Wednesday, April 28, 2004

'40 NL pennant finds its way home

LaRosa pulled flag from recipe box

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Back in the early 1970s, when Crosley Field was being emptied of many of its artifacts at auction, pizza magnate Buddy LaRosa purchased the whirlpool from the Reds' clubhouse.

He doesn't remember what he paid, but he remembers the auctioneer reaching into a whirlpool and pulling out a blue pennant with "Brooklyn" stitched in white and holding it up. It was one of the team flags that flew above Crosley Field.

Buddy LaRosa, left talks with John Allen, the chief operating officer for the Reds, while looking at the Reds' 1940 National League Champions pennant Buddy purchased at an auction years ago.
(Tony Jones photo)
LaRosa knew there were probably more pennants in the whirlpool, but it was the whirlpool he was after. He gave it to La Salle High School.

Later, when LaRosa was examining the rest of the whirlpool's contents, he unrolled a particularly large bundle and was delighted by what he saw: the Reds' 1940 National League pennant.

"I put it away in the archives with the recipes for the pizza sauce," LaRosa said.

Come September, when the Reds' new Hall of Fame and Museum opens at Great American Ball Park, the Reds' 1940 NL pennant - on loan from LaRosa - will be prominently displayed in the high-ceiling lobby.

Greg Rhodes has been collecting items for the Reds since being named executive director of the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum last February. He said the Reds will have enough items to display by the time the museum opens in the fall. He is eager, however, for fans and collectors to come forward with more.

"A museum can never have too much stuff," Rhodes said.

The flag was unfurled Tuesday afternoon at LaRosa headquarters in Western Hills, the first time it has been at its full 25-foot length since Buddy loaned it to the proprietors of what was then Flanagan's saloon near then Riverfront Stadium during the 1990 World Series.

"It's funny that this pennant turned up, but the Reds' 1940 World Championship pennant didn't," LaRosa said. "Maybe it will turn up now."

These were the Reds of 1940 National League Most Valuable Player Frank McCormick, Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi and the best one-two pitching punch the Reds have ever had: Paul Derringer and 1939 MVP Bucky Walters.

These were also the Reds of Lonny Frey, Billy Myers, Billy Werber, Ival Goodman, Harry Craft and Mike McCormick, the other starting position players.

"Finding this pennant is like buying a trunk at auction," LaRosa said. "You know there are 'assorted pictures' in there, but you don't know if there might be a Rembrandt underneath. So, yes, this pennant was a bonus."

Other items loaned to the Reds at Tuesday's presentation were a bat used in the late 1880s and early 1890s by then Red Charles (Lefty) Marr. The bat has been been in the possession of Marr's great niece, Joy Benison, of College Hill.

"We've kept the bat all these years in a garbage can in the garage where we kept scrap lumber," Ms. Benison said.

The bat is heavy, but is only about 32 inches long. Today's major-league bats are 33 inches to 35 inches.

Marr was an outfielder, shortstop, first baseman and third baseman for the Reds. He even caught one game, despite being left-handed.

"Any bat pre-1900 is significant," Rhodes said.

Also loaned to the Reds Tuesday were two baseballs, one of them signed by the Reds, the other signed by the Philadelphia Phillies, at Crosley Field on the occasion of the first night game in major league baseball history. These baseballs have been in the possession of Ivan Rudy, Western Hills. His father, also named Ivan, worked in the scoreboard at Crosley Field.

"We don't have much from the first night game," Rhodes said, "so those baseballs signed by the two teams who played in it are significant."

"These aren't items from collectors," Rhodes noted. "It's from their family members. It's all the more appreciated that they've loaned it to us. It's especially dear to them."

Mike LaRosa, Buddy's son and the caretaker of the NL pennant for lo these many years, also loaned to the Reds' the Brooklyn pennant that first attracted his dad's attention that day at auction 30 years ago. Rhodes said it would likely be part of a "tribute to Crosley Field" display.

Rhodes said the Reds collection is coming along nicely.

"We started off with some holes to fill and we're finding more and more stuff," he said. "We're beginning to broaden the scope of what we have from loans and donations.

"The pre-1900 stuff is the hardest to come by. We are finding some really interesting pieces, especially on the championship teams of 1939-40. We'll continue to find other stuff."

Among the items he found in the Reds' own collection were a huge plaque to turn-of-the-century Reds' business manager Frank Bancroft, who was widely known as "The Father of Reds' Opening Day." Also discovered were the dugout benches and several lockers from Crosley Field.

Rhodes believes a "trophy ball" from 1869, the first season of baseball's first professional team - the Red Stockings - may soon be coming on loan to the Reds.

Reds catching great Johnny Bench will be loaning one of his two Most Valuable Player awards to the museum, Rhodes said.

What other sorts of things would the Reds like to have?

"Anything associated with the 1919 team, we would be very anxious to look at," Rhodes said.

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