When I was a little girl in the green seats of Riverfront Stadium, I passed the time between the hot dog and the sundae hat with All Star ballots, diligently punching paper box after paper box for the Reds on the field in front of me. By the seventh-inning stretch I had created a small blizzard of perforated confetti, with ballot aftermath piled in drifts against my ankles, floating in my Coke, and, to their delight, dotting the shoulders of the fans in front of me. Long before the rest of the United States, I understood the dangers of chads run amok.
It was a standardized, officially official Major League Baseball ballot, exactly the same as in any ballpark in any city. It was the only way to vote. Approved MLB ballots are still the only way to vote, even as they switch to an all-online system. And the reason why originated just a few blocks from where I was sitting along the first base line.
Ruth Lyons, the immensely popular radio and television host who commanded the entire Midwest during the Crosley Field era, wanted the entire National League roster of the 1957 All Star Game filled with Reds (then Redlegs.) Reminders from broadcaster Waite Hoyt helped. The fact that Reds-leaning ballots were printed daily in the Cincinnati Times-Star helped. But mostly it was the influence of Lyons who almost saw to it that that Gus Bell started in the outfield instead of Hank Aaron.
Although she was most emphatically a ladyÃ¢â‚¬â€she covered her microphone with a clutch of seasonal blooms and instituted a dress code of white gloves for her female guestsÃ¢â‚¬â€Lyons was an unapologetic Reds supporter. She talked sports. Women werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t supposed to talk sports, especially on television, but there was Lyons, microphone bouquet on her lap, peppering Johnny Bench with questions about pitch speed. Her influence with housewives brought the game to thousands who otherwise might not have much caredÃ¢â‚¬â€or felt comfortable showing they cared.
Thanks to LyonsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ boosterism, the 1956 All Star team was suspiciously Cincinnati-heavy as well, featuring five starters from the Reds. Why make the 1957 game a scrimmage for the entire Reds lineup?
Why not, when the reach of LyonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s television show, The 50/50 Club, spanned as far north as Columbus and as far west as Indianapolis. On clear nights, HoytÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice on 700 WLW could be heard as far as Florida. My mother remembers sitting at the kitchen table with my grandparents and uncles, filling out ballot after ballot cut from the afternoon edition of Times-Star that her father brought home each day on the bus. LyonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pushing had made this a point of Cincinnati pride, so This Was What You Did. You stuffed the ballot box as a family.
By July, half a million ballots bore a Tri-State postmark, more than the entirety of what was submitted from every other MLB city. Reds had been elected to every single position except for first base, where Stan Musial barely edged George Crow.
The concept of Wally Post starting instead of Willie Mays was a bridge too far for then-commissioner Ford Frick, who booted Post and Bell and then ended the fun entirely: Players and coaches would now choose the teams, and they had better stay out of range of WLW.
Fan voting didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t return until 1970Ã¢â‚¬â€after, it should be noted, Ruth Lyons had retired.