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. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great, but knowing what was happening when those uniforms debuted is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll cover the key events of the year.
The road uniforms prominently display Mr. Red Leg on the left chest of the newly designed uniforms. Also debuting was the “Vest” look, which would prevail for the next eleven seasons. The following year, Mr. Red would disappear from the local nine’s uniforms and linger in the background as the team’s secondary logo.
Sam Jones throws 144 pitches and the Reds lose 12-1 on a bitterly cold Wrigley Field spring day.
Concerning the Reds new uniforms this was overheard in the Wrigley Field Press Box:
“They not only dress like a softball team but play like one.”
Team’s Record that Season
91-63, 3rd Place
After eleven seasons finishing in the bottom half of the league, the 1956 team topped .500 and were a scant 2 games behind the Dodgers when the season ended. Their .591 Winning % is the 14th best season the team logged since 1900.
Best season for Reds teams that didn’t go to the post season:
1,125,928, 3rd in the League
The 1956 Reds drew more fans to the park than any other season in the franchise’s history, making them the last franchise of the original 16 to draw over one million fans to the park. Three games drew over 40,000, eight topped 30,000, and attendance hit 20,000 thirty-seven times. Even more telling, only fifteen dates drew less than 5,000 fans, all under natural light. However, this was only third-best in the league; the Braves drew more than 2 million for the 3rd straight season, and the Dodgers outpaced them as well. The 1956 season was a milestone in Reds history; the revenue generated enabled the team to install an impressive new scoreboard, finagle more parking from the city, and helped plant the seeds for a future new stadium.
Reds Manager: Birdie Tebbetts
“Birdy was a super person, an outstanding, knowledgeable baseball man and a good manager. Everybody liked him very much.”
~ Andy Seminick
Following Cincinnati’s fourth consecutive sixth-place finish in 1953, Gabe Paul decided to fire manager Rogers Hornsby, whose personality was abrasive and didn’t foster growth in the team’s clubhouse. Initially targeting Al Lopez, Paul turned to Tebbetts when Lopez reupped with the Indians.
The younger Tebbets was widely accepted by the members of the team, and the Reds experienced a slight improvement during his first two seasons, climbing to fifth place both years. Following the surprising 1956 season, Tebbetts was voted National League Manager of the Year and even appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1957.
A former catcher, Tebbets’ teams would routinely depend on power and a tight defense. The 1956 Reds were the first Reds team to lead the league in Fielding % since McKechnie was manager. Another trait that Birdie displayed was the willingness to use a starting pitcher on short rest. The 1956 team had 20 starters throw innings on two days’ rest—17 one day and 2 the next. Two years later, Tebbetts would resign in mid-August after the Reds dropped to last place.
”If my players like me,” he said, ”it’s an accident of personality. I happen to like my players and I treat them like men. If a manager doesn’t have confidence in his ballplayers, even when they’re going badly, they’re not going to have confidence in themselves. And when a ballplayer’s confidence is gone, you haven’t got a ballplayer. If you want to be a good manager, get good ballplayers.”
~ Birdie Tebbetts
“I came to Cincinnati knowing that the Reds and the city had a good reputation among ballplayers. I was joining a contending team with a great bunch of guys, and Cincinnati was good place for a ballplayer with a family.
~ Johnny Klippenstein
“On an off-day, it was common to see six or eight couples with their kids at the park, having barbecues or whatever.”
~ Hershell Freeman
In the mid-fifties, the Reds laid a pathway to the franchise they are now. This era has long been recognized as the decade that blurred our national culture from numerous small subcultures to one giant monoculture. The 1950’s was a time when players were still your neighbor, and the play-by-play announcer, a friend. The team was a source of deep civic pride, especially when doing battle against the constant bombardment of the eastern seaboard press monopolies.
To be blunt, the brand of today’s Reds was established in the fifties, and the main part of that brand is hitting the ball hard and hitting it long. After decades as a pitcher’s park, the change in the game was felt at Crosley Field when the park effects skyrocketed in the decade of the fifties.
When Warren Giles departed to lead the National League, the Reds inserted his longtime assistant Gabe Paul into the GM office. Paul brought two things to the job that Giles eschewed throughout his tenure: a thirst for hitting, and the need to be in the middle of the trade market. Only two of the team’s top ten pitchers were initially signed by the Reds, while six of the eight players who topped 100 games debuted with the team. Meanwhile, the bench was stacked with players acquired via trade. Smokey Burgess, George Crowe, Bob Thurman, Alex Grammas and Rocky Bridges all came to town via the trade market. Only two years after Chuck Harmon had integrated the team, the Reds had seven players of color appear in uniform in 1956, as well as Bobby Balcena, who became the first player of Filipino ancestry in the major leagues.
The 1956 team had 8 players invited to the All-Star Game and hit more HR’s with a higher Slugging % than any other Reds team in the 20th Century. Their 221 HR’s also tied the league record. Eight players had 10 or more HR’s and three topped 30.
Best Red Batter: Frank Robinson
“There were several black players on the Reds at this point. But only Frank Robinson emerged as a leader. He was a quiet guy, but he was definitely a leader because everyone admired him. For a big man, he was very fast and a tremendous baserunner. He was one of the greatest competitors I ever saw.”
~ Johnny Klippenstein
The Reds offense was a finely tuned machine in 1956. The driving force was rookie Frank Robinson’s performance, who also registered a .936 OPS. Robby paced the team with 38 HR’s and created 120 runs, easily winning the NL Rookie of the Year and instant respect around the league. It was a fine beginning to a Hall of Fame career and, as far as OPS goes, this would end up being the 10th best season in his long career. Meanwhile having his best season ever was Ed Bailey with a .300/.385/.551/.936 line and a RC/27 of 7.72.
Best MLB batter: Duke Snider, .997 OPS
In the mid 1960’s, The Kinks were one of the most popular rock bands in the world, probably more popular in England than anywhere. Their one big problem was that they were thought to be not as good as The Beatles or The Stones, which in retrospect doesn’t seem to be that big of a thing considering the shadow those two acts cast over the music world, even into the 21st Century.
In the world of Major League Baseball in the 1950’s, Brooklyn’s Duke Snider played the part of The Kinks.
Groomed by his father to be a left-handed batter, Snider was tagged with the moniker “Duke” for the swagger he displayed so freely as a child. An individual whose leadership was always displayed via actions not words, Snider was considered somewhat moody and self-involved. Yet, they loved him in Brooklyn. The constant argument around New York City in those days focused on which of the local teams had the better centerfielder. At the time, choosing any of the three was a good choice.
Best Red Pitchers: Tom Acker & Donn Gross 16 RSAA
My best guess is, few of you know who these guys are.
Both were spot starters and relievers. They both would be out of the majors by the time they were 29-years-old.
Both were the most effective pitchers on the team in 1956.
Most of the staff delivered league-average seasons. Joe Nuxhall was the only pitcher to top 100 K’s (120), and reliever Hersh Freeman went 14-5 with 18 saves, perhaps the best pitcher on the team. Prior to the season, the Reds bought Brooks Lawrence from the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks. A 31-year-old with experience in the Negro Leagues and St. Louis, his 1956 season of 19-10 and a 3.99 ERA was the best year for any starter on the squad. There was a large drop-off with the next three starters: Johnny Klippenstein, Nuxy, and Art Fowler, who combined for a 36-33 record. All in all, this staff was vanilla, without commanding performances that the team could depend on day after day. No starter had an ERA+ above 100.
Best National League Pitcher: Lew Burdette
“I had good seasons from 1953-1955, going 15-5, 15-14 and 13-8, but in 1956 I really emerged from Spahn’s shadow. I led the league with a 2.70 ERA and 6 shutouts. I was a sinker-slider pitcher from the beginning. My fastball was a sinker because I threw sidearm and three-quarters and the ball went down.”
~ Lew Burdette
Burdette came up in the Yankee system. Like many others in that system, he was blocked by the wealth of talent that existed at the big league level. Burdette received his big break after the 1950 season when the Yankees traded him to the Braves for Johnny Sain, plus $50,000.
From 1954-1961, Burdette started over 30 games a season. During that span he was, without a doubt, the worst strikeout pitcher in the NL, averaging only 3 K’s every nine innings, almost two behind the league average. What he did well was throw the spitball—that was his wild card. Burdette learned the pitch from Yankees coach Burleigh Grimes who also happened to be the last legal spitballer in the major leagues. Grimes taught him that the threat of the spitball could be almost as beneficial as the pitch itself, “They’ll be looking for something that isn’t there,” said Grimes.
With that approach, Burdette’s hope was to have the spitball on each batter’s mind. His motion was much like Gaylord Perry’s with exaggerated swipes across the chest and touching of the face. “I had a drawer full of mementos which fans sent to me. ‘From one good Catholic to another.’ I was a Southern Baptist.” said Burdette
Cincinnati Population, 502,550 (1960 Census)
In 1956, the city was in the process of falling to #21 nationally in population, right behind Buffalo and slightly above Memphis. It was a robust market area that included Dayton, Lexington and Columbus and would go a long way towards feeding the Reds fanbase. However, Cincinnati itself was the smallest market in Major League Baseball, hence the rumors that the Reds might move east to New York City if the Giants and Dodgers were to flee west.
Team Media Sources
In Cincinnati, Television made its first appearance as a vehicle to view the Reds in 1949, when WCPO began showing the games. Sponsored by Burger Beer, the Reds promptly decided to air all 77 home games. Waite Hoyt had the pleasure of toting the bag for that endeavor, as well as his usual gig calling the game on the radio. The following year they decided to show a few less than the full slate. In 1954, Hoyt’s sidekick Bob Gilmore was under fire because he had been critical of the Reds performance. He also had a few choice words about GM Gabe Paul’s performance. Forced to resign by the sponsor Burger, Gilmore said that the Reds “wanted a cheerleader instead of a reporter.” The following year Burger moved the broadcast to WSAI, and Jack Moran joined the booth for both TV and Radio, leaving the TV booth after only a one-year stay. WLWT took over the TV side of the broadcasts in 1956, introducing Hudepohl Beer as a Reds sponsor. In the booth for 55 broadcasts were George Bryson and Mark Scott. Bryson was a known voice around town, who called basketball games for both the Royals and the Bearcats. At the Times-Star, longtime Reds beat writer Earl Lawson was in the early part of his career. Writing for an afternoon paper provided Lawson with the chance to dig deeper into the personalities and particulars of the team. North of the city at the Dayton Journal, Ritter Collette was in the midst of his long career covering the Reds.
- The Wizard of Oz is shown on television for the first time by CBS.
- The Year of Elvis:
- Elvis Presley enters the US music charts for the first time with “Heartbreak Hotel”
- He appears on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time
- Elvis Presley’s first movie, “Love Me Tender”, opens in New York
- Cowboys on TV. In 1956 there were 41 Westerns on television. Singing Cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers entertained the masses in their usual half-hour slots, while shows like Cheyenne and Gunsmoke stretched the genre further by expanding to full one-hour dramas.
- Ampex sold the first VTR for $50,000 in 1956. The tool would enable television news to be archived at a cheaper rate, as well as numerous sporting events and inane television shows.
- The first computer hard disk, the IBM 350 Random Access Method of Accounting and Control (RAMAC), a magnetic disk storage device. It held 5 Mb of data and cost $10,000 per megabyte, and was bigger than a dumpster, weighing over a ton.
- Maureen McCormick
- Larry Bird
- Randy Rhoads (died 1982)
- Anthony Bourdain (died 2018)
- A. A. Milne (born 1882)
- Connie Mack (born 1862)
- Bela Lugosi (born 1882)
- When Reds pitcher Art Fowler finally joined the team at 31-years-old , he had been toiling in the Braves system for 10 years. The youngest of ten, his older brother Jesse pitched a year for the Cardinals in 1924. Thirty years later Art made his debut for the Reds.
MLB DEBUT: 7/29/1924
MLB DEBUT: 4/17/1954
In 1953 the Reds decided to change the team’s name from “Reds” to “Red Legs”. This change was noted by several of the larger newspapers in the country. Now it’s true that the Reds were once known as the “Red Stockings”, but that was during their pre-league existence. The Enquirer refers to the city’s entry as the “Reds” in an article about opening day in the inaugural season (1876) of the National League.
This practice continued in most of the vernacular that surrounded the game for the next 75 years. In fact, a search in a database of major newspapers prior to 1953 revealed the use of the name “Cincinnati Redleg’s” a grand total of 51 times, the first time in the Chicago Tribune in 1909. The Reds appeared as the Redleg’s for the first time in The Sporting News (the “Bible of Baseball”) in a 1936 article by Cincinnati Post’s baseball editor Tom Swope, who wrote about the Reds from 1915 to 1956. Swope’s use was likely more of a local nickname than a national one, however that all changed in 1953. After the name change, the name Redleg’s was found, using the same search criteria, 4023 times during the following eight years.
In 1959, the Reds decided to switch the name back to “The Reds”. Though communism was widespread in parts of the world, the Reds ownership no longer cared about the association and obviously felt they had the right to change their mind on the issue.
From 1962 forward, the name “Redleg’s” was found in relation to the Reds 149 times in a name search. The last reference to the Reds as being the Redleg’s in The Sporting News was, oddly enough, in the obituary of ex-Red Larry Kopf in 1986.
The odd part was Larry was always a Red, but never a Redleg.
- Buried in that season of sudden success, pennant races, and home runs, was a run of civic pride that was best exemplified by the inclusion of five Reds as starters in the 1956 All Star Game.
The voting process then, as now, belonged to the fans, who’d had control since Happy Chandler became Commissioner. The prior commissioner, Judge Landis, previously decided the contest was too important to enable shoddy voting practices, and thus made the team assembly the responsibility of the All-Star Game manager, a task no one really cared for (something that still applies today when it comes to replacements and pitchers). Once the vote was given to the fans, it was handled by having newspapers print ballots in their sports section that could be filled out and mailed to the central office of the league (sounds almost caveman-like in retrospect…point-click-submit). Other sponsors placed their ballots in bars and tavern around town (Burger Beer claimed to have distributed 350,000 around Cincinnati). When three more reserve Reds were added to the 1956 team there was a bit of rumbling around the league about the eight total players from one team that were going to the All-Star game. However, it died down eventually.
Or so they thought until a year later.