Cincinnati’s Public Landing, I have read, was formed by ballast and baggage. Immigrants who floated here from Europe arrived in ships loaded with stones from the old country to act as a counterweight against the tossings of the Atlantic. When the boats arrived from Germany or Ireland or England or Italy, passengers collected their meager belongings, the rocks were heaved overboard, and the stone leavings became part of the city’s riverfront.

Better this romantic conglomeration than the weary business of digging limestone out of the nearest outcropping. The analogies of building a melting pot write themselves, and we are left to contemplate what our forbearers left behind.

One of these things, more in this city than any other, is a baseball team. We can complain all we want about free agency and spiraling player costs, but inescapably ironic fact remains that the whole gloriously capitalistic enterprise began right here at Union Grounds.

When we count the age of the Reds, we begin not from the moment of conception, but the moment of remuneration. And there’s a reason for that: Once word got out that the Red Stockings were willing to pay their players, a winning streak of two solid years set in.

After the gentlemanly rules were out the ballpark window, there was no reinforcing them. That is for better (team stability; players free to concentrate exclusively on baseball) and for worse (revolving door of players; ten year olds checking in for Tommy John surgery.) And it was the natural way of things, at least in America; if Cincinnati hadn’t established itself as the epicenter of professional ballplayers, then one of our early foes would have likely snatched up the honor.

But with pro baseball marking its beginnings here, we have more to lose than the others. There is not a Cincinnatian alive who cannot remember a time when there was not a team in residence, a claim that stretches back at least three generations. It’s not Tampa. We cannot say with any certainty, “It was fine before they played; we’ll be fine when they are not.”

Cincinnati faced this question in the 60’s, and again in the 90s when both the Reds and Bengals held taxpayers hostage for new stadium. We caved. We could not imagine life without a home team. And now, in an era when we need not glance up from the glowing rectangles in our hands to realize which city we’re even in, how many would even notice if the Reds even left?

If you participated in that levy question, and you voted yes for the stadium taxes, would you vote the same way in 2021?

Last week, a commentator mentioned that if the franchise left, he was done. There would be no adoption of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. And I realized that without much marking the Cincinnati team as the Cincinnati team once it left Cincinnati, I’d probably shrug too and go back to my YouTube watchlist.

We have long considered our team as our ballast. It has held us firm in the crashing waves of war, economic crisis, riots, racial strife, and now even pestilence. What, then, if we tossed it overboard, but didn’t use it to build something new? What if we allowed another city to carry it off to its own riverfront or lake bed?

Does this team still help to hold us together? Is it a counterweight against the whipping winds of the outside world?

With a markedly dwindling home attendance, we might have to face those questions.

44 Responses

  1. Mike V

    I’ve thought about that possibility too the last couple of years .. It’s a scary thought indeed. I come up to the games from Louisville routinely and the small crowds at the games make me sad .. We can argue about the reasons and I am sure they all have some validity . I also trust there are enough smart people in the town to figure out a solution .. But not living in town , I am not in a position to judge if anybody really cares any more .

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      There’s just no buzz. If people are interested, it seems to happen by reflex and habit. But that might be me projecting.

    • RedsMonk65

      Something to ponder. The dreaded Cardinals have great attendance numbers. I’ve been in St. Louis for weekend afternoon games (yes, I confess), and the place has been packed. So, does that, and the Reds attendance figures, have anything to do with the following?

      Years this millennium the Cardinals have made the playoffs:
      2000 (played in NLCS)
      2002 (played in NLCS)
      2004 (played in WS)
      2005 (played in NLCS)
      2006 (WON WORLD SERIES)
      2011 (WON WORLD SERIES)
      2013 (played in WS)
      2014 (played in NLCS)
      2019 (played in NLCS)

      Years this millennium the Reds have made the playoffs:

      I wonder….

      • RedsMonk65

        Sorry, meant “weekday.” Forgive me, I’m a sinner and a Reds fan.

  2. Jon

    The Reds could easily average 28,000-30,000 fans a game as they did back when the Reds had playoff teams in the early 2010s. Bob simply needs to show the fans he is committed to winning, not merely attempting to sneak into the wildcard game. It was made perfectly clear this year that ownership doesn’t care about winning.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s a good point– “almost sneaking in” seems to be the highest goal rather than “win it all and really stomp ’em.”

    • Challenger

      I agree with your statement up to the last sentence. It is hard for me to believe ownership doesn’t care about winning. To be honest it seems they don’t know that winning requires a financial investment along with building an organization committed to finding and developing talent.
      When you find people that fit with a “play to win” culture, you keep them. Nick Castellanos and Tucker Barnhart fit in that culture, along with Joey Votto, Jonathan India, Kyle Farmer, Geno Suarez, Jesse Winker, Tyler Nacquin, and Tyler Stephenson., Max Shrock among others. With the pitchers, there is talent, but not for top of the order. Luis Castillo and Sunny Gray have not shown consistency. The relief corps needs help at the back end.
      Serious, thoughtful comments encouraged!

  3. AC

    It’s so easy to not go to games now, and it’s increasingly harder to go. Every game is on TV, parking is more expensive than the ticket, construction makes it more difficult to get downtown, etc.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh man I remember a couple years ago when the team was selling early-season tickets extremely cheap, like a pack of 5 games for $10 a pop. And the argument was “Why not? Great price” and I was screaming back “PARRRRRRRRKIIIIINNNNNNG!!”

  4. Rut

    The owners of the Reds make a ton of money off the team. While it might not be tied to daily attendance, the overall value of the team has skyrocketed.

    So it’s not like there is any actual financial crisis here; only whether the owners could make far more if they moved to Vegas or Nashville or wherever.

    If they were to do that move given the above economic conditions, it would certainly be “good riddance” from me.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yep. I think if they held the stadium vote today, it would not go the way it did 30 years ago.

  5. shaggy

    well every game is on tv if you have standard cable, if you are like me and stream your cable then you do not have baseball. And paying for mlb is too expensive and you can’t even watch it here in cincinnati. That needs to be addressed, because if they don’t make watching the ball game affordable it will become even harder to watch your favorite team play. And then you might find something else that takes your interest.

    • Oxfordsport

      Well said Shaggy.
      And what is being done to attract youth?
      Playoff games are late at night and filled with commercials for things that don’t interest youths.
      I sometime wonder, wouldn’t it be a good thing for the game to become less popular, and thereby less lucrative?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Agreed. The MLB is doing itself absolutely no favors with its old-fashioned approach to in-market/out of market situations.

  6. Bred

    Yes, through misery and joy the Bengals and Reds unite a community that traverses the globe. In Tampa it’s a bridge that keeps people away. Now, some talk about a new stadium in the burbs for them. Before Riverfront, there was talk of moving the Reds to Blue Ash. The location was owned by the city of Cincy. If they had moved to the burbs, I think they would have a larger crowds because like the bridge in Tampa busy families don’t want the hassle and don’t have the time to go into town.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s a fascinating comparison/contrast. Thanks for chiming in what the situation is in Tampa. I was just far away enough in Cape Canaveral/Orlando/Daytona to not have a lot of clue as to how things were going over there.

  7. Jeffery Stroupe

    Screw free agency…at this point I’d rather watch our home grown players develope at the MLB level and become solid players.. that is what attracts Reds fans… The Roses.. Bench ..Davis ..Larkin and so on. Nice article…best i have read. Remember “at this point” comment

    • Jon

      Just as important are the outside players filling key roles or stepping up unexpectedly. The Brandon Phillips, Scooter Gennetts, Nick Castellanos-es, etc. all gained massive followings by the Reds fan base.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks much for the kind words 🙂 I agree that it’s tough to lose the hometown player aspect. It seems like a lottery as to whether or not we get a local guy.

  8. Mark Elliott

    If your analysis is strictly based on attendance then every team in our division is thinking of moving. MLB attendance, zero last year, is down anywhere from 20 to 40% from 2019. Brewers are down over 1 million from 2019. Hottest team in the world, Cardinals are way down. Teams aren’t going anywhere based on attendance.

    • TR

      Last year MLB played to basically empty stadiums. It looks like another six months before the country will be beyond the two year pandemic. There were times during this surprising Red’s season where crowds were 20 thousand plus during the weekday and then there was a number of 30 thousand crowds on Fridays and Saturdays. If you have access to all the games, you’ll see many empty seats for most franchises. If the Reds go with their good pitching and young core which, hopefully, will be added to over the offseason, they’ll be, at least, a wild card team next season.

      • Challenger

        I agree TR and would add keeping strong leaders who make up a winning culture.

    • Jon

      The season ticket holder segment of the fans likely hurt attendance this season as well. With the limited capacity at the start of the season and uncertainty regarding Covid, I’m guessing season ticket purchases were down substantially. Just a guess…

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Fair point. I certainly don’t expect anyone to go anywhere tomorrow. But as the next generation grows, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It took 30 years to get us where we are now; it will take some time to discern the true direction of the sport in general and the Reds in particular. But the MLB hasn’t done itself any favors.

      • Challenger

        Also, consider the example of teams who over the years have maintained a winning culture. The Cards are a comparable example. In college sports the Buckeyes and in the NFL the Chiefs are not perfect corrolates, but illustrate the points.

  9. Klugo

    If this team moved, another one would move in eventually. Cincy is a baseball town.

    • TR

      Based on the size of the population, yes, Cincy is a baseball town and I think MLB knows it.

    • Jon

      Just look at how the city responded to the 2015 All-Star Game and related festivities. Cincinnati will absolutely support a team actively trying to win. They won’t support an ownership group that lies to fans and that which almost completely avoids media interviews.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I agree. And I think we would welcome another team and give them a fair welcome if events unfolded this way.

  10. Rednat

    i think the question is this. Is downtown Cincinnati the best location for the reds to play? the reds are a regional team not really a “city team” anymore. the 300k people living in the colerain avenue- montgomery road corridor in general could care less about this team. hence the huge discrepancy in attendance between weekend and weekday games.

    i do think ownership should make a better effort to get the city involved. Caravans to the local neighborhoods. team with metro bus to provide free transportation to and from games. discounted tickets for city dwellers. heck, free tickets for city dwellers during the week.

    if this doesn’t work maybe this city doesn’t deserve a franchise. and i hate to say that as a native Cincinnatian. maybe the team needs to be moved to another part of reds country to boost attendance. indy could definitely support a team or possibly lexington or nashville.

    • Jim Walker

      +100 on Reds being a regional team. However, the current regime doesn’t seem to realize or care about that.

      Local businesses mostly like to brag on their 90 minute market; but, the Reds don’t seem to get it that theirs includes along I-75 to almost Lima in the north and Lexington in the south, along I-71 to the SE reaches the Columbus area and nearly to Indy along I-74.

      Back in the day, the I-75 rest area near Monroe would be filled with game bound people, and the restaurants packed along the same stretch with homeward bound folks after the game. And it wasn’t just a weekend thing. I lived in Indy for several years in the 1970s and observed the same thing coming and going from games along I-74.

      For the last 30 years, I have lived in the northeast suburbs/ exurbia of Dayton. I’m about a mile from an I-675 exchange and can be in downtown Columbus or Cincinnati in an hour give or take with only 2 stops lights along the way till I exit the freeway. The Blue Jackets actively keep trying to solicit me as a fan via phone and email because they have mined my zip code and contact info from somewhere off the internet where I commented on being a follower. The Reds have never tried to contact me.

      How many folks living inside the I-275 loop have 2 Skylines, a Graeter’s, and Mike’s car wash within 10 minutes of their home? I do; and, there used to be a LaRosa’s which sadly shut down because Dayton seems to have its own local pizza phenomenon (or 2). I bought my car at a Castrucci dealership about 20 minutes away and Wyler’s have dealerships the same or less length drive away. Is that Cincinnati enough that someone running a regional business should take notice of??

      I think describing the Reds baseball operations as insular is just the tip of the insularity iceberg.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Great point. The family exodus is to the north– Mason and Liberty Township. It’s the new West Side. People living downtown might hit up a couple games a season for fun, but I don’t see a lot of people in the city core as season ticket holders.

      • Jim Walker

        I probably used a poor term when I said CBJ “mined” the information to contact me. I suspect it is likely they may have gotten it from Fox Sports (now Bally) and that the fine print in the FSO consent (which we rarely read) said they share information with “partners” (i.e. teams they show and others) and that the authentication consent between my cable company and FSO said the same giving FSO access to the information from the cable company. Or it was something similar on the team site.

  11. Scott C

    The Reds are the ballast of Cincinnati. The tax payers should have allowed Mike Brown to take the Bengals and move to Wichita Falls or wherever. The avid Reds fan that lives in Cincinnati is going to attend games regardless of whether they win or lose, the issue is the casual fan is not and that means you have to court them, woo them to get them to come and the only sure fire way to do that is to have some stars (Hey we have Joey but we need Castellanos to be signed to an extension or new contact a Jesse to be signed to extension) and to win. In order to do that we need help from ownership. Please send this article to Big Bob Mary Beth.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks for sharing this. I don’t know if Bob has email, but I’ll give it a shot 🙂

  12. Mark Moore

    I would be very sad if the team moved. They are ballast as you noted. Maybe they could be replaced, but even that requires new ownership. Seems like a Catch-22 to me.

    Great stuff as always, MBE.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I thank you for the kind words. You have the right of it– either way, we need a new front office.

  13. CFD3000

    I’ve never lived in or near Cincinnati but have been a die hard Reds fan since the early 70’s (I was a little catcher, Johnny Bench was the Man). The Cincinnati Reds are both my team and my connection to the city. We make a weekend long pilgrimage every year (from Atlanta) and spend money on tickets, hotels, restaurants, and shops. Not parking thank goodness, we walk from the hotel. And we thoroughly enjoy Cincinnati when we visit. But without the Reds our visits would certainly stop. And I can’t imagine traveling to see the Las Vegas Reds or the Indianapolis Reds or any similar team. One of the details I’m proudest of as a Reds fan is that in my lifetime three players were drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, played their entire careers there, and then were elected to the Halls of Fame (Cincinnati and Cooperstown). Okay, I’m jumping the gun just a little on Votto, but he’ll follow Bench and Larkin on that track. That loyalty from great players matters to me, and the fact that their the CINCINNATI Reds matters too. I know things change and teams move and it’s a business, but here’s hoping the current and next owners can make winning a higher priority, and soon. That’s all it would take to keep the Reds at home for a long long time.

    Great stuff Mary Beth, as always.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I appreciate your kindness and the story of your family’s experience. That is absolutely the chunk of the fan base that will vanish if there’s an attempt to move the team. I’ll send you some Skyline if that happens, though.

  14. George Hamlin

    One problem with this: the Reds may be “Cincinnati’s Ballast”, but I suspect that no immigrant ever arrived in Cincinnati directly from Europe via boat. Hence, it would have been extremely difficult for the Public Landing to have resulted from the ballast of the ships bringing European immigrants to the Queen City; those stones would likely be found in east coast ports including New York City, from which the immigrants proceeded via stagecoach and/or riverboat, and later, railroad trains to the U.S. midwest.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Flatboat, maybe? I knew it was too cool to be true 🙂

      • George Hamlin

        David McCullough’s 2019 book “The Pioneers” indicates that steamboats were being used on the Ohio River as early as 1811.