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Crosley Field / Cincinnati Reds

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Crosley Field / Cincinnati Reds
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When baseball fans think about Cincinnati, they think about firsts. The first professional baseball team. Charter members of the National League and the American Association. The first night game. The first pitch of the season. For six decades this city of baseball firsts played its games at the "old boomerang at Findlay and Western," Crosley Field. The park was a green oasis amidst the smokestacks and warehouses of Cincinnati’s west end. Crosley was intimate and unpretentious, and its many stories and unique characteristics gave the average fan a lot of baseball to experience.

Crosley Field

Dating back to 1884, the Reds played baseball at the intersection of Findlay Street and Western Avenue. League Park was the first to open there, and as happened with most wooden ballparks of the day, it burned to the ground. In 1893, League Park was rebuilt, columned, expanded, and renamed The Palace of the Fans. The Palace of the Fans resembled a Greek temple, with an extravagant façade and opera-style private boxes. Alas, it too burned, in 1911, and gave way to Redland (later Crosley) Field.

Redland Field, named to honor the traditional color of Cincinnati baseball teams, opened its gates on April 12, 1912. The hometown Reds rallied from a 5-0 deficit to defeat the Cubs 10-6. Redland was built for $225,000 and was another of the many classic steel and concrete parks constructed during the first ballpark boom era of 1909-1923. The red brick, boomerang-like edifice was originally built featuring a covered double-decked grandstand that wrapped around home plate and extended about thirty feet past both first and third base. Single-decked pavilion seating continued into both outfield corners. Total seating capacity was just over 20,000. It was one of the smallest-capacity parks when it was built and remained one of the smallest in the league throughout its six-decade history. The outfield bleachers only held 4,500 fans, all in right field. In fact, permanent seating was never employed in left and center field.

Crosley Field in 1912Despite the cozy confines for the fans, the park played big. It was a pitcher-friendly 360 feet to left, 420 feet to center, and 360 feet to right. Throughout its early years, Redland was said to have the hardest and fastest playing surface in the league. (Coincidentally, and unfortunately, years down the road at Riverfront Stadium, the Reds would become the first outdoor team to play its home games on the slick, billiards table-like artificial turf.) Before the 1927 season, responding to the popularity of Babe Ruth and the Home Run era, the Reds turned their playing field and moved home plate out 20 feet, creating better dimensions for sluggers (339’, 395’, 366’).

By 1933 Reds owner Sid Weil lost the team to bankruptcy. The bank hired Leland Stanford “Larry” MacPhail to look after the Reds. MacPhail, cankerous and hot-tempered, would prove to be one of baseball’s great innovators. His first move was to sell the majority of the club to Powel Crosley Jr. Crosley was one of the first millionaires whose fortunes came from the new medium of direct mail, and he turned that early fortune into a media empire that included 50,000-watt radio station WLW ("the Nation's Station") and the first NBC affiliate. In a way, he was a predecessor of Ted Turner, buying the Cincinnati Reds for $450,000 and using team broadcasts as a way to prop up his radio and television interests. In fact, a Reds TV broadcast became the first sports program ever broadcast in color.

It was said that Powel Crosley was not a man of broad interests, and his wife complained that they did little together other than fish and watch baseball. That's a little unfair: Crosley invented the first compact car (which was sold through department stores, not traditional dealerships), the first car radio (the Roamio), the first refrigerator with door shelving units (the Shelvador), and a bed cooling system (the Koolrest). To his credit, he gave the majority of ownership responsibilities to his younger brother Lewis (Lewis actually ran all the businesses for Powell), changed the name of the park to Crosley Field, and hired Larry MacPhail to be the general manager.

Many of the major structural renovations at the stadium happened after the new administration took over. Between the 1937-38 seasons, home plate was moved another twenty feet out (328’, 387’, 366’) and in the middle of their pennant winning season of 1939, the Reds added roofed upper decks to the left and right field pavilions. This gave Crosley Field 5,000 extra seats and the appearance it would retain for the rest of its existence.