Ask a simple question in Cincinnati and you get a simple answer: "The Reds didn't deserve to win the pennant in '61. They blew it in '64. They won't win it this year."
Now no one but a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool Cincinnati Red baseball fan could volunteer such an all-embracing, morale-destroying opinion. To an ex-Red player anxious to know if the Reds could really win the 1965 National League pennant he was a godsend. Any fan who can deny his own home team thrice is a veritable rock garden of information.
I sat in a chair at the Sheraton-Gibson Hotel barbershop while this caustic Red critic slapped a hot towel on my face and confessed that he was a real Red fan, the kind that "rallied round the Redlegs" to "root the Reds home" back in 1961. He looked the part. Heavy-jowled, looselipped, with a bass bawl that could easily project over the roar of the crowd. Put a beer in his hand, sit him in a box seat at Crosley Field and he'd fit perfectly into any old pro's nostalgic fantasy.
Having been invited to spend a weekend watching the Reds win the 1965 pennant, I blessed good fortune that I could get my first impressions from an expert fan—frank, straightforward and positively obnoxious. When my barber poured lilac lotion into a razor nick on my neck I realized that the worst had happened, and things were bound to pick up.
There I was, home to scan scenes that once were filled with riotous revelry as Red fans celebrated a National League pennant. Remembering '61, the Cincinnati victory seemed unreal, destiny's accident, so to speak. The real Red fans paraded, applauded, poured beer and praises on the players in Fountain Square. V-J day was a garden fete compared to the day the Reds clinched the flag.
Four years later, the Reds are so real that gambling men have been seen sneaking across the river into northern Kentucky to place large bets that the Reds will win the flag again. Thousands of potential Red fans drive their cars out on the new expressway to see Crosley Field, home of the Reds. Unfortunately for William O. DeWitt, owner of the team, too few motorists think highly enough of the Reds to try to figure out how to get off the expressway and into the parking lots.
DeWitt reportedly makes an enemy an hour as he petitions the city council to condemn property near the park so he can help break up the traffic jams he hopes the Reds will cause when they clinch this year's flag. Nonfans think the Reds are a business, not a civic enterprise.
Freshly shaved, I gossiped with William O. in his downtown office. With an honest gleam in his eye DeWitt talked about a rosy Red future when profits will redeem the promise his team has offered since '61. And he allowed that he doesn't think much of barbers who pretend to be baseball fans.
"That's not our typical fan," he said, handing me a statistical survey that showed the average Red fan drives over 50 miles to attend a game at Crosley Field. "Go find a live one." he said.
Fifty miles north of Cincinnati is Dayton, Ohio, which is no place to spend a weekend. So, to prove I was still an old Red player at heart, I ignored William O.'s advice and walked up the street to the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company. The president of C.G. & E. is a baseball fan, though not a real Red type (He didn't know whether the Reds would win this year or not. He said he'd go watch them anyway. Good grief. He doesn't even know the rules of the game).