- A little 'what-iffing' on a cold winter night ...
In early 1934, Powel Crosley purchased controlling interest in the Reds. In 1933, Reds owner Sidney Weil was forced to give up his ownership of the Reds due to financial losses. The Central Trust Company wound up owning the Reds as a result, and the bank hired Larry MacPhail to serve as general manager of the club while it searched for a new owner. Crosley was a prime candidate. He had the financial resources and he was known for his love of the Reds.
Powel Crosley immediately put his name on the ballpark, which had been known as Redland Field. Under the encouragement of MacPhail, Crosley agreed to put lights at his new ballpark, and in 1935, the Reds became the first Major League team to host a night game.
When Crosley took over the Reds, they were in last place. After four years of mixed results, the Reds finally emerged as a contender in 1938 with a fourth-place finish. They won the pennant in 1939 and the World Series in 1940. This proved to be the high point of Crosley's tenure as an owner. His Reds struggled in the rest of 1940s and 1950s with just six winning seasons over the two decades. Crosley would have enjoyed one more championship season if he had survived the 1961 season. But he passed away in March of that year.
The most obvious change would be that the familiar name of "Crosley Field" would never be in our vocabulary. But who would have bought the club? Crosley had no serious competitor for the club in 1934, and it is possible that the Reds might have been purchased by out-of-town interests. Would that have resulted in a move of the club? The Reds were certainly struggling mightily in the early 1930s, mired in last place in the middle of the Depression. Attendance was miserable; the Reds averaged 2,800 for their 77 home games in 1933.
And what about that first night game? That's another significant moment in the history of the franchise, and in the history of baseball. Without Crosley and his deep pockets, could MacPhail, who was a big promoter of the night ball, have found the backing for it in another owner? If MacPhail had not been able to persuade a different owner to install lights in Cincinnati, it is likely that Brooklyn would be known as the birthplace of night baseball. For when MacPhail left Cincinnati in 1936, he moved to the Dodgers, and installed lights there in 1938.