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UC Experts Resurrect Baseball Ghosts for National Media


A UC economist and the university archivist will talk baseball history with Fox Sports Ohio as part of national coverage of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Date: 7/6/2015 12:00:00 AM
By: Melanie Schefft
Phone: (513) 556-5213
Other Contact: Tom Robinette
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Provided

UC ingot   As the City of Cincinnati rolls out the “Red” carpet in July for the cream of the crop in All-Star Major League Baseball (MLB), Fox Sports Ohio goes behind the scenes to resurrect some of the city’s legendary stories of baseball. And who better to tap for those tales than the University of Cincinnati’s experts on urban culture and economic climate change, Kevin Grace and Michael Jones.
Baseball field at night with lights in 1935.
UC alum and GE engineer Earl Payne helped design the GE Novalux projector lighting system used to light Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in 1935 when the Reds became the first MLB team to introduce night games. Photo/GE Reports


While rewinding the clock with Grace and Jones, Fox Sports takes a close look at Cincinnati’s culture and economy during the city’s first four All-Star games in the '30s, '50s, '70s and '80s. The upcoming hour-long broadcast premiered July 7 and will air again several times until the day of the game July 14 on Fox Sports Ohio TV.

Grace, as head of the Archives and Rare Books Library at the University of Cincinnati, adjunct assistant professor in the University Honors Program and author of two books on Cincinnati Reds history, shares some of the city’s richest historical stories and rare photos. And Michael Jones, assistant professor-educator in the Lindner College of Business and director of research at the Economics Center, lends credence to the economic climate in the city and the nation during those All-Star years.

According to the experts, baseball became a central element in Cincinnati at a time when working-class people were struggling in this country and looked forward to baseball and the Opening Day parades as a poignant bond in the community. Grace says the love of the sport and the early Opening Day parades were a way of bridging the east and west neighborhoods and all their social differences.

AN ALL-STAR HISTORY

“By the time Cincinnati hosted its first MLB All-Star game we had been in the midst of the depression,” says Grace. “But by 1938 the war in Europe was starting to gear up and Cincinnati was proving itself to be a major manufacturing site for WWII materiel to ship to Europe.”

“With unemployment now at 19 percent, FDR introduced the federal minimum wage act guaranteeing workers 25 cents an hour,” says Jones. “As we moved out of the Depression, Cincinnati’s economy was increasingly reliant on manufacturing. The Cincinnati Milling Machine Company (later known as Cincinnati Milacron) was the country’s largest manufacturer of machine tools.”
 
Cincinnati hosted the 1938 All-Star game in their home stadium Crosley Field, and was the first MLB team to introduce night baseball just three years earlier – developed by UC engineering alum Earl Payne.

And some of the warmest memories from outside the stadium included “Peanut Jim” Shelton standing tall in his stovepipe hat. "Peanut Jim" greeted fans as they went in and out of the stadium with the warm aroma of peanuts he sold from his affectionately named “Cadillac” pushcart. 

In post WWII 1953, Cincinnati’s second All-Star game found the city once again climbing out of a recessionary period. And according to Jones, baseball now reached wider audiences with the introduction of color TV in the homes and the portability of transistor radios.

With the new media technology, the world seemed smaller and it was much easier to follow the teams wherever they played.


As new interstate highways were developed, Grace says people were now moving out to the suburbs and Crosley Field was now starting to deteriorate quite a bit. A few years later, plans would be made to build a new stadium along the Ohio River, a spot considered for a ballpark as early as Cincinnati’s 1925 Master Plan.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’

By 1970, Grace tells Fox Sports that the third All-Star game was played in a signature year. It was the dawn of the Big Red Machine, the reds had a new stadium and new progressive social values were blossoming in the nation.

“The city underwent all this urban renewal and the interstate highways were through, but it was also interesting because urbanities were becoming more isolated from each other then,” says Grace. “This is when it was thought that building skywalks between buildings would be a good thing; that people could come downtown and shop and go from store to store without ever going outside.”

Aerial view of Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium from 1970.
Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium in 1970 surrounded by highways and overlooking the Ohio River. Photo/Flickr.commons

But with a strong subliminal intent it removed people from the real world outside and baseball experienced those same changes. Because Cincinnati’s new Riverfront Stadium was constructed as a big concrete island with parking underneath, fans were also isolated from the streets.

“There was a sameness to the cities at that time because we were coming off the cultural upheaval of the Civil Rights era and the Viet Nam War and people wanted something stable and reliable,” says Grace. “And of course most Reds fans didn’t live within the city limits. They now lived in the outlying county and state areas in a 250-mile marketing circle of the team.”

“So they drove in, parked their cars, went to the ballgame, got in their cars, left and never saw the city at all. The skywalks contributed to that because while downtown they never had to go on the streets and they never had to see what real life was like.”

And because of the stability and security that the culture wanted, Grace feels it was no coincidence that these stadiums also featured a new artificial turf.

“It made everything reliable then, the players had polyester uniforms that never changed shape and didn’t shrink,” says Grace. “People wanted reliability and sameness and that’s what they were getting. And in terms of baseball, the artificial turf added to the fans’ enjoyment because there were fewer rain cancellations. Cincinnati was the first city to use a Zamboni outside instead of inside an ice rink to clean the water off the turf."
 
The new turf presented a unique element of speed in the game that fans hadn’t seen before. The popular belief was that the ball moved faster and truer when it bounced off the artificial turf.

“One of the best third basemen I’ve ever seen in my life is Buddy Bell,” Says Grace. “He was a fabulous fielder, so the fans really enjoyed seeing the ball scoot down the field and into his glove.”

The dependability of the new stadium with its turf and the Reds’ powerhouse team gave fans the sense of stability that they desperately needed in the 1970s, especially after a period of years where the nation had suffered assassinations, riots in the streets, and saw young men and women on the nightly news dying overseas.

Peanut Jim also relocated just outside the Reds’ new home and the warm smell of his peanuts once again permeated the air.

GRAND SLAM CELEBRATIONS 

But Grace says it wasn’t until Cincinnati’s fourth All-Star Game in 1988 that the local celebration really became a community event. The Contemporary Arts Center hosted a national touring exhibition on the art of baseball, the parade carried on and Cincinnati baseball-centered celebrations went on for two days.

“It was also the first time we were not in a recessionary period when we hosted an All-Star game,” says Jones. “Reagan was ending his eight-year presidential term as a fiscal conservative and the Berlin Wall was about to come down signifying the end of the Cold War. The East and West would soon begin a process of economic integration.”

By now, however, the warm aroma of fresh roasted peanuts no longer wafted from the “Cadillac” pushcart. Shelton died in 1982 at age 93, but the city of Cincinnati quickly named a riverfront walkway in his honor.
 
NEW MILLENNIUM DRIVES HOME INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY

“In the new century, Cincinnati’s 2015 All-Star Game will reflect a tremendous change in technology since the first game we hosted,” says Jones. “We now have the Internet and social media, which has completely revolutionized the way the game is followed. We have become a lot more diverse in our economy and are not relying as much on manufacturing as we did in the past.

“We also have 10 companies on the Fortune 500 list located in Cincinnati. Companies in financial services, insurance, manufacturing and retail industries are all represented as some of our largest employers.”

UC also plays a larger role in economic development. Jones includes the College of Business as an important center that partners with industries and companies in the community. Organizations like the Economics Center, the Goering Center and the University of Cincinnati Research Institute are heavy hitters in regional economic development.

“Cincinnati had been primarily a blue-collar town during the earlier All-Star hosted games, but our economy today is very diverse,” says Jones.

Since 1938, the federal minimum wage went from 25 cents to $7.25 per hour with Ohio currently at $8.10. As manufacturing jobs decreased over the last century, Cincinnati has transitioned itself into more of a service economy. We are much more high tech today with an emphasis on biotechnology, financial services and business analytics.
 
And both Grace and Jones agree that UC is much more involved in the community since the city’s first All-Star game. Even though UC has always had a very strong co-op program within the city, faculty are even more involved and engaged in the community now, not only with co-op opportunities, but also with successful “start-ups” in the area.

Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park and a riverboat from the Ohio River
View of Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park surrounded by the city and local attraction B & B Riverboat on the Ohio river. Photo/courtesy Julie Billings Photography

PARADING A CULTURAL KINSHIP


“The All-Star Game festivities are no longer a two-day affair, like they were in 1988,” says Grace. “Just like the Opening Day parade, the All-Star Game is a community event. We’re stretching it out over a week now, which means more dollars in the community and a greater celebration of kinship.”

So whether it’s the 20th or the 21st century, the city’s ebullience will carry on. And now fans from all over the country will experience that quaint, Cincinnati charm while witnessing the best-of-the-best from Cincinnati’s $290 million Great American Ball Park.

NOTABLE FACTS FOR CINCINNATI AND BASEBALL

By turning much of his knowledge of baseball history into a two-volume set of books called "The Cincinnati Reds 1900-1950" and "The Cincinnati Reds 1950-1985" by Arcadia Publishing, Grace thoughtfully reveals, not only Cincinnati's baseball history, but also the close social and cultural relationship the city shares with the sport.

In addition, Grace illustrates much of the University of Cincinnati’s technical, commercial and athletic impact on MLB throughout the years. Here are a few historical tidbits:
  • UC alum Powel Crosley was owner of Reds when Cincinnati hosted the first ever night game in 1935
  • UC one of the earliest college baseball teams to go to Japan to play exhibition games against Japanese universities
  • UC baseball alum Sandy Koufax had successful career with the Dodgers, pitching four no-hitters
  • UC law school alum Miller “Mighty Mite” Huggins played for the Reds and later managed the Yankees and Babe Ruth
  • UC alum and engineer for CG&E Earl Payne designed the first lighting system for night baseball games at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.
  • UC alum Ethan Allen played for Cincinnati Reds and later coached baseball for Yale University in 1940s, including player George H. W. Bush 
  • UC baseball coach Glen Sample became the Reds’ official score keeper from the 70s through the 90s
  • Over 75 UC baseball players have gone on to professional contracts over the years
Cincinnati Baseball Firsts 
  • Cincinnati is home to the first professional baseball team in 1869
  • Night games were first played in Cincinnati in 1935 
  • Cincinnati's Opening Day Parade was the first of its kind to become a community celebration
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