Crosley Field was cramped, crumbling, and trapped in a disintegrating neighborhood, and both the Reds team and their fans were scrambling to enter the shiny round multipurpose stadium on the river. Great cheers arose when Pete Rose, Jr. swung a wrecking ball to bring the old girl down.

In the rush to clear out, the Reds conducted an auction of Crosley’s assets. One item was a hot tub from the locker room. Pizza emperor Buddy LaRosa nabbed it for his Golden Gloves for Youth boxing program.

The hot tub arrived stuffed with fabric. LaRosa had purchased the tub and, unbeknownst to him, everything inside. Buried amongst the towels and sacks was quite a large triangle of felt-like material. It was the Reds’ 1939 National League Pennant–this was back when you won a pennant, you actually, literally won a pennant—and, good Cincinnatian that he is, LaRosa kept it in dark safety until there was an appropriate place to put it. He happily donated the pennant to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum as soon as it came into existence thirty years later.

The history minor in me was furious when I heard this story. “How did that happen?” I once demanded of a co-worker who, unlike me, was alive at the time, and who understood.

“People got out of there,” he explained, “like it was a burning building.”

What we have left of Crosley is a wall along Findlay Street, or part of one. A few iron seats, maybe a locker. They did move home plate to the new place. But that’s about it. We had a single opportunity to preserve more, and we missed it. We must now content ourselves with spray-painted lines on a parking lot where Jackie Robinson once ran.

You can’t take it with you.

Baseball fans try. Pushing back the curtain to the Reds Hall of Fame storage area at Reds Fest a couple years ago, I suddenly realized that someone had to design a way to move a World Series trophy, and that way involves a giant cardboard box marked “1975 WORLD SERIES TROPHY.”

There’s more to it than that, of course. It involves multiple employees, grabbing by the bottom, and some custom foam action. You don’t just hurl it in the back of a U-Haul.  A bit of work goes into bringing one home and taking it back out again.

Not every team has one of these boxes. Unlike in many cities, the Reds’ trophies are properly displayed where the fans can see them, squat down to read the little engravings on the little gold pennants, and roll about in their reflected glory.

Some who have won the World Series don’t even have a trophy to put in a box; while the Reds have won five, they boast three Commissioner’s Trophies, as these only came into being in 1967. The first Reds team to win a championship received a giant bat, although no one seems to know what happened to it, which is a tremendous pity. But in Cincinnati, each trophy has its own case and individual lighting. The 1990 trophy does not live in the shadows of 1976’s.

The sight of such a thing was an abrupt shift from my high school, a volleyball and basketball powerhouse, but still a small women’s Catholic school were pep rallies were command performances occupying the final bell once a semester. Mother of Mercy High School didn’t have a band and we didn’t have a giant stadium with LED light poles, but a school with a century’s worth of history did have trophy cases scattered throughout its rambling building, gold track batons crammed in with ponytailed figures frozen in a backswing and plastic basketballs perched atop wood plaques.

The trophy I helped to hang in glory was a 3rd place plaque from the 1995 Cincinnati Bar Association’s Mock Trial competition, and I took small comfort in the fact that should the entirety of the Tri-State become buried in radioactive ash, future archaeologists would know that Mary Beth Ellis did a fairly good job memorizing her opening statement and stomping about in her navy blue power suit.

It never occurred to me that perhaps someday the school would not be left to find.IMG_2621Last week I found the plaque on the floor of Mercy’s gym, parked next to various yearly scholarship recognitions, my cousin’s entry in the McAuley High School Athletic Hall of Fame, and piles of plastic theater participation awards. Trophies and religious articles were available for the taking; student art, pews, and desks went for anything from $15 to $75. While some of Mercy’s artifacts are now safely located in the merger location of our sister school, McAuley, little prepared me for seeing the classroom where I studied Beowulf now a maze of price-stickered tables holding crucifixes, photos of dead archbishops, and abandoned laptops.

This was an asset sale, an estate liquidation; nothing was trussed up like the windows at Tiffany, but when the email to the alumnae advertises “memorabilia” and you show up to see six-foot gym signs listing the state-qualifying tennis teams being carried out in the arms of strangers, you are going to stand and deliver for a few moments on your own mortality.

I rescued my cousin’s face and the commemoration of our Mock Trial 3rd place glory, and held them up for inspection to the poor volunteer who had the grisly task of overseeing the carcass-picking.

“No charge,” she said. “We just ask that you treat them with respect.”

I belted my cousin and the Mock Trial triumph into my car, and then, like all great and wounded artists in the great sweep of time, complained about it on the Internet. I have joined the great masses of the 21st century by attempting to solve a problem by pointing my phone at it, and, like nearly all the rest, find that it remains a problem.

Several fellow alums took me to task: “It’s not all gone. Some of our art is already installed at McAuley. This isn’t helping the current trying to get through the merger. Why are you holding on to your anger? Don’t you know Mercy is in our hearts and memories and not a building and things? Why don’t you care more about people and relationships than statues and trophies no one even looks at?”

IMG_2674

There’s truth to this, of course, but all I saw was Jesus staring at His mother’s butt. I was suicidally anxious and depressed for part of my high school career, just garden-variety depressed for the next third or so, and scrambled into glorious near-chemical equanimity by the end. I achieved this, in part, by discovering kind classmates, American history as a fascinating story, and writing as a thing to stick around to do. The scenery of that journey was now wheeled out onto Werk Road on dollies, and I am not the only one with a “This school helped save my life” story to tell.

I keep a photo of my dead father in a nice frame in our living room, not Scotch-taped to the back of the toilet. The treatment of our inantimates reflects our love for the lives with which they interacted.

There’s a respectful hush when most fans enter the trophy room at the Reds Hall of Fame. Children are shushed and the music is sweeping. People know they’re in tremendous historical company—not just via the hardware, but in the prizes that were never won to begin with: The photos of the 1961 Ragamuffin Reds, the captions telling the story of the 1999 run.

But isn’t this just… stuff? Isn’t that Mock Trial plaque merely something my nephews’ children are eventually going to have to chuck into a Rumpke dumpster along with my measuring cups, my unburned candles, my hardback books?

What about the young ladies who passed through four years of high school never having joined a team, won a scholarship, or held a club office? Weren’t they here, too? Players who never make the Hall of Fame or a championship roster, who fill out the 40-man year after year, who lurk in the minors for a decade…all part of the tale.

I once took a colleague who covers the Indians through the Reds Museum. I asked about a pending Tribe museum, given that they weren’t all that far behind Cincinnati in the matter of amassing a professional baseball team.

She shook her head. “No. I haven’t heard any plans about something like that.”

“But why? Is it because people don’t care, or because there’s nothing to put in it?”

“There’s nothing to put in it,” she said, “because people don’t care.”

Grand achievements, of course, happen even minus the trophies to mark them. Sometimes, like the way one of my fellow alums took her first steps after a debilitating stroke, they take place for an audience of zero.

The record books will perpetuate as long as we care to perpetuate them; the fans and players tell the stories. But I’m the daughter of a woman whose alma mater was also shuttered, the name of which is now never mentioned except by that dwindling number who attended it. Have you heard of Our Lady of Angels High School? In 30 years, will you have heard of Mother of Mercy High School? Does it matter if you haven’t?

It existed, and it was good. And maybe that’s enough–except sometimes, the few undertake the rescue work for the many.

This past winter, Mercy held the final installment of an annual fundraising dinner. An alum painted a picture of the iconic Blessed Mother statue which once stood outside the school as an auction item. The numbers soared into the night. When the bidding ended, the auctioneer asked the winner to stand.

Buddy LaRosa rose from his seat.

(By the way, if anyone knows who walked off with the black-veiled St. Therese of Lisieux statue in the photo above, please leave a comment. I’m sure you didn’t know this, statue person, but according to Facebook, the man who donated it helped build a wing onto Mercy and his family asked for it back over a year ago. The alum searching for it was quite nice and philosophical about all this and doesn’t want to raise a fuss, but I’m not very nice these days and my philosophy often involves fuss, so if you’re reading this, give it back, please.)

IMG_2622

Proud aunt Mary Beth Ellis is a freelance writer and college teacher who lives in Cincinnati, OH. Her home site, BlondeChampagne.com, has existed in at least some form since 2003, and Mary Beth has been a regular columnist with one publication or another from the age of 16. Her first book, Drink to the Lasses, was published in 2006. She currently teaches college, runs personal wine tastings, gives literary readings, and stares into the middle distance.

Join the conversation! 18 Comments

  1. Fitting you pen this article now. The last game played at Old Crosley field was against the Giants. Spent many a day at the old park. My dad worked at the Post office on Dalton ave. He worked the midnight turn. The games started after 8:00 then and we would go to the game and my uncle would ride us home and my dad would walk down the street to work. Parking was usually done by finding some ones yard to park in. The good old days. Saw many HOF’ers play there. Koufax, Gibson, Stan the man, Robby (broke my heart when Dewitt labeled him a old 30 and traded him to the Baltimore for Dick Simpson, Jack Balshaum and Mitl Papas) and many others.

    • I wish I could have seen it. A shame the city used Crosley as an impound lot after it closed.

    • Rememberances of things past…twi-night double-headers at Crosley–two for the price of one. The greenest grass I ever saw.

  2. Beautifully written as always Mary Beth! This brought a tear to my eye as a Mercy alum and history lover. Things like trophies, pictures and relics should be preserved and cherished because of the life experiences they represent. While others who view them far into the future might not know the whole story behind these things, they will have something concrete to help them understand the past.

  3. Endings are hard. Endings of things or people that/who had huge impacts in our lives are even harder.

    • That’s lovely and apropos. Thrilled as I was to get to Mercy, freshman and sophomore years were the toughest. What a lovely middle I had though!

  4. “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts” But that doesn’t make those endings any less sad.

  5. Great piece of writing, MB.

  6. “There’s nothing to put in it,” she said, “because people don’t care.” speaks volumes to me …

    Yes, we must look to the future to achieve whatever is out there. But we must never completely abandon our past, even those dark corners we often choose to hide, because we are product of our past in every way. We stand on it, rise above it, learn from it, far exceed it … but it remains. To ignore it because we no longer care is a truly tragic statement.

    • That’s a good point. It bothers me when people want to erase history, both for positive and negative reasons. Once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back.

  7. Many thanks for reading 🙂

  8. A great woman passed away this week. Leona McCarthy, a founding member of the Rosie Reds, died Tuesday morning at 101 years of age. Leona, my aunt, was a reporter and columnist for the Cincinnati Post from the 1950s through the 1970s. Newspapers were a mans world in those days. Leona was tough, intelligent, determined, and personable. Leona was a winner, not a victim. She would get phone calls at 3 AM and made her way to crime scenes, major accidents and the like. She scored interviews, including with John Kennedy, with her winning personality and determination. Her columns were beautifully written, dramatic and informative.

    Leona was a die hard Reds fan. I lived in Syracuse, NY. She would regularly send me clippings of Reds news from the Post. Among her favorites was Big Klu. They became good friends. She took me to my first baseball game at Crosley Field vs the Brooklyn Dodgers on my 10th birthday. We lost. Later, she became an enthusiastic fan of Pete.

    Her last couple of years have been difficult. She suffered a stroke. Her memory failed her. But she would perk up while I told her about Joey, Billy, and the rest.

    I love you and miss you, Leona.

  9. That was beautifully written, I’m a fellow Bobcat and it is just a sad situation. But I do hope in 30 years people will know what mercy was/is.

    • Thank you, fellow Bobcat. At this point we just gotta pass on the intangibles 💙

Comments are closed.

About Mary Beth Ellis

Proud aunt Mary Beth Ellis is a freelance writer and college teacher who lives in Cincinnati, OH. Her home site, BlondeChampagne.com, has existed in at least some form since 2003, and Mary Beth has been a regular columnist with one publication or another from the age of 16. Her first book, Drink to the Lasses, was published in 2006. She currently teaches college, runs personal wine tastings, gives literary readings, and stares into the middle distance.

Category

2018 Reds