Greg Rhodes is currently the Reds Historian, and was the founding director of the Reds Museum and Hall of Fame. The author of seven books on the Reds, he was hired by the Reds in 2003 and guided the construction of the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum at GABP. He retired as Director in 2007 and is currently writing a history of the Reds in the 1950’s and 60’s.
What was your background before being hired by the Reds? When/How/Who approached you from the Reds? What was the interview process like?
I was a secondary and college history teacher, with a Doctorate in Education from Indiana. When I moved to Cincinnati in 1985, I began looking for a teaching job, and wound up working for the Cincinnati Historical Society. That was when I first became aware of baseball history and Reds history in particular as a serious enterprise. I grew up a fan of the Reds (in Richmond, Indiana), a lot of visits to Crosley Field, always following the Reds as a fan, but never thought much about baseball history as a job. When I was at the Historical Society I met several baseball researchers, became a member of SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research), and wrote my first articles on Reds history.
I later left the Historical Society, and worked for a while on plans for a Reds museum. I thought it would be a very popular attraction for Cincinnati. At that point, Mrs. Schott still owned the Reds, and there were rumors of a new ballpark, but nothing firm. There was interest in the museum idea (I also discovered that the idea had been floated by others over the years, including Bob Howsam when he was president and general manager of the Reds), but not much commitment, and so I began writing my first Reds book. That eventually led to six more (most with co-authors, mainly John Erardi, then a Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter). Over that time, I got to know many of the people in the Reds front office, including John Allen, who was then running the club as the COO. As it turned out, the museum idea took root in the plans for the new ballpark. The Reds fan base had rated a Hall of Fame and museum at the top of the list of amenities they wanted to the new park, and John enthusiastically supported the idea and put it in the budget. In 2002 or 2003, John hired me as a consultant on the plans for the new facility.
The Hall of Fame was originally scheduled to open in the spring of 2004, but there was not
enough money left in the ballpark budget to complete the museum building. There was a lot of interest and some complaining from fans about the delay, and finally in January 2004, Mr. Lindner arranged a loan to have the Hall of Fame completed and gave the project the go-ahead. John Allen literally called me on a Thursday and said, “Can you start work on Monday? Mr. Lindner wants this museum open by the end of the season. He’s tired of the fans calling him cheap.” I wasn’t able to start that fast, but by early February, I had had a 20 minute meeting with Mr. Lindner and had started the job. That was my interview.
What type of mandate were you given initially? How did it change over time?
The mandate was pretty simple. We had about $10 million in the budget, and nine months to build it in order to open it before the end of the 2004 season. We weren’t starting from scratch. The consulting plan I had worked on the year or so before was our road map. It was put together with Jack Rouse Associates here in Cincinnati, a world-class exhibit firm, and they were hired to head up the exhibit team. We all agreed that the museum would be family friendly, with activities that would interest kids, and that it would showcase the Reds Hall of Famers with a plaque gallery, and that from a business standpoint, we wanted the space to be flexible enough for after-hour events.
A lot of ideas from the original plan made it into the final product, but one that was improvised was the Pete Rose wall of baseballs at the south end of the building. We always knew that this space overlooked the rose garden, or more appropriately, the Rose garden, that marked the spot of Pete’s record-breaking hit, hit number 4192. We wanted to do a Pete display in the space at that end of the museum building. That was a given. But the details were still to be worked out. In the original plans, we had an idea for a wall of baseballs somewhere else in the museum, but we couldn’t make it work, and I suggested we put the wall of baseballs in that space behind the staircase overlooking the Rose garden. 4,256 balls in all, one for each of Pete’s hits. I recall the design team liking the idea, but the very real question was, “Will they fit?” The wall space hadn’t been designed for that. But at the next meeting, the designers happily revealed a plan that would work. We had our wall of balls! Then the challenge was getting 4,256 baseballs. We wound up with baseballs from many different sources, including a lot of batting practice balls. So most of them look a little “game-used.” But we have to remind the fans, “No, those aren’t the actual hit balls.” Even Pete didn’t keep every one of his 4,256 hits.
Talk about the artifacts – what did the club already have? How did you go about adding to the collection? Describe some of the most important acquisitions. Which are your favorites?
Other than the ever-pressing deadlines, the single biggest challenge was finding artifacts. The Reds, and this was true of all the clubs, didn’t keep a lot of stuff over the years. Of course, the Reds had kept the World Series trophies, and many other things, but that was never the main goal of the organization. A baseball club is interested in winning games and putting fannies in the seats, not collecting memorabilia. Fortunately, one of my first hires was Chris Eckes, who is still the chief curator at the Reds Hall. Chris quickly began working with the Reds collectors in Cincinnati and all across the country, and secured a lot of items on loan. A few players, Joe Nuxhall comes to mind, were willing to loan items. And everyday fans—not just collectors—donated some items. But mainly it was the memorabilia collectors who were willing to share their personal collections.
Two stories about artifacts: First, we got a call from pizza baron Buddy LaRosa shortly before we opened, and he said he had something we might find interesting. It was the 1940 National League pennant banner that had flown over Crosley Field, after the Reds clinched the pennant in 1940. It is the oldest Reds championship banner known to exist. Buddy inadvertently bought it at the Crosley Field auction back in the early 1970s. Inadvertently, in that it was rolled up in the bottom of a whirlpool tub that Buddy purchased. He later discovered it, not realizing he had bought it! And I am sure the Reds didn’t realize they had sold it. Buddy kept it in a closet over the years (it is 25 feet long, and so it didn’t make for an easy piece to display), and loaned it to us. It still hangs in our main entry way. That’s a typical example of the generosity of the Reds fans, and how we managed to fill up the museum with artifacts.
The other story involved Marge Schott. She passed away shortly before the museum opened, and the family invited us out to her home to find some Reds items for the museum. We found interesting items, like team autographed baseballs from the 1990 World Series club, but the one item I just had to have for the museum collection was an eight-pound dog collar. Of course, it was for Schottzie, Marge’s St. Bernard, and it had the same design as the 1990 championship rings. It was sterling silver and so it really sparkled after we cleaned it. It is still one of my favorite pieces in the museum. Any baseball museum will have jerseys, bats and balls, but I don’t think you are ever going to find another eight-pound replica of a world series ring, designed for a St. Bernard.
What changed with the Hall and Museum once the Castellini’s took control of the team?
The most significant change came with marketing. The new ownership group, led by the Castellini and Williams families, brought a fresh approach to marketing the team, including improving the ballpark and fan accommodations, and integrating the marketing of the Hall of Fame with the marketing of the Reds. There was a much closer operating relationship. And let me add accolades to Rick Walls, the current director of the Hall of Fame and the person who replaced me when I retired in 2007. Rick has brought a level of marketing savvy to the enterprise that has been critical to the success of the Hall of Fame.
What were the Hall of Fame galas like initially? Talk about the reactions of the Reds Hall of Famers.
One of the major contributions new ownership made to the Hall of Fame was the support of the annual induction ceremony. Prior to the opening of the Hall of Fame in 2004, the inductions were limited to an on-field ceremony, and perhaps a luncheon or some other social event attended by a few dozen guests. Reds Hall of Famers and other alumni were not usually invited back to attend these functions. But John Allen began expanding the induction ceremony in the years before we opened in 2004, and then with the opening of the Hall of Fame, we added a dinner banquet to the weekend. And we began a serious push to invite all our alumni Hall of Famers to be a part of the induction. A lot of players, like Gary Nolan, who had not been to a Reds event in years, came to the induction, and greatly appreciated the recognition. They agreed to do “meet and greets” in the Reds Hall of Fame during induction weekend, pose for photos with fans, and generally made the induction, which had been a relatively low-key affair into one of the major promotions of the summer. The evening banquet is quite a production, with dramatic lighting and videos and red-carpet treatment for the players. If you ask any of the Reds Hall of Famers today, they would say that no other club treats alumni better than the Reds.
In those first years, 2004, 2005, we had a few hundred at the banquets. But when Bob Castellini, son of the owner, joined the Reds Hall of Fame board, the event really took off. Bob’s vision was this should be one of the crowning moments of the year for the entire organization, not just the Reds Hall of Fame. He organized the Hall of Fame board members and rallied the Reds marketing department in support of the event, and within a few years, the banquet drew over 1,000 people. Bob Castellini, the owner, and Phil Castellini, the CEO of the Reds, endorsed the expansion and threw the weight of the Reds organization behind it. Owner Bob Castellini made the event a mandatory function for the current players, so now we had both the Reds Hall of Famers and the current players in attendance and that made for a very special evening. And the on-field ceremonies and the events in the Hall of Fame turned into a huge weekend.
What is the role of the Hall of Fame board? Talk about how it came about and who were the initial members.
The Reds Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization, and so it has its own board of directors, who set policy, oversee operations, and develop long-range plans. The Reds have representation on the board, but have fewer than 50% of the board members. The rest of the board members come from the community, including former Reds players.
The Reds museum is new, but the Reds Hall of Fame has actually been around since the 1950s. And then between 1989 and 1997, there were no inductions at all. Why were the inductions stopped and how did they resume?
The Reds Hall of Fame, as a way to honor the greatest Reds players, began in 1958. Each year the fans selected the Hall of Famers, and the club would make two plaques, one for the player and one for the club to keep. In the early years, when the Reds were still at Crosley Field, the plaques were displayed, in the concourse under the main grandstand. The plaques were hung on the iron beams supporting the grandstand, about ten feet off the ground, so the fans couldn’t touch them. Clearly, this was not optimal, but it was about all the Reds could do at the time. Crosley Field didn’t have much extra space for things like displaying Hall of Fame plaques.
When the Reds moved to Riverfront, Bob Howsam had dreams of building a stadium club under the scoreboard, and putting a small Reds museum there, including the plaques. But the Reds and Bengals could never agree on plans for the space, and the stadium club was never built. But each year, the Reds would induct more players into the Hall of Fame and then put the plaques in storage. They never found a place at Riverfront to display them.
Beginning in the 1980s, the Hall of Fame began to lose some luster, and then the club cancelled the ceremonies in 1989. At that time, Jon Braude, the Reds public relations director and Public Address announcer, was the only person in the organization who seemed interested in the Hall of Fame. He had to fight with Mrs. Schott each year over having the induction, since there were expenses involved and no sponsor to help cover the costs, and Marge didn’t want to spend the money. Then in 1989, Jon thought there were a lot of questionable ballots submitted (Xerox copies, which were not allowed). Not sure how to handle what he saw as a tainted election and given he had an owner who didn’t really want to support the Hall of Fame anyway, Jon quietly shelved the election. No one seemed to notice, and for the next decade, there was no election. (It would have been during this time that Pete Rose would have first become eligible for the Reds Hall of Fame, although he was already under suspension by Major League Baseball and banned from Cooperstown).
In 1998, the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America asked John Allen—who had assumed day-to-day control of the Reds while Mrs. Schott was suspended—to resume the Hall of Fame inductions. The writers selected the inductees up until 2004, when the Hall of Fame opened and the vote was returned to the fans.
One of the mandates that John Allen introduced when the Hall of Fame voting resumed in 1998 was to consider 19th century and early 20th century players who had been overlooked. This was particularly obvious in 2000 when Bid McPhee, who played his entire career with the Reds was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but was not yet in the Reds Hall of Fame. Over the years, McPhee and several other well-deserving “old-timers” have finally been recognized.
One of the ironies of all this back and forth in the Hall of Fame’s history is that, despite having the oldest or second oldest team Hall of Fame in baseball, the Reds were never able to find a way to showcase all this history. They never ever had the plaques displayed in a suitable way that anyone remembers (nobody recalls the plaques being hung up at old Crosley Field), and that includes the players. Here they are, Reds Hall of Famers, and they weren’t being celebrated in any way. Some of the people most excited about the opening of the Hall of Fame were the players themselves. On their first visit to see the museum, they were just the like the fans, posing in front of their plaques, having their photos taken.
Talk about the initial adoption of the eligibility rule that kept Pete out i.e. was there pressure from from Bud Selig (or anyone else) to bar Pete?
Because the Reds Hall of Fame was dormant from 1989 to 1997, Pete’s eligibility was not considered until he was already under suspension by Major League Baseball. He was also banned from consideration for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Board of Directors of the Reds Hall of Fame began discussing Pete’s induction beginning in 2004 when the museum opened. However, it was clear that Major League Baseball would not look favorably on such a move, and even if we did induct Pete, we would not be able to hold an on-field ceremony. When Rob Manfred succeeded Bud Selig in 2015, Manfred announced he would reconsider Pete’s status. Although he eventually decided to keep Pete on the suspended list, at the same time he said that any decision to honor Pete would not be automatically dismissed, and should be considered separately by MLB. That opened the door for the Reds Hall of Fame to request permission to have Pete inducted. Manfred granted the request, and agreed to an on-field ceremony and a number retirement in 2016, and a statue of Pete in 2017.
The Reds Hall of Fame elected Pete in 2016, and decided he would be the only inductee. It just didn’t seem fair to induct another player and ask them to share the stage with Pete.
You retired as Director in 2007, what are you doing now?
I have continued to serve on the Reds Hall of Fame board since my retirement, and do some occasional consulting on new exhibits and other projects. For the last six years or so, I have been working, or mostly not working on my last Reds book (eight is plenty enough) that will cover the Reds of the 1950s and 1960s. I hope, seriously, to have it published in 2017.
I donated a huge photograph collection to the Reds Hall of Fame that I had purchased from The Sporting News many years ago. The photos were the work of Jack Klumpe who was the baseball photographer for the Cincinnati Post from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. There are some 30,000 negatives in the collection, and I will help catalogue the photos over the next few years.
I also do speaking engagements for the club, and have done the Reds Hall of Fame Highlight Moment on the pregame show on the Reds Radio Network for 10 years. That is a 90 second highlight before each game. I always think it a good idea, until about August when I realize I still have to come up with another 60 more highlights by the end of the season. (Full disclosure: we do repeat some of them from year to year.) Dave Armbruster has been the producer of the pre-game show over the years and still professes to find the highlights interesting. But we are always looking for new stories. I have Reds-related highlights that include elephants and strippers (not in the same story, I should note), so all suggestions are welcome.
The most interesting addition of the past few years is the vignette of Gene Schott. I got
this from the book, “The Local Boys,” by Joe and Jack Heffron. Schott first pitched for the Reds in the 1930s, and the club was terrible. Not surprisingly, he lost his first game, to none other than Waite Hoyt, the future announcer of the Reds. Afterwards, the announcer summarized the results. “Pittsburgh won today’s game against the Reds, 12-6. The winning pitcher was Hoyt, the losing pitcher was Schott.” This generated a few calls from Reds fans inquiring about the health of the young man, as well as others who thought the Reds really couldn’t afford to be shooting every pitcher who lost a game, as well as other cynics who had other Reds they thought should be on the list. Only in Cincinnati.
Thanks for your time and we will be looking forward to the new book.
Photos courtesy of Greg Rhodes and the Reds Hall of Fame.