Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24- Cincinnati Reds

As much as people, and history, want to claim that upstate New York is the birthplace of the game of baseball, it’s hard to contest what the Cincinnati Reds have done with the game dating back to Harry Wright and the original professional team of the 1880s. Because of this stage in the evolution of the professional game the Reds have become the beacon, or the epitome, and therefore are celebrated every Opening Day of the season. By this I mean that Opening Day in Cincinnati has become the “official” Opening Day for all of Major League Baseball. Talk about streaks, only three times since 1882 have the Reds not opened the season in Cincinnati. The dates are even more surprising; 1885, 1888, 1966 and 1990. The reason I bring this up is because the Reds are one of the few organizations that rarely sways away from tradition. As the oldest professional team in baseball history that’s really saying a lot.

Baseball, like apple pie or Norman Rockwell, is a deep-rooted staple of American culture. Unfortunately, so has become war. Our forefathers had to fight to establish this country we love so much, and even later they fought against one another. As the years passed by we unified and fought to preserve freedom for ourselves, as well as other countries who didn’t have the power to fight back. It is because of these brave men and women who gave their lives for their country that we celebrate Memorial Day; however, honoring those who served their country shouldn’t be a one day event. The Reds know, and understand this well.

Back in the 1960s current team president and Chief Marketing Officer Bob Castellini graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in economics and enlisted in the Army for two years as an officer. Castellini, as well as a group of investors, bought into the team in 2006. Since then he has done everything he can in his best efforts to honor the men and women who serve. On of the more recent collaborations started in 2011 with the Hometown Hero program which began as a pregame activity on special occasions, but with the overflow requests and suggestions the Reds were getting from military families and friends for first pitch honorees it evolved into the every-day occurrence it now is. The program is filled up for the remainder of the 2013 season and already on a waiting list for 2014.

Even the players have become involved over the years. Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce hosts “Bruce’s Battalion” which is a free ticket program for service members to Sunday home games. Bruce took over the program that former pitcher Aaron Harang started up. Every Opening Day the Reds and Cincinnati Bell host a group from Impact A Hero, a national foundation that helps wounded military men and women with both emotional and financial support. Founded by Fairfield’s Dick Lynch in 2004, Impact a Hero assists between 400 and 500 service members every year.

Since 1971 the Reds have been one of the more successful teams to play on Memorial Day, going 25-14 with only five of those days off due to travel/off days. Their best run of consecutive Memorial Day wins came from 1972-1979 when the Reds went 9-0, which included a doubleheader against the Montreal Expos in 1976. In 1980 the Reds played a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but lost the first game, killing the streak in spite of winning the nightcap as well as the next season’s game against the San Francisco Giants. Another interesting pattern I found occurred from 1985-1988, the four seasons in which Pete Rose was the full-time manager. In all four years the Reds played the Chicago Cubs, tallying a 1-3 records against the North Siders with their only win coming in 1987.

With a long, history-filled past like the Reds have, it made it a bit difficult to whittle down just a few players to pay tribute to. Most of these guys you’ve never heard of, but that’s kind of half the fun of this.

DA- Douglas Allison played as a catcher for the original Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first fully professional baseball team. Allison was one of the first catchers to stand directly behind the batter, as a means to prevent baserunners from stealing bases. He was considered a specialist, at a time when some of the better batsmen who manned the position normally rested, or substituted at other fielding positions. Most catchers of his era stood twenty to twenty-five feet behind the batter. His technique of moving closer to the batter proved effective in curtailing baserunners from stealing bases. In the 1860s, it was common for teams to score fifty or sixty runs a game. As the technique of moving closer to the batter became more widespread among other catchers, run production began to plummet helping usher in what became known as the Dead-ball era. Allison was the earliest known player to have used a glove, when he donned buckskin mittens to protect his hands in 1870. His brother Art Allison also played in the Major Leagues.

Like so many Philadelphia ballplayers, Doug Allison served a 100-day enlistment in Company L of the 192nd Pennsylvania Infantry in 1864. He enlisted as a private on July 12 and was mustered out on November 11 at Philadelphia. Allison later became partially deaf, and researcher David Arcidiacono discovered an article in the Boston Globe on March 24, 1876, in which his deafness was attributed to his Civil War service: “Allison was a gunner in Fort Sumpter [sic] during the late war, and is the only survivor of three batches of gunners of six men in each batch. His service during the war accounts for his impaired hearing.” Since Allison’s regiment saw no combat duty, this account must be taken with a grain of salt, although it’s always possible that he suffered some injuries. David Lambert examined Allison’s military records at the National Archives and found a 1912 disability pension application signed by Allison. – SABR

#18- Eppa Rixey Jr. was a left-handed pitcher who played 21 seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies (eight years) and Cincinnati Reds (13 years) from 1912 to 1933. Rixey was best known as the National League's leader in career victories for a lefty with 266 wins until Warren Spahn surpassed his total in 1959. Rixey’s MLB career started off slow; his best year with the Phillies coming in 1916 when he went 22-10 with a 1.85 ERA and 134 strikeouts, numbers that any current left-handed pitcher would kill for. His next season; however, did not fair well at all… sort of. He went 16-21 (most loses in the Majors for a pitcher), but his ERA still hung around 2.27.

In 1918 Rixey joined the war effort by enlisting in the Army serving with the Chemical Warfare Division in Europe along with Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Rube Marquard and Branch Rickey. His return from the military, marked by rustiness and dissatisfaction with Phillie managers Jack Coombs and Gavy Cravath, led to two abysmal seasons (6-12 and 11-22) with last-place teams. On February 22, 1921, he was happy to be traded to Cincinnati in exchange for Jimmy Ring and Greasy Neale. He was back playing for Pat Moran.

Rixey’s career rebounded exponentially upon his move to Cincinnati. He would go to win 179 games and have three seasons of 20 or more victories, his best year coming in 1922 when he went 25-13 with a 3.53 ERA. His 25 wins were the most in the NL that season. In 1924 he made hi only appearance on a NL MVP ballot when he finished in 22nd place after posting a seemingly mediocre 15-14 record with a 2.76 ERA. His strikeout total that season was 57. The reality behind this is that Rixey really had no chance of winning the award, but the Baseball Writers Association of America opted to throw a few guys a bone on the ballot. For his career he went 266-251 with a 3.15 ERA.

He was married to Dorothy Meyers of Cincinnati and had two children, Eppa Rixey III and Ann Rixey Sikes and five grandchildren, James Rixey, Eppa Rixey IV, Steve Sikes, Paige Sikes, and David Sikes. After his retirement from baseball, he worked for his father-in-law's successful insurance company in Cincinnati, eventually becoming president of the company. He died of a heart attack on February 28, 1963, one month after his election to the Hall of Fame, becoming the first player to die between election and induction to the Hall of Fame. He is also the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame to be wearing a Reds hat.

When Rixey started playing, he was considered an "anomaly". He came from a well-off family and was college-educated, something that was rare during his era. He wrote poetry, and took graduate school classes in chemistry, mathematics and Latin. During the off-season, he was a Latin teacher at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia and was also considered among the best golfers among athletes during the time period.

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