The Cincinnati Reds had endured a rough winter. Confessions of game-fixing tarnished their long-coveted championship. Three key players were holdouts. A beloved team executive passed away. But the slings and arrows of baseball’s fortune could not diminish Cincinnati’s celebration of Opening Day. As a record crowd overflowed Redland Field, the Reds opened 1921 by surging for four runs in the eighth inning to seize a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 1919 the Reds earned their first National League pennant in 30 years of league play.1 Five more wins over the Chicago White Sox made them world champions.2 “The Reds had their way with the American Leaguers and they are proudly out in front, the cynosure of the eyes of all the baseball world for one long year at least,” the Cincinnati Enquirer gushed.3
The Reds gallantly defended their title in 1920, running first in the league as late as September 6.4 Newspapers buzzed about a possible cross-state World Series with the Cleveland Indians.5 But a slide of 15 losses in 18 games doomed hopes of a repeat crown.6 Still, manager Pat Moran’s team finished 11 games over .500 and claimed the NL’s third-place money.7
Even more devasting for Cincinnati, in the long run, were off-field developments as the season concluded in September. In Illinois a grand jury considered allegations that baseball players and gamblers had conspired to fix the outcomes of major-league games.8 There, Ed Cicotte and Joe Jackson of the White Sox admitted they had accepted payoffs to lose the 1919 World Series.9
“The revelations of the crookedness of several of the White Sox players in last fall’s [W]orld [S]eries have been a great blow to the former world’s champions,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. “The Reds played great ball in the [S]eries, and undoubtedly would have won under any circumstances. To have a blot put on their great victory by the confession of some of their opponents is a source of grief to them. If the Sox had only known it they did not have to throw the [S]eries. They would have been beaten anyway.”10 Regardless of the Reds and White Sox’ respective merits, however, the “Black Sox” revelations forever tainted Cincinnati’s title. The 1919 World Series would be better known for the acts of its losers than the qualities of its winners.
As the offseason progressed, the Reds encountered further turmoil. Center fielder Edd Roush led all National Leaguers in batting average for the four-season span of 1917 to 1920; third baseman Heinie Groh was second in on-base percentage during that same period. Shortstop Larry Kopf, like Roush and Groh, had started for the 1919 champions. But all three held out through spring training 1921 in contract disputes.11 Kopf reportedly retired from baseball; Groh vowed never to play for Cincinnati again.12
However difficult their winter, the Reds and their fans still had cause for excitement as the season approached: Opening Day in Cincinnati would again be a celebration. Cincinnati’s major-league team — National League and American Association alike — had opened at home nearly every year since 1876.14 Under Bancroft’s stewardship, Opening Day had blossomed into a singular event on the city’s calendar, with pregame street parades, politicians’ ceremonial first pitches, and overflow crowds.15
A record crowd of 29,963 — more than 3,000 over Cincinnati’s previous Opening Day best — streamed into Redland Field on April 13 to see the Reds and Pirates commence the 1921 season. Attendees included Ohio Governor Harry L. Davis and ballplayer-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday. With permanent seating completely occupied, the Reds installed seven rows of temporary seats around the grandstand and in front of the left- and right-field walls. Any hit into the outfield overflow would be a triple.
Moran’s lineup flanked veteran starter Dolf Luque with several newcomers and backups, none older than 26. Charlie See held down center field for Roush after filling a reserve role in 1920. At third Sam Bohne, back in the majors for the first time since a brief appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1916, replaced Groh. Sam Crane, a utilityman in 1920, took over for Kopf at shortstop. Lew Fonseca made his major-league debut at second; the Reds had sent incumbent Morrie Rath to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in January to complete a 1920 deal for Bohne.16
A band played the national anthem, and Luque threw a called strike to Carson Bigbee. Three pitches later, right fielder Dode Paskert, at 39 the oldest position player in the NL, ran down Bigbee’s fly ball near the foul line. Luque and first baseman Jake Daubert teamed for the second out on speedy Max Carey’s roller, bringing up shortstop Rabbit Maranville’s first plate appearance as a Pirate.
Baseball’s hottest trade speculation that winter had focused on Maranville, a Boston Brave since 1912 and runner-up for the National League’s Chalmers Award in 1914 as the cornerstone of the Miracle Braves pennant winners.17 Some rumors had Boston trading him to the Reds,18 but the Pirates ultimately landed him in a four-player deal in January.19
Maranville began his Pittsburgh tenure with a soft line-drive single to left, but Luque retired Clyde Barnhart on a grounder to end the inning.
Babe Adams had Pittsburgh’s Opening Day mound assignment. A mainstay of the Pirates pitching staff since 1909, when he recorded three complete-game victories in the World Series, the 38-year-old right-hander expressed apprehension about facing a Cincinnati lineup with so many new faces. “I’d like to have a chance to watch the new recruits before working against them,” he told a Pittsburgh newspaper. “You can never tell until you pitch to them a few times.”20
Regardless, Adams contained Cincinnati’s newcomers in the early innings. Bohne, See, and Crane were retired in their first two plate appearances. Fonseca lined a single off Adams’ leg in the second for his first major-league hit, but Crane followed by grounding into a double play.
A more familiar pair of Reds put Cincinnati ahead in the third. Luque batted against Adams with one out. The 30-year-old Havana native lined the first pitch into the overflow in left for a ground-rule triple. One out later, Daubert, who won the National League’s Chalmers Award in 1913 with the Brooklyn Superbas, grounded to Maranville. The throw to first carried over Charlie Grimm’s head and into the stands for an error. Luque scored an unearned run and the Reds had a 1-0 lead.
Pittsburgh continued to put at least one runner on base in every inning, but Luque turned the Pirates away each time. After two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, Luque struck out Walter Schmidt for the second out. Adams then hit a smash back at Luque, who knocked it down and threw to first to end the inning; the large crowd roared its approval. Reds catcher Ivey Wingo quashed threats in the fifth and the sixth by gunning down runners attempting to steal second.
The Pirates finally broke through in the seventh. Grimm led off by tripling into the crowd in left. Schmidt’s sacrifice fly drove him in with the tying run.
Adams responded by holding Cincinnati scoreless in the bottom of the seventh. The Reds had managed just two hits in four innings since scoring in the third. Pittsburgh threatened to go ahead in the eighth, but left fielder Pat Duncan caught Possum Whitted’s liner, preventing a triple. The game remained tied, with Adams on the mound in the home eighth.
He started the inning strongly, retiring Luque on a grounder. But Paskert walked on a full count and Daubert singled over second, bringing up Bohne.
Adams came with a curveball inside, and the rookie tripled into the crowd in left, scoring Paskert and Daubert for a 3-1 Cincinnati advantage. Redland Field “went into deliriums of joy.”21
One out later, the Reds’ brigade of new starters provided insurance. See’s single brought home Bohne. Fonseca crushed Adams’ pitch off the left-field wall, and See scored the fourth run of the inning.
Pittsburgh made it closer by scoring twice in the ninth, highlighted by Maranville’s RBI double. But Daubert squeezed Barnhart’s popup in foul territory for the final out and the Reds had a 5-3 win.
“The club got a wonderful start yesterday, and it is not of the sort that is likely to blow up,” the Cincinnati Enquirer proclaimed. “There will be rough spots now and then, but these lads can surely wallop the pill.”22
Even though Roush, Groh, and Kopf eventually ended their holdouts and returned to action, the Reds’ season deteriorated rapidly; 20 losses in 26 games between April 30 and May 30 dropped them from contention.23 They finished 70-83 for the franchise’s only losing mark between 1917 and 1926. But Opening Day had provided a glimmer of warmth after a difficult winter.
In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted below; game coverage in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Dayton Daily News, Dayton Herald, Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Pittsburgh Post, and Pittsburgh Press newspapers; and SABR Baseball Biography Project biographies of several players and executives referenced in the article, especially Charlie Bevis’s biography of Frank Bancroft, Brian McKenna’s biography of Sam Crane, Sean Lahman’s biography of Heinie Groh, Peter C. Bjarkman’s biography of Dolf Luque, and Jim Sandoval’s biographies of Larry Kopf and Edd Roush.
The author thanks SABR member Jacob Pomrenke and Cincinnati sports historian Cam Miller for their feedback on an earlier draft of this article, and Stew Thornley for fact-checking the article.
1 Jack Ryder, “Cincinnati Clinches Pennant by Beating McGraw’s Men,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 17, 1919: 9.
2 Jack Ryder, “Reds End Series With Slaughter of ’Sox Pitchers, Winning Baseball Classic, Five Games to Three,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 10, 1919: 1.
3 “Reds End Series.”
4 Jack Ryder, “Double Taken by Our Boys; Puts Them Back in a Commanding Position,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 7, 1920: 10.
5 “Baseball Spotlight Turned Back on Ohio,” Dayton Daily News, September 2, 1920: 7.
6 Jack Ryder, “Downfall of Reds Is Complete When Quakers Beat ’Em by Score of 21 to 10,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 15, 1920: 8.
7 “Reds Take Two out of Three from Pirates and Will Finish in Third Place,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 3, 1920: 19.
8 “Chicago Grand Jury Subpoenas Baseball Officials, Players and Sport Writers,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 21, 1920: 13.
9 “Bribes ‘Found’ by Cicotte, White Sox Star Is Said to Have Told Jurors; Ball Merely Tapped by ‘Shoeless Joe’ When Hits Were Needed, Alleged Pleas Shows: Eight Players Indicted by Chicago Court,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 29, 1920: 1.
10 Jack Ryder, “Third Place May Be Clinched To-Day in Red-Pirate Game at Forbes Field,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 30, 1920: 6.
11 Jack Ryder, “Holdouts Are Turned Down: Red Directors and Manager Refuse Demands, Except in Wingo Case, Who Gets Raise,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 23, 1921: 8.
12 “Kopf Quits Baseball: Shortstop to Go into Business and Make Cincinnati His Home,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 6, 1921: 24; “Groh ‘Quits’ Team: Third-Sacker Says He Will Never Play with Reds Again,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 7, 1921: 10.
13 “Frank C. Bancroft Dies After Long Illness; With Reds Years as Business Manager; Known to Fans Around Country,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 31, 1921: 9.
14 Alan Heim, “Opening Day in Cincinnati Festive Event Unmatched Anywhere; 30,000 Fans Expected,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 8, 1961: 11. According to Retrosheet, Cincinnati’s major-league teams have opened at home every season since 1876, except for 1877, 1881 (when Cincinnati did not field a major-league team), and 1888. Cincinnati opened on the road after scheduled openers at home were postponed by rain in 1885 and 1966 and by a lockout in 1990.
15 “Now, Patsey, Will You Be Good? How About Your Three Straight?”, Cincinnati Enquirer, April 19, 1895: 1.
16 William J. Slattery, “Our Beloved Seals Land Star Portside Hurler From Detroit: Crumpler Is Handle; Rated as AA1 Goods,” San Francisco Examiner, January 5, 1921: 11.
17 The Chalmers Automobile Company awarded a car to the National and American League batting champions in 1910 and to the Most Valuable Players of each league from 1911 to 1914. “Evers and Collins Get Cars: Braves’ and Athletics’ Second Basemen Voted Most Valuable to Their Team,” Boston Sunday Globe, October 4, 1914: 15.
18 Glenn Whitesell, “Maranville Almost Certain to Become Redleg: Details of Trade Are Yet to Be Worked Out; Groh Likely to Giants,” Dayton Daily News, December 20, 1920: 9.
19 Edward F. Balinger, “Maranville Comes to Pirates in Biggest Deal of Season: Southworth and Nicholson with Barbare and Big Sum Exchanged for Boston Star,” Pittsburgh Post, January 24, 1921: 8.
20 Charles J. Doyle, “‘All Set — No Alibi,’ Gibby’s Opener Tip: Babe Adams to Pitch Against Moranmen; No Overconfidence,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, April 13, 1921: 11.
21 Charles J. Doyle, “Detailed Play Story of Cincinnati Opener,” Gazette Times, April 14, 1921: 9.
22 Jack Ryder, “They’re Off! Reds Take Opener When They Score Four off Adams in Eighth,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 14, 1921: 11.
23 Roush ended his holdout and returned to action on April 30; his .352 batting average in 1921 was second in the NL. Kopf returned a week after Roush; he played out the rest of the season and the Reds traded him to the Braves before the 1922 season. Groh returned in June; after batting .331, he was traded to the New York Giants in the offseason in accordance with his wishes.