My grandfather drank Burger beer. A regional favorite out of Cincinnati long before the Champagne of Bottled Beer and the Clydesdales made “regional favorites” an anachronym, Burger Brewing sponsored the Cincinnati Reds.
Grandpa Joe rooted for the Reds. He passed away in 1972; a year later, Burger Brewing bottled its last beer. Most would say it was a coincidence; I’m not so sure.
I was reminded of this as I explored the Cincinnati Reds’ newly expanded Hall of Fame & Museum. Entering the museum’s broadcasting exhibit, I came face-to-face with an ad for Waite Hoyt and Burger Beer.
Broadcaster Waite Hoyt made Burger synonymous with Reds baseball for more than 23 years as the team’s radio announcer (1942-65). As a youngster, I would fall asleep with a transistor radio under my pillow as Hoyt would call a home run, saying the ball was “heading for Burgerville.”
Growing up in Indianapolis in the 1960s, you were either a Reds fan or a Cubs fan. Sometimes, as I was, you were both.
I would relish the day games of the “Loveable Losers” (1969 was devastating) and the night-time heroics of the Red-Stockings. My grandfather didn’t live to see the formative years of the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, but I relished it.
As I moved away from Indiana, my loyalties shifted to the Cubs, and the Reds became a memory of a fleeting youth. So, finding the Reds’ ode to their history was both a historical pleasure and a trip back to my childhood.
The Hall of Fame & Museum is just off the entrance to Great American Ball Park, home to the Reds since 2003. Extending across nine galleries with 100 display cases and more than 7,000 artifacts, the museum doesn’t just tell the story of the Red-Stockings, their original name, but the beginnings of the sport itself.
Baseballs used to be stitched at home, with each team supplying a ball, and the best one being used. In the 19th century, gloves were little more than that; a handyman’s leather glove to take a bit of the sting out of handling the rawhide balls. By the turn-of-the-century, padding and webbing had been added. Bats were an endeavor of experimentation, bottle-shaped, flat-sided and all manner of weights.
There is also a nod to the Negro Leagues, their development and contributions to baseball; and Charles Byron “Chuck” Harmon, the first African-American player for the Cincinnati Reds in 1954, seven years after the introduction of Jackie Robinson.
But, in the end, it is designed to pay homage to the first professional baseball team. The Reds claim their story began in 1869, when they became the first baseball club to pay its team a salary. The 10 Red Stockings shared a total payroll of $10,000.
The design and various styles of uniforms during the years of both the Reds and their opponents are on display, 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.
Of course, a great deal of space is allotted to the teams from the Reds’ five World Series wins, especially the back-to-back trophies of the 1975-76 stellar seasons of the “Big Red Machine” team, when future Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan were plastered across sports pages spanning the nation. An eerily life-like figure of Bench stopped me in my tracks as he appeared to be ready to catch a few for that day’s game.
Of course, no one looms larger in Cincinnati than Pete Rose. No matter what the MLB’s Hall of Fame might think of Mr. Hustle, he holds a prominent place in the hearts of the Queen City. A three-story wall lined with baseballs, one for each of Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits, dominates the museum’s entry.
An extensive baseball card archive drew a great deal of interest. I found the interest garnered by the museum as a whole was spread across the entire spectrum, young and old, man and woman, boy and girl. On a Thursday afternoon, the halls were quite filled.
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. Rose seemed to be a popular choice.
James Earl Jones’ character in Field of Dreams said, in part, “The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.”
Baseball, more than any sport, is a game of history and memories, and the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame & Museum honors that history and invokes cherished memories.
As I stepped outside, I joined the throngs lining up to see that evening’s game between the Reds and the Cubs. I think Grandpa would have enjoyed it.