Here’s To You Mr. Bancroft! Reds business manager makes Opening Day the unofficial holiday it has become and other unique Opening Day tidbits

Here’s To You Mr. Bancroft! Reds business manager makes Opening Day the unofficial holiday it has become and other unique Opening Day tidbits

Opening Day used to be just the start of the baseball season. There was a band. There was bunting. There was some pomp and a little circumstance. But it wasn’t the Opening Day that we enjoy in Cincinnati today.

The brainchild of the long-lasting tradition of making Opening Day…Opening Day, was Frank Bancroft, the business manager of the Reds. The “Father of Opening Day” as he became known, had a remarkable run promoting Cincinnati baseball that lasted three decades. Bancroft had worked for the Cincinnati club of the short lived American Association in 1891, and the Reds National League club took notice of his abilities. They hired him almost immediately after the American Association folded after the 1891 season. Bancroft was obsessed with what we call today, “fan relations”, and was constantly upgrading and improving that experience, especially on Opening Day. Bancroft, always forward thinking, once said, “It doesn’t hurt anyone to send a kid through the turnstile for free about the sixth inning. “It makes him a fan, and there is a return for us in later years.”

Baseball had already been a popular pastime in Cincinnati, beginning even before those paid professionals of 1869. Frank Bancroft and Reds officials took that pastime and made it a tradition.

In 1893, Frank Bancroft outdid himself, with a little help from mother nature. For two weeks prior to that April 27 opening game, it rained, snowed, and was unseasonably cold. But on that day, the sun shined bright and the pleasant temps brought out a huge crowd at League Park. Weber’s Band played for two hours prior to the first pitch and when the Reds came riding in on a tallyho wagon parading in from downtown, they played a fanfare that left the crowd screaming madly at their arrival.

By 1902, the Reds decided that the pre-game events could stay, but a parade was not needed anymore, The fans stepped up. Rooters groups would form their own parades, coming from the West End, the East End, and everywhere in between. There was no start time and no specific route. Grab your flags, your noise-makers, and your enthusiasm and head to the park.

In 1920, the folks at Findlay Market ‘organized” the parades into one, and by the 1930s, the Findlay Market Parade and the pre-game festivities that followed, became the tradition.

And that tradition continues today.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, April 18, 1895.

Most of us know about the tragic death of an umpire and the times it snowed on Opening Day. But here are some of the more interesting and lesser-known Cincinnati Opening Day tidbits from days of yore:

April 18, 1895 – Cincinnati Mayor John Caldwell “handed” the baseball to the umpire in the first ceremonial first pitch. The following year, he actually threw the ball to ump, but it sailed clear over his head. (So no, Mayor Mark Mallory wasn’t the first mayor to throw a wild first pitch)

April 22, 1897 – With the growing popularity of bicycles across the country, the Reds offer a Bicycle Check-In area at League Park on Opening Day.

April 15, 1899 – The Reds, at no fault of their own, broke two league rules on Opening Day. One: The Reds had to begin the season wearing their road blue tops and white pants because their home whites didn’t arrive in time. League rules stated that home clubs must wear all white uniforms. Two: A new league rule required that the player benches be covered. The league forgot to send the Reds printed instructions until noon, the day before Opening Day. They hastily formed a crew to get the benches covered, but were unable to do so before the first pitch.

April 12, 1911– For the first time, the Reds ban horse-drawn vehicles from entering the park. Only automobiles are given space under the grandstand.

April 23, 1919 – An Army plane from Dayton “dropped” the first ball onto the playing field. The ball was inscribed with the words “Victory for the loan and the Reds” in reference to the Victory Loan program for World War I.

April 15, 1924 – Opening Day was broadcast for the first time on radio by WLW and WSAI. In a spur of the moment move the night before Opening Day, arrangements were made to run a special wire to the studios. The announcer was Eugene Mittendorf, a publicity manager and announcer at WSAI. Mittendorf sat next to a large microphone and called play-by-play from the roof of the grandstand. The only Reds radio games from 1924-1928 were Opening Day games.

Eugene Mittendorf calling 1924 Opening Day, The Cincinnati Post, – April 16, 1924

April 12, 1932 – Upon hearing how cold the weather was projected to be on Opening Day (upper 30’s), Reds owner Sid Weil announced that if fans didn’t want to attend the game, their tickets would be good for any other game that season.

April 20, 1937 – Following the worst flood in Cincinnati history, where waters engulfed Crosley Field, Reds head groundskeeper Matty Schwab paints a “1937 High Water Mark” sign on scoreboard.

The Cincinnati Enquirer – April 21, 1937

April 14, 1942 – The Reds paint a sign on the LF wall near the foul line that reads:

“Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep fit. Avoid waste. For Victory, Buy Defense Bonds and Stamps.”

It is also announced that foul balls hit into stands that were returned, would go to men in the service so they could participate in the pastime overseas.

April 15, 1952 – 30 year old James McElhaney went into a restroom in the ninth inning to warm up from the cold wind. He fell asleep and was overlooked by the cleaning crew. When he awoke at night, all the gates were locked, so James found a public phone under the grandstand and called police, who fetched a ladder and threw it over the LF fence so he could “escape” the park.

April 11, 1961 – The Reds paint the exterior of Crosley Field white and the buildings beyond outfield are demolished to make room for I-75. A 40 foot screen was erected in LF to keep balls from hitting the parked cars in the new lot where the Superior Towel and Linen building was. Any ball hitting the netting was deemed a home run.

April 6, 1968 – The Reds delay Opening Day from April 8th until April 10th in wake of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King.

April 5, 1972 – The Reds scheduled opener is postponed because of the first ever player’s strike. The opener takes place on April 15th instead.

April 7, 1975 – With temps in the 30’s, Sparky Anderson purchases three Hibachi grills to use in the dugout to keep players warm. The smoke could be seen pouring out of the dugout throughout the game.

April 9, 1980 – 25 year old Procter & Gamble employee and March of Dimes board member Keen Babbage walks from the Rawlings baseball plant in St. Louis to Riverfront Stadium. He carries the Opening Day first pitch ball to raise money for the March of Dimes. The journey took two weeks and covered 430 miles.

Keen Babbage walking in Walton, KY on the way to Riverfront Stadium. The Cincinnati Enquirer April 9, 1980

April 3, 1989 – Paul O’Neill goes 4-4 with a double and three-run homer despite his name on uniform missing an “L” in his last name.

March 31, 1998 – The Reds open the season in March for the first time ever.

2 Responses

  1. Lyn says:

    You’re right, I had no idea there were so many interesting Opening Day stories. You can guarantee anything with a Cam Miller byline will insure you’ll learn something and in an entertaining way. I am surprised however he omitted Opening Day 1987 when he rode in the Findlay Market Parade.

  2. Bob Williams says:

    Good Job, Cam!

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