The Queen City Diamonds: A History of Baseball in Cincinnati

Photography by Wes Battoclette

Cincinnati is a city with a long history of many important dates and characters. Within that history, however, is one moment in which Cincinnati unknowingly helped to change the culture and face of the United States forever. 

In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings stepped onto a baseball field and into history as the first professional baseball team in the country. From there, the culture of America’s pastime erupted, changing the very social landscape of a country that would, in the coming years, face many hardships. Baseball served as a necessary escape from the chaos of two world wars, an economic crash of devastating proportions and impending civil rights fights. 

Today, fans visit Great American Ball Park to watch Cincinnati’s baseball team take the field and play the sport America has loved so much. Although it’s a different team and a different stadium from the originals, the pride and excitement are still the same. As the city gears up for the first All-Star Game played in Cincinnati since 1988, anticipation surrounding the sport is at an all-time high. Activities are planned throughout the week everyone is waiting for this summer.

Scott Gampfer, director of the history library and archives at Cincinnati Museum Center, says this is why the museum chose to put together the exhibit “Queen City Baseball: Diamonds and Stars.” Open now, the exhibit highlights Cincinnati’s history through the scope of baseball over the ages. “It’s sort of a mini ‘Treasures’ exhibit,” says Gampfer. “We looked at our archive collection, focusing on baseball in the city, and brought out some of our artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries.” 

The exhibit focuses intimately on the evolution of the game, both amateur and professional, within Cincinnati since the very beginning. Photos, sound recordings and artifacts, including seats from the original Crosley Field fill the exhibit and offer both a sense of nostalgia and of progress. A hand-drawn architectural site plan of the same field sits above the seats, a hat-tip to the ballpark that originally opened in 1912. 

“The map is an original ink on linen drawing by Harry Hake,” says Gampfer. The construction of Crosley Field (originally Redland Field) was part of an early change in the culture of baseball in America – one that recognized the need for larger seating capacities, lighting for night games and more amenities. 

“The first field the Reds played on used to be where the fountain outside Cincinnati Museum Center is right now,” says Gampfer. This field, he says, was a small and simple field, consisting mostly of the field and sparse seating options. 

Through the transition from the simple ballparks to the large stadiums teams play in today, another aspect of the culture began to shift to accommodate the average American’s desire to head to a game. Originally, Gampfer says, baseball games were played in the afternoon. Since stadium lights were not a norm, the evening games Cincinnati is so familiar with were nonexistent, forcing teams to play while the sun was still out and, unfortunately, while many Americans were still at work. Once lights were installed in Crosley Field in 1935, however, baseball changed again as the Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the first night game in Major League Baseball history. After the introduction of nighttime games, attendance jumped dramatically, rescuing many teams and stadiums from economic hardship. “The night games helped accommodate the working American’s schedule, which was important,” says Gampfer. 

Also included in the exhibit is an homage to Negro teams over history and their influence on baseball across the country. Next to it, Chuck Harmon’s jersey is prominently displayed. Harmon was the first black man to play for the Cincinnati Reds, and the jersey he donated to the museum is emblazoned with an emblem from the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut. The addition of ethnic diversity to MLB teams helped to shift the culture of baseball once more, as the world watched the fight for civil rights in America begin. 

Throughout these decades of change, one thing stayed consistent – Cincinnatians who listened to their Reds on the radio heard everything narrated by one familiar, comfortable voice. Waite Hoyt, originally a pitcher for the New York Yankees, became the voice of the Reds in 1942. For 23 years, he called every game the team played – some by ticker tape alone, before it was commonplace for announcers to travel with the teams. 

“When he first started broadcasting, Waite Hoyt would stay in Cincinnati for the away games, and he got every play from the game over a ticker tape,” says Gampfer. “But he had to announce the game with the same excitement as if he was there.” The exhibit displays many of Hoyt’s manuscripts for games, personal correspondences and even his own original copy of ‘The Best of Waite Hoyt in the Rain,’ a compilation of his famed anecdotes about Babe Ruth and his time in baseball. 

Gampfer says he hopes this exhibit will appeal to fans of the Reds and many of those who will travel to Cincinnati for the All-Star Game on July 14. It provides a unique window to the past as people can walk the timeline of baseball history from the first game in the 19th century to the culture of baseball Cincinnati knows and loves today.