All right, you expert Reds fans. What’s the significance of this lineup?
Those were the Reds on the field on June 30, 1970 during the final inning played at Crosley Field. Cincinnati defeated the San Francisco Giants that night 5-4 on back to back home runs by Johnny Bench and Lee May. Wayne Granger retired Bobby Bonds for the final out and Crosley Field’s days were done.
Eighteen years later, I received a framed photo as a gift that captured the final pitch of that night. Six Reds players were visible in the photo, along with Bonds and on-deck hitter Tito Fuentes. So I decided to get a baseball with the signatures of those 9 Red players to flank the photo on the wall.
Keep in mind, this was before the internet was invented by Al Gore and before Facebook, email and cell phones. Research to find out where some of these players were could only be found at the public library. (Library: An institution funded by tax dollars that is considered an essential part of an educated and literate population.)
Perez, Helms and May were the first three signatures I got; they were easy because they were all coaches for the Reds. I found addresses for both Chaney and Stewart and sent the ball to each of them for their signatures as well. So I had five of the nine done pretty quickly.
I had the address of Bench’s foundation in Cincinnati and sent the ball but the timing was bad. That was when he was elected to the Hall of Fame and the ball was with him (or at his office) for three months. But I got it back and he had signed it. 6 down, 3 to go.
Pete Rose was coming to Galesburg, Illinois for a card show. His signature fee back then was $10 so I got him to autograph the ball. Pete took a genuine interest in this baseball. He looked it over before signing it, saw the names and asked what kind of ball it was. When I explained to him what it was, he asked, “Where’s Chaney at these days?” Then he asked about Stewart. As we spoke and people behind me in line got impatient, Rose was also interrupted by a runner hired by the show that updated him on NFL football scores. Depending on what was happening with the game, he would either grin or wince. After he got a good report, I asked if he’d ever seen a ball like that before and he said he hadn’t.
This left just Wayne Granger and Bobby Tolan, and the Crosley Field ball would be complete. I got Granger’s address but since the ball had so many signatures on it (and its value was increasing), I didn’t want to take a chance and mail the ball off; instead, I wrote the former Reds relief pitcher a letter, asking if he would sign it. At the same time, I couldn’t track Bobby Tolan down.
Granger replied and said he would sign the ball, so off it went. Meanwhile, I kept trying to find Tolan. He left the Reds on a sour note during the 1973 season when he started to grow a mustache and beard. Back then, Sparky Anderson had rules that the Reds be clean shaven and groomed. The Reds suspended him, then peddled Tolan to San Diego.
Because of this, I wasn’t sure what Tolan’s reaction would be to my request. 1970 was his career year, his best in the majors. Unfortunately, Tolan tore his Achilles tendon playing a charity basketball game with the Reds in Frankfurt, Kentucky during the off-season and despite a nice season in 1972, he never bounced back 100%.
Then I caught a break. I got the ball back from Wayne Granger and he included a handwritten note with it— “John, Bobby Tolan is coaching in the minor leagues for the Baltimore Orioles. Wayne”
It was then I sent a letter to Bobby, asking him the same thing I did Granger. Five days later, I got a reply. Bobby Tolan would be more than glad to sign it.
Two weeks later, the ball was finished and back in my possession. The total cost in getting this done, including the cost of the ball itself and the $10 Pete Rose fee was $28.50.
I kept the ball protected and it stood by the photo. 15 years later, the Reds Hall of Fame was built after Great American Ball Park opened and they were featuring a special exhibit on the history of Crosley Field. I contacted the HOF and offered the baseball to them. And now in 2013, the baseball is still there in the Hall of Fame.
Friends often asked why I gave it away instead of selling it. But I didn’t do it for the money, it was for my collection, which is very modest. And now it’s in the Reds Hall of Fame, surrounded by so much of the rich history of one of the great baseball franchises.
It’s where it should be.