The Cincinnati Reds in pop culture [UPDATED]

Heck of a game last night. It was such a good game, in fact, that after Joey Votto laced the winning hit into right field, I did a fist pump. Now, that’s a ridiculous gesture when I’m watching the game at home and alone. But it’s a leperous gesture when I’m watching it in a press box, where nobody cheers and Votto’s hit was greeted with a collective tapping of the backspace button, as the reporters, true professionals all, began rewriting their ledes.

Let’s change the subject. One thing I’ve been asking fans is whether or not they think Cincinnati is a “baseball town.” That’s a cherished idea around here. But it’s also a difficult one to test, outside of attendance figures. One of my friends made a really smart suggestion: do baseball and Cincinnati get paired up in pop culture? Think about the TV shows and movies set in Boston or Chicago. You’ll invariably get two cop partners, one a Cubs fan, the other a White Sox, or marriage proposal that occurs at Fenway. (Is that how that Jimmy Fallon / Red Sox movie ended? You couldn’t pay me enough money to watch it, but the trailer suggests something along those lines.)

Anyway, the point is Boston and Chicago are “baseball towns.” Not only do their teams attract consistent crowds and dominate the local conversation, they also cause writers and directors to invoke those teams when they want to represent the Real Civic Character. Is the same thing true of Cincinnati? It’s got a much smaller pop cultural canon, but the answer seems to be no. I didn’t see anyone wearing a Reds hat in Traffic. The kids of Glee never road-trip it to a Reds game. When The Brady Bunch came to Cincinnati, they stuck to Kings Island.

I can think of only two positive examples. The first is Rain Man, where Dustin Hoffman sleeps in a Reds shirt, keeps a picture of Crosley Field on his wall, and can recite the career statistics of Ted Kluszewski. Those details suggest someone living in Cincinnati might follow the Reds, but I don’t think they suggest that this is a “baseball town.” The other example comes from WKRP in Cincinnati. In an episode in the second season, the titular station hires Sparky Anderson to host a show. (You can watch the episode here.) Anderson acts remarkably well — his best line: after his show flops, he deadpans that “every time I come to this town, I get fired” — but this episode was the only time the show really delved into baseball. The message, again, seems to be that Cincinnati has a baseball team — but not that Cincinnati is a baseball town.

If anyone knows of other Reds mentions on TV or film, please drop me an email or leave a comment. Now, I’m going to go interview some fans.

[UPDATE, 5/20/2011:] I got some great responses on the Reds in pop culture thanks to a link from Red Leg Nation. Here’s a synthesis of the comments from that site and this blog. Thanks, guys!

  • A lot of people noted Reds asides in various movies. In Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams talks about the 1975 World Series, though that seems like more of a Red Sox allusion than a Reds one. Similarly, the Reds crop up in Field of Dreams, but I’m scoring that movie for the White Sox. In Angels in the Outfield, the Angels’ owner tells his new manager, a Reds import, that “they expect you to win in Cincinnati. It’s different here.” In Blues Brothers, someone wears a Reds hat during the Bob’s Country Bunker scene. In Airborne, which is set in Cincinnati, a rollerblade race ends at Cinergy Field. In High Anxiety, Mel Brooks learns a lounge patron hails from Cincinnati and says, “Love that Big Red Machine.”
  • The Big Red Machine also provided the best examples of Reds players doing celebrity endorsements and commercials. Pete Rose did Gillette and Aqua Velva; Johnny Bench did Krylon (“No runs, no drips, no errors”). More recently, Ken Griffey Jr. did plenty of national ad campaigns. Aroldis Chapman did a Pepto Bismol commercial that can only be described as Lynchian. (Watch it here.)
  • The Reds boast a few celebrity fans, most notably George Clooney and Charlie Sheen. You also see a number of rappers wearing Reds hats, though this stems less from fandom than from the Bloods borrowing the team’s iconography.
  • My favorite example of the Reds in pop culture came from a commenter named Dale. “I have an 8 year old daughter who loves American Girl dolls,” Dale wrote. “There is one doll in the lineup that is based in the 1930s. Her name is Kit Kittredge and she is a huge Reds fan. Her favorite player is Enie Lombardi. This is all documented in the book Kit’s Home Run. I remember there being a Reds outfit for sale in the catalog as well as a game giveaway of an outfit at GABP a few years back.”

I’d say the Kit Kittredge example comes closest to disproving my thesis — that people outside of Cincinnati don’t really link the city to its team (or think of the city because of its team) in any unique or lasting way. But the other examples all support it. They also suggest that things may have been different during the Big Red Machine. It wouldn’t be the first time that brief and glorious era has distorted our perception of the Reds’ relationship to their city and their fans. But that’s a topic for another day. In the meantime, here’s one more example of the Reds in pop culture from the 1970s. In his book The Machine, Joe Posnanski says the Reds became so popular that Arthur Jones, who had just invented something called a Nautilus, decided to donate one of his first working models to the team’s clubhouse. Jones hoped this would popularize his device. The only problem was that, in those days, baseball players looked down on weightlifting. In fact, Tony Perez used the Nautilus to torment the team’s younger players, telling them that they were on Sparky Anderson’s “list” for Nautilus duty.

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About Craig Fehrman

Craig Fehrman is a Ph.D. student in Yale’s English department and a freelance writer. He's working on a book about presidents and their books [more] . . .
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20 Responses to The Cincinnati Reds in pop culture [UPDATED]

  1. Pingback: The Reds in Pop Culture | Redleg Nation

  2. Mark Newsom says:

    How about the movie “Goodwill Hunting” – the character played by Robin Williams had tickets to Game 6 of the 1975 World Series but gave them away because of a beautiful woman that he met and later married – played a big role in shaping his life and in coaching Matt Damon. (He does not mention the Red Sox getting their asses kicked in Game 7 the next day!)

  3. Mark Newsom says:

    Or the old Pete Rose shaving commercials ( was it Gillette?)

  4. Kevin says:

    What about summer catch? I know it wasn’t a great movie but it did have Griffey hitting a home run off the kid at the end of the movie

  5. Hi Kevin and Mark,

    Thanks for the comments — those movies are both good examples. Still, neither one links the Reds and Cincinnati in any real way. I think Rain Man and WKRP remain unique in this.

    Best,
    Craig

  6. Brian K. Hines says:

    Hmmm, I can’t really think of any. I’m definitely interested in seeing what other people come up with because I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to Cincinnati references in general but moreso when it’s specifically a Reds reference.

    I think the reason you don’t see more references of the Reds in movies or shows where Cincinnati is referenced is because I’m not so sure Cincinnati is a baseball town anymore. When the team hasn’t been good for so long and the fan base has been eroded to roughly 18k die hard people who show up to every game, it’s hard to argue it’s a baseball town rather than a town with a baseball team. I mean, excitement is a bit like rabies, a bite from a fan won’t infect anyone else if the fan himself is not rabid. It’s hard of anyone to think of Cincinnati as a baseball town when people here don’t think of it as a baseball town, or don’t seem to think of it as a baseball town.

    A recent reference was of Johnny Bench in an episode of Archer: http://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/the_ten_most_obscure_archer_jokes_explained/4046781
    Not entirely germane to the reference implying Cincinnati as a baseball town, but still a “Reds in pop culture” reference.

    The Reds don’t do that much better in books either. There is Daryl Brock’s “If I Never Get Back” and various stories detailing the Big Red Machine or the Red Stockings, but very few other references. I’m writing a novel on a time traveling couple who go on vacation throughout the past and the first place they visit in the novel is the Red Stockings first official game on May 4th, 1869. I’m assuming the reason behind this is because the main character is a big Reds fan in the current age, though we’ll see if that develops. Who knows? Maybe one day that will be a film with a Cincinnati guy as a diehard Reds fan and it will be a pop culture reference.

  7. Ian says:

    This is random, but there’s a guy wearing a Reds hat in the scene in “Bob’s Country Bunker” in Blues Brothers.

  8. Ian says:

    Also, the game scenes in Eight Men Out (though obviously the focus is on the White Sox). There is also at least one (token) Reds player at the end of Field of Dreams when everybody is waiting on Ray to make his decision about the farm.

  9. Mike says:

    Anyone remember the Cincinnati roller-blade movie “Airborne”? The climatic race scene went through the parking garage that used to be under Riverfront Stadium…

    Don’t recall any explicit mention or reference to the Reds, though!

  10. Damian says:

    The details are a little fuzzy since I haven’t seen it in a while, but in “Angels in the Outfield”, there are references everywhere. Someone says to Danny Glover’s character who is the new manager of the Angels, “You’re not in Cincinnati anymore, no one expects you to win” and also the owner of the team referenced his past in “You leave Cincinnati after ten years of winning ball clubs” there are more throughout the film, but those are the ones I remember as being especially prominent.

    • Brian K. Hines says:

      Ah, I remember those. For some reason I was thinking of Rookie of the Year (the Cubs movie) and I couldn’t figure out where all those Cincy references went.

      A fairly packed GAPB is shown in Mr. 3000 during a music montage showing the Brewers getting back on track. Not extremely prominent, but at least it wasn’t St. Louis and the Cardinals!

  11. RES says:

    I think you have the idea backwards: the real issue is the place of Cincinnati in pop culture – which is nearly nil. Pop culture doesn’t much link Cincinnati and the Reds because pop culture rarely references Cincinnati. Pop culture links Boston with the Red Sox and Chicago with the Cubs (and White Sox) because those towns are (for various reasons) focii of pop culture.

    • Brian K. Hines says:

      I thought that at first too, but after looking into it, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Certainly Boston, Chicago and NYC have more references in pop culture and many references to their respective teams, but Cincinnati does seem to have a decent number of pop culture references without the Reds getting mentioned. For instance, Wild Hogs was set in Cincinnati (not shot there), but no reference to the Reds. A movie based off the American Girl dolls was based in Cincinnati and I haven’t watched it but I can’t find anything on the internet that references the Reds. In The Great Buck Howard, John Malkovich makes a visit to Cincinnati to do his greatest trick but they don’t reference the Reds. Cincinnati was referenced in the movie The Apartment, but they didn’t mention the Reds. Traffic had a few scenes in Cincinnati and no one mentioned the Reds. 3 Doors Down filmed a music video in Cincinnati without a single Reds reference, hat, banner or anything. The list of movies filmed or set in Cincinnati is decent enough.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati#Media_and_music

      The list of movies that reference the Reds, however is much smaller.

      And to add insult to injury, Homer Simpson got a tattoo on his chest that said Go Bengals. How do the Bengals get a bigger pop culture reference than the Reds?

  12. Dale says:

    I have an 8 year old daughter who loves American Girl dolls. There is one doll in the lineup that is based in the 1930’s. Her name is Kit Kittredge and she is a huge Reds fan. Her favorite player is Enie Lombardi. This is all documented in the book “Kit’s Home Run”. I remember there being a Reds outfit for sale in the catalog as well as a game giveaway of an outfit at GABP a few years back. Even though the doll is still sold, I have not seen anything else Reds related in the catalog lately.

  13. ryan says:

    theres always the lil wayne video for “lollipop” where he’s riding around vegas wearing a reds hat.

  14. pinson343 says:

    Hello from Redleg Nation. My post there:

    I see that it’s already been mentioned that Charlie Sheen is a Reds fan.
    So is George Clooney.

    For those who remember Jonathon Winters, he was a big Reds fan, would wear a Reds cap.

    In Mel Brooks High Anxiety, he does a song & talk act in a lounge and says to someone from Cincy: “Love that Big Red Machine.”

  15. Pingback: The Reds, baseball’s attendance problem, and Cincinnati’s status as a “baseball town” | Craig Fehrman

  16. Scott McCarthy says:

    The character of Jennifer Keeton from Family Ties was a big Reds fan and made multiple comments about them during the series, the show took place in or around Columbus,OH.

  17. Jeffrey says:

    The thing is,Cincinnati and pop culture have really never mixed. There are droves of “famous” people from the area but no one really even claims the town as “home”. I really have never understood that because Cincinnati is one of those places that people try to leave there entire lives but continually end up right back here. Cincinnati is really the forgotten city in this country which really makes no sense geographically either. It has any and everything any other city in the country has but it gets zero respect. It really sucks because it is a great city.

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