“People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.”
James Earl Jones’ character in “Field of Dreams”
Hearing the number of runs that Pete Rose hit during his baseball career is impressive. Seeing them is mind boggling.
A 50-foot-tall “wall of balls” at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum brings home that staggering fact. Arranged in rows, the three-story wall has 4,256 baseballs for the record set by Rose in 3,562 games over 24 seasons.
“Each ball represents one of Pete Rose’s record number of hits,” says Mark Harlow, ticket operations manager at the museum.
Although the legendary Rose is not included in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2016. Rose spent most of his career with the Reds and was their manager when he agreed to a baseball ban in 1989 following an investigation into his gambling. Investigator John Dowd detailed 412 baseball wagers by Rose between April 8 and July 5, 1987, including 52 on Cincinnati to win.
Growing up in Ohio with the Reds as my home team, I was looking forward to seeing the renovated museum and the Great American Ball Park. After a $5.5 million renovation, the 16-year-old museum reopened last year. The project was done as part of a celebration of the Reds’ 150th anniversary.
The place is not only for Reds’ fans. It is for anyone who loves baseball. “I’m from Chicago and I’m totally a Cubs fan,” says Tom Mitchell, taking a leisurely tour of the museum. “This place is amazing. So much history here.”
Cincinnati Red Stockings
It all started in 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings emerged as baseball’s first team of professional ballplayers, Mark says. Some cynics said it wouldn’t last.
But the Red Stockings conducted themselves in such a gentlemanly fashion and played at such a remarkable level of skill (they boasted a 57-0 record), professional baseball soon spread throughout the country.
That’s not the only first for the Cincinnati Reds. They also hosted the first night game. On May 24, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt threw the light switch from the White House 600 miles away and the Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies at Crosley Field.
Although the first class of Hall of Fame inductees was enshrined nearly 50 years ago, the hall never had a real home until 2004. The facility opened to the public on Sept. 25, 2004, and has been drawing fans ever since.
Located next to the Great American Ball Park – the Reds’ home – in downtown Cincinnati, the museum is a great place to spend an afternoon. The ball park itself is something to see and park tours are offered. Situated on the winding banks of the Ohio River, the park has a pair of smokestacks – a salute to the Queen City’s riverboat heritage.
“The smokestacks shoot off fireworks for a Reds home run and when the Reds win a game,” Mark says. “The smokestacks shoot out flames when the opposing team strikes out.”
The stacks also serve as one of many tributes throughout the park to fallen Reds hero Rose. Atop each stack is seven bats bending outward. That makes 14 bats atop the stacks, the number on Pete Rose’s uniform.
A large statue of Rose sliding into base also honors “Charlie Hustle” in front of the stadium located on Pete Rose Way. Born April 14, 1941, in Cincinnati, the story goes that Rose got his nickname during a spring training game against the New York Yankees in his 1963 rookie season.
Rose drew a walk and sprinted to first, prompting Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle to yell from the dugout, “There goes Charlie Hustle.” Rose was an integral part of the famed “Big Red Machine,” the Reds team that from 1970 to 1976 won five division titles, four NL pennants and two World Series champions.
New museum exhibits
“The museum has nine new galleries,” Mark says. “We have tripled the number of artifacts on display to 6,500.”
The museum now covers three floors and has 16,000-square feet with a revised order of exhibits. “It’s a chronological journey now,” Mark says. “It’s like you’re traveling through time.”
Historic artifacts include the final-out baseballs from the Reds first (1919) and most recent (1990) World Series championships. Caught by Todd Benzinger as the Reds swept the Oakland A’s in four games, the 1990 ball usually draws admirers.
The 1919 ball, however, is the most valuable artifact on display, Mark says. “That’s a ball that ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson hit. The last one,” he says.
Shoeless Joe of the Chicago White Sox was accused of taking part in throwing the 1919 World Series against the Reds, along with seven of his teammates. Jackson reportedly accepted an envelope containing a $5,000 payoff and, although he could not read or write, signed a confession which he later refuted. Acquitted by a jury of his peers, Jackson was still banned from baseball and, ultimately, the Hall of Fame.
Jackson obtained the nickname “Shoeless” because he once had a pair of spikes that were too tight during a game so he took them off and played the game in his socks. Jackson died of a heart attack in 1951 at the age of 64.
Nine galleries filled with memorabilia
On display, are the design and various styles of uniforms during the years of both the Reds and their opponents, including a jersey belonging to Ted Kluszewski with its cut-off sleeves. The popular slugging first baseman who played for the Reds in the 1950s claimed the tight sleeves constricted his swing.
An extensive baseball card archive draws a great deal of interest. A fun interactive for visitors is getting to make a baseball card with the visitor’s photo. An interactive in the broadcast section of the museum includes a Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall feature where visitors can sit at a studio desk and feel like they are on TV and record calling a highlight and have the recording emailed to them.
The focal point of the Hall of Fame is a 360-degree interactive theater and gallery that honors all 89 inductees and trophies from the Reds’ five World Series wins. Visitors can select and play rousing profiles of each honoree.
“We get visitors from everywhere,” Mark says. “Baseball fans are all ages and never outgrow that love.”
For more information: Contact the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum at (513) 765-7923, https://www.mlb.com/reds/hall-of-fame or Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 543-2613, www.cincyusa.com
Cover photo: Smokestacks at the Great American Ball Park honor the city’s riverboat heritage, photo credit Jackie Sheckler Finch