Back in late May, I visited Cincinnati for a couple of days as part of my May road trip for The Ballpark Guide, and caught two Reds/Cubs games, which you can read about here and here. As I mentioned at the time, I’d walked past the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, and pledged to make time for a visit.
That visit came on the morning of May 25, several hours before the Reds were set to host the Cubs in an afternoon game. The HOF is attached to the Reds team shop and directly outside Great American Ball Park’s main gate, so it’s a must-see place any time you’re in town for a ball game:
Part of the reason for my enthusiasm to visit — other than my love of baseball history — was to check out the special autograph exhibit. I understand this exhibit isn’t a permanent fixture of the museum, which made it more exciting to see. The Reds have a long, storied history, and the exhibit featured autographs of nearly every single player to ever suit up for the Reds.
This picture isn’t that great, but gives you an idea of how many of the autographs were displayed:
As an autograph collector myself, I was in awe as I browsed through the artifacts. Some autographs were on index cards, while others were on baseball cards, but they were all beautifully framed with each player’s name and years of service. I got a kick out of seeing how players from bygone decades took the time to actually sign their name — not just draw their first initial and add a squiggle. Some autographs featured just the player’s name, while others included greetings like “Your Truly,” and so on. One of the best such notations I saw was from pitcher Cy Morgan, who had a 10-year career between 1903 and 1913. He wrote:
Pleased to know you are so interested in base ball, for it is a grand, good, American game. Keep it up, little girl. Good luck to you.
Harry R. Morgan
Although the lion’s share of the autographs were on index cards and baseball cards, there was a sizable signed baseball display, part of which looked like this:
There were also hundreds of signatures from various elements of life, including other sports:
The autograph exhibit filled the downstairs portion of the hall, but there was still more to see upstairs. On the way, though, I stopped to sign a giant wall that was reserved for visitors to leave their “autographs”:
The walk up to the second floor was mesmerizing. Along the way, there were thousands of baseballs — 4,256, to be exact — that represented every hit of Pete Rose’s career. You won’t find much recognition of Rose in Great American Ball Park itself, but the Reds HOF was loaded with Rose displays. Here’s a partial look at the 4,256 balls:
(Of course, they’re not the actual balls he hit — just regular balls representative of each hit.)
One of the first displays on the second floor recognized the Reds’ farm system. As a big Minor League Baseball fan, I got a kick out of seeing the jerseys of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Bakersfield Blaze, Billings Mustangs, Louisville Bats and Dayton Dragons — the latter two teams I saw on this same road trip:
There were a ton of displays featuring artifacts from throughout the team’s history, and several exhibits specifically focusing on players. The Joe Morgan one, for example, included several of his baseball rings:
The top two are World Series rings, the next two are National League Championship rings and the remainder are All-Star Game rings.
Baseball-related items weren’t the only things that caught my eye as I moved around the floor. Here’s the pocket pistol of Garry Herrmann, who served as the Reds’ president between 1903 and 1927 — he also was one of the people instrumental in the development of the World Series:
Other unexpected things? How about the enormous dog collar for Schottzie, the St. Bernard of former team owner Marge Schott?
The team’s 1976 payroll ledger:
Perhaps the sport’s most uncomfortable uniform:
An an original turnstile from Crosley Field, home of the Reds between 1912 and 1970:
The first interactive display I checked out looked like this:
I took this photo as I stood on the mound, and then put my camera and backpack aside and tested out my arm. This wasn’t a speed pitch game; it was designed to see if you could throw a strike from 60 feet, six inches away. It’s hard to see in the picture, but there’s a strike zone painted on the wall next to the batter. The game was pretty simple — hit that box and you’ll hear an umpire yell “Steeerike!” Miss and, well, you know the deal.
It’d been a long time since I’d thrown off a mound, and given that my arm was completely cold, I didn’t know what to expect. Instead of rearing back and ripping an errant pitch toward the zone, I decided to test out a curveball, which I’m always working on when I play catch. I figured the solid-colored background would allow me to see how much the ball broke, if at all.
I found a ball with decent seams, wound up and “pulled the string.” The ball sailed through the air and hit the top inside corner for a strike. Hmmm. I figured lightning couldn’t strike twice, so I threw another curve — this one miraculously plunked against the wall in the center of the zone. I was beaming like a fool and looked around to see that no one was sharing in my glory. Undeterred, I grabbed a third ball, threw a third straight hook and this one dotted the inside edge of the strike zone. “Strike three — batter’s out!” yelled the umpire.
Then, in a baseball version of a freestyle rapper dropping the mic, I flipped my last ball to the ground and walked out of the cage, thoroughly delighted with myself.
Sparky Anderson, who’d been watching from a few yards away, didn’t seem as impressed:
Next up was a visit to the building’s actual “hall of fame.” Everything I’d seen so far, I believe, was part of the museum, but the hall was filled with plaques for each member:
After spending a good chunk of time browsing the plaques, I doubled back to another room that featured the team’s World Series trophies and a bunch of bronze statues depicting the Big Red Machine era:
The best testament I can give to the Reds Hall of Fame and museum is this: When I finished checking everything out, I exited … and started again on the ground floor. Everything was that good, and I didn’t want to miss a single thing. (Another perk of the place is your ticket is good for re-entry as many times as you’d like throughout the day.)
An hour later, I made it to the building’s last room in time to get a spot near the head of the line for an autograph signing. Reds HOF member Leo Cardenas, who played for the team between 1960 and 1968, earning a Gold Glove Award and four All-Star Game nominations during the span, was signing for visitors:
He’s 74 years old, but was full of energy and happy to share stories with the scores of fans who filtered past his table. I got his autograph on a ticket stub that I’ll share at a later date. And speaking of things to share, admission to the museum also netted me a small statue of former Reds catcher and HOFer Ernie Lombardi. I’ll unpack and photograph the statue sometime over the off-season and share it a blog post about some of the cool souvenirs I picked up this summer.
Thanks for reading!