An Ode to Crosley Field

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Located at the corner of Findlay and Western streets in Cincinnati stood the original home of baseball’s first professional team – the Cincinnati Reds. Here stood three different ballparks – League Park (1884-1901), Palace of the Fans (1902-1911) and Redland Field/Crosley Field (1912-1970). It was one of the oldest known sites from the early days of Major League Baseball. Crosley Field was home to some memorable teams, (1939-’40 pennant winners, 1961 and the early incarnation of the 1970s-era Big Red Machine).

Crosley Field’s imprint on the grand game is still felt today. The ballpark became the first stadium to host night games. In 1934, Reds ownership convinced national league owners that nighttime baseball would lead to considerable gains in the fortunes of each ball club. With the revenues, down in the midst the Great Depression, Reds general manager Larry MacPhail opined that the team would fold if it could not play baseball under the lights. The first night ball game took place on May 24, 1935 as the Reds played host to the Philadelphia Phillies. In a special ceremony, President Franklin Roosevelt (then stationed at the White House) pressed a button that illuminated Crosley Field. The Reds were victorious over the Phillies, 2-1. The 1930s continued as the most prosperous decade for the venable ballpark. The Reds won the 1939 NL pennant, but lost to the Yankees in the World Series. The following year, the Reds repeated as NL champs and going on to defeat the Detroit Tigers.

One of the quirkier aspects of the park was the incline, or “Terrace” section in the outfield. Stretching from left field along the fence past the scoreboard and on towards center field, many long fly outs were turned in extra base hits as many visiting outfielders stumbled when they met the Terrace. It also served as a warning track until the 1950s when the dirt/gravel mixture that are common in ballparks of today. Crosley’s Terrace served as the inspiration for “Tal’s Hill,” a similar inclined area in center field at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Popular Reds players of the Crosley era were stars such as Ernie Lombardi, Ted Kluszewski, Joe Nuxhall, Johnny Temple, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. Fabled baseball executive Gabe Paul started his sixty-year baseball career at Crosley as well.

By the close of the 1960s, the neighborhood surrounding the park had begun to go downhill. The NFL Cincinnati Bengals began making noise about wanting a new stadium. Crosley Field was fast becoming an eyesore. Local politicians agreed to build what would become Riverfront Stadium along the lower downtown riverbank. The Reds last game occurred on June 24, 1970 against the Sn Francisco Giants. Johnny Bench and Lee May both hit solo home runs late in the game as they came back to win 4-3.

Crosley Field was purchased by the city and demolished in 1972. An office complex now stands on the site.

 

Written by: Rob Fugelseth

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