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Our Rich History: 150th Anniversary of the Reds, remembering defeat of Newport Wiedemann Brewers

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

Part 1 of a three-part series celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Cincinnati Reds

As all our region’s baseball fans look to opening day and wonder where and how much players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign for, there was a time even the best players had to scrape by to make a living. Many attribute the poor pay and treatment of early baseball players as a reason that some White Sox players “fixed” the World Series in 1919, some for only an extra $5,000 or $10,000. Others at the turn of the century worked jobs in the off-season. Those with name recognition might “barn-storm” through the country to pick up some extra bucks. Not all players had these two options. Enter the side game.

The players in Cincinnati, the cradle of professional baseball, were not immune to money problems either. Luckily, turn-of-the-century Cincinnati had a thriving semi-pro baseball system as well. As an industrial region, Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana were connected by a river, commerce, and a love of baseball. Many towns, factories, and organizations had teams that would play each other in organized leagues or whenever a challenge was presented.

Miller Huggins. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Cincinnati Reds, professional since 1869, often entered this mix of teams. Upon their return from spring training in places such as Texas and North Florida, the Reds players weren’t averse to picking up extra games in the community for a myriad of reasons.

Getting in a few more “practice games” was beneficial to everyone.

The Reds got in more practice, area fans got an extra chance to see them, and both the Reds players and local players split some extra money.

The George Wiedemann Brewing Company of Newport had a formidable semi-pro baseball team.

Many of their exploits and those of other Northern Kentucky teams in the first half of the 20th century are chronicled by the Kenton County Public Library (KCPL).

Aptly named the “Brewers,” Wiedemann’s team was a powerhouse in the Kentucky Indiana Ohio League. The KCPL provides much information about the club, which was formed in 1903.

The Brewers had one of the best stadiums in the league, Wiedemann Ballpark. Built in 1908, it was located on the east side of Lowell Street, between 10th and 1th Streets. It was described as having covered grandstands and was quite nice by semi-pro standards. It was so nice, in fact, that Reds owner, Garry Hermann, regarded it as an alternative for practice and exhibitions while Redland Field was being built and the Reds were without a home field in 1912. It would be home to the Brewers until late 1916.

One of the team’s highlights was its association with the Cincinnati Reds, playing them Wednesday, August 12, 1908. On August 10th, the Reds finished a 14-day stretch on the road where they played 14 games in 12 days. The team took a much-needed day off in preparation for a two-game road trip to St. Louis. Prior to leaving for these games, the Reds slipped across the Ohio River and into Wiedemann Ballpark. The Reds lineup that would take the field for this “side game” was made up of veterans, rookies, and one future hall-of-famer.

On the mound was rookie pitcher, Jean Dubuc. Dubuc made his debut June 25, 1908. Having an extra start to gain experience would have certainly been a benefit. Fellow rookies, Bob Coulson in centerfield and Bunny Pearce catching, certainly appreciated the additional playing time. For veterans such as Dode Paskert, and Hans Lobert, it would have just been a chance for some extra money. And for others, such as future hall-of-famer, Miller Huggins, it was simply a chance to play one more game.

Redland Field, shown here circa 1920, was renamed Crosley Field in 1934. It was the home of the Cincinnati Reds until they moved to Riverfront Stadium in 1970. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cincinnati’s own Miller Huggins is known as the manager of the New York Yankees as he coached them to three World Series Championships in the 1920s. But in 1908, he was a scrappy second baseman for the hometown Reds. Born in 1878 to British immigrants, Miller made his debut in the pros with the Mansfield, Ohio club, an interstate League team. His father did not see baseball as a viable future for his youngest son. This forced Miller to play under the assumed name, Proctor. While still playing baseball, Huggins received his law degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1902.

Huggins was only around 5’2 and weighed 130 pounds. His diminutive size caused many teams to pass him over for other players. Despite his size, he played second base as well as anyone during the “deadball” era, using his wits and fierce determination to find success. His cerebral approach to baseball allowed for him to make the transition from player to manager rather easily. After a rocky start to coaching the New York Yankees in 1917, the Yankees finally made it to the World Series in 1921 and 1922 but lost to the Giants.

Huggins worked hard to develop the team and by the end of the decade, they would be “Murderer’s Row” with Ruth, Gehrig and other future hall-of-famers in the dynasty. They would be joined in the Hall by Huggins in 1964.

“Mighty Mite,” as he was known, would enjoy success against the Wiedemann Brewers. While statistics from these “side games” did not count in season stats, Huggins had a good day both in the field, committing no errors, and at bat. Huggins was never a power hitter.

He had nine homeruns throughout his whole playing career. In the unofficial game against the Brewers, Huggins hit an additional homerun, most likely an inside-the-park homerun like his nine official ones were. Two other Reds players hit homeruns, and the Brewers managed a dinger of their own off Dubuc. The Reds won the game 7-2. The game proved entertaining and enjoyable for all.

Another game was scheduled for the 1910 season.

The Reds would go on to finish fifth in the National League that year, playing post-season exhibition games in Cuba. The Wiedemann Brewers continued to be a force in semi-pro league ball until becoming an independent team in order to be more profitable.

The Brewers would go on to play local teams, as well as teams made up of Native Americans, another that was a women’s team, even a Chinese team. The largest crowd ever at Wiedemann Ballpark was in August of 1912. Over 3,000 people came to see Cy Young pitch in a fundraiser held at the park. Unfortunately, the Brewers started to fade into history during the 1920s and disappear completely after 1947. The former site of Wiedemann Ballpark is now industrial property, leaving no traces of the glory days of semi-pro baseball and side games.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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