[This memory was submitted by John Ring, life-long Reds fan who lives in Galesburg, Illinois. John is a retired firefighter and veteran who served for 32 years. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. Thanks, John!]
It was a great question that Steve Mancuso asked me. The most vivid Reds memory in my lifetime, good or bad. Very tough question but a great one.
Before I answer that, a few of the best were the obvious ones — the Game 7 win of the 1975 World Series against Boston at Fenway Park, Tom Browning’s Perfect Game and my first time at Riverfront Stadium on August 4,1972. The Reds beat Atlanta 6-5 in 11 innings and I was in the yellow seats down the first base line.
And there were the painful moments: the horrible, final day of the 1964 regular season when the Reds lost the National League pennant, Fred Hutchinson passing away from cancer just one month later, the disturbing and frustrating loss in Game 4 of the 1972 World Series and the day when Dick Wagner fired Sparky Anderson. You could also throw in the 1981 baseball season when the Reds had the best record in baseball but didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
But as far as a personal memory goes, it was when I got a package in the mail from Bobby Tolan in April 1989.
Why’s that, you ask? There’s a great story behind it involving nine players for the Cincinnati Reds and a game that took place on June 30, 1970. That was the night the Reds closed Crosley Field with an exciting 5-4 come-from-behind win over the San Francisco Giants.
I listened to that game on WLW. The broadcasters were Jim McIntire and, of course, Joe Nuxhall.
The Giants led most of the way and took a 4-3 lead late into the 7th inning. That’s when Lee May and Johnny Bench hit back to back home runs, Wayne Granger pitched a scoreless 9th inning and finished the Reds victory by retiring Bobby Bonds.
Crosley Field was finished. I never saw a game there. The first time I saw it was while going to a Cincinnati Royals basketball game; the Police Department was using it to house stolen/discarded vehicles.
Years later, my wife bought a framed photo for me — the “last pitch” at Crosley Field. With the famous Longines scoreboard as a backdrop, Granger is getting ready to deliver the final pitch to Bonds with Tito Fuentes on deck.
Sometime later, I got the idea of having the nine Reds who were on the field in that 9th inning sign a baseball for me. This was in 1988, long before the internet. So finding some of the players was tough. I went to the library. I made a couple phone calls.
The Crosley Nine were:
- Johnny Bench (C)
- Lee May (1B)
- Tommy Helms (2B)
- Daryl Chaney (SS)
- Tony Perez (3B)
- Jimmie Stewart (LF)
- Bobby Tolan (CF)
- Pete Rose (RF)
The first ones I got were Perez, May and Helms. They were with the Reds at the time as coaches. So that easy enough. I got the addresses for Stewart and Chaney from a book called “Who’s Who in America” at the local library. I mailed the ball to them for their signatures and got it back, all postage prepaid. I just sent a letter with it, made the request and all they had to do was sign it and mail it back.
Bench was next and I had a problem. I mailed it to him just as he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988. He had the ball for ten weeks but I got it back, signed.
As fate had it, Rose was coming to Galesburg, Illinois (where I live) for a baseball card show. So that would be easy and I knew the local guys setting the show up. It was on a Sunday during the NFL season. My cousin was a “runner” designated to keep Pete apprised of the NFL football game scores.
The line was long and I had the ball. I had inadvertently met Pete Rose three times before in my life. The first was at Busch Stadium. Before the game, some Reds were playing ‘pepper’ and Rose knocked a ball that hit the Astro Turf and skipped up and went off my right wrist. The second time, I ran into him Jorge’s Cafe at the old Fountain Square Hotel on Vine Street and the last one was at Koch’s Sporting Goods in downtown Cincinnati.
When I handed him the ball for him to sign, Rose looked at the other signatures. “What kind of ball is this?” he asked. So I explained to him what I was doing with it and he nodded his head. Then he started asking me questions. “Where does Chaney live at?” “What’s Jimmie Stewart doing these days?” Some I could answer, others I couldn’t, I was holding up the line but Pete kept talking and we had a great conversation. I asked him, “Have you ever seen a ball like that before?” and he said no and then he asked what I was going to do with it. (My cousin then gave him some scores). I said I was just going to display it by my photo of the Last Pitch and then Pete talked about Bobby Bonds, about how good he was and other things. He signed my ball.
So that left me with Granger and Tolan. With each signature, the ball was getting more valuable, so to speak. I got Granger’s address and sent the ball and in my letter, said that just he and Tolan were the last ones I needed but I didn’t know where the former Reds centerfielder was. I got the ball back a week later and Wayne added a note that I still have to this day. “Bobby Tolan is coaching for the Orioles in their minor league system. Good luck!”
The next day I wrote a letter to Bobby Tolan. I didn’t send the ball. I told him about my Crosley Ball project and asked if he would sign the ball. I put an index card inside he could mail back with his answer. A week later, Bobby said he would and the ball went to him. I kept my fingers crossed and Bobby sent it back as promised.
The ball was finished and I had it in my sports room, right next to the photo. It took nine months to complete at a cost of $42.45. The biggest expense was postage ($20.25) and Pete Rose’s autograph ($10).
Years later, Great American Ball Park was built along with the beautiful, new Reds Hall of Fame. I read about an exhibit the HOF was putting together to honor Crosley Field. It sounded like it would be a first-class job. I contacted Greg Rhodes at the Reds HOF and told him about my ball and I asked if they would be interested in acquiring it for the display.
I did it for two reasons: (1) I love the Cincinnati Reds and (2) The HOF could better preserve the ball and the signatures, much more than I could. I knew I was giving up something of tremendous value and it would only go up over the years. But I knew the HOF would take care of it and preserve it. It would be a bit of history and a part of me would always be in the Reds Hall of Fame.
We quickly worked out a deal. I signed it over to them, I got an honorary membership to the HOF for life and I see my baseball every time I go to Cincinnati.
Yes, “my” baseball. It belongs to the Hall of Fame but is still mine, in a sense. I created it.
When I saw Wayne Granger at Reds Fest two years ago, I introduced myself and thanked him for signing the ball and for giving me information about Bobby Tolan. Wayne quickly smiled and remembered the ball. Like Rose, he had never seen one of those either. I also thanked Lee May when I met him at a Reds HOF function. The Big Bopper was one of my favorite Reds of all time.
I’ve never met Bobby Tolan. I purchased an 8×10 autographed photo of him with Crosley in the background and it’s right next to The Last Pitch. But when Bobby sent that ball back to me and I opened it and his distinctive signature was on it, that day was very satisfying for me.
It was one of those rich, memorable Cincinnati Red days. That was my day because it was an historic moment and involved nine Cincinnati Reds baseball players.
[Photo: From (L-R) front row, Wayne Granger, Rick Ring, and Tommy Helms. Back Row (l-R) Leo Cardenas and John Ring]