Crosley Field Terrace had unique charm
Passage of time hasn't dulled the memories of those who played there
Thousands of fans will flock to Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati for Monday's 2015 Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders and Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile.
They'll pass through the "Crosley Terrace" monument area outside the stadium's main entrance and see the statues of Reds stars Joe Nuxhall, Ernie Lombardi, Ted Kluszewski and Frank Robinson playing a game on the plaza. They may even note the detail in the bronzes -- Kluszewski's uniform sleeves are famously cut off to reveal his biceps. And hopefully the older fans among them -- those who actually saw games at old Crosley Field -- will stop and remember the park, and talk to some of the younger ones about the anomaly that was the real Crosley Terrace.
"It still resonates in the lore here," says Reds team historian Greg Rhodes. "If you were to launch into a conversation with any random person who saw a game at Crosley, it would take about a minute before the Terrace came up. It was such an odd little feature, and everyone remembers it."
Crosley Field, at the corner of Findlay Street and Western Avenue in the Queensgate neighborhood of Cincinnati, was the home of the Reds from 1884-1970. According to Rhodes, the street behind left and center fields was about six feet higher than the playing field, and when the stadium was built, the natural grade of the land was left intact.
Beginning about 20 feet from the concrete outfield wall, the ground sloped upward toward street level. Still can't visualize this? Quite simply, there was a big hill in left field, a lot like center field at Minute Maid Park.
"Crosley Field was a tough place for outfielders to play," said Robinson, who played left field for the Reds from 1956-65, said. "You couldn't just run up the terrace, you had to climb it. And if there was a ball over your head, you could never climb it fast enough to make a play against the wall."
Not that you'd want to, either, because the concrete outfield wall was notoriously unforgiving.
"Most times, if a ball hit that wall, it would come off like a shot, and it would be the shortstop who retrieved it," Robinson recalled.
Players who made frequent visits to Crosley had tricks to playing the Terrace.
"I remember seeing guys who weren't prepared, and their legs would get shorter and shorter and they'd tumble up the hill," said Art Shamsky, who played the Terrace for the Reds from 1965-67 and as member of the New York Mets from '68-71. "I played the Terrace with my body turned a bit to the left, with my left leg at the base of the hill going up. It made practical sense to have one foot on it so my first move was either up or down."
Dodgers outfielder Tommy Davis, who visited Crosley many times while with Los Angeles from 1959-66, had a different strategy.
"The ground comes up quickly when you're running sideways up a hill, and a few times I ended up on my face," he said. "So I learned to play deep and come in on balls so I wouldn't have a problem with the rise."
But many outfielders did, including some of baseball's best.
On May 28, 1935, while playing for the Boston Braves at the tail end of his career, Babe Ruth famously stumbled and fell on the Terrace while chasing a fly ball. He retired on June 2.
Robinson recalls the same thing happening to Willie Mays.
"That's one thing I'll always remember, because it validates just how difficult it was to play on that Terrace," Robinson said. "In one game against us, Willie ended up with his feet in the air and his back on the ground, and I remember thinking, 'OK, now I feel good, because it happened to the best.'"
Mays recalled the incident in a 2010 interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"I remember the first game I played at Crosley," Mays said. "I fell down and dropped the ball. When you're running on flat ground and all of a sudden you get to that embankment, you'd better know that it's coming and make an adjustment or you're going down."
Many Reds players and executives felt the Terrace gave the Reds a significant home-field advantage when playing at Crosley. Astros executive Tal Smith, who worked in the Reds' front office in the late 1950s, felt so strongly about the Terrace that he pushed for the addition of the 30-degree center field incline at Enron Field, (now Minute Maid Park), in Houston. It is known as "Tal's Hill," but this is the last year it will be a feature at the park. It was even rumored that during his time as the Orioles' manager from 1988-91, Robinson so fondly remembered Crosley Field that he pushed for the addition of a terrace at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
However, Robinson scoffed at that idea. "Are you kidding me?" said the Hall of Famer. "No indeedy."
But even Robinson agreed that the left-field Terrace at old Crosley Field was a historical baseball quirk that should never be forgotten.