Reds don't get museum basic: You need stuff

Friday, November 20, 1998

The Reds need to bone up on playing the baseball museum game. They think you can hit a home run without stepping up to the plate.

The ballclub wants to put a top-notch museum in its new riverfront stadium. Smart move. Finally, after all these years, a place in Cincinnati will properly honor the long history of the oldest team in professional baseball.

The honor is long overdue. But the Reds are going about it all wrong. They're dozing on the bench when they should be tearing up the field.

Check out the items in today's auction of Reds' memorabilia.
Museums must be filled with stuff. You can have some computer games and interactive displays for visitors with challenged attention spans. But you must have lots and lots of memorabilia, mementos, artifacts from the past, pieces of history. Balls, bats, uniforms, scorecards, pennants, rings.

The Reds have some stuff. They have the world championship trophies from the Big Red Machine years and some items from the teams of the '90s - players' contracts from the wire-to-wire world champs to this year's losers. But the collection is far from complete. The Reds have nothing to glorify the team's early years - nothing from 1869 when the team started playing ball. Nothing says in a big way that Cincinnati is the birthplace of major-league baseball and the Reds occupy a huge part of the Queen City's history.

Now, on this day when the Steve Cummings Collection, one of the biggest and best private stocks of early Cincinnati Reds memorabilia, goes on the auction block, the team won't even try to get in the game.

"We have not changed our position," Reds Managing Executive John Allen told me on Thursday. "Teams traditionally do not buy baseball memorabilia."

So the home team won't be bidding on a one-of-a-kind Reds cigar cutter from 1869, a scorecard from 1887, or a 1918 baseball autographed by two Hall of Famers, Reds outfielder Edd Roush and his one-time manager, Christy Mathewson. John Allen informed me none of the club's wealthy owners plans to bid on team pennants and a player's jacket from 1939, or a diamond ring given to the Reds when they won the 1940 World Series.

No one will be going to bat for the Reds' history, for part of the team's legacy, for our city's history. That is pathetic.

But not surprising.

History lessons

The Reds are no different from the rest of Cincinnati. The city's record on preserving the past stinks.

We pay lip service to honoring our history. But when it comes down to paying the price of restoration or saving something historic, lip service is usually all we can afford. Such shortsightedness let the Tyler Davidson Fountain deteriorate and demolished downtown's movie palaces. And that's why you must visit the airport to see the murals that once graced Union Terminal.

We're not talking about a lot of money here. The entire Cummings Collection has been priced at $300,000. That's the annual going rate for a young utility infielder.

Even though the team's new stadium and museum won't open until 2003, the Reds are woefully unprepared to get a museum up and running. They don't have a curator on board to advise on space requirements and start amassing a collection.

"We are not in the museum business," John Allen said. "We are in the business of running a baseball club."

He told me the team intends to hire a curator "late next year," when plans for the stadium and museum are ready.

That's too late. The time to sign a curator and begin building a collection is now. As today's auction indicates, once memorabilia goes on the block, it may never be available again.

By the time the Reds go looking for their past and try to give us a museum worthy of the oldest pro team in baseball, they might find that the ballclub's legacy is like a home run ball sailing over the fence. Going. Going. Gone.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.