Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be somewhat amazed by the longevity of the Cincinnati team and the events within 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.
It is seldom mentioned that the Reds also had road gray “Palm Beach” uniforms, breaking them out for the first time during the 2nd game of a double-header against the Giants on July 26th. The press noted, “They were as any suits to be seen on the diamond and are much cooler than the flannel ones.” The red pants were not rolled out without most of the players disliking them, or the press having a field day with them, especially since they were to be used during night games, which was already derided as “not really being baseball.” Evidently, events with fireworks and marching bands were bush league and the type of things that, “You’d see at a county carnival.” News articles were peppered with opinions such as, “The story of the Reds appearing in bright red panties and circus colored caps and shirts must have been the “brainchild” of the club’s publicity man.” Despite this, the contests continued and opposing teams enjoyed the unusually large cut of the gate they were getting in the middle of the work week.
6/29/1936, From the Cincinnati Enquirer: “Feminine hearts fluttered as the Reds took the field, red pants and all, for their infield practice. The Cubs stuck to their conventional gray road uniforms, but drew a big cheer from the crowd, too.”
Team’s Record that Season
74-80, 5th place 18 games back. 1936 was the 8th straight season with the Reds having a sub .500 record. It’s also the best record the Reds had since 1928. The Reds’ surge in attendance due to games under the lights certainly irked opponents. The Giants refused to play night games until the 1940’s and other clubs would find fault in the methods the Reds used to put butts in the seats. Lou Smith of the Enquirer saw the future when he wrote, “The rest of the league may laugh at what the Reds are doing in the way of showmanship – the lights, the red pants, the fireworks, the American Legion drum and bugle corps – but the fact remains that it’s paying the clubs dividends and the rest of the boys will follow eventually, no matter how conservative they are.”
466,345 – The 1936 Reds drew the most fans since their last winning season, the aforementioned 1928. They had 29 dates with over 10,000 patrons, but they also had 32 contests with 3,000 or less including two games that drew only 700 people.
Reds Manager Charlie Dressen
Dressen was a small man, 5’6” and about 150 pounds, wiry and obnoxiously overconfident. Nonetheless he was considered by many writers to be the most approachable manager in the league and when relieved of his duties in 1937 many writers lamented the loss of a quote machine they had relied on for candor and color. For example, in the 1934 NL Pennant race when Bill Terry mocked a writer for saying that the Giants had to get past the Dodgers by asking, “The Dodgers? Are they still in the league?” 17 years later, the Dodgers had a comfortable 13.5 game lead on the Giants as August started and when asked about the Giants’ chances, Dodger manager Chuck Dressen replied, “The Giants is dead.” Dressen would later regret those words, for as most know the Giants came back, forced a playoff, and won the pennant on a home run against Ralph Branca.
And here we find the Achilles heel of Chuck Dressen—his ego. Dressen was certain that he, and only he, knew the next right move in the game. He was convinced he was a strategist of the highest order, hence when GM Branch Rickey introduced Dressen to the team’s newly hired statistician Allan Roth, Dressen paid him no mind. Nor did he pay attention when he delivered his notes on player matchups for each series, promptly depositing them in the wastebasket. Dressen’s decision to go with Branca was not a winning choice and one that might have been avoided if he had looked at Roth’s notes, for Branca had previously given 4 home runs up to the power hitting Thompson. Eventually Dressen was fired by the Dodgers for insisting on a multiyear contract, and his tenure with the Reds ended similarly when he asked late in the season for a guarantee to be retained for 1938. Once informed that no he was not going to be retained, the Reds asked him to leave 25 games early.
The team continued shedding vets and collecting younger talent. The following four moves highlight a firm rebuilding project undertaken one small step at a time.
- Purchased 21-year-old Johnny Vander Meer from the Boston Braves
- Purchased 20-year-old Eddie Joost from Mission (PCL)
- Traded 36-year-old Jim Bottomley to the St. Louis Browns
- Traded 29-year-old Si Johnson to the St. Louis Cardinals. (Johnson was 19-51 in his last 3 seasons as a Red)
The roster was enriched by a breakout season by outfielder Ival Goodman who, like many others, was picked up from the Cardinals, the source of much of the Reds talent at this juncture of their rebuild.
In 1936 Goodman manned right field for just his second MLB season, hitting a robust .284/.347/.476/.823. He also lead the league in triples for the second straight season with fourteen, four less than the prior season. Goodman eventually would be the first Red to hit 30 HR’s in a season when he had an even 30 in 1938—the year the Reds moved home plate 20 feet closer to the fences.
A fine comp for Goodman as a Red is Reggie Sanders.
- Sanders: 3292 PA’s RC/27 vs league: +.96, OPS vs League: +.118
- Goodman: 4029 PA’s RC/27 vs league: +.1.05, OPS vs League: .108
Following the season, the Reds announced a sizable profit and GM Larry MacPhail quickly spent $125,000 on players for the next season. Then in a surprise move, MacPhail resigned from his role as Reds GM and Warren Giles took over, firmly placing the Reds on a more conservative path moving forward.
Best Red Batter: Kiki Cuyler
If we are going by OPS, the best Reds batter in 1936 would have to be Ernie Lombardi. However, once again, he had limited exposure to game action, garnering only 413 trips to the plate, or just 7% of the teams PA’s. Lombardi had the highest OPS on the team but only created 69 runs in 1936. Outfielders Ival Goodman (89) and Kiki Cuyler (102) had more productive seasons, especially Cuyler, so that’s why he’s my pick. Cuyler’s 1936 was the last great season of a player known for his grace and demeanor in an age where rough and ready was the more popular approach to the game. At the age of 36, Cuyler performed all year, leading the team in games (144), hits (185), runs (98), RBI’s (75), BB (47) and SB (16). Though his speed was a shadow of what it once was and the expansive Crosley outfield was detrimental to the team’s overall makeup, the 37-year-old Cuyler had a year that was rarely matched until the steroid era when guys like Jeff Kent, Brian Giles and Steve Finely all had similar seasons at age 37 or older. Cuyler would fail to repeat his 1936 season and would eventually wind-up his career as a Dodger in 1939. He would be elected to the HOF in 1968 by the Veterans Committee.
Best MLB batter: Mel Ott, 82 RCAA, 1.036 OPS
What were you doing at age 17?
What were you so good at that you knew it was easy pickings most days?
For Mel Ott it was baseball. His 60 at bats as a New York Giant with a .383 batting average that season made it clear. Ten years later he was the best hitter in the National League.
Only 50 MLB players have debuted at the age of 17 or younger. The last two players that young to appear on a major league roster was in 1964 when seventeen-year-olds Willie Crawford of the Dodgers and Larry Dierker of the Astros broke in. Of the 50 players, the two most famous would have to be Bob Feller and Ott. Mel Ott had a fabulous career in a park built for his pull swing. 20 years later he would retire as the all-time leader in many of the Giants hitting categories, eventually giving those up to Willie Mays. Ott was the bridge from the New York Giants glory years of McGraw and Mathewson to the Mays and Irvin teams of Durocher.
When Mel Ott retired, he was the all-time NL leader in HR’s by a sizable margin:
- Mel Ott 511
- Johnny Mize 315
- Chuck Klein 300
- Rogers Hornsby 298
- Cy Williams 251
- Hack Wilson 244
- Wally Berger 242
- Dolph Camilli 237
- Gabby Hartnett 236
- Bill Nicholson 216
Today he’s #8.
Best Red Pitcher – Peaches Davis 5 RSAA
By the mid-thirties Major League Baseball began to see a huge growth in players from the south and the southwest. When the 20’s ended only 91 MLB players could claim they’d been born in Texas, a decade later that number jumped to 224. Many of these players were like the Dean brothers—poor, limited education, with exceptional talent displayed in a largely un-scouted world. Peaches Davis is one of those players. He didn’t begin to play pro baseball until he was 24 years old, kicking around the minors with 10 teams before being purchased by the Reds from Toronto for the 1936 season. As the teams main swingman, Davis started 15 games and relieved in 11 others. His ERA+ of 107 was the best on a team that couldn’t pitch very well. Davis was out of the big leagues as the decade ended and his legacy is not as a pitcher as much as a comic foil in an old Reds story that has faded in the years since his time on the team. Prior to the 1936 season the Reds decided to head to Puerto Rico during spring training to get their names in the sporting papers and play before some larger crowds. In the planning phase, Reds GM Larry MacPhail sent out announcements of the plan to all players on the roster. The players were asked to respond to MacPhail with their choice of travel, “Air or Ship”?
Davis’ reply was simple, “I prefer to drive.”
Best National League Pitcher – Carl Hubbell, 54 RSAA
Carl Hubbell is without a doubt the best NL pitcher of the 1930’s and arguably the best pitcher in all of MLB.
First thing one needs to know about Carl Hubbell is that he threw the Screwball.
Because of that pitch he inspired a widespread awe as exemplified by this Jim Murray’s article published after Hubbell’s death in 1988.
“He was the best there was to watch. His delivery was so smooth you could have dipped lobster in it. The ball just seemed to melt on the way to the plate. He stood out there on a mound, his head cocked to one side, his uniform hanging off him as though it was a hand-me-down, his neck sticking out of it like a turkey’s out of a barrel.”
He continues… “I only met him once….. ‘Tell me,’ I asked him, ‘Was that screwball that hard a pitch to throw? Hard on the arm?’ Hubbell laughed and rolled up his sleeve. He showed me a left arm you could have opened wine with. It should have had a cork on the end of it. I whistled. Why did he risk it?
Hubbell laughed again. “In those Depression days, you would have let them twist your neck for a living. An arm was nothing.”
Former Red Lew Fonseca wrote a book following his career, on pitching (which was odd since Lew was a position player). On the Screwball he simply stated, “The Screwball is another trick ball that can ruin a pitcher’s arm.”
Look around at today’s game, you won’t find anyone throwing the pitch. It’s not taught; it’s avoided; it is not normal.
The history of the players who have succeeded with the screwball is a list of pitchers who threw for a team that didn’t originally sign them. Each one can likely recite the times they were told not to throw the forbidden pitch.
Mike Marshall was forbidden by the Seattle Pilots to throw the pitch and five years later won the Cy Young with the Dodgers. Fred Norman also was forbidden from using his screwball by the Cubs. When he was about to wash out of the league, Warren Spahn, who had started throwing the pitch late in his career, convinced Fred that it was his bread and butter pitch. Roger Craig helped him refine it in San Diego and Sparky Anderson reaped the benefits in the 1970’s.
In the Neyer James Guide to Pitching, we find a listing of what might be the Top Ten Screwball pitchers. One common trait among most of them is they are not large men. They don’t have the height of a Randy Johnson or the muscles of a Tom Seaver and many tend to be less than normal pitcher height and some even slightly below that.
- Carl Hubbell – 6’0″
- Fernando Valenzuela – 5’11”
- Christy Mathewson – 6’2″
- Mike Cueller – 6’0″
- Mike Marshall – 5’10”
- Tug McGraw – 6’0″
- Luis Tiant Sr – 5’11”
- Harry Breechen – 5’10”
- Jim Bagby Sr. – 6’0″
- Ruben Gomez – 6’0″
For the record Fred Norman was 5’8”
451,160, 17th in the USA – In 1936 these states had fewer people than the city of Cincinnati.
- Idaho 445,032
- Arizona 435,573
- New Mexico 423,317
- Hawaii 368,336
- Vermont 359,611
- Delaware 238,380
- Wyoming 225,565
- Nevada 91,058
- Alaska 59,278
Team Media Sources
In Cincinnati, Lou Smith replaced the longtime Enquirer Reds beat writer Jack Ryder and would become legendary to the morning readers in the Tri State area. Up in Dayton, the Dayton Daily News sports editor Si Burrick was just starting to become a big name in the Reds press world, which was beginning to have more extensive coverage in all of Southwestern Ohio. Not only did he manage the daily content and write his own opinion column in the Dayton paper, he was also a sportscaster on WHIO where he broadcast 15 minute programs nightly for 25 years starting in 1936.
With the strength of Crosley’s radio holdings and the team’s willingness to broadcast games, the Reds popularity widened in the 1930’s as never before. It was no longer necessary to take team trips into the hinterlands to do battle against another MLB team or minor league squad to enhance the team’s pocketbook and visibility. The sheer broadcasting power that the WSAI / WLW networks possessed enabled the team’s contests to be heard states away. All home games were broadcast live on WSAI, with road games recreated in the evening, except against the two teams from New York.
- Count Basie begins recording with his own band, which includes a young saxophone player named Lester Young.
- Robert Johnson, a Mississippi bluesman, arrives in San Antonio where he makes his first recordings, including Cross Road Blues.
- Wm. Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter writes and performs Good Night Irene, a song folkies would hijack later in the century.
- June 26 – Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the first fully controllable helicopter, makes its first flight.
- November 2 – The world’s first regular daily high-definition (at this time defined as at least 200 lines) television broadcast service is begun by the British Broadcasting Corporation from Alexandra Palace in London.
Crosley’s influence on the Reds can’t be overlooked during this era. Known as the “Henry Ford of Radio”, Crosley was seen all around the world as an innovator who brought radio to the masses with his single tube $7 radio set in the mid 1920’s. His connection to factories that created radio tubes gave him and his engineers close contact to the creation of the bulbs that would be used to illuminate the Reds’ unique night game action and in 1936 the first year lights were replaced with newer, brighter lights that enhanced the view of the game for the players as well as the fans.
- Wilt Chamberlain (died 1999)
- Buddy Holly (died 1959)
- John Heisman, American football coach (born 1869)
- King Edward VII, King of England (born 1865)
- Cigarette girls dressed in “snappy” uniforms were a new addition to the Crosley Field landscape. They peddled tobacco, snacks and smiles and evidently insulted the sensibilities of the more conservative patrons since they lasted only a year and vanished as soon as Warren Giles took the reins of the GM duties for 1937.
- To the best of my knowledge these are the only four Pre-Prohibition Cincinnati Breweries that also operated after the 21st Amendment was ratified:
- Schaller Brewing Co. (closed 1941)
- Foss-Schneider Brewing Co (closed 1937)
- Bruckmann Co Brewery (closed 1949). Only brewery poised to deliver beer on the day prohibition ended
- Hudepohl Brewing Company (closed 1986)
- The Negro League team the Cincinnati Tigers rented Crosley Field starting in 1936, playing Sunday double-headers and 5 PM mid-week contests. Their uniforms looked familiar to many, for they were the older uniforms the Reds discarded when the Crosley-era started.
- Stanley George Bordagaray was the 3rd baseman for the Dodgers who went by the name, Frenchy. A swarthy lad from California, he found some side work in the offseason as an extra in the film “The Prisoner of Shark Island”. He grew a mustache for the role and retained it throughout spring training, a fashion that was decidedly not popular in the world of sports in 1936. The last player believed to have worn a mustache was Wally Schang during the 1914 season. Frenchy’s facial hair caused a rash of stories in the press and offered ample opportunities for illustrators to depict players from the 1890’s, as well as other ridiculous hair-related items. He eventually shaved it off and the story would be remembered in 1972 when the Oakland A’s would bring facial hair back into the game.