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Watch On the Ohio

Sept. 29, 1975
Sept. 29, 1975

Table of Contents
Sept. 29, 1975

The Echoes
Ali-Frazier
House Of Lords
College Football
Harness Racing
Pro Football
Baseball
Cincinnati
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Watch On the Ohio

The triumphant Cincinnati Reds have lit up the sky over the American Rhineland. Now its good citizens have some grand designs upon the pennant and World Series

Pete Rose, native Cincinnatian, discussing Cincinnati and baseball: "I grew up in Anderson Ferry, right on the river. You want to know why they called it that? Because there's a ferry there runs across the Ohio. That's why. But you could look right up my street and see downtown Cincinnati. I went to high school in Western Hills, and right now I live five minutes from where I went to high school. To this day I don't know much about the East Side. I used to go to every game at Crosley Field. And Opening Day—Opening Day, if you had a ticket to show to your teacher, you'd get out of school for the day. Yeah, this town has always been very big on baseball. When a recession hits in other towns the people will set aside their ball tickets, but in this town they will set aside other things and keep their ball tickets. Listen to me: out at my restaurant we sold $2,500 worth of baseball novelties just this month. Of course, when I was growing up I think we played more baseball than the kids do now. You want to know why? There's so much more extracurricular stuff now.

This is an article from the Sept. 29, 1975 issue Original Layout

"When you were growing up did the girls dress the way they do now? No, right? Well, that takes the kids more away from baseball now. You probably played more baseball, too. Baseball players have to be better now than 10 years ago. You know why? Well, they're not any faster, any stronger, I can see that. But because of all the extracurriculars they have to be more dedicated. Sure, the Reds have dedication, discipline, and there's just four reasons why. Those four reasons are Bench, Perez, Morgan and Rose. Some kid on the team sees a guy makin' $170,000 run out a ground ball, you can bet he will, too. And the people in this city, they appreciate that. The people in this city are just like me. I've been sayin' all year we owe the people of this city a world championship."

If there is any justice in this capricious world and any surviving arms in the Cincinnati bullpen, the Reds, with the best record in baseball, will make, and then win, the World Series. But Cincinnati will understand if it turns out otherwise. Although the Reds have been in business since 1869, they have won only two world championships, and one of them was a dump. But even despite the team's recent Oktobermesses, the burghers on the Ohio keep coming back for more. If the Reds do make the Series, it would be altogether fitting if they let Doris Kappelhoff throw out the first ball.

Doris Kappelhoff grew up under that name in Cincinnati, and then went to Hollywood as Doris Day. What makes this so neat is that the best way to describe Cincinnati is to say that it is the municipal version of a Doris Day movie—with Rock Hudson costarring as Procter & Gamble, Tony Randall as the beer drinkers and Thelma Ritter as the Reds. Will the Democrats be able to seduce Cincinnati? Will the suburbs? The 20th century?

Longfellow called Cincinnati "the Queen City of the West," Churchill, "the most beautiful inland city in America." At various times various other visitors have called it "the London of the West," "the Paris of the West" and "the Berlin of the West." But Cincinnatians themselves, who have their feet on the ground, always boast about being "the machine tool capital of the world." Really. Queen Citians actually say that. In a lot of mid-American cities, the citizens dutifully obey the DON'T WALK signs. In Cincinnati they also obey the WALK signs. When it says so they step off, even if they don't want to cross the street. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody's business, too. "Nothing ever gets very dramatic here," says Henry Hobson Jr., a lawyer, a board member of the Reds and one of the town's leading citizens. "The city is small enough to give interested people a chance to participate. The United Appeal is a big thing here. Things in Cincinnati are pretty much done by osmosis. They just seem to correct themselves."

Vas you effer in Zinzinnat? The streets are clean. So are the politics. Traffic flows. People say "please?" instead of "huh?" when they don't understand you. The humidity is high, the chances low that you will get bopped on the head after dark downtown. Formica calls Cincinnati home. The first man to walk on the moon resides there, unbothered. People save for a rainy day; there are more savings and loans in the Cincinnati area than in all the rest of the state. Neither recession nor boom ever smacks into Cincinnati the way it does other places. Its biggest fear, which everyone expresses, is that it might become—fretful furtive glance—"another Atlanta." Industry ("good corporate citizens") works with government, which works with an honest-to-goodness two-party system. The men play softball and then drink Wiedemann, Stroh's or Hudepohl—have a Hooty! The women are not good-looking, by and large, as plain a lot as you will find anywhere in North America, but genetically this should not be too surprising, since the men aren't much on looks, either. Lunch downtown means a chili palace or brown bagging it at Fountain Square. The Christian Science Monitor recently listed Cincinnati as one of the 10 most livable cities in the U.S., and that won't get any argument here. Bill Keating, publisher of The Enquirer, says: "Many times I think Cincinnati is yet to be discovered. When people come here, they're amazed to find out that a place like Cincinnati exists."

Of course, nobody's perfect. As in other cities there are in Cincinnati detectable amounts of avarice, unemployment, malfeasance, prejudice, violence, pollution and pusillanimity—some of which sometimes exceed tolerable levels. And delusion. Delusion, at least so far as the Reds are concerned, has reached epidemic proportions. Never, mind the '75 season. Are our Reds—who have been nothing in recent years but a brigade of sunshine soldiers—are they the greatest team in recorded history? The afternoon Post ceded the World Series to the Reds on Aug. 19 when the injured lefthander Don Gullett returned to action. A banner headline declared: "GULLETT'S BACK! REDS CAN'T LOSE NOW." Not to be outdone, The Enquirer came out the next day with a page one story and a headline asking: "PLANNING ON ATTENDING SERIES?" Anybody ask the Pirates?

The success of the Reds at the gate has created another powerful civic hallucination, involving some convenient reordering (or forgetting) of history. It is rather amusing that Cincinnati, a lovely place, quite deserving of praise, is now being credited with something that really has precious little to do with Cincinnati. It may be one of the great fables of diamond mythology that Cincinnati is a good baseball town.

This legendary reputation is based largely on the sport's antiquity in town, and specifically on the gala Opening Day, which the ctizens celebrate with the same display of annual ardor that lapsed Christians save for Easter. "The best fans are from out of town," says Bill DeWitt, who used to own the Reds and still lives in Cincinnati, a devotee of his adopted city. "After Opening Day the people in town wouldn't go near the ball park. But they all thought they were great fans because they listened on the radio." (Even now Reds broadcasts have up to an 80% share of the local radio audience.)

DeWitt ordered a marketing survey, which revealed that only 16% of the spectators came from Cincinnati, with another 20% from the surrounding counties, meaning that 64% of the Cincinnati Reds fans come from outside the metropolitan area. Dick Wagner, the team's present administrative vice-president, says, "I'm not sure that we don't get more people in the park from Dayton than from Cincinnati."

Cincinnati was the last of the original big-league cities to draw a million, not reaching that figure until 1956. As recently as 1960 it was last in the majors in attendance, and a move to San Diego, or anywhere else, was threatened. In 1964 when the Reds returned for their final home stand, they were tied for the lead with St. Louis in a blistering four-way pennant race. By then, however, summer vacation was over and it was too late for the faithful outlanders to make plans to journey into town. This left Cincinnati to support Cincinnati, and a throng of 10,858 showed up to welcome the first-place Reds back. For the three crucial games a total of 26,127 Cincinnati baseball lovers found their way to the park. Thus encouraged, the team blew the pennant to St. Louis.

Only seven years ago the Reds attracted a mere 733,354 paid admissions to see a first-division team starring Rose, the league's leading hitter, and Bench, the Rookie of the Year. "What impressed you most about Bench?" someone asked Rose shortly after that season, expecting him to cite his power, his arm, whatever. "That he moved to Cincinnati year-round right away," Rose shot back. No wonder.

The Reds' success at the gate dates to the middle of the 1970 season, when the team left antiquated Crosley Field for the new Riverfront Stadium. The Reds drew 1,501,122 spectators in 1971, when they failed to reach .500 all season and have done better than that ever since. This year the regular-season total should reach 2.3 million, almost double the city's metropolitan population of 1,384,851, which is the third smallest in the majors. If the Dodgers drew at a comparable rate for the L.A. metro area, their attendance would be around 11.5 million.

But if the evidence shows that Cincinnati is not so much a great baseball town as it is a great new-stadium town, the management has done a superb job of creating an aura, a mystique, that has made going to see the Reds a necessary part of life. At various times other medium-sized cities have experienced attendance booms on account of new teams, new owners or new stadiums, but the Cincinnati experience has been duplicated only by Cleveland, shortly after World War II, and at Milwaukee in the mid-'50s.

As it was in those cities, baseball in Cincinnati today is a transcending experience. Because so many of the fans are from out of town and because the stadium is smack downtown, the sensation of baseball is heightened, overwhelming the very heart of the city. People are in Cincinnati to see baseball! This is utterly unique. To stand at Riverfront, and to watch the people flooding across an elevated walkway from downtown, to watch them strolling to the ball park, is to enjoy the weird, fond sensation of going back in time to a more graceful, innocent day when downtowns and the only game in town flourished together. And the river rolls by just to the other side. Rivers, like baseball, are from another era. In a time of jet airplanes and supertankers, rivers are passé. When Los Angeles grew up it put its river in a culvert. How warm, even precious—the happy, solid people walking out of downtown to see baseball by the river.

Belying its bland, conservative Republican present, Cincinnati was long a wide-open roustabout town. It was settled in 1788 and named (for reasons too dreary to go into) Losantiville. It was renamed Cincinnati in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, a kind of male Daughters of the American Revolution. The town's original impetus for growth was a bit of adultery. Assigned to pick the site for a new fort on the Ohio, a young officer, one Ensign Luce, had pretty much settled on North Bend, upriver. But there he started cavorting with a married woman. To save the marriage the cuckolded husband spirited his wife away, to Losantiville, but the ensign followed and there, to bide his time between assignations, he found a place for the fort. Believe it or not!

Despite a local abundance of frogs, squirrels, caterpillars and malarial mosquitoes, Cincinnati became the prime city of the West. The German influx, largely from Bavaria and the Rhineland, began in the 1830s, and by the middle of the century 28% of the city's population was German. At this time only New York, Baltimore and Boston were conspicuously larger, but the West moved west, and St. Louis and Chicago surpassed Cincinnati, a fact which many in the Queen City now perceive as a blessing.

The town faces south, and it began to point more that way, with railroads over and underground, for commerce and human contraband. Theodore Berry, the present mayor of Cincinnati, is black and well remembers the hypocrisy, the racial injustices of a Dixie border town. "Historically," he says, "there was a strong disposition to accumulate attitudes here that would make the city appear as a good neighbor to the South."

Indeed, since the German influx most of the immigrants to Cincinnati have come from Appalachia, many of whom commute back to the hills and hollows every weekend for years after they first disembark in the big city. Local joke: "What's the best thing to come out of Kentucky?" "An empty Greyhound." Country music thrives in Cincinnati and "living room suits" are advertised on the radio, presumably by hillbilly announcers wearing loud checked suites. The University of Kentucky basketball team has a loyal following in Cincinnati, largely in an Appalachian province known as the Over the Rhine area.

This section, obviously, was once the German stronghold. Then, in the late 1800s, when Harry Wright and his Red Stockings introduced America to play for pay, Cincinnati enjoyed its most boisterous moments. A great meat hub, where pigs roamed in the streets, Cincinnati was known as Porkopolis, and one early local baseball magnate actually wanted to change the Red Stockings' nickname to Porkopolitans (but for the grace of God: PITTSBURGH PIRATES MEET LOSANTIVILLE PORKOPOLITANS). Soap was another leading industry, and while Procter & Gamble now leads the nation in largesse to Madison Avenue ($325 million), Ivory floated by accident and then was named from Psalms 45:8. At the time, though, more people in Cincinnati were involved with the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages than anything else. Breweries and distilleries abounded, and a saloonkeeper named George B. Cox became town boss, running Cincinnati for years from a table at a joint on Vine Street named Wielert's.

Along that thoroughfare, beer gardens piled upon burlesque houses upon saloons: "A Free Wienerwurst with Every Drink!" In a wide-open town, riverboat characters flourished: Toothpick Ben and Simon, The Hot Corn Man; Johanna McNamara, everybody's favorite tart; Phil Gross, the famous barkeep; Big Foot Wallace, who peddled nostrums to the naive; Rum Crail, who tried to steal the cornerstone from the Walnut Theatre in order to extract the $10 bill therefrom; and the ubiquitous Dr. Locate Martin, so called because for years, day in and day out, he visited all the bars of Vine Street, cadging free drinks and an occasional potato pancake as he sought to locate a nonexistent friend.

At its peak around the turn of the century Vine Street boasted 113 drinking establishments in a two-mile stretch, 23 in one block alone, an alcoholic galaxy that left even Carry Nation in proper awe. She did not wield an ax in the Queen City. "I would have dropped in exhaustion before I had gone a block," she admitted. Moreover, while reconnoitering a big sports hangout named the Atlantic Gardens she had her earrings lifted right off her lobes.

The motor car diluted Vine Street's boozy rule, and Boss Cox' organization was finally dispatched in a reform movement that lingers, like the Teutonic touches, today. Overt sin was carted across the river to Newport, Ky., where gambling and pleasures of the flesh thrived under a compliant bluegrass constabulary. The Cleveland syndicate of the Mafia came down and made Northern Kentucky (before Las Vegas) the largest gambling center in the nation. Cincinnati citizens boasted of their team, which they never went to see, and prided themselves on their pure city while they partook of all manner of monkey business just across the river. Xavier University, a proud Cincinnati Catholic bulwark, once gave a Legion of Honor award to a student who, distressingly, later became a Newport hood.

Eventually George Ratterman, the old Notre Dame quarterback, got elected sheriff over there despite being waylaid by a stripper named April Flowers, who was used to sandbag him in a pre-election setup. Ratterman, who tried to bring the leading industries in line with the law, set the clean-up process in motion, the Feds moved in and Newport is just another go-go address now. Cincinnati's own nightlife centers on Mt. Adams, a charming, restored midtown bluff that features old remnants with new money, neo-Bohemia next to Glutz Mrkt. The Benches live up there. They can practically see his home-plate office from their condominium. "It's just a big small town," Vickie Bench says. Her husband might be the most famous name in baseball, but in Cincinnati it is Rose, the hometown hero, the Ernie Banks of the '70s, who is the premier figure. On occasion Bench has been booed at Riverfront. Not Rose, not ever.

Prime to Cincinnati is the fact that it is a compound of its hills. Not only is the city cleaved by Mill Creek Valley, but the topography further splits the community into distinct and separated neighborhoods. The black areas are spread about ("partly by design," says Eugene Ruehlmann, a former mayor), and these little ethnic fiefs are still greatly influenced by the local preachers. "CORE and organizations like that have never been able to take hold here," Ruehlmann says. But then, all peoples in town identify themselves by neighborhood rather than by city. One gets the impression that, like Rose, no one from the East or the West Side ever visits the other, much less migrates, and few depart the neighborhood of their nativity. Eighty-five percent of all the graduates of Elder High, a Catholic school in the Western Hills, still live in three contiguous zip code areas.

Both sides of town run the economic gamut, or seem to. For one thing, it is an article of faith in Cincinnati that there is a legion of Procter & Gamble millionaires living all around town more or less incognito. According to this story—which is quite reminiscent of the New York belief that huge alligators inhabit the Manhattan sewers, having been brought back from Florida as babies by tourists and then flushed down toilets—untold numbers of the P&G proletariat bought a couple or three shares of the stock years ago, and subsequently have retired as invisible rajahs.

Older, more visible money finds its way home each night out Columbia Parkway, east to Indian Hills and Hyde Park. Curiously, the Republicans (under Mayor Ruehlmann), with the support of the old-family Establishment, were responsible for building the $44 million stadium. The present owners of the Reds, a group of Cincinnatians, bought the team from DeWitt to make sure it would stay in town. And yet the East Side has never had anything to do with baseball, except on Opening Day. It was saving itself for the Bengals; after a football game at Riverfront the traffic describes a completely different pattern than after a Reds game.

The hard-core sports fans are supposed to live on the West Side, and the fact that they never took to the basketball Royals is supposed to explain why the franchise finally fled town. But there were other factors as well. In the early '60s the University of Cincinnati stole a lot of thunder with its NCAA champions. The aging Cincinnati Gardens was poorly located, and it is alleged by many residents that the town's Southern heritage, with a residual antipathy to blacks, spelled the team's final doom. Probably so. Since blacks began to dominate pro basketball, virtually all franchises in border cities, like Cincinnati, or the South, have failed or flounder.

The ABA Kentucky Colonels will play a third of their games this season in the new Coliseum, which sits alongside Riverfront Stadium. The Coliseum obtained a lot of support from the city and state funds for access roads and walk-up, but unlike the stadium it is privately owned by a local consortium that also has a 40% chunk of the Colonels and all of a new WHA franchise, the Cincinnati Stingers. Brian Heekin, the young president of the Coliseum and the Stingers, says the facility has obtained low-interest financing and can make it like any regular private business. But will fans from Dayton and Ashland, Chillicothe and Huntington, support events at the Cincinnati Coliseum in the winter the way they support the Reds in the summer? Attendance at Riverfront drops off significantly as soon as the kids go back to school. "It's going to be a weekend facility," Heekin says hopefully.

The Stingers would be wise to study the shared face that both the Reds and the Bengals show to the city, for apparently it is crucial to their appeal. Certainly it is no coincidence that these two teams, in the same conservative city, are considered to possess the most conservative, even antediluvian, images in sports. The Bengals, under Paul Brown, the obstinate traditionalist, were the NFL team least receptive to the strike last summer, and today hardly a dozen Bengals even belong to the players' union. It is seriously hypothesized in town that because a couple of Bengals have been busted for drugs the citizens are most cautious in their loyalty to the franchise. The people of Cincinnati neither tender their dollars nor their affection without careful consideration. Wisely, the word "support," as in "Support the Reds," is never used by the ball club. Support, like a day's pay, is something to be earned in Cincinnati.

"This is a discriminating town," says Willis Gradison, a former mayor who is now the East Side's Congressman. "What is important to these people they take seriously. Let me tell you about the great sausage controversy. After the stadium opened, there was a huge outcry about the quality of the hot dogs. Understand, I don't mean something frivolous, a couple of nuts. People were taking one bite and throwing the rest away. There was really tremendous waste. It was important to them. This is a sausage-oriented town. So I actually felt it my responsibility to form a sausage committee. I'm serious. And sure enough, we discovered they were using a different brand than what had been used at Crosley Field and that the cooking was being done on a flat griddle instead of a roller type. We put some pressure on and had these matters corrected, and people went back to eating hot dogs."

And, just like their sausages, the Reds are served up exactly as it is perceived that their constituency wants them. Never forget that this is the town where it was felt prudent to change the name to Redlegs in the 1950s lest anyone imagine that Ted Kluszewski might be affiliated with the Communist conspiracy. The Big Red Machine is doubly well named: not just signifying power but the assembly line as well.

The players' hair must be just so (and none on the face), their uniforms—of classic bridal white, a smidgen of red-trim—worn properly, exactly the right length, the prescribed amount of stocking showing. Dick Wagner, the team's administrative vice-president, believes that the Reds spend more money on uniforms than any team in sports; the stars are issued nine apiece so that never will a Red go out on the field with so much as ring around the collar. Bob Howsam, the team's president, from Denver by way of the St. Louis Cardinals, says he considers the field a "stage" and the uniforms "costumes." He has been known to phone the dugout to tell a player to sit up straight. It is darkly hinted in the Queen City that players who bridle at such imperatives (Ross Grimsley?) are traded to more vulgar locales.

The truly fascinating thing is not just that the Reds, most of them, supinely endure these dictates at a time when athletes seek carte blanche, but that the Cincinnati fans are tremendously proud of the me-too appearance of their team. The case is not at all analagous to that of the A's, where the mustaches were a PR gimmick, an arbitrary attention-getter. The Reds look the way they do because they represent Cincinnati, and Howsam calculates that Cincinnati would like the Reds just so. "If I was running an art gallery in some Western city instead of a baseball team in Cincinnati, I'm sure I would do it differently," he says. The Reds' management receives letters from people thanking them for their team's clean-cut appearance. They say the team is setting a real good example for the young people. Wagner says, "I think that in this country now people basically want some discipline."

Wagner admits to drawing freely from his stint as an Ice Capades executive, and not only in stamping out a chorus-line effect. He calls the stadium "a house," and seats are "inventory." And while most other franchises depend upon updated Veeckian promotions, the Reds have taken a different tack. "Promotion is the most overrated word in baseball," Wagner says. The Reds eschew special events—bat days, ball days—that would discount the house inventory. Instead, the Reds have sold a mood, an attitude; they have sold an ice show with a score.

Obviously the ultimate attractions of the Reds are the juggernaut lineup and the stadium, but it cannot be overlooked that the most successful franchise of the '70s has tied itself to the values of smoother times and gentler places. Howsam is a soft-spoken man who speaks country—words like the-ay-ter, umberella, redio—and he feels, really believes, deeply about baseball. "To me," he says, "baseball has been a safety valve. It's a fast pace today, a tense world, and baseball gives us a place to relax. So I believe we owe certain things to the sport. It has provided a tremendous service to the people of this country, and I don't want to see it destroyed—or misused," he adds after a moment; a curious word.

And so, while the Reds do not really belong to the city in a way its citizens like to believe they do, the Reds represent Cincinnati in a way that other teams (in any sport) do not. The people who come to see them are endorsing much more than just a baseball team—a city, a way of life, a dream. And even those who don't see the games pay the Reds a certain homage. Baseball is not misused in Cincinnati.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERPHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERPete Rose, the hometown boy, epitomizes both the hustle and civic-mindedness the city prizes.THREE PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERThe rest of the Reds' Big Four—Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez—are additional examples of affluent athletes who set a hungry standard.