Discover more from The Riverfront by Chad Dotson
Reds fans are really lucky!
(in this one specific way)
I was reminded once again recently how fortunate we are, as Reds fans. Yes, you read that correctly. We’re pretty lucky! Forget the fact that the Reds haven’t won a playoff series in nearly three decades. Try not to remember that the Reds lost 100 games last year and have been one of the worst teams in all of baseball for much of this season too.
And no, when I say that we’re fortunate, I’m not talking about Cincinnati’s recent 5-game winning streak, though that was fun! I’m referring to my single favorite thing about the Cincinnati Reds in 2023: the team’s Hall of Fame and Museum.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Kansas City for a few days. It was my first visit, and there were a few things I knew I wanted to see and do. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was at the top of that list, and that certainly didn’t disappoint. Checking out a Royals game was a must. And I had to eat at Arthur Bryant’s, where I had perhaps the best barbecue of my life. Get the burnt ends when you go.
I actually saw two Royals games while I was there. Seated among a few dozen loyal Kansas City fans in a mostly empty park, I watched our old friend Travis Jankowski hitting second for the Rangers. Kauffman is a pretty great stadium, though it’s located in the middle of nowhere. It’s older than me and has held up better than me. Alas, unlike me (I hope), it’s due to be replaced soon.
Kauffman was the 19th big league stadium I’ve seen, and I wanted to get there as soon as the gates opened so I could explore the park a bit. Yes, I’m that guy.* As I was wandering around, I noticed that the Royals had a team Hall of Fame and Museum in the stadium. Jackpot!
*If it makes you feel better, I arrived just before first pitch the second day.
Admission to the museum was free with the price of a ticket to the game, but I would have paid extra. More teams should pay homage to their history with well-curated museums and celebratory Halls of Fame. If you’ve spent time at the Reds HOF and Museum but haven’t been to other cities and stadiums, you may be amazed that more teams don’t honor their history in a similar fashion.
The Yankees have a pretty good museum at Yankee Stadium, but it’s small (also included with the price of your game ticket). They do have Monument Park at the stadium, so when you combine the two, it’s a pretty good romp through their storied history. It pales in comparison to what we have in Cincinnati, however.
The Dodgers don’t have a team Hall of Fame or a museum at all, as far as I can tell. The Giants have something called The Vault at Oracle Park and they supposedly have a Wall of Fame, but you just get a 404 error message when you try to click that link on their website. If the Detroit Tigers or Philadelphia Phillies have a museum, I haven’t heard of them.
The Mets do have a Hall of Fame and Museum at Citi Field, and it appears to be pretty nice, though I haven’t been there yet. The Red Sox similarly have one, and I hope to visit it later this summer. The Atlanta Braves started inducting players in 1999, and they’re up to 38 inductees. But when I went to Truist Park a couple of years ago, the Hall of Fame was basically a corner of the concourse with some plaques and a couple of exhibits. Not an actual museum.
In the NL Central, only the St. Louis Cardinals have a proper museum, located in Ballpark Village outside the stadium. I did not visit the museum when I went to a game at Busch Stadium, as I had my family with me and no good parent would subject their children to such a spectacle. Interestingly, the Cardinals, established in 1882, only began inducting players into their Hall of Fame in 2014.
The Chicago Cubs have been around longer than dirt, and they only announced plans two years ago to create a team Hall of Fame with an inaugural class of 56 inductees. I haven’t been to Wrigley in the last couple of years, but it’s supposedly located on the left field concourse. Let me know if you’ve seen it. Another old franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates, announced plans last August to create a Hall of Fame, and inducted their first class.
Back to Kansas City for a moment. Given the fact that so few teams take their history as seriously as the Reds do, I was pleasantly surprised that a team created as recently as 1969 outshined some of these clubs who have been around since before the American League even existed. Even better, they celebrated the history of the Cincinnati Reds for some reason! Check out that gorgeous Mr. Redlegs illustration on the seat cushion.
I’ve been going back to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum since it opened in 2004. The second episode of my podcast (we’re up to 476 episodes at this point) was recorded at the HOF all the way back in 2007, with Greg Rhodes, the museum’s first executive director, as my guest.
The Reds have been inducting players since 1958, but really didn’t take it seriously until the late 1990s. When the museum opened, it was a fitting tribute to the club. But what makes it so special is that it’s not just a dusty collection of artifacts and a few plaques of players no one remembers. To the contrary, it’s a thoughtfully-curated examination of the club’s rich history. Every year, there is something new; I can’t wait to see this year’s “Women in Baseball” exhibit, for example.
In addition, the museum has regular events for baseball fans. Last summer, they premiered a film by my friend Cam Miller called “Riverfront Remembered,” about the history of Riverfront Stadium. (You can watch the film here.) They regularly feature current and former players signing autographs, as well; Tyler Stephenson will be there on May 6. Back in 2018, when our book was originally published, one of the highlights of that summer was getting to sign copies at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
I don’t have any relationship with the Museum*, and they aren’t paying me to say these things. I spend so much time thinking about and writing about and talking about lousy Reds baseball and lousy Reds ownership that I need a refresh occasionally. That visit to Kansas City and the Royals museum reminded me how fortunate we are to have a resource like the Reds museum in Cincinnati.
*Although I am about to commence a full-scale push to be added to the Hall’s Veteran’s Committee. It’s absurd that I haven’t already been asked, if we’re being honest. Stay tuned.
Every so often, I use this newsletter to dive into Reds history, because (a) it’s interesting to me, and (b) because I can’t find anyone else still investigating the forgotten stories of the last century-plus of Reds baseball (though Cam is always poking around this space, as you can see from his Substack). Like that time the Reds acquired a baseball legend for $100…and then simply gave him away. Or when Babe Ruth came to Cincinnati, and left murder and mayhem in his wake.
That’s why I love the museum. Rick Walls and his staff over there do an incredible job. If you’ve never been, you have to go. If you’ve been before, you owe it to yourself to visit again. It’s worth your time, every time. Just be sure to mention that I sent you.*
*That won’t get you a discount or anything. But this campaign to get me on the Veteran’s Committee has to start somewhere!
The Big 101
Over the off-season, I began a big project here at The Riverfront: a ranking of the top 101 players in Reds history. As I noted in the first installment, I don’t know how long this project will take, but the top fifty will get full essays about their lives and careers. Here’s where we are to this point:
Let’s add a couple more to the list and get us back to a nice, round number.
#91: Ron Gant
Like Vaughn, one of the all-time “Only played one year for the Reds” players. As I wrote in my love letter to the 1995 Reds, he would ultimately become one of the keys to Cincinnati’s charge to a division championship. Gant had been a standout slugger for the early-90s Braves teams that went from worst to first. Before the 1994 season, he signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with Atlanta, one of the richest contracts in baseball at that time. Shortly thereafter, however, Gant broke his leg in a serious dirt bike accident. The Braves voided his contract and released him.
The Reds, sensing an opportunity to get a good player at a discounted price, signed the 29-year-old Gant to a two-year deal. As it turned out, he didn’t play at all in 1994 but by Opening Day of 1995, he had fully recovered. He would end up hitting .276/.386/.554 with 29 homers and 88 RBI. He also represented the Reds in the All-Star Game, his second (and last) career selection to the NL team. Alas, this was his only season with the Reds. He would leave as a free agent and, though he played parts of eight seasons with six different teams, he never again performed quite as well as he did in that magical season of 1995.
#90: Eugenio Suarez
Well, he’s also one of the greatest third basemen in Reds history. Let’s start with the simple stuff. Only one Red ever has hit more homers in a season than Suarez’s 49 back in 2019; that’s George Foster, who hit 52 in 1977 (Ted Kluszewski also hit 49 homers, in the 1954 season). Among players who played at least 50% of their career games for the Reds at third base, Suarez’s 189 homers is atop the list, ranking far ahead of Todd Frazier (108) and Chris Sabo (104).
Using that same criteria, only six Reds 3Bs accumulated more WAR during their time with the Reds than Geno. It didn’t end particularly well, but Suarez, an All-Star in 2018, was a really good Red while he was here. One of the ninety best, in fact!
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