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.