From Charlie Hustle's hit to Bench's NLCS homer, these moments define Reds history
By Terence Moore
Goodness knows, baseball fans are plentiful and loyal, particularly in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are everything. New York is noted for its pinstriped legends, along with others who stretched from the old Polo Grounds to Brooklyn to the middle of Queens. Many around Southern California claim there is this Big Dodger in the Sky. Plus, folks in Detroit and Boston have spent decades with the national pastime in a bear hug.
Well, a Cub hug, if you're from Chicago.
Give me Cincinnati, please.
No place says "baseball'' more than this city. I'm biased, but I'm also serious. I'm biased, because I spent part of my youth in Cincinnati as a disciple of the Big Red Machine. I'm serious, because the Reds have celebrated Opening Day as a holiday forever, and that's for starters.
The Reds were the first team to have a left-handed pitcher. They were the first team to wear knickers. They were the first team to host a night game. They were the first team to use fireworks. They were the first team to have a Cuban player as a starter. They were the first team to use a plane for road trips. They were the first team to have a home ballpark with an artificial surface featuring only sliding pits, when they went from Crosley Field to Riverfront Stadium.
The Reds were also the first pro baseball team, period. That happened in 1869.
Now, courtesy of the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile, all eyes are on the Queen City for the next few days. With that in mind, I'll give you my six favorite baseball moments that happened within Cincinnati's city limits. I was present for three of them. And, no, I wasn't around at Crosley Field in 1938, when Johnny Vander Meer threw the first of his back-to-back no-hitters. Neither was I there in 1944, when Joe Nuxhall became the youngest player to play a Major League game at 15 after he took the mound against the Cardinals.
Even those slugging Reds teams during the 1950s -- Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Ted Kluszewski -- were before my time.
That said ...
No. 6: Tommy Helms?
Yep, Tommy Helms.
Before the 1970 season, I received two free tickets to three Reds games of my choice as part of the team's Straight-A program for Cincinnati-area students who aced their report cards during a given semester. Among the three games, I picked a Reds-Braves affair on July 1, 1970, which happened to be the second game played at Riverfront Stadium.
The Reds lost the opener at their new digs to the Braves, but the next day, I watched the Big Red Machine smash Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and those others from Atlanta 9-2. I'm talking about a Cincinnati roster loaded with the likes of Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Pete Rose and Lee May, otherwise known as The Big Bopper from Birmingham.
So who hit the first homer ever for the Reds at Riverfront? It was Helms, their seventh-place hitter and 165-pound second baseman before Hall of Famer Joe Morgan came two years later. Helms finished his 14-year career in the Major Leagues with only 34 homers, and one of them came on this night -- barely. It crept over the left-field wall by centimeters.
No. 5: Goodbye, old friend
I loved Crosley Field. It was Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium, but better. I've never seen a field so green, and I haven't forgotten the park's characteristic smell of freshly cut grass, brats and popcorn.
It also had so many unique aspects. The home clubhouse sat outside of the ballpark, which forced Reds players to walk back and forth through fans. A hill served as the warning track in left field. There was a hand-operated scoreboard in left-center field with a distinctive clock.
Then came June 24, 1970.
The Reds played the Giants and their famous three Ms -- Mays, McCovey and Marichal -- for the Crosley Field finale, and I listened to every millisecond on the radio. Boy, was it a thriller, with Cincinnati trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning. But Bench and May ripped back-to-back solo homers to give the home team the lead along the way to victory.
No. 4: Charlie Hustle solidifies his legend
We're back to 1970, and why not?
For Reds fans, everything was magical about that year, especially for those of us who (ahem) got Straight-A tickets. The Opening Day parade was live on local television for the first time. There was drama surrounding the closing of Crosley Field and the opening of Riverfront Stadium.
Then, on the field, the Reds won 70 of their first 100 games. They reached the World Series, where they lost, but they did so only after meeting Brooks Robinson's otherworldly glove for the Orioles.
You also had July 14, 1970, when the All-Star Game came to Riverfront Stadium for the first of two times. Since Cincinnati is a National League city, it had to end with the NL winning. With the game tied in the bottom of the 12th, it had to end the way it did. Most of all, it had to end with a Reds player doing something memorable, and you know the rest. Pete Rose raced around third before crashing into Ray Fosse at home plate for the game-winner.
Oh, and Rose was born and raised in Cincinnati.
I still get chills.
No. 3: The greatest playoff finish nobody talks about
Speaking of chills, I've yet to stop tingling from Oct. 11, 1972. In the bottom of the ninth at Riverfront Stadium, the Reds were three outs away from losing the NL Championship Series to the Pirates. There was Bench, with the home team trailing 3-2 and a 1-2 count against super Bucs closer Dave Giusti -- well, I'll let the radio call that day from former Reds announcer Al Michaels (yes, that Al Michaels) tell you the rest of the story.
"The wind ... And the pitch to Bench.
"Change ... Hit in the air to deep right field.
"Back goes [Roberto] Clemente.
"AT THE FENCE ... She's GONE!"
By the end of the inning, the Reds were off to the World Series again after George Foster scored from third on a wild pitch.
No. 2: Immortality
It's not often you get the chance to see somebody set one of the greatest records in the history of sports.
I'm clearing my throat.
The baseball gods couldn't have invented a more perfect-looking night in Cincinnati than Sept. 11, 1985. I was at Riverfront Stadium as a journalist, wondering how I got this lucky. I wondered even more after Rose deposited a single into left-center field during his first at-bat against the Padres for the 4,192nd hit of his career.
Just like that, Rose surpassed Ty Cobb as the game's all-time hits leader. The normally stoic Reds player-manager cried at first base, and his stream of tears became a mighty river after his son, Petey, left the dugout as a batboy to give his father a hug. In the midst of it all, Rose pointed toward the star-filled sky to acknowledge his deceased father.
No. 1: Well, um. It wasn't interference.
The first World Series game I ever attended was Oct. 14, 1975, and it was one of the most famous postseason games in history.
My college roommate and I drove to Riverfront Stadium from up the road at Miami (Ohio) University for Game 3 between the Reds and the Red Sox. We sat in the front row behind the center-field fence. From there, we rarely had time to catch or breaths during the baseball roller-coaster ride that would become a 6-5 victory for Cincinnati in the 10th inning.
There were a slew of home runs: Carlton Fisk and Bernie Carbo for the Red Sox, along with one from Bench and back-to-back shots from Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo for the Reds. Charlie Hustle had a triple. Finally, in the bottom of the 10th, Fisk ran into pinch-hitter Eddie Armbrister -- Boston fans say the opposite -- after Armbrister's bunt bounced high in front of home plate.
Fisk fired a wild throw past second for an error to extend the inning. Before long, with one out and the bases loaded, Morgan sent a fly ball in the direction of two screaming Miami (Ohio) roommates. The ball landed over the head of Red Sox center fielder Fred Lynn and rolled to the wall for the game winner.
No replay back then for the Armbrister play.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.