“Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball. Baseball invented Abner Doubleday.”
–Harold Peterson

Perhaps you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t, but here’s the scoop.

John Thorn (well known baseball historian) was recently introduced as the official historian of Major League Baseball… this is serious stuff. Really…well, probably only if you’re a baseball history nut job like me.

But seriously, history in this game does matter, or at least John thinks so, and he addresses it in an article titled “MLB History: Farewell to Stats? Baseball Needs More Story, Less Sabermetrics”. The article makes a case for the reemergence of the history side of the game, a side that has lapsed in the public eye the past 25 years as performance stats have risen to the forefront of fandom. Fueled by the beast known as Fantasy Baseball, stats have become a big part of following the game, as well as a revenue creator.

Of course, when a guy who helped create Total Baseball (a lifesaver before the internet) says stats don’t matter you have to expect a rebuttal. (For example, this one from the Hardball Times.) But Kudos to John, I have appreciated his work for years and this appointment is really getting a guy into the position that understands the importance of the game and its history.

The original Hall of Fame historian was Ernest Lanigan, a guy who at this juncture is the type of person with whom Thorn might have an issue. Lanigan invented the RBI and Caught Stealing stats and was an avowed stat hound. His most often quoted phrase is:

“I really don’t care much about baseball, or looking at ball games, major or minor. All my interest in baseball is in its statistics. I want to know something about every major league ball player, not only what he is hitting, but his full name with all middle names and initials, where they were born, and where they live now.”

Lanigan was the first man to create a encyclopedia for the game called the The Baseball Cyclopedia.

When Lanigan passed and a new historian was needed, Cincinnati native and preeminent Reds Historian Lee Allen was anointed the new HOF keeper of the flame. Allen wrote the wonderful Hot Stove League and the Reds history for Putman publishers in the late 1940’s. A Hughes High graduate and an avowed ball hound, Allen spent a great deal of his youth in Crosley Field and first got involved in the game as a stringer for longtime Enquirer columnist Jack Ryder. Unbeknownst to him, a huge part of his later work would take place in the catacombs of Crosley as he counted pitches for the next day’s column.

Once named the HOF’s official historian, Allen dove into the work in a manner that is still felt in the institution today. One thing that occurred when Lee was on staff was the arrival of 50 odd boxes of materials found in the bowels of Crosley Field and donated to the HOF by Powell Crosley. These papers became known as the “Herrmann Papers” and represent a treasure trove of correspondence between Reds Chairman Gary Herrmann and numerous baseball luminaries (Al Spalding, Ban Johnson, Joe Wood, Alfred Spink, Hugh Fullerton and Hans Wagner).

In fact, the cache of paperwork has been termed by the HOF as the single most important source of information from the deadball era available to researchers today. Allen also had an idea about what part of the game he was most interested in and it was the polar opposite of the stats-heavy view Lanigan held.

“I care very little for statistics as such,” he always said. “My concern is the players. Who are these men? What are they? What problems have they faced? Where are they now?”

John Thorn would probably agree with this sentiment, at least today. And today’s John Thorn implores us to know our games history, not just its numbers.

And I ask, is there anything really wrong with that?

Thus I find myself looking at today’s Reds and wondering what Lee Allen would say about them, and the men who played the game for them. One thing for sure, I believe he would find some pleasure in the job that owner Bob Castellini has done with the team’s branding since coming on board as the helmsmen of the teams future.

First, it was the reintroduction of Mr. Redlegs, an image and logo that was prevalent during Bob’s youth, an image that hearkens back to a different era for the Reds as they were one of only 16 teams and the sole sports team in town. This spring the Reds introduced “new” batting practice jerseys, with a bold script version of the teams name across the chest.

Personally I have heard them derided as “cheap”, “kitschy” and just plain ugly. Many have thought this bastardized version of the Reds name was nothing more than an attempt to generate more apparel sales through new branding. Which is, in essence, very likely true.

However, in hindsight, the fact should be noted that this is not new branding but instead is the reintroduction of an old brand that first surfaced during the Reds 1936 season when Larry MacPhail (ever the promoter) introduced for the 1st time in team history more than 2 uniform types for a season. That was also was the only time 4 different options were available.

Since the Reds were the sole team in the game to play night games, MacPhail (ever the marketing guy) thought that the team should sport a uniform that would show well beneath the sub-standard lights that graced the field in the mid 1930’s. So on June 29th, 1936, the Reds became the only team to wear red pants. The jersey was a solid white piece that displayed a script version of the team’s name. No signature C was to be found. From most accounts, the pants were thought to be garish and were not a favorite of the team. The next season, the red pants vanished, but the script jersey stayed and the Reds had only 3 uniforms to hit the field. The following season, the script-lettered jersey vanished and likely was forgotten by most fans until it resurfaced this spring and expanded to take up the whole chest area.

Make no mistake this was a calculated move by the team to extend their brand and by reaching back into the history of the franchise, they were able not only to produce a new logo at no cost (it was already invented!!) but they also, in a unique way, were able to reach back and reclaim part of their legacy.

If you like your history, this game and this team has it. If you like the your numbers, they’re there every day a game starts; in fact, this game is awash in nothing but people, stories, stats, and history and from my vantage point, none of it should be avoided.

8 Responses

  1. Ethan D

    Great article. The history aspect of the game is one of the things that makes Baseball and the Reds that much more awesome.

  2. BJ Ruble

    Great post!

    PS: I love the new practice jersey’s, absolutely love them!

  3. Chad Dotson

    Good stuff, Brian. This is exactly why I was so glad you agreed to come back onboard the good ship RN.

  4. RobJohns

    I think I remember seeing that script Reds logo prominently displayed in the new Reds spring training facility when someone posted a photo tour on RN last year when the Reds were just moving in. We’ll probably be seeing it pop up more and as a history buff myself I definitely approve. Great article Brian.

  5. Python Curtus

    Personally, I think they should do away with “Mr Redlegs”. It’s a relic of an era when there was paranoia over a word and “fighting” communism was more important than upholding the first ammendment—-the most important legal principle that set us apart from the communists.

    I grew up with Mr Red (or as I took to calling him, Encephalitis Boy). Mr Red was great—-until I moved to NY and found the Mets had the exact same character.
    I hate the Mets.
    Mr Red’s time is over.

    Gapper was never the solution to anything 😡

  6. RiverCity Redleg

    When I played T-Ball, all of the team’s names were written in that same script lettering. That was just how baseball shirts/jerseys were done, including all high school team in the area. I was surprised to read that the Reds had only used the script once before back in the ’30s.