Sunday, July 6, 2008

Remembering the Redbirds

In honor of the new AAA stadium rising downtown, my hometown Columbus Dispatch has recently been running retrospectives of Columbus baseball history. This morning's -- recalling the Columbus Redbirds of 1931-1954 -- has a couple of fun stories:
Larry MacPhail was new to Columbus. He was sent to the city in 1931 to run the American Association franchise that the St. Louis Cardinals had purchased from the Cincinnati Reds, and it was immediately clear to him that Neil Park, the club's old concrete ballpark on Cleveland Avenue, would have to be replaced . . .

. . . MacPhail, though, still had much to learn about Columbus. Former Dispatch Sports Editor Paul Hornung used to tell a story, relayed to him by one of his predecessors, of the day in 1931 when MacPhail asked a Dispatch writer to accompany him on a little journey for a big surprise.

MacPhail stopped the car at a vacant lot on the south end of town, got out and produced a long roll of paper. When he stretched it out, it revealed a blueprint of a new baseball park.

"This is where I'm going to build my new stadium," MacPhail told the writer.

Just then the wind shifted, and a foul odor wiped the proud grin off the new general manager's face.

"What's that smell?" MacPhail said.

"Oh, it's the rendering plant, among other things," the writer said. "It always smells like this around here."

MacPhail rolled up his blueprints and got back in the car. Not long after that, it was announced that the Red Birds would have a home on W. Mound Street.

Just so you know, Mound Street ain't near the rendering plant. Unfortunately for Columbus' beer leaguers, however, the giant rec-league softball park is -- and the rendering plant is still there too -- which is one of the reasons why I don't play softball anymore.

There's also a fun story about the free stuff Enos Slaughter used to get for hitting home runs during his stint in Columbus.

Overall, a surprisingly good story from a newspaper whose baseball coverage normally ranges from intolerable to execrable.

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