How the Reds became the Redlegs

November 20th, 2020

CINCINNATI -- Since baseball exploded in popularity in the early 20th century, it has often intersected with politics. Most of the time, it’s been a positive association. But not so much for the Reds in the 1950s, when the club’s very name became a political problem.

From 1953-59, the Reds changed their franchise’s name to the Cincinnati Redlegs. The switch was entirely political.

A brief history lesson here: The Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team founded in 1869, became known as the Reds in 1881 after they were kicked out of the National League for selling beer, and reformed in the American Association. They remained as the Reds when readmitted to the NL in 1890.

Upon the end of World War II in 1945, American distrust of the communist Soviet Union and its global expansion began percolating. Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin, exploited the fear of communism and the Soviets in 1950 by brandishing lists of potential communist infiltrators and sympathizers around the United States. By 1953, as the Korean War was waged, McCarthy had launched public hearings to investigate alleged subversion and espionage. It became known as “The Red Scare.”

“It was at the height of the fear of communism taking over the world,” said Rick Walls, executive director of the Reds Hall of Fame. “The Reds didn’t want the headline with the ‘Cincinnati Reds.’ They were fearful. And a lot of people called them the Redlegs going back to the Red Stockings. Redlegs made a lot of sense for them. You could have the mascot, Mr. Redlegs, as well. It was a way to get away from any association with communists.”

Some great players in the team’s history played as Redlegs, including Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, along with Ted Kluszewski, Wally Post, Gus Bell and Joe Nuxhall.

Shaking the Reds name proved futile. Their jerseys still had the word "Reds" inside the wishbone-C on the chest, and many fans and reporters still referenced the team as the Reds.

In 1956, the team removed the mention of Reds from their home jerseys and went with just the wishbone-C. The ’56 road jersey featured nothing but a Mr. Redlegs mustachioed logo on the left side of the chest, but that lasted just the one season before the gray uniforms also went with a simple wishbone-C.

McCarthy was censured by his senate peers in 1954 for attacking the U.S. Army. The McCarthyism era quickly faded, and the senator died from hepatitis and alcoholism at the age of 48 in '57.

The Cincinnati Reds' name was restored by 1959 and "Reds" returned to the uniform inside the wishbone-C in '61 -- the same year they returned to the postseason as NL pennant winners. They enjoyed only two winning seasons -- '56 and ’57 -- as the Redlegs.