From The Vault: Baseball fans celebrate spring training - especially with the Big Red Machine

Watch archive video
Posted at 7:29 AM, Feb 18, 2016
and last updated 2020-02-21 13:09:59-05

Watch the 1975 Big Red Machine in spring training in the video player below. This story about the history of Reds spring training was originally published on on Feb. 18, 2016.

CINCINNATI – It doesn't matter if your team is supposed to lose 94 games or win 94, when spring training starts, hope springs again in baseball fans everywhere.

It doesn't matter if it's 40 degrees or 4 in Cincinnati as long as it's 74 or 84 in Arizona. Here, even under gray skies, our hearts are lifted by the sight of bright sunshine thousands of miles away, the lush, green grass, players in red caps and uniforms, and the lovely melody of baseballs hitting bats and gloves.

Spring training is also a time of hope for young players trying to make the club. Stars and legends are sometimes born in February and March. To wit:

When Mickey Mantle saw Pete Rose run to first on a walk in 1963, he gave him the nickname Charlie Hustle, and Rose jumped from the A minors into the starting lineup. Mantle didn't know that Rose jogged 5 miles back to his hotel from ballpark each day.

The Reds found one of their greatest sluggers, Ted Kluszewski, while holding spring training at Indiana University during WWII. Big Klu was a student there – he played baseball and football - and Reds officials quickly noticed he hit the ball a lot farther than the Reds did. After he graduated, Klu averaged 45 homers for the Reds between 1953 and 1955 and got one of the original statues outside Great American Ball Park.

What ballplayer takes a part-time job at McDonald's during spring training?

Chris Sabo did in 1988. Bored with his free time and short of money, he started "flipping burgers," as he put it, until the Reds found out and made him quit. Sabo had another surprise for the Reds – he not only made the jump from AAA, he became the starting third baseman and a World Series hero with nine hits, two homers and five RBI in the sweep of the A's.

Some legends are made off the field, as the late, beloved clubhouse manager, Bernie Stowe, told Reds baseball author John Erardi. Erardi recounted one of Stowe's stories in an article on after Stowe's death.

"Fred Hutchinson (Reds manager 1959-64), he liked the scotch. There used to be a saloon right across from the hotel in Tampa  - the White Rose Bar. Hutch and the coaches, they'd be in there, and they'd start arguing about something, like stealing bases. They'd get the bartender to give them a towel, and they'd lay it on the floor, and they'd be slidin' into each other in the bar! The next day you'd see the four of them, Hutch and the three coaches, and man were they hung over."

Watch the video above and let it take you back to Spring Training 1975 in Tampa, Florida, and the Big Red Machine. There's Pete taking swings in the batting cage and straining to touch his toes during stretches -  to the laughs of Tony and Joe. Doggie taking grounders at first. Sparky and pitching coach Larry Shepard working with Will McEnaney and other pitchers on holding base runners. Some helpless pitcher struggling to bunt against a pitching machine brushing him back.

Spring Training then looks a lot different than Spring Training now. In 1975,  the Reds' practice facility (next to Tampa's now demolished football stadium) looks like a spartan high school field, with highway traffic driving by and chain-link fences that appear to hold in the smattering of fans instead of holding people out. It  was cold on the day this video was shot – spectators are wearing jackets and coats despite the bright sun.

For the most part, sunny Tampa was a welcoming spring home for the Reds for more than 50 years (1931-42 and 1946-1987), interrupted only by travel restrictions during WWII. Except for the IU years, the Reds trained in Florida from 1923 to 2009.

Reds Spring Training Homes Since 1900

Cincinnati (1901-1902);

Augusta, Ga. (1903);
Dallas, Texas (1904);
Jacksonville, Fla. (1905);
San Antonio, Texas (1906);
Marlin Springs, Texas (1907);
St. Augustine, Fla. (1908);
Atlanta (1909);
Hot Springs, Ark. (1910-1911);
Columbus, Ga. (1912);
Mobile, Ala. (1913);
Alexandria, La. (1914-1915);
Shreveport, La.  (1916-1917);
Montgomery, Ala. (1918);
Waxahachie, Texas (1919);
Miami (1920);
Cisco, Texas (1921);
Mineral Wells, Texas (1922);
Orlando, Fla. (1923-1930);
Tampa, Fla. (1931-1942);
Bloomington, Ind. (1943-1945);
Tampa (1946-1987);
Plant City, Fla. (1988-1997);
Sarasota, Fla. (1998-2009);
Goodyear, Ariz. (2010-present).

Some of the earliest spring trainings sent the Reds on one- and two-year visits across the deep South to Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.  According to Erardi, that's because that's where Reds business manager Frank Bancroft served as a 17-year-old soldier in the Civil War.

"Bancroft wanted to spread it around – to give the Deep South the economic boost from spring training," Erardi said.

Florida built a near monopoly on spring training with its so-called Grapefruit League until Arizona got into the business in the 1940s. Now the Cactus League has just as many teams – 15.

The Reds got there just like every other team – wooed by big money from desert towns and developers.

The Reds were one of the last teams to move west. Seeking better facilities and more money, the Reds first moved from Tampa 25 miles inland to Plant City (1988) and then 70 miles south to Sarasota (1998) on the Gulf Coast.

After they had been there 10 years, the Reds went to Sarasota city leaders and asked for $30 million in improvements to its aging facility, and the city said no. Meanwhile, Goodyear was building a brand new complex to house two teams. They already had enticed the Indians to move from Winter Haven, Fla., and then they came after the Reds.

"Bob Castellini really wanted to stay in Sarasota," Erardi said. "You had all these Reds fans in Florida and all the snowbirds and people who drove down from Cincinnati every year. He didn't want to disappoint them. But the city of Sarasota said there no way they would fix up the stadium.

RELATED: Serious injury ended Reds' offseason basketball team

"Once the Reds signed a deal with Goodyear, Sarasota came up with the money, but it was too late. Then Sarasota got the Orioles to come in."

The city of Goodyear, 20 minutes west of Phoenix, paid $32 million to bring the Reds there starting in 2010 and $108 million to build the Reds-Indians complex. The two teams share the 10,000-seat stadium but have separate offices, practice fields and clubhouses.  

The spring training facility was the centerpiece of a planned $1 billion mixed-use development featuring offices, shops, restaurants, housing, hotels and a conference center.

The Reds enjoy the luxury of half-hour trips to the other Cactus League ballparks, not to mention home and away games with the Indians at Goodyear.  Players may miss the Florida beaches, but they don't miss 3- and 4-hour bus rides to some Grapefruit League cities.

Enjoy more of Cincinnati history and archive video by liking the WCPO Vault on Facebook!

SEE other video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.