Cincinnati Reds History: The Powel Crosley Era

July 28, 2020 18 Comments

1940 Cincinnati Reds

After floundering on the field through the late 1920s, the Reds fell into bankruptcy in 1931 before being bought by Powel Crosley, owner of a powerful radio station as well as a manufacturer of radios, appliances, other household items, and later cars. His first move was to hire Larry MacPhail as general manager.

New owner brings changes

Crosley had made his fortune manufacturing refrigerators and radios. He was also a pioneer in radio and owned the largest station in town, and one of the biggest in the nation, WLW. Redland field became Crosley Field in 1934, and the Reds embarked on a new era.

Redland field became Crosley Field, and MacPhail immediately began building the Reds farm system. He also introduced several firsts to Major League Baseball, including the introduction of regularly scheduled night games, beginning in 1935, and fireworks following some contests.

Winning ways return

The Reds gradually improved capturing the National League pennant in 1939, before losing to the New York Yankees in the World Series. In 1940, the Reds made it over the hump for the first time since the controversial 1919 World Series, downing the Detroit Tigers four games to three.

The team’s fortunes gradually declined after that, largely due to an aging roster and the onset of World War II. There were a few highlights here and there, though. For example, in 1944, a 15-year old from Hamilton, Ohio, named Joe Nuxhall, made his debut for the Reds, the youngest person ever to play in the Major Leagues. That record still stands. In 1954, Ted Kluszewski led the NL in home runs with 49.

A new nickname

A year earlier, GM Gabe Paul announced that the team would prefer to be called “Redlegs” as opposed to just Reds. According to newspapers reports, “no reason has been given for the change, and it has not been accepted generally by writers and fans, who hold to the habit of calling them The Reds.” The name was used until the end of the 1958 season when it officially went back to Reds. Many speculated that the nickname was changed from Reds due to the so-called Red Scare of the era, in which several government leaders tried to expose a communist threat to the United States.

Back on the field, the Reds dwelled in the middle of the NL standings before bouncing back and finishing third in 1956. They also had a corresponding uptick in attendance. The following year, though, rumors began to swirl that the team was going to move to New York City.

A new city?

The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, for the 1957 season. New York immediately began looking for a team to replace the departed clubs and keep the city in the National League. At around this time, Powel Crosley was growing increasingly agitated with the sparse parking conditions at Crosley Field. He had no intention of moving the club but was able to use the notion as leverage to get some of the improvements he sought. 

In 1961, the Reds made it back to the World Series, where they fell to the New York Yankees in five games. Sadly, Powell Crosley passed away in the spring of that year and didn’t see the team’s pennant-winning run. On March 27, 1962, a day before the first anniversary of Crosley’s death, Bill DeWitt bought Reds for a down payment of $1,250,000, on a sale price of $3,500,000. 

A year later, DeWitt, disappointed with the team’s anemic attendance and aging ballpark, started entertaining offers from out-of-town interests to purchase the club and likely move it. The three leading candidates were Atlanta, Dallas, and San Diego, the latter the home of the Reds AAA farm team at the time.

However, the announcement of a new stadium to be located on the river compelled DeWitt to hang on to the team and keep them in Cincinnati, where they began building what would become, arguably, the best team in baseball history a decade later.




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