as intent on finding new ways to draw fans to Redland Field as Bob Castellini is today to draw fans to Great American Ball Park.

On Opening Day 1916, the Reds knew that IF they could find a way to make automobile drivers comfortable about bringing their horseless carriages of dubious reliability to the ballpark, attendance would be boosted.

And so, the Reds announced that in Redland's parking lot, they would provide an expert auto mechanic and a service truck loaded with tires and emergency repair equipment.

The fans responded in mass: 24,607 of them flocked to the game, the biggest Opening Day crowd since Redland Field (later to be named Crosley Field) opened in 1912.

The Reds of 1916 were not unlike the Reds of today; the 1916 team was trying to find itself, too.

The difference between the 1916 team and today's team is that we already know what the 1916 team did to help itself - trading for future Hall of Fame center fielder Edd Roush and future manager Christy Mathewson, the former pitching great. Three seasons later, the Reds won the World Series.

Meanwhile, the 1916 rapid transit bond issue passed by a whopping 6-to-1 margin, and by 1927 - the year after Roush was traded back to the New York Giants - 2.2 miles of subway tunnel had been constructed and 7.7 miles of above-ground right-of-way had been cleared.

But the city had to abandon the project because the original $6 million had been exhausted. It would have cost an extra $10 million for the city to finish the project, and almost everybody considered that a waste of taxpayers' money.

Reds' Opening Days aren't the only things about this franchise that are intertwined.

So is the team's entire history of players and managers. (Not to mention its subway "system.")

The year the city abandoned the subway tunnels is the same year Roush was traded back to the New York Giants (February1927).

Talk about your ghosts.

It is no coincidence that the Reds had only one losing season during Roush's 11 full seasons (1917-26) with the club. The best all-time winning percentage for a Reds team was .686 (96-44) by the 1919 club.

The Reds were almost always in the hunt when Roush was around. In 1923 they went 91-63 (.591) and almost made the World Series again.

In 1926 - Roush's final year with the club - the Reds entered the final month neck-and-neck with the St. Louis Cardinals but played only .500 ball down the stretch and finished second for the third time in five seasons.

Still, Roush had left his mark:

He won two National League batting titles (.341 in 1917, and .321 in 1919).

In 1969, he was voted by the fans as the most popular Red of the franchise's first 100 years.

When reminded by author Donald Honig ("Glory of Their Times) of how much the Reds fans loved him, Roush said: "I don't know about that. It's not for me to say. But, assuming it's true, I'll tell you one thing: The feeling is mutual."

After Roush left Cincinnati afterthe 1926 season, it took another 12 seasons for the Reds to return to the first division (82-68, fourth place in 1938), but they were back in the World Series by 1939 and won it all in 1940.

And how's this for ghosts?

The manager of the Reds from 1938 to 1946 was future Hall of Famer Bill "Deacon" McKechnie, whose 1942 jersey is one of the new entries into the display cases this season at the Reds' Hall of Fame and Museum.

McKechnie, a catcher, had first come over to the Reds in July 1916 along with Roush and Mathewson, and then returned to manage 22 years later.

All three men had huge impacts on the Reds regaining their luster - not once, but twice.

Could three such transforming forces be headed to Cincinnati this season?

Roush's granddaughter, Susan Dellinger, has written a book about Roush from his personal reminiscences. The book is titled "Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series."

Dellinger will speak at the Reds' Hall of Fame and Museum in May, and there will be a big display of artifacts from the 1919 World Series.

By the way, the Reds lost the 1916 opener 7-1. The Reds' foe that year? Why, none other than the Chicago Cubs, who are also the guests today.

And no, Joe Nuxhall did not pitch that day for the Reds.



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