05/01/12 2:22 PM ET
One hundred years ago this year, on April 11, 1912, Arizona was about to celebrate its second month of statehood, the Republic of China was but four months old and the RMS Titanic was in the second day of its maiden voyage. In Cincinnati, a new ballpark was officially christened as the Reds hosted the Chicago Cubs at new Redland Field on Opening Day.
Fifty-eight years later, on April 6, 1970, Arizona was no longer the youngest state in the union, having been replaced in that position first by Hawaii and later Alaska, China had become a bastion of Communism and the sad wreck of the Titanic lay undiscovered in the deep waters of the North Atlantic. In Cincinnati, the understated ballpark that opened with much fanfare in 1912, was still the home of the Reds, hosting its last Opening Day game under its more familiar moniker, Crosley Field.
During its nearly six decades of service, Redland/Crosley Field hosted over 4500 regular season Major League games, two All-Star Games and four World Series and was a reassuring and beloved constant to generations of Cincinnatians amidst the uncertainty and tumult of two World Wars, the Great Depression, the historically devastating flood of 1937 and the myriad calamities and general social upheaval that marked the 20th century.
Located at the corner of Findlay St. and Western Avenue in Cincinnati's West End, Crosley Field (the ballpark was renamed after local business magnate Powel Crosley, Jr. bought the Reds in 1934) was built atop the remnants of no less than four ballparks that had preceded it on the site dating back to 1884. Its immediate predecessor was the opulent Palace of the Fans, a park that was rendered obsolete by its limited size in an age of exploding popularity for the game.
Compared to the Palace, Crosley was quite plain. Constructed in but six months during the off-season between the 1911 and 1912 seasons, it lacked the dramatic design features of the Palace but boasted an impressive capacity of over 20,000 seats. Its most unique feature was the left-field "terrace," a stretch of ground that extended from the left-field corner to center field that sloped upward to the outfield fence. The terrace was the result of the natural contour of the ground that was never leveled off. In 1935, the club artificially extended the terrace from its natural endpoint all the way to the right field corner, ensuring that right fielders would be as bedeviled by it as their counterparts in left and center.
Over the years, Crosley evolved a bit with the upper grandstands being extended down the left and right field lines in 1939, two new scoreboards, each more impressive than its predecessor being erected in centerfield, a new coat of bright white paint being applied to park's exterior in 1961 but fundamentally, a visitor to the park in its first year of life would have easily recognized it in its last year. It was this familiarly, this sameness that lent the park so much of its charm.
But it was also the countless unforgettable events that unfolded there: the infamous 1919 World Series; the first night game in Major League history in 1935; the exploits of Cincinnati's most successful Negro League team, the Tigers, who played their home games there in the late - 1930s; the back-to-back pennants in 1939 and 1940 and the 1940 World Championship, still the only World Series a Reds team has ever clinched at home; the booming bats of the Reds of 1956; the most unexpected pennant of 1961; the stirring courage of Fred Hutchinson as he fought valiantly to hold the Reds managerial reigns while battling the cancer that would take his life; the stirrings of the Big Red Machine as Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Sparky Anderson made their Major League debuts in Crosley's final seasons. An utterly unique scrapbook of collective memory shared indirectly by every fan who ever passed through Crosley's gates. They are the kind of memories only ballparks like Crosley can produce.
It is doubtful that many fans in 1912 would have predicted that a century after the park was born and over 40 years after it hosted its last game, fans would still be mourning its loss. But mourn they do, for the simplicity and unadorned beauty of the little ballpark at Findlay & Western that was not only the home of the Reds, but their home too.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.