One of the great failings (IMO) of the Reds fan is that they tend to only see the history of the Reds as far back as the 60’s (or in some cases the 50’s) this in turn causes them to see things in a manner that becomes slightly askew and doesn’t even approach the “whole” history of the franchise, in the city and in the league.
When the 1900’s began and the National League contracted the Reds resided in the 13th largest metropolitan area in the US. By the mid century Cincinnati was the smallest city in MLB and 18th largest market in the US. By 1990 the city had dropped to 45th largest city and has been passed by Columbus (16th) and Indianapolis (13th) two of the markets that the Reds had depended on as a fan base since trains were the preferred mode of travel.
The cry of “small market” is a common theme throughout the Reds history and the numbers back up that claim. However another glaring fact the numbers reveal is that the Cincinnati fans don’t care to support a loser and that they only really rush the park when a winner is in the house.
From 1900-1961 the National league had 8 teams, if the attendance pie was divided in 8ths each club would be expected to draw 12.5% of the leagues attendance. Using this as the base we can find that the Reds achieved 12.5% or better in attendance 20 times in the 61 season before the first expansion, 5 of these occurred prior to World War One, with the last year in that particular set occurring in 1912 when Crosley Field opened as Redland Field.
The 1919 Reds won the NL and the World Series and drew 18.5% of the NL total attendance. The Reds of the 20’s were a great pitching club (imagine that!!) and from 1919 the Reds drew over 10.5% of the total attendance every year but 1921 (which was a losing year)
1919 1st 96 44 .686 +9 Attendance 18.5% Of National Leagues total 1920 3rd 82 71 .536 10.5 Attendance 14.0% Of National Leagues total 1921 6th 70 83 .458 24 Attendance 7.8% Of National Leagues total 1922 2nd 86 68 .558 7 Attendance 12.5% Of National Leagues total 1923 2nd 91 63 .591 4.5 Attendance 14.1% Of National Leagues total 1924 4th 83 70 .542 10 Attendance 10.0% Of National Leagues total 1925 3rd 80 73 .523 15 Attendance 10.7% Of National Leagues total 1926 2nd 87 67 .565 2 Attendance 13.75% Of National Leagues total
The ten years after 1926 were not kind to the Reds. There was poor play, no offense owner changes and a resulting bankruptcy followed by the embarrassment of the teams title being held in escrow by The Central Trust Company. There were also a lot of empty seats around the league, and most of them were in Philadelphia and Cincinnati
Coupled with a nationwide depression that hit the fans pocketbooks the Reds suffered at the gate and on the field. Finally in 1935 the Reds found someone willing to make a change to redirect the aimless direction of the team on the field and at the gate. It was Larry McPhail who had the moxie to install lights (after lobbying MLB like a tobacco man from North Carolina lobbies Washington) to help get the fans to come to Crosley and in 1935 the first MLB night games were played.
And come they did, the 1935 Reds drew over 240,000 more fans than 1934 team, and the money helped McPhail build the Reds a farm system, which at the time was a luxury most clubs had yet to buy into.
The dividends began to finally pay off in 1938 when the Reds finally topped the previous attendance record set in 1926 and the following years of actually competing and winning titles brought the Reds their best four seasons in a row attendance wise
1938 4th 82 68 .547 6 Attendance 15.50% Of National Leagues total 1939 1st 97 57 .630 +4.5 Attendance 20.85% Of National Leagues total 1940 1st 100 53 .654 +12 Attendance 19.37% Of National Leagues total 1941 3rd 88 66 .571 12 Attendance 13.47% Of National Leagues total
The war and the Cardinals and Dodgers took care of the Reds brief run in the sun and it wasn’t until the home run fueled season of 1956 did the Reds top the million mark.
1956 3rd 91 63 .591 2 Attendance 13.00% Of National Leagues total 1957 4th 80 74 .519 15 Attendance 12.00% Of National Leagues total 1958 4th 76 78 .494 16 Attendance 7.70% Of National Leagues total 1959 T5th 74 80 .481 13 Attendance 8.00% Of National Leagues total 1960 6th 67 87 .435 28 Attendance 6.20% Of National Leagues total 1961 1st 93 61 .604 +4 Attendance 15.50% Of National Leagues total
With expansion came a smaller piece of the pie to draw from no longer were the Reds expected to draw 12.5% of the fans in the National League, instead they only had to draw 10%. Despite having the top NL offense in Runs Created during the 60’s the Reds drew poorly, there were parking problems, neighborhood issues etc. Crosley’s usefulness was wearing thin in the spreading suburban world of post war heartland America. This was highlighted by the 1966 season when the Reds only drew 742,958, a scant 4.9% of the total attendance of the National League. It was about this time that Riverfront Stadium became a reality.
The emergence of the new stadium in tandem with the emergence of the best Reds talent ever assembled created the Era that so many current Reds fans turn to for solace during these trying times.
In 1969 the attendance pie was cut up even smaller falling from 10% to 8.33, it was also the Reds last year in cramped Crosley Field. In 1970 the Reds began and unprecedented run of success (for them) and began to play their games at Riverfront. Experiencing success at the gate and on the field wiped out the years of mediocrity on both levels and hypnotized the Reds fan base into thinking that that was the norm.
If we were to break up the Reds 20th century history by decade we could find the Reds on top in wins during only one decade… the 70’s. In fact the Reds have spent a fair amount of their existence striving to compete with the Chicago’s and New York’s of the league 4 out of 11 times have the Reds been in the top 3 of Runs created by decade and only 4 times have they been above league average in ERA.
Only 2 decades can claim possession of both. The 1970’s and the 1990’s. Click here to see lists by decade
This is the seed for the Reds fans, grownups like me who knew Pete, Johnny and Joe and then thought that was the norm for the franchise and for the league.
Well it’s not normal to have a .592 winning percentage for a whole decade and only seven NL teams can claim that they have achieved it.
PCT Pirates .636 1900-1909 Cardinals .623 1940-1949 Cubs .598 1900-1909 Giants .598 1910-1919 Braves .595 1990-1999 Dodgers .592 1950-1959 Reds .592 1970-1979
Some good teams there. The Pirates team benefited from the contraction of the NL in 1899 and picked up a good allotment of players from the defunct Louisville team. The Cubs and Giants were the Yankees of the day, generating more revenue due to attendance (Giants routinely drew 20-24% of the NL total attendance) and the Giants had the ability to buy their way out of lineup holes yearly, which they did with regularity.
The Cardinals and the Dodgers were both directly built by Branch Rickey (though he wasn’t there to reap the rewards) and the Reds were built by a Rickey protégé. The Braves were built with a combination of disciplines, farm strength and buying power.
With the domination on the field came domination at the gate.
1970 1st 102 60 .630 +14.5 Attendance 10.80% Of National Leagues total 1971 T4th 79 83 .488 11 Attendance 8.60% Of National Leagues total 1972 1st 95 59 .617 +10.5 Attendance 10.40% Of National Leagues total 1973 1st 99 63 .611 +3.5 Attendance 12.10% Of National Leagues total 1974 2nd 98 64 .605 4 Attendance 12.10% Of National Leagues total 1975 1st 108 54 .667 +20 Attendance 12.70% Of National Leagues total 1976 1st 102 60 .630 +10 Attendance 15.70% Of National Leagues total 1977 2nd 88 74 .543 10 Attendance 13.20% Of National Leagues total 1978 2nd 92 69 .571 2.5 Attendance 12.60% Of National Leagues total 1979 1st 90 71 .559 +1.5 Attendance 11.10% Of National Leagues total 1980 3rd 89 73 .549 3.5 Attendance 9.60% Of National Leagues total 1981 2nd 35 21 .625 0.5 Attendance 8.70% Of National Leagues total
In the 24 seasons between the 1969 expansion and the 1993 expansion the Reds drew better than average in 17 seasons. That’s the foundation for the reality base that current Reds fans seem to operate under.
The pie took bigger hit in 1993 (dropping from 8.33 to 6.6 until the Brewers enter and then it goes to 6.33) The Reds produced another decade with both positive runs created and a positive ERA.
At the gate the pulled in a little above the average that was expected
1993 5th 73 89 .451 31 Attendance 6.60% Of National Leagues total 1994 1st 65 48 .575 +0.5 Attendance 7.30% Of National Leagues total 1995 1st 85 59 .590 +9 Attendance 7.30% Of National Leagues total 1996 3rd 81 81 .500 7 Attendance 6.10% Of National Leagues total 1997 3rd 76 86 .469 8 Attendance 5.60% Of National Leagues total 1998 4th 77 85 .475 25 Attendance 4.60% Of National Leagues total 1999 2nd 96 67 .589 1.5 Attendance 5.30% Of National Leagues total 2000 2nd 85 77 .525 10 Attendance 6.40% Of National Leagues total 2001 5th 66 96 .407 27 Attendance 4.70% Of National Leagues total 2002 3rd 78 84 .481 19 Attendance 5.00% Of National Leagues total
The GAB opened in 2003 with the promise to be not only a better place to see a game, but also a better place to make money.
Despite two of the worst teams in recent Reds history (yes they were that bad) the Reds were still able to pull in some fans… just not as many as they thought they could.
2003 5th 69 93 .426 19 Attendance 6.40% Of National Leagues total 2004 4th 76 86 .469 29 Attendance 5.60% Of National Leagues total
Without a massive cable station, without huge brand sales the Reds will continue to depend on the fans to put the majority of the dollars they need in the coffers.
From my vantage point this won’t happen unless they perform above .500. Simply put, most Reds fans find other things to do when the Reds don’t win. So next time you hear John Allen complain about the fans, be aware he’s right, it DOES matter, it does create revenue.
However that alone doesn’t mean that that money they have been getting is being used in the correct manner.
This current team is proof enough that the money is not being spent correctly.
I expect the Cincinnati fans will let the Reds know this with their pocketbooks; leopards don’t change their spots very often.
Brian first met the greatest game in Detroit in 1968, that team played in a league called the “American League”…. but I digress.
Later after a family move he started a dalliance with the Cincinnati Reds, who perchance were in the midst of their greatest era. It was a romance that was greater than many could hope to be.
After barely stomaching the strike of 1981 Brian headed West but never forgot the Reds, and even despite being surrounded by Giants and A’s fans who tried to entice him with things both Green and Orange he found himself wondering what was up with Kal Daniels and was that kid from Moeller ever going to make us forget Davey.
A long time member of SABR and a baseball history junkie he currently lives in Portland and can be followed at @baseballminutia