Greg Rhodes: Meet the man who knows the most about the Cincinnati Reds

CINCINNATI -- Greg Rhodes can tell you anything you want to know about the Cincinnati Reds. 

Seriously.

For each of the 23,490 or so games the Reds have played over the last 145 years, Rhodes can tell you what the weather was like on any given day and who the batboy was.

He is the keeper of Cincinnati Reds history.

More than 50 years ago, Rhodes traveled two hours from Indiana to Cincinnati with his high school buddies to watch double-headers at Crosley Field every Sunday. The boys would arrive early, around 11 a.m. to catch batting practice and didn't leave a moment before the players exited the field at the end of the day. Sometimes, this made 12-hour days for them but it was the "highlight of the summer."

Today, he spends his days at Great American Ball Park in the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum . The 67-year-old is the Reds team historian and former director of the team Hall of Fame. 

Becoming the Historian

Rhodes graduated from Indiana University with a doctoral degree in education with hopes of becoming a college professor. He moved to Cincinnati shortly after graduation to work with the Cincinnati Historical Society at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal from 1987 to 1992. This was his "introduction" into this field, never before working at a museum.

He was the only die-hard baseball fan among his peers and anytime a question about Reds history was asked, his colleagues would turn to Rhodes.

"It was interesting because I learned stuff about the Reds that I never knew. As a fan, you know a little about your team, but I just learned so much more about the club," he said. "It was fascinating to go back in history."

As interest stirred, he researched the Reds' first team in 1869. As the first professional baseball team in the U.S., it raised the question, "Who the heck did they play?" he said. Scouring through newspapers at the historical society, he found in-depth articles covering the first game and an idea popped into his head. 

Rhodes teamed up with John Erardi, a sports writer for The Enquirer, in 1994 to co-write, "The first boys of summer: The 1869 Cincinnati Redstockings. Baseball's first professional team." Over the next 10 years, he wrote six historical books about the Reds.

"During that time, while I was working on those, I got to know a lot of people working for the Reds," he said. "In the late '90s, there was a lot of talk about building a new ballpark and a possibility of there being a Hall of Fame."

The Reds staff surveyed fans and ticket holders about what they wanted to see at the new stadium and the consensus was a resounding vote for a Hall of Fame. Since 1958, the Hall of Fame induction award was given to a player. The player and the team would each receive a plaque of recognition, Rhodes said, but the team never had a designated area to hang the awards so they sat in storage.

Just before 2004, Rhodes was brought onto the Reds staff as team historian.

Putting the museum together after the 2003 ballpark opened was a "24-hour-a-day" job, Rhodes said, tracking down decades of lost memorabilia across the country.

Teams didn't keep much of their belongings in the years' prior. Uniforms were donated to minor league teams, players kept mementos after the season. Collectors bought the rest.

"We'd finally have a place to show off," Rhodes said. The facility opened to the public in 2004.

"No other team had a facility like that. In fact, to this day, there are only a couple of other teams that have a significant museum facility that's a part of their ballpark," Rhodes said. "It's still a pretty unusual facility to have."

Rhodes said the best thing about opening the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum was being able to provide players and fans with "touchstones that will evoke a memory" and to create "personal connections" with those who share one common love: the Reds.

"Retired players are genuinely thrilled about the Hall of Fame," he said. "It makes them feel honored."

The Cincinnati holiday: Opening Day over the years

As any Cincinnatian knows, Opening Day is an unofficial city holiday. It's a tradition that started long ago, Rhodes said, and is much different than it is today.

"We have such a unique history about Opening Day here and it's such a big deal," he said, mentioning that Opening Day is one of the busiest days of the year for him. 

But it started out  just like any other season opener. 

In the 1900s, "the club got smart and realized they could promote the day," he said, noting the club starting selling out games and began pre-game traditions that he describes as "roving tailgate parties that stopped at watering holes on their way to the stadium."

Then came 1920: The introduction of the Findlay Market Parade.

Today, the tradition continues and Rhodes doesn't foresee it changing.

"Every year, just like Easter and New Year's, there's going to be Opening Day here in Cincinnati," he said, noting the last "scare" was in 1935 when the schedule had the Reds opening in Pittsburg. Then-owner, Powel Crosley "had a fit"

and requested for the National League to change the location back to Cincinnati. 

"They did and since that time there hasn't been another threat to Reds Opening Day," Rhodes said, noting that no other team has this privilege.

Rhodes and Erardi teamed up once again to write a book on Opening Day, trying to find an answer to why Cincinnati has this privilege.

"We couldn't really find an absolute, 100 percent reason why," he said. "It's one of the great things that makes this city. There is no other major league city that has anything like what we have here on opening day. It is truly the only baseball holiday in the world."

Future And Past Meet

Rhodes continued his work as director until 2007. Not wanting to fully retire, he kept the title as team historian and now he writes scripts for Reds-affiliated radio stations, gives tours and teaches classes on the Reds at the University of Cincinnati for those who are 50 years or older and have a burning love for baseball.

He writes color commentary and occasionally sits in on pre-game "Moments in History" or "Hall of Fame" broadcasts.

For Opening Day 2014, he'll be joining WCPO's John Popovich and Tayna O'Rouke on Channel 9 to provide history of the opener the parade.

Rhodes, who enjoys playing tennis and eating Skyline Chili, considers himself "semi-retired,'' but is writing his seventh and final book. It's set as a sequel to Lee Allen's 1948 "The Cincinnati Reds." Allen's book was the first major comprehensive collection of Reds history at the time. 

"There hasn't been the sequel to that. No one has approached it in the same way, season by season," he said. "I thought it would be kind of cool to continue that. I've started it and it's become a great passion and hopefully it will be finished in my lifetime."

One of the joys Rhodes experienced while working in the Hall of Fame was to see others reconnect with pieces of history.

Still his favorite memories are from the times he spent at Crosley Field.

The area is barely recognizable today. But that's something Rhodes makes sure is handled each year, too.

Just off Findlay Street, past the intersection on Dalton Avenue, there's a white-stained marker down an alley. It's where Rhodes and others have painted a replica home plate marker over the exact spot it once laid in the stadium. 

See if you can find Rhodes' piece of history! Turn left off Linn Street onto Findlay Street, go past Western Avenue and just past the intersection of Dalton Avenue, turn right into the first driveway on the right-hand side. The building to the left is marked with the Trane logo and is undergoing construction.

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