What do Reds legends Ernie Lombardi, Frank McCormick, Paul Derringer, Bucky Walters and Johnny Vander Meer have in common?
Besides playing for the 1939 and 1940 championship Reds, these five players were the first Reds to be selected to the Reds Hall of Fame. They were inducted in grand ceremonies at Crosley Field on July 18, 1958. Lombardi, McCormick, Walters and Vander Meer wore uniforms, but not the rotund Derringer, whose 300-pound frame must have challenged the equipment managers.
Since that first ceremony over 50 years ago, the Reds Hall of Fame has experienced something of a rollercoaster ride, sometimes up, sometimes down, and sometimes not working at all. But with the opening of the new Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, the future looks promising for the glorious past of Reds baseball and its legendary players.
The Reds were the second baseball team to form a Hall of Fame; the Cleveland Indians Hall started in 1951, but it soon went defunct, making the Reds Hall of Fame the oldest team Hall of Fame in baseball. It is also the largest in both inductees and size, at 85 members and 16,000 square feet of space.
The idea for the Reds Hall of Fame was promoted by the Sports Committee of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the Reds and owner Powel Crosley. For many years the Chamber of Commerce ran the election and hosted the induction ceremonies at the ballpark with the chair of the Chamber's Sports Committee, Art Radtke, serving as emcee.
The first ballot included 25 names, and fans could vote for up to five players. Ballots were printed in area newspapers, and nearly 20,000 votes were cast, mailed on official ballots, postcards and in personal letters. Of the 25 players appearing on the first ballot, 20 were eventually elected into the Reds Hall of Fame.
With so much club history to cover in the early years of the Reds Hall of Fame, each class of inductees usually had three or four members. Thirty players were inducted in the first 10 years. Beginning in 1969, the Reds reduced the number of inductees to just one each year. The ballot shrunk to around 10 names, and fans were allowed to vote for just one player.
In the early 1980s, the Reds took over the sponsorship of the Reds Hall of Fame from the Chamber of Commerce and moved the induction ceremonies to the offseason. They were held in conjunction with the Ballplayers of Yesterday organization at their annual banquet. This pattern continued until 1985, when the focus on Pete Rose and the chase for 4,192 cancelled the 1985 vote.
Voting resumed in 1986, but then after a ballot-box stuffing episode in 1989, the election was canceled, and the Reds Hall of Fame was dormant for 10 years. In 1998 the local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) asked the Reds to resume the Reds Hall of Fame elections, and the Reds agreed, placing the writers in charge of the nominating and election process. The writers agreed to select one current player and a veteran player from the pre-1920 era since those players were underrepresented in the Reds Hall of Fame.
The Reds Hall of Fame vote was again postponed in 1999 but resumed in 2000 and has been held ever since. With the opening of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum in 2004, the vote was returned to the fans, with the writers responsible for preparing the ballot and making a selection from a list of veterans.
Beginning in 2007, the Hall of Fame shifted to a biennial election cycle, with fan voting and Veterans Committee selections taking place in odd-numbered years and inductions in even numbered years. In 2009, a revamped and expanded Veterans Committee was created that includes writers, broadcasters, historians and Reds Hall of Famers.
Although the Reds never had a permanent place to exhibit the plaques at Crosley Field or Riverfront/Cinergy, the club continued to make the bronzes every year, giving one to the player and keeping an identical second plaque in storage. Beginning in the late 1990s, the plaques were occasionally put on public display at Redsfest and on certain home weekends. When the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 2004, the plaques were taken out of storage, polished and hung in the Reds Hall of Fame gallery.
Probably the people most pleased about the display have been the players themselves. Thrilled that their plaques now have a permanent home, our visiting Reds Hall of Famers always ask about their plaques and have been delighted to find them on display. We have watched Jim Maloney, Leo Cardenas, Gary Nolan and many others stand by their plaques, posing with family members for photographs. Just like their fans!
Driven by a mission to celebrate greatness, preserve history and provide inspiration, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum is the place where the story of Reds baseball comes alive each day. I look forward to seeing you there.
Greg Rhodes is the Cincinnati Reds' Team Historian and was the inaugural Executive Director of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org