Those who LOVE baseball find themselves appreciating the month of February more than most people, simply because it’s the month that the game starts to loosen itself from its winter slumber. While it’s still winter, many teams have had some teammates working out together all winter, but more often than not the players are dispersed and no formal workouts occur until Spring Training.

In the 1870’s, Harry Wright would get his players together in a gym in the late winter. There, the Red Stockings (of Boston) would go through exercises and, at times, gymnastics. All in all, I’m certain it would seem somewhat silly in today’s extreme sports world but back then it was cutting edge pre-season training.

That’s until the National League came along and the Chicago White Stockings became the land’s most popular team during the Grover Cleveland era. Here we have the roots of Spring Training, the thing that stirs the heart of fans everywhere, and the event that really indicates that the season is on the horizon. Way back in 1886, Cap Anson took his White Stockings to Arkansas to take advantage of warmer weather, the famous “healing springs” of the area, and the team’s national popularity. Anson hoped for two things:

One – To tune his team up for the upcoming campaign.
Two – To make some cash instead of waiting out winter in Chicago.

Thus, it is in this endeavor that we find what the game considers to be the first Spring Training.

Like many innovations in the game, this action was sure to be copied. Enter Gus Schmelz, then the manager of the Reds. Schmeltz holds several footnotes to baseball history: one, he is likely the best example of the man who completed the transition of the “Business Manager” approach to the game in the 1880’s to the “Field Manager,” alleviating the need for on-field directions by team captains, and placing a knowledgeable person on the bench to direct the players. The second footnote: he is only manager in the game’s history to wear a full beard. Finally, Schmelz was the first manager to institute pre-season workouts with his first team in Columbus in 1884. As a side note Gus is also credited with inventing the sliding drill as the skipper for the Reds

By 1888, Schmeltz was starting on his second year as the Reds skipper and taking a cue from the White Stockings’ 1886 trip, he approached the Reds owner, proposing a team trip through Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama in an attempt to generate income and prepare the squad for the 1888 season. After finishing in second place in 1887, Schmelz only planned for the return of three players from the 1887 squad and he likely felt the team was in dire need of getting acquainted with each other, and he with them.

The players were not set to begin receiving a salary until April 1, so they agreed to split the profits of the trip evenly, and by the trip’s end, they had made a little money on the six week trip ($76 per man), but played a lot of baseball.

However, the trip didn’t help improve the team’s play that season. While it was good enough to come in with a .597 winning percentage — the 4th best winning percentage in the first 58 years of the team (19th overall in team history) — alas, that was only good enough for fourth place in the league that season. This was a drop off from the prior season’s .600 winning percentage and second place finish, and was a disappointment to the Reds brass. The next spring, no trip was planned.

After the trip south in 1888, the Reds kept close to home prior to each season in subsequent years. Once they were in the National League, the Reds became a bigger player for the local entertainment dollar and a more valuable asset to its owner, and therefore, a pre-season practice began to look like a good idea. Field manager Buck Ewing and business manager Frank Bancroft arranged for the team to get their game in line in New Orleans in 1896, and from that point forward the Reds spent a vast majority of their pre-season below the Mason/Dixon.

—–

Stump your family and your friends!!

I offer up the Spring Training sites for the Reds before 1931. Learn them well; there will be a pop quiz on this sometime in the 5-6 months.

1896 New Orleans
1897 New Orleans
1898 San Antonio
1899 Columbus GA.
1900 New Orleans
1901 Cincinnati
1902 Cincinnati
1903 Augusta, Ga.
1904 Dallas
1905 Jacksonville
1906 San Antonio
1907 Marlin Springs, Texas
1908 St. Augustine
1909 Atlanta
1910 Hot Springs, Ark.
1911 Hot Springs, Ark.
1912 Columbus, Ga.
1913 Mobile, Ala.
1914 Alexandria, La.
1915 Alexandria, La.
1916 Shreveport
1917 Shreveport
1918 Montgomery, Ala.
1919 Waxahachie, Texas
1920 Miami
1921 Cisco, Texas
1922 Mineral Wells, Texas
1923-30 Orlando

Let’s reiterate the fact that ALL teams hoped to make some cash from their spring trips, and for the Reds it was never more so than in 1920 following the team’s first World Championship (dubious as that championship may have been, the players who achieved it wanted some payback). The Reds began a long barnstorming trip north in Miami as the 1919 World Series champs. They scheduled 18 games in hopes of generating $72,000 that the team had incurred in salary increases due to their success in 1919. Despite the glamour of Miami and the resounding cheers they heard for being the champs, the Reds returned to Texas the following year in hope of improving on their disappointing 3rd place finish in 1920. After one more year in the Lone Star state the team headed back to the growing spring training mecca of Florida.

Once they returned to the Sunshine State, the Reds were attached to Orlando for the rest of the decade, playing at former Reds manager Joe Tinker’s field. Tinker had been very successful in real estate in Florida during the 1920’s as the state experienced its first land boom.

The original wooden Tinker Field was built in 1923 and served as the spring-training home of the Reds from 1923 through 1930. Following the 1930 season, former Reds manager Clark Griffith (now the owner of the Senators) worked a deal with the Reds to swap spring training sites for a season. The Reds would play in the Senators digs in Tampa and the Senators in Orlando. This arrangement pleased both clubs so much that the trade became permanent. Orlando then became the Senators spring home for many years (and Tampa the Reds) and even after they moved to Minnesota in 1961, the Twins AA affiliate continued to play there.

In Tampa the Reds would set down some deep roots, but that’s another story, for another post.

2 Responses

  1. RiverCity Redleg

    Thanks Brian. I always enjoy reading about Reds’ history.