Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), or 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be a little amazed at the longevity of the Cincinnati team and the events that filled those years. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great, but knowing what was occurring when those uniforms were first worn is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll try to cover a bit of what was happening when these uniforms debuted.
4/16/1935 – Reds were scheduled to open on the road, MacPhail and Crosley lobbied the league to do it at home and got a waiver to do one game and then head to Pittsburgh to do the regularly planned schedule.
Team’s Record that Season
68-85, 6th place 31.5 games back. 1935 was the 7th straight season with the Reds having a sub .500 record.
448,247 – The 1934 Reds drew a dismal 206,773 patrons to a park that was looking old despite a new coat of red paint. New uniforms were issued to the ushers and the club lobbied hard with the other NL teams to allow night games at Crosley. A total of six games were played under the lights on the west side that summer and 126,000 fans attended those contests, 29% of the year’s total and 61% of the 1934 total attendance.
Reds Manager Charlie Dressen
Charlie Dressen would manage 5 MLB teams in his long career and the first stop was in Cincinnati when he replaced Bob O’Farrell in the mid-season of 1934. O’Farrell’s crime was he voicing reality when it came to the Reds. They stunk, he declared. They would never win with players past their prime and youngsters with little talent. He was asked to leave as soon as he could. Dressen, a former Red third baseman, was managing in Nashville at the time and built a reputation as a master gamesman. That reputation was burnished during the World Series the prior fall when he rushed onto the field to converse with Giants manager Bill Terry on how to pitch to a player the Giants had little knowledge of. Dressen’s advice resulted in a double play for the Giants who went on to win the Series. Following the contest, Bill Terry declared, “He’s one of the smartest little devils on the baseball diamond today.”
1935 was Dressen’s first full season as a MLB skipper in a career that would be highlighted by extreme cockiness. Anecdotes reveal him to be, if anything, very confident. After a particularly poor inning on the field, he once implored his team to “Keep it close, fellows, I will think of something to win it.” A good comp for Dressen is Bobby Valentine, brash, cocky and a pain in the ass to players on the other team and his own.
Three Facts about Charlie “Chuck” Dressen
- He’s the only man to be a member of each of the original New York teams when they won a pennant (Giants 1933, Yankees 1947, Dodgers 1952, 1953)
- He played QB on the 1920 A.E. Staley Food Starch company football team, AKA the “Decatur Staley’s” who eventually became the Chicago Bears.
- As manager of the Dodgers in 1952, he instructed pitcher Cal Abrams that if he wanted to stay on the roster, he would need to berate the opposing team’s manager from the dugout for the duration of the day’s double header, which Cal did. The game was in Cincinnati and the Reds manager was the hot-tempered Rogers Hornsby. Following the second contest, Dressen informed Abrams that he had just been traded to the Reds, leaving him to now report to the irate Hornsby.
Once Powell Crosley came on board, the Reds began to turn over their roster. 1935 was a pivotal year as many of previous owner Sidney Weil’s purchases were running on fumes. The season started the turnover early when Chick Hafey experienced pain and, being a nervous sort of fellow, decided to convalesce at his home in California. This, of course, left the Reds without an outfielder and thus MacPhail reacquired Babe Herman. Later that summer the Cubs cut loose Kiki Cuyler, who was having a slow time healing from a foot injury, and the Reds swiftly picked him up. It was also Jim Bottomley ‘s last hurrah as a Red and he struggled all year, along with most of the regulars, finishing with a .617 OPS. In 1935, only 23 NL players 32 or older got more than 50 AB’s in the season, and four of them were Reds. By the end of the summer it was plain that the Reds days of buying older stars were over. Heilman, Hafey, Bottomley and Cuyler would all make the HOF, and many Babe Herman fans insist he should have as well (40 WAR vs Hafey’s 30).
No recounting of the season’s roster would be complete without noting the big fish that got away. In December of 1934, Larry MacPhail offered the St Louis Cardinals $55,000 for Johnny Mize, a young first baseman who was playing in Rochester. The price was $5,000 more than the Yankees had just laid out for Joe DiMaggio. The deal came with one stipulation—Mize would have to be healthy. The prior year he injured his groin and by the end of Spring Training, despite all the talent he displayed, he was still hindered by the pain. Considering the cost and the years of poverty the Reds were trying to get out of, they returned Mize to the Cardinals. Mize would experience pain throughout the season and then undergo a new surgery that removed a pelvic bone spur that was the source of the problem. From 1936-1940, Johnny Mize hit .339/.421/.611/1.032 in 3000 PA’s for St. Louis. The Reds, on the other hand, would go to two World Series and win one of them.
Best Red Batter: Ernie Lombardi, .918 OPS
Ernie Lombardi was a large man. At 6’3″ 240 he is by far the largest regular of Depression era MLB. Not only was he large, but he was not graceful. He was the only player 6’3″ or more to appear in over 1000 games in the 1930’s and, as a Red, he logged 10 years behind the plate as the number one catcher. Ernie, though, was no workhorse. He only topped 450 PA’s in 3 of those seasons. 1935 was Lombardi’s breakout season as a Red. In 436 PA’s he hit .343/.379/.539/.918, which was his highest OPS in his career. A line drive hitter who wasn’t known for his HR power, Lombardi only topped 18 HR in 3 seasons from 1931-1947, yet his batting prowess was admired all around the game. What separated Lombardi from the other hitters was his ability to get the bat on the ball. He never struck out more than 20 times until his 13th season and he only did it one more time in his career. He also didn’t walk much, only topping 40 three times in 17 years. What he excelled at (much to his chagrin) was grounding into double plays. In his career he grounded into 261 double plays and only struck out 262 times. As a Red he struck out 111 times in his career and had 142 GIDP. In an era that had a only a handful of catchers that could hit, Lombardi was one of the best in the National League, and the only one who played in a pitcher’s park.
Three things about Ernie Lombardi
- Lombardi had a unique batting grip. He would interlock the pinky of his top hand with the index finger of his bottom hand.
- From 1933-1937 Lombardi only walked 81 times. His backup catcher was Gilly Campbell in 1935 and 1935. Campbell was the opposite of Ernie. Only 5’8″ Gilly was known more for his fists than his bat but, he did walk 85 times in those two seasons, 4 times more than Lombardi did in the aforementioned 5 seasons.
- Lombardi was the guy who could hold seven baseballs in his hand before Johnny Bench arrived. This trick was displayed when he endorsed Chesterfield Cigarettes
Best MLB batter: Arky Vaughan, 1.098 OPS
Arky Vaughan had an OB% of .491 in 1935. Outside of Rogers Hornsby, and until 2001, that was the best in the modern National League history. Additionally, prior to Mark McGwire’s 1998 season Vaughan and Stan Musial were the only players to average 8 runs or better than the league in RC/27. In 2001, Barry Bonds bypassed Vaughan’s .491 OB% and would do so again for the next three seasons.
In 1935 Arky Vaughan reached base 296 times and made 319 Outs for a difference of -23, which was the best in the 20th century. Bond’s run produced the following numbers:
- 2001 + 12
- 2002 + 94
- 2003 + 25
- 2004 + 129
Arky Vaughan was a damn good ballplayer and later left the game early after telling Leo Durocher what he could do with his uniform in one of the game’s more famous clubhouse standoffs. But that’s another story for another time.
Best Red Pitcher – Paul Derringer 7 RSAA
Branch Rickey always liked a glove first shortstop. The 1931 Cardinals shocked the baseball world when they beat the A’s in the 1931 World Series. A strong part of that team was the up the middle defense, including their young shortstop Charlie Gelbert. Following the 1932 season, Gelbert suffered a leg injury while hunting in the off season. Nearly losing his leg, Gelbert was most certainly out of the 1933 season. Starting the year off with three possible replacements, the Cardinals saw this sort of production after 100 plate appearances:
- Burgess Whitehead .571
- Sparky Adams .419
- Gordon Slade .320
After seeing where it was heading, the Cardinals went in search of a shortstop and ended up asking Reds owner Sidney Weil about Leo Durocher.
The price was Paul Derringer and the rest is history.
Derringer was a workhorse. As a Red, he pitched over 200 innings in ten seasons, which is the Reds team record. He had a high leg kick with an exaggerated windup and was known for hiding the ball well. He was an overhand curve first pitcher who kept the batter honest with a heavy fastball. It was not uncommon for him to allow more hits than innings pitched.
From 1943 to 1942 Paul Derringer faced 9986 batters, giving up only 112 home runs and 1435 non-contact outs. Eighty five percent of the batters he faced put the ball into play—an approach that worked great when Bill McKechnie was the manager a man who valued defense and successfully accomplished his goals in that approach. . However, in 1935 the Reds team defense was not helping Derringer as much as he needed. A fine comp for him in today’s game would be Bronson Arroyo.
Best National League Pitcher – Cy Blanton, 47 RSAA
For two decades the St Louis Cardinals signed more baseball players than most teams combined. Their minor league network was vast and covered most of the southern part of the United States. So great were their numbers that they often lost players who would appear for other teams and shine brightly. Despite this, the Cardinals won consistently. From 1926 to 1946 they only finished under.500 twice and won nine NL pennants and six World Series.
One of the players who got away was Cy Blanton. Found in Oklahoma, Blanton was an oddity in that he threw the Screwball as his main pitch. Blanton’s 1935 season might be the second or third best season for a NL pitcher in the depression era. His 2.59 ERA in a league that had an average of 4.26 is exceptional. His WHIP of 1.08 was one of the best in the 1930’s, only topped by Hall of Fame hurler (and fellow screwball pitcher) Carl Hubbell, who was capable of doing it consistently. Blanton would never match the season he had in 1935 and would ruin his arm pitching a complete game no hitter in the last exhibition game of the 1939 pre-season.
Cincinnati Population – 451,160 – 17th in the USA
In the mid 30’s, Ohio was the 4th most populated state with 6.6 million people. The Midwest had 4 cities in the top 10. Cincinnati was the least populated city in all of major league baseball, just a shade behind Washington DC.
Team Media Sources
The Enquirer in 1935 bid farewell to long time columnist Jack Ryder who, along with the Post’s Tom Swope, was the voice of at least two generations of Reds fans who read the dailies. The afternoon papers, which target workers who can’t read the paper in the morning, contain game news that is more detailed and awash with action verbs and Hemingwayish prose.
The main afternoon paper under that mold was the Times Star, which in 1933 constructed an impressive 16 story building to house their business. Meanwhile on October 1, 1935, the Cincinnati Post’s corporate parent, Scripps-Howard Newspapers (a large “Eastern Syndicate”), entered the radio business by purchasing AM station WFBE 1230. The call sign was changed to WCPO, for “The Voice of the Cincinnati Post”, and the station switched to a news radio format. At the time, the Reds were broadcast on two networks with two distinct styles.
- WCPO (Harry Hartman) Loud, roughhewed and loved by many. Harry was the passionate fan’s choice, he shouted, he spewed, he emoted. He weighed 30 ponds and would rip his shirt off in the heat of the moment or the day.
- WSAI (Red Barber) Southern, gentle, astute. Barber was the opposite of Hartman and thus each had their loyal listeners.
WSAI did not broadcast Sunday games, but WCPO did, and both broadcast re-creations of the day’s action at nine in the evening as well.
Two of the late 20th century’s most profitable auto companies make a mark in 1935:
- The Peoples car (Volkswagen Beetle) is launched in Germany
- Toyota Cars are launched in Japan
Both manufacturing introductions occurred in countries that were boosting war materials in the production sector, eventually becoming the world’s greatest aggressors. Meanwhile in the US, we see evidence of other worries and problems that confront the nation being addressed by the Reds owner’s own corporation, The Crosley Corporation, a radio and automobile manufacturer that was developing a product that would be released to into the personal care market in the next year. The product named “Xervac” was a machine that employed suction in an effort to spur hair growth. The machine could be rented for home use or found in barbershops; it used a vacuum pump that was supposed to work its magic on the thinning pallets of men across the nation once they donned the helmet.
- Elvis Presley January 8th (died 1977)
- Luciano Pavarotti October 12th (died 2007)
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice (born 1841)
- Huey Long, politician (born 1893)
At Crosley Field we see more than just new paint and lights making the park unique. In 1935 the Reds painted the outfield distance on walls of the park–this touch is the first time in MLB that the patrons are made aware of the total distance a home run would need to carry to clear the fence. Another touch was the left field terrace was extended around field, encompassing both the center field and the right field. The left field terrace later played a part in the 1935 season when Babe Ruth slipped on it chasing down a fly ball for the Boston Braves. A week later the Bambino would call it a career, aware that his legs couldn’t handle the stress of professional baseball anymore.
Night games were a magnificent novelty for the major leagues, and only the Reds staged them in the early period, with the Dodgers finally joining them in 1938. Casey Stengel had a theory that the Reds had an unfair advantage in playing at night, as he felt that they were more likely to be used to them. He might have been on to something as the team had a 26-15 record from 1935-1940 at night. However, the real gain was in the pocketbook. From 1935 to 1939, the Reds drew 3,014,012 fans to Crosley. Forty-one of those contests were at night and drew 826,790 people, an average of 20,165K a game. This number represented 27.5% of the total attendance in that five-year period. During that time, only six of the National League teams agreed to play at night in Cincinnati, with the New York Giants opting out of the event until 1940.
Photo of Crosley Field provided by Blake Bolinger. The licensing for the photo can be found here.