In the initial All-Star Game in 1933, Reds outfielder Chick Hafey got the start in left field. Eighty-eight years later in 2021, Reds outfielders Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker will be starters in the outfield for the National League. This represents the first time since 1956 that the Reds had two outfielders named as starters to the mid-summer classic. That year, Gus Bell and Frank Robinson won the vote, and the Reds sent a team record eight players to the game. The following year they sent six, and there’s a story there too.
“I want the voting in the hands of the fans, but not if they make a joke out of it.”
Frank Lane, St Louis Cardinals General Manager 1957
Local and regional popularity for the post-war Cincinnati Reds reached a new peak in 1956. Not only did the Redlegs (as they were called during this era) win over ninety games, but they also led all of Major League Baseball in home runs by a wide margin—walloping an unheard of 221 longballs, tying the game’s record established by 1947 Giants. Even more laudable for the team’s ownership group, it was the first time in franchise history that the club drew over one million fans, making them the final team of the original 16 MLB franchises to reach that figure. Looking back, buried in that season of sudden success and a thrilling pennant race is a run of civic pride that is best exemplified by the inclusion of five Cincinnati Reds as starters at the 1956 All Star Game. Since 1941, the only Reds position players to be chosen as starters were Ted Kluszewski and Gus Bell. To have as many as five seemed excessive to many in the game.
At the time, the vote belonged to the fans, who had gladly seized control when Happy Chandler was the game’s Commissioner. The prior figurehead, the lofty Judge Landis, had earlier decided that the contest was too important to be decided by such shoddy voting practices, and thus made the team assembly the responsibility of the All-Star game manager, as well as the other skippers in the league. Following Landis’ death and the disengagement of the games founder Arch Ward, the vote became the responsibility of the League offices. The leagues were unable to facilitate the process and once the vote was returned to the fans it was managed in a way that was less than ideal. In 1956, the vote was handled by having local newspapers print ballots in the sports section that could be clipped, filled out and then mailed to the central office of the league to be tallied. In Cincinnati, the Times-Star was aggressive in getting copies into readers’ hands. Other sponsors of the game placed their ballots in bars and taverns around town. In Cincinnati, Burger Beer claimed to have distributed as many as 350,000 ballots around the city. At the time, Burger was the main sponsor of the Reds radio presence and Waite Hoyte was their main spokesman, so having people talk about the Redlegs at bars and pony kegs around Cincinnati could only help Burger’s bottom line. Ironically, the Enquirer’s columnist Lou Smith derided the ballot stuffing and campaigning by calling out the Pirates announcers for shilling for their first baseman Frank Thomas and second sacker Bill Mazeroski, proving either that Lou wrote with tongue firmly planted in cheek or was clueless.
When three more Redlegs were added to the reserves on the 1956 team, there was more rumbling around the game about the eight players from one team going to the All-Star game. Some felt it hardly represented the league as a whole. After everyone took a breath, the grumbling died down and, by the end of the 1956 contest, six of the Redlegs contributed to the National League’s victory and pleased the National League manager Walter Alston greatly. It seemed the plethora of Reds turned out to be less of a problem than many had thought. That is until the next June came around and it happened again.
“It would be terrible to have eight Redlegs in the starting lineup.”
In mid-June of the 1957 season, the Redlegs were in second place and one and a half games behind the Cardinals. But they were not alone, they shared the spot with three other teams. The league was as closely bunched as it could get, with only the Cubs and Pirates out of the race. Meanwhile, the All-Star voting was underway and each day the National League office received the out of town votes. By mid-month, the NL leaders were starting to be concerned that the votes coming in from Cincinnati were dwarfing other cites entries, especially Chicago where the Tribune, who had helped originate the Game back in 1933, had declined to post ballots in their paper that season. Following the Tribune’s lead, other papers around the Chicago area also failed to print ballots and thus the voting for the Chicago teams was woeful compared to the deluge of votes from the Cincinnati area. By the league’s estimation, the Reds were going to win the vote for all eight positions. Fearing a backlash and a complete farce, Commissioner Ford Frick and the league presidents decided on June 28th that they would replace three of the Reds, stating that the commissioner’s office felt they had reached their high vote totals in a manner that was not even-handed.
“I took this step in an effort to be entirely fair to all fans and with no reflection of the sincerity or honesty of the Cincinnati poll. A re-study had to be made on the percentage of ballots cast in all cities.
The rules as set up provide that the eight men receiving the largest number of ballots would constitute the starting line-up, The National League which while recognizing the rule, feel that the overbalance of Cincinnati ballots has resulted in the selection of a team which would not be typical of the league.
There is little doubt that the five members of the Cincinnati team who received All-Star positions were either leading or in contention for their places, about the three others there are plenty of questions.“
Reds Manager Birdie Tebbets felt that Reds’ George Crowe, who was leading all voting for first baseman despite having only 703 MLB at bats prior to 1957, should be made honorary member of the team, if removed. He was replaced by Stan Musial, and Gus Bell and Wally Post were replaced by Willie Mays and Henry Aaron.
The five Reds starters were as follows:
- Don Hoak – 3rd Base
- Roy McMillan – SS
- Johnny Temple – 2nd Base
- Ed Bailey – C
- Frank Robinson – LF
The leading vote getter that year was new Reds third baseman Don Hoak. The intense player, who beat future Hall of Fame infielder Eddie Matthews, tallied 481,882 votes to lead all NL players.
In the final tally, Musial with his 1.045 OPS did indeed beat out Crowe (.845), however the late votes (550K) from Cincinnati were enough to push MLB and the commissioner to take the vote away from the fans again and give it back to a system they felt was more organized. The fans would not get control of the vote until 1970, which oddly enough was the year the game was played in Cincinnati at the new Riverfront Stadium.
After that year many would ask, how did it happen?
Simple… the town was on a mission and majority of the rumors of ballot stuffing coming out of Cincinnati tended to sound like a lot like this scenario:
A local tavern receives ballots from Reds sponsor Burger Beer and leaves them on the counter in stacks. A young girl comes by and takes 1400 home and votes for all her favorite Reds players and returns the stack to the tavern, which is then picked up by the beer distributor who mails them to the league office. The Z-Bar in Cincinnati accounted for over 10,000 ballots and Frick’s decision irked bartender Al Huff, who stated simply. “You can’t change the rules after the game has started.”
Even former MLB pitcher Nellie Pott, the leader of the Cincinnati Old-Timers Ballplayers Association, had a problem with Frick, “I voted 820 times myself,” claimed Pott.
After the decision to replace three Reds, an effigy of Frick was created at the Z-Bar and dragged through downtown Cincinnati from the back of a truck decorated with signs condemning him for his decision to remove the players.
In the “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” category, Frick’s move so enraged Reds’ fan Harry Washer that he hired local attorney Charles Keating Jr. (Yes, the savings & loan guy) to sue Frick for his removal of Gus Bell. Eventually he dropped the suit when Bell was named as a backup. However, Post and Crowe were not chosen to be on the team and were instead promised by the league to receive a “memento,” for their troubles. I had a hard time finding any whiff of an acknowledgment or a memento for either Crowe or Post. This all came on the heels of statements by manager Tebbets.
“The votes were cast, and the rules were adhered to fairly. Frick should indicate that the three removed players officially were voted in.”
~ Birdie Tebbets
During the voting crisis, The Sporting News suggested that the voting be limited to the fans at the park—which was what they did when they finally returned the vote to the fans in 1970.
After the All-Star game, Frick took away the vote from the fans. He was looking for stability in the voting process and felt that MLB was in a position, with franchise moves, anti-trust questions and expansion, that made bad publicity something to avoid in the near future. Eliminating this current headache would make next year’s contest easier to manage, so easy in fact that from 1959-1962 there were two All-Star games during those seasons. But that’s another story for another time.