April 12, 1912: Cincinnati's Redland Field hosts its first game
The Cincinnati Reds started the 1912 season in a new venue, one that didn’t yet have a name, when they defeated the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day, April 11, before the largest crowd to witness a baseball game to date in the Queen City.
The new ballpark was designed for 23,000 spectators, but 26,336 occupied every seat, in addition to occupying standing room in the outfield and in foul territory, on the warm, spring-like day. The perennially hapless Reds faced the Chicago Cubs, one of the best teams in the National League. The Reds wound up prevailing, 10-6, after each team posted a big inning early in the game.
Redland Field was one of three steel-and-concrete ballparks to open in April 1912. Boston’s Fenway Park and Detroit’s Navin Field would host their first games on April 20. Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field opened the next year, while Chicago’s Wrigley Field followed two years later. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field were still in use more than a century later. Redland Field occupied the same site as the club’s previous playing facilities at Findlay Street and Western Avenue.
An informal dedication of the new facility took place before the game with mostly local dignitaries attending. The Cincinnati Enquirer referred to the key contributors of the new ballpark as the “H’s”: August Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Ball Club; Mayor Henry T. Hunt; and Harry Hake, the architect who designed the new ballpark.1
Mayor Hunt addressed the two teams and the fans before the game. He offered congratulations to the club’s owners for “the possession of a high appreciation of art, imagination, and courage. The association deserves the thanks of the city, which I am glad to tender, for this magnificent edifice.” Hunt then threw out a new white ball to Cincinnati pitcher Frank Smith, who took his position on the mound.2
The Enquirer reported that the ballpark did not yet have an official name. Herrmann rejected suggestions that the facility be named after him.3 The official dedication did not occur until May 18, when the name Redland Field was first used.
In addition to its new ballpark that season, the Reds introduced new manager Hank O’Day, the team’s eighth skipper since 1900. It was his first season as a major-league manager after having pitched and umpired in the majors. This would be his only year with the Reds; he later managed the Cubs, also for one season, in 1914. O’Day’s umpiring career, which lasted until 1927, eventually earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013. The Cincinnati franchise’s highest finish since 1890 had been third place, and O’Day wouldn’t make much difference in 1912.
By contrast, the Chicago Cubs had been one of the best clubs in the National League in the six seasons preceding 1912. They finished in first place in four of those years (winning two World Series), while claiming second place the other two years. Two of their famed trio of infielders, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers, were still playing with the Cubs in 1912, while Frank Chance was the team’s manager.
O’Day assigned right-hander Frank Smith to the starting pitcher’s job for the Reds in the first contest of a two-game series. The veteran spitball pitcher had twice won more than 20 games with the Chicago White Sox, but was now past his prime, even though he had pitched a one-hitter for the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day two years earlier. The opposing hurler was 25-year-old right-hander Leonard “King” Cole, in his fourth season with the Cubs. He took the starting assignment over Mordecai Brown, who had been the leader of the Cubs’ pitching corps since 1905.
The Reds drew first blood with a run in the bottom of the first on hits by Bob Bescher and Johnny Bates. After getting out of jams in his first two innings without yielding runs, Smith became unglued in the top of the third. He faced 10 batters and gave up five runs on five hits and two bases on balls. Frank Schulte’s triple and Ed Lennox’s double were key hits for the Reds.
O’Day replaced Smith with Bert Humphries at top of the fourth inning, and he kept the Cubs scoreless for the next three innings. The Reds then retaliated in the bottom of the fourth with six runs off Cole and reliever Charley Smith. The most significant hit for the Reds was Bescher’s clout that went deep into the crowd in right field. Since there was no outfield fence, the hit was ruled a triple, as agreed to in the pregame ground rules. Jimmy Esmond and Larry McLean scored, tying the game. Art Phelan also tripled in a run. Altogether, 11 Reds batters came to the plate, garnering seven hits and one base on balls.
The next scoring opportunity for the Cubs occurred in the seventh when they got a run on Jimmy Sheckard’s triple and Schulte’s double. The Reds added two runs in the bottom of the inning on a walk to Dick Hoblitzel, a sacrifice hit by Armando Marsans, a triple by Dick Egan, and a single by Phelan.
Bescher scored his third run for the Reds in the bottom of the eighth to make the final score 10-6.
The Reds’ recovery from Frank Smith’s poor outing was facilitated by Humphries’ efficient mound performance in his game-winning decision for the Reds. He gave up three hits and one walk and struck out four in six innings pitched. Cole took the loss, giving up nine hits and striking out three.
Manager O’Day commented on the team’s victory and the prospects for the season: “We will do it very often if we get pitching to work behind. The boys are fast and in perfect condition, and will look as good as any club in the league if their pitchers are not hammered all over the lot. This team will go a long ways if we can get hold of a good twirler or two that can be relied on to pitch good ball every time out.”4
It was a bountiful day for extra-base hits; the Reds and Cubs combined for seven triples and three doubles. Bescher and Egan were the offensive stars for the Reds, each banging out three hits and scoring five runs between them. Sheckard’s 3-for-4 performance, including two triples, was tops for the Cubs.
The paid attendance for the game broke the previous team record of just under 21,000, which had been set on Opening Day in 1911. In that game nearly half of the spectators had to stand on the field of the old ballpark; the new ballpark was able seat nearly everyone.5
The Cubs and Reds would go on to finish third and fourth respectively in the National League in 1912. The Cubs got within four games of the league lead in August, but wound up 11½ games behind the pennant-winning New York Giants at season’s end.
The Reds got off to an improbable start and still held first place on May 20 with a 22-7 record. The other National League clubs attributed the Reds’ success to O’Day’s having influence with the league’s umpires. However, when the Reds were unable to maintain their winning habits, the accusations went away.6 The Reds suffered five losing streaks of five or more games during the rest of the season, ultimately finishing 29 games behind the Giants.
Redland Field was renamed Crosley Field in 1934, after the team’s new owner Powel Crosley Jr. It would serve as the Reds’ home field until June 24, 1970, when it made way for Riverfront Stadium, one of several new multipurpose ballparks showcasing artificial turf fields.
This article was published in "Cincinnati's Crosley Field: A Gem in the Queen City" (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author also consulted:
2016 Cincinnati Reds Media Guide.
Benson, Michael. Ballparks of North America: A Comprehensive Historical Reference to Baseball Grounds, Yards and Stadiums, 1845 to Present (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1989).
Garber, Lon. “Crosley Field,” SABR BioProject, sabr.org/bioproj/park/crosley-field, retrieved February 1, 2017.
Pietrusza, David, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman, eds. Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Total Sports Illustrated, 2000).
1 Jack Ryder, “Glorious Opening of the New Ball Park With a Timely Victory for the Redlegs; Crowd Was the Largest in Local History,” Cincinnati Enquirer. April 12, 1912: 8.
2 Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1912: 8.
3 Jack Ryder, “This Is the Day of All Days for the Noisy Fans,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 11, 1912: 8.
4 Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1912: 9.
5 Cincinnati Enquirer, April 11, 1912: 8.
6 Lee Allen, The Cincinnati Reds (New York: C.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1948), 101-102.