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 lady—she covered her microphone with a clutch of seasonal blooms and instituted a dress code of white gloves for her female guests—Lyons was an unapologetic Reds supporter. She talked sports. Women weren’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 cared—or felt comfortable showing they cared.

Thanks to Lyons’ 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 Lyon’s television show, The 50/50 Club, spanned as far north as Columbus and as far west as Indianapolis. On clear nights, Hoyt’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. Lyon’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 didn’t return until 1970—after, it should be noted, Ruth Lyons had retired.

11 Responses

  1. Tom Reed

    A great write up. Thank you, Mary Beth. I spent that summer in St. Louis, and the Reds dominated 1957 All Star team did not go well with Cardinal fans, but I loved it.

  2. Steve Mancuso

    This was interesting for me to learn. I’d known about Reds fans stuffing the ASG ballot box, but I had never heard of Ruth Lyons’ role. What incredible power she must have had, especially given the times.

  3. whereruklu

    I remember my mom NEVER missing the “50-50 Club”, M thru F. Ruth Lyons had a remarkable hold on housewives everywhere. Along with Paul Dixon, who was on just prior to Ruth, and Phil Donahue , all broadcasting from Cincinnati/Dayton, the message sent out to the masses was clear- “We’re all batty for Cincinnati”. Get out and vote. Those shows became the cheerleaders for the tri-state area, and the hosts lead the rah-rahs. Ruth would have her band perform the “Cincy fight song” on every program and the audience would stand and cheer. This woman was a goddess in the Cincinnati area, and could sell dirt in a jar for $10. Her media personality was a leader in the field.

  4. iceturkee

    i’m old enough to remember ruth lyons and the 50/50 club. and while i didn’t know she was a devout reds fan, i know she was an influential person in the queen city. and i also didn’t realize the role she had in the all star ballot stuffing.

  5. Pooter

    My wife and I got a kick out of this. She’s new to baseball so I had to explain it to her. Once she understood it she thought it was hilarious. Thanks for sharing this. This makes my pride for the Reds swell even more.

  6. RossGrimsley

    Great story. I was a big Reds fan even back then.

  7. Victor Vollhardt

    I remember this (56 and 57) quite well and sent in many ballots myself. It also did a good job of selling newspapers –because that was the only place to get the ballots.By the way George ‘s name was spelled Crowe and the Reds Report had a nice article on him about a month ago. He was much more than a baseball player. It would be nice see that article reprinted here. The Reds played a series in St. Louis just before the all star game and any mistake made by the Reds was greeted by hoots from the crowd—at one point (coming back from a trip to the mound) catcher Bailey got his feet tangled up and fell down–even Mr. Hoyt laughed at that one. Miss Lyons was a very ,very big force in all of the midwest and especially in advertising circles as she could sell any product–but only after it was proved to her that the product lived up to it”s selling points. IN 1961 (Reds won the NL pennant) there was kind of a contest between Ms. Lyons and Mr. Hoyt–as she had a song “Rally round the Reds” and he had a slogan “Root the Reds Home” which was promoted by Tresler Comet gasoline–you got window stickers(shaped like baseballs) when you bought gas. I got my first car in 1960 (a 56 Buick) which I still have (inside storage) and the Comet baseball stickers are still on the windwings.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Fabulous. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  8. vegastypo

    I’m barely old enough to remember the 50/50 Club, but I think Ruth Lyons was no longer on the show and Bob Braun was the host. When the Reds made it to the 1970 World Series, I seem to remember that show calling on people to “paint the town Red!”

    I do remember how much my mom enjoyed that show in its Ruth Lyons years.

  9. Tom Reed

    Ruth Lyons was the Midwest Opra Winfrey of her day. Cincinnati has always been a big media center in spite of not having one of the biggest populations.