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Cincinnati was the last of the original big-league cities to draw a million, not reaching that figure until 1956. As recently as 1960 it was last in the majors in attendance, and a move to San Diego, or anywhere else, was threatened. In 1964 when the Reds returned for their final home stand, they were tied for the lead with St. Louis in a blistering four-way pennant race. By then, however, summer vacation was over and it was too late for the faithful outlanders to make plans to journey into town. This left Cincinnati to support Cincinnati, and a throng of 10,858 showed up to welcome the first-place Reds back. For the three crucial games a total of 26,127 Cincinnati baseball lovers found their way to the park. Thus encouraged, the team blew the pennant to St. Louis.
Only seven years ago the Reds attracted a mere 733,354 paid admissions to see a first-division team starring Rose, the league's leading hitter, and Bench, the Rookie of the Year. "What impressed you most about Bench?" someone asked Rose shortly after that season, expecting him to cite his power, his arm, whatever. "That he moved to Cincinnati year-round right away," Rose shot back. No wonder.
The Reds' success at the gate dates to the middle of the 1970 season, when the team left antiquated Crosley Field for the new Riverfront Stadium. The Reds drew 1,501,122 spectators in 1971, when they failed to reach .500 all season and have done better than that ever since. This year the regular-season total should reach 2.3 million, almost double the city's metropolitan population of 1,384,851, which is the third smallest in the majors. If the Dodgers drew at a comparable rate for the L.A. metro area, their attendance would be around 11.5 million.
But if the evidence shows that Cincinnati is not so much a great baseball town as it is a great new-stadium town, the management has done a superb job of creating an aura, a mystique, that has made going to see the Reds a necessary part of life. At various times other medium-sized cities have experienced attendance booms on account of new teams, new owners or new stadiums, but the Cincinnati experience has been duplicated only by Cleveland, shortly after World War II, and at Milwaukee in the mid-'50s.
As it was in those cities, baseball in Cincinnati today is a transcending experience. Because so many of the fans are from out of town and because the stadium is smack downtown, the sensation of baseball is heightened, overwhelming the very heart of the city. People are in Cincinnati to see baseball! This is utterly unique. To stand at Riverfront, and to watch the people flooding across an elevated walkway from downtown, to watch them strolling to the ball park, is to enjoy the weird, fond sensation of going back in time to a more graceful, innocent day when downtowns and the only game in town flourished together. And the river rolls by just to the other side. Rivers, like baseball, are from another era. In a time of jet airplanes and supertankers, rivers are pass�. When Los Angeles grew up it put its river in a culvert. How warm, even precious—the happy, solid people walking out of downtown to see baseball by the river.
Belying its bland, conservative Republican present, Cincinnati was long a wide-open roustabout town. It was settled in 1788 and named (for reasons too dreary to go into) Losantiville. It was renamed Cincinnati in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, a kind of male Daughters of the American Revolution. The town's original impetus for growth was a bit of adultery. Assigned to pick the site for a new fort on the Ohio, a young officer, one Ensign Luce, had pretty much settled on North Bend, upriver. But there he started cavorting with a married woman. To save the marriage the cuckolded husband spirited his wife away, to Losantiville, but the ensign followed and there, to bide his time between assignations, he found a place for the fort. Believe it or not!
Despite a local abundance of frogs, squirrels, caterpillars and malarial mosquitoes, Cincinnati became the prime city of the West. The German influx, largely from Bavaria and the Rhineland, began in the 1830s, and by the middle of the century 28% of the city's population was German. At this time only New York, Baltimore and Boston were conspicuously larger, but the West moved west, and St. Louis and Chicago surpassed Cincinnati, a fact which many in the Queen City now perceive as a blessing.
The town faces south, and it began to point more that way, with railroads over and underground, for commerce and human contraband. Theodore Berry, the present mayor of Cincinnati, is black and well remembers the hypocrisy, the racial injustices of a Dixie border town. "Historically," he says, "there was a strong disposition to accumulate attitudes here that would make the city appear as a good neighbor to the South."
Indeed, since the German influx most of the immigrants to Cincinnati have come from Appalachia, many of whom commute back to the hills and hollows every weekend for years after they first disembark in the big city. Local joke: "What's the best thing to come out of Kentucky?" "An empty Greyhound." Country music thrives in Cincinnati and "living room suits" are advertised on the radio, presumably by hillbilly announcers wearing loud checked suites. The University of Kentucky basketball team has a loyal following in Cincinnati, largely in an Appalachian province known as the Over the Rhine area.
This section, obviously, was once the German stronghold. Then, in the late 1800s, when Harry Wright and his Red Stockings introduced America to play for pay, Cincinnati enjoyed its most boisterous moments. A great meat hub, where pigs roamed in the streets, Cincinnati was known as Porkopolis, and one early local baseball magnate actually wanted to change the Red Stockings' nickname to Porkopolitans (but for the grace of God: PITTSBURGH PIRATES MEET LOSANTIVILLE PORKOPOLITANS). Soap was another leading industry, and while Procter & Gamble now leads the nation in largesse to Madison Avenue ($325 million), Ivory floated by accident and then was named from Psalms 45:8. At the time, though, more people in Cincinnati were involved with the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages than anything else. Breweries and distilleries abounded, and a saloonkeeper named George B. Cox became town boss, running Cincinnati for years from a table at a joint on Vine Street named Wielert's.