March 30, 2013
CINCINNATI — Opening Day in Cincinnati is a holiday.
And it’s been that way for years.
Opening Day in Cincinnati, with all its hoopla, goes all the way back to 1876. The first Opening Day parade was in 1890, before the Findlay Market group took it over in 1920.
The book, “Opening Day, Celebrating Cincinnati’s Baseball Holiday,” by longtime Cincinnati Equirer sportswriter John Erardi and Greg Rhodes is stuffed with stories from former Reds players and managers. It also gives the year-by-year accounts of every Reds’ opener since 1876.
The “first pitch” was started in 1895 by Cincinnati mayor John Caldwell from his box. The first wild “first pitch” came in 1896 when Caldwell fired the ball over the umpire’s head.
Flipping through the book, one has to be amazed at the high number of Hall of Famers who have played in the game. Everyone from Honus Wagner (Pirates), Three-Finger Brown (Cubs), Grover Cleveland Alexander (Cubs) to Hank Aaron (Braves) played an Opening Day game in Cincinnati.
The coldest opener came in 1901 when 4,800 fans braved the 35-degree conditions. The Pirates and Wagner won that day, 4-2.
In 1908, the Reds jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead, but the Cubs behind pitchers Orval Overall and Brown went on to post a 6-5 win. The Cubs went on to win the World Series that year behind Hall of Famer Mordecai (Three-Finger) Brown. The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since then.
The 1922 opener featured two Hall of Fame pitchers in Alexander of the Cubs and the Reds’ Eppa Rixey. The Cubs would win this matchup, 7-3. This was the first of two times that Hall of Fame pitchers would square off in a Reds Opening Day. The only other time was in 1981 when the Reds’ Tom Seaver opposed the Phillies’ Steve Carlton.
The 1932 opener saw the Reds rally for four runs in the bottom of the ninth to edge the Cubs, 5-4. Reds Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi, a great hitter but probably the slowest Red ever, kept the rally alive with an infield single that ripped off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root’s hand.
A highlight of the 1933 game was that beer was sold at the park for the first time in 13 years after the repeal of Prohibition.
In 1937, the Cardinals Dizzy Dean set the Reds down 2-0. Fans were amazed at the painted lines on grandstand beams and also on the flagpole in center field to mark the high-water level of the famous 1937 flood.
Probably the best Opening Day pitching duel occurred in 1943 when the Reds’ Johnny Vander Meer opposed St. Louis’ Mort Cooper. Both went the entire 11 innings, before Reds right fielder Max Marshall knocked in the winning run in the home 11th to upend the defending World Champions, 1-0. Vander Meer gave up only two hits, both singles, and held the Cardinals hitless over the next eight innings.
In 1947, Reds sidearming right-hander Ewell (The Whip) Blackwell had a no-hitter through five innings en route to a 3-1 win over the Cardinals. The standing-room-only crowd of 33,383 included a slew of high school students, as high schools closed at 1 p.m. that day for the opener.
The 1954 opener was an 81-degree day and a crowd of 33,185 showed up. Temporary outfield seats were set up to accommodate the overflow crowd. Reds left fielder Jim Greengrass tied the record for most doubles in a game with four, but all fell into the temporary outfield seating. The Reds beat the Milwaukee Braves 9-8, as Aaron made his major league debut.
In 1961, Reds lefty Jimmy O’Toole went the distance in a 7-1 win over the Cubs. St. Henry product Reds right fielder Wally Post had a three-run home run off the new screen atop the left-field wall at Crosley Field.
In 1963, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson hit a two-run homer and it marked the first game for Pete Rose, who made the leap from Class A Macon to the majors by going 0 of 3, but walked and scored a run. The Reds won 5-2 over the Pirates.
One of the most memorable openers came in 1974 when Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s career home run mark of 714 before 52,154 at Riverfront Stadium. But what some fans may forget about that day is that Rose won the game in the 11th when he scored from second on a wild pitch.
My personal lowlight on Opening Day was Reds mayor Mark Mallory’s ceremonial first pitch in 2007 which nearly ended up in into the Reds’ dugout.
The history continues on Monday.