Reds hit a home run with Hall of Fame museum
It's been a while since the Cincinnati Reds set the baseball world afire -- the team's last National League pennant came in 1990. Yet the team's Hall of Fame museum is unmatched and is a top-notch tourist attraction. Cincinnati also has an unmatched history as far as the entire spectrum of baseball is concerned: The Cincinnati Red Stockings emerged as baseball's first team of professional ballplayers in 1869. The team's record that year was 57-0, obviously a mark no other team has matched.
The team's Hall of Fame, which also includes a museum, is at the entrance to the Reds' ultra-modern Great American Ballpark, built in 2003. It combines high-tech elements with nostalgic reminders of the Reds' historic past. At the main gates, fans are greeted by mosaic murals of the 1869 Red Stockings as well as the famed Big Red Machine, the 1975 World Championship team that had a host of stars, including one of the game's best hitters -- Pete Rose, who turned into one of the game's most controversial figures with his gambling habits.
The park itself, named after the Cincy-based Great American Insurance Group, is downtown, similar to other new stadiums in other big-league cities. It's a class act with such special features as more than the usual number of field level seats, one of baseball's biggest video scoreboards and smokestacks that "explode" with fireworks after a Reds' home run or victory.
Back to the Hall of Fame. It's a $10 million community effort, its spokesman told us during a recent visit, with the helping hands of fans, players, collectors and countless others donating or loaning items crucial to the team's long history. Former stars Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench loaned their Golden Glove and Most Valuable Player awards, while one fan donated a rare panoramic photo of 1912's opening day at Crosley Field, which serves as a backdrop to the Hall of Fame's plaques gallery.
Rose, baseball's hit king, is significantly represented throughout the facility, although he may never be named to baseball's national shrine at Cooperstown, N.Y., because of his gambling habits. A major focus on Rose's exploits at Cincinnati is a 30-foot-tall "wall of balls" containing 4,256 baseballs, each representing one of his record number of hits. Another feature of the Reds' hall is the number of interconnective exhibits, attractive to all ages. The "Play Ball" gallery is tops. You start with an instructional video from past Reds greats, then continue by leaping to make a catch, stepping into the batter's box and trying to catch up to a fastball, throwing off a regulation mound to a strike zone 60 feet away, then going to a broadcast booth to call a play-by-play of a famous moment of Reds' history.
The Reds opened the museum in September 2004. The team is only one of a handful of major league clubs with facilities dedicated to its history and best players. There are a few -- St. Louis, Atlanta and Baltimore -- that recently expanded their museums. But we're told they don't hold a candle to the one in Cincinnati, which boasts 16,000 square feet of space and attracts some 100,000 fans a year.