so sez Paul Daughtery. Even tho' this topic was discussed on the Top 5: REDS Low 2005 One Game Attendances thread...I thought it deserved it's own thread... Discuss!
Sunday, October 2, 2005
Bengals own this town, not Reds
Baseball not king in Cincinnati now
By Paul Daugherty
Enquirer staff writer
Rest in peace, Baseball Town.
Perceptions die hard, memories even harder. One day you're the center of the universe, Rome in red and white, Big Red Machine-ing teams for a decade. The next, you're 25th in baseball in attendance, better only than permanent scrubs such as Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
The baseball memories are great here, but they don't sell tickets. Fathers playing catch with sons is a pretty image. It doesn't have much to do with fathers taking sons to the ballpark. The Reds drew less than 2 million fans this year, fewer than Milwaukee and Detroit. A little more than half what St. Louis attracted.
St. Louis is a baseball town. Boston, New York. Baseball towns. It has been said for so long about Cincinnati, it has been adopted as conventional wisdom:
This is a baseball town.
No it's not.
Not even close.
Hasn't been for 15 years, at least. It's a football place.
That's easy to say now. The Bengals lead the region in sports love. As many fans will tailgate today before Bengals-Texans as attended the Reds' Fan Appreciation Day last week. No one has to ask Who Dey? about the football team. Marvin Lewis is a god, Sparky Anderson is a scrapook. Jerry Narron, bless him, is just a baseball guy.
"People always saw more hope in football, even in the lean years," said UC professor Kevin Grace. Grace isn't a football guy. He teaches a class on the social history of ... baseball. "I think it started with 1988 (when the Bengals won the AFC title). That created an interest in football that's still there. There has been nothing dynamic about the Reds since 1990. We're going on 15 years of a boring team, one that doesn't hold any promise."
Even when the Bengals were bad and the Reds were (occasionally) brilliant, this was a football town. Until the weather turned unbearable, the 1990s Bengals, as bad a sports franchise as existed, still drew 50,000 for home games. During their regular seasons, the '88 Bengals prompted more of a civic buzz than the '90 Reds.
Cincinnati's demise as a baseball town has occurred as baseball has set attendance records two years in a row. The reasons are as sustained and obvious as the boos in May were for Danny Graves:
Middle-income fans turned off by '94 strike. Pete Rose's ouster. Marge Schott's embarrassments. Hastened and needless departures of winning managers. Inert management.
And, of course, the Reds stink. Have for five years. Probably will next year.
The Reds are hit by all the national trends, too: Perception that baseball is boring. Kids don't play baseball. Nobody can watch three hours of baseball on TV without a wakeup call. Football rocks.
Greg Rhodes runs the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, next to the ballpark. He says it's cyclical. In the late 50s, when the team was routinely lousy, Powel Crosley entertained an offer from the Shea family in New York, to move the team. Rhodes recalls attendance being criminally anemic at Crosley Field, during the blistering pennant race of 1964.
He argues that the Reds hall and museum is unique in baseball, and wouldn't exist without the passion and history of the club. Yet Rhodes also says this: "There is such an appreciation here for the way generations of families relate to the Reds. It's very important to them in terms of their family lore. But that doesn't translate into buying tickets. There's a disconnect there I don't understand."
Nor do good baseball towns suffer from what Rhodes calls "the fair-weather phenomenon" evident here.
So while Reds fans embrace what used to be, Bengals fans can't wait for next Sunday. "So much of the love of (baseball) is based on nostalgia," Grace said. "But the 18-to-45 crowd doesn't care about that. Love and excitement are two different things."
Can Cincinnati be a baseball town again? Not the way it was 30 years ago. Football is America's game now. And Cincinnati's.
So long, Baseball Town. See you at the museum.