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.