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  • Uncertain BeginningsBaseball and Long Bob Ewing in Early-Twentieth-Century Cincinnati
  • Mike Lackey (bio)

George Lemuel "Long Bob" Ewing was born in 1873 on a farm near the village of New Hampshire in Auglaize County, Ohio. According to family lore, he started out pitching potatoes against a target on the barn. He first attracted notice in the mid-1890s while playing for Wapakoneta, latterly in a semiprofessional "trolley league" of small towns connected by the electric interurban railways that crisscrossed the western part of the state. He signed his first professional contract at the relatively advanced age of twenty-four with the Toledo club in the Inter-State League, known—then as now—as the Mud Hens.

Ewing toiled three-plus summers for Toledo before moving up to Kansas City, where he helped the Blues win the Western League pennant in 1901. The turning point in his career came shortly after the season's end. On October 10, 1901, pitching for an amateur team in Sidney, Ohio, Ewing faced the Cincinnati Reds on a postseason barnstorming tour and held the big leaguers to a 3-3 tie. Within two weeks he was under contract to pitch for Cincinnati in 1902.

It was the beginning of an eleven-year Major League career. But it wouldn't be an easy beginning.

Cincinnati, perched on a bend in the Ohio River, had become in the nineteenth century an important terminus of western migration. The self-styled Queen City of the West had also become an early center of the meatpacking industry, "the nation's premier hog-slaughterer and supplier of cured hams."1 In Bob Ewing's day, Cincinnati was still nicknamed Porkville or Porkopolis, and the ball club was called the Porkers or Porkopolitans.

In 1902 Cincinnati, with just over 325,000 people, was the second-smallest city in the National League. Though the population increased by nearly 12 percent over the next several years, Cincinnati would be outstripped by Pittsburgh and by 1910 would be by far the smallest city in the league. But no city had a longer or more vigorous history in baseball. Cincinnati was home to the first [End Page 1] all-professional nine, the illustrious 1869 Red Stockings, and was a charter member of the National League. Expelled from the league in 1881 for refusing to give up Sunday ball and beer sales at the ballpark, Cincinnati spent nearly a decade in exile in the American Association—otherwise known as the Beer and Whiskey League—before returning to the fold in 1890.

Beer was part of the culture in heavily German Cincinnati. German immigrants and German Americans made up the largest identifiable segment of the population. The city had dozens of German labor unions, social organizations, and charitable societies; extensive German-language instruction in the public schools; two major German-language newspapers; and twenty-six breweries that produced 1.4 million barrels of beer annually.

Nowhere was a ball club more representative of its community. So many players of German ancestry performed for the Reds that the team was sometimes called the Heinies.

"Where in the world does the Cincinnati club get these fellows with the funny names?" asked former National League manager Tom Loftus. "When I look at a scorecard in Cincinnati, I always feel as if I was looking over a brewery payroll. They get more Steins, Bachs, Stimmels, Gueses, Peitzes, and other noodle soup names on the scorecard here than any other town in the world."2

Much of the team's talent was homegrown, or at least harvested nearby. Throughout the dead-ball era, Cincinnati was fertile ground for baseball ability. Only St. Louis produced slightly more Major Leaguers relative to population, with Cincinnati and Cleveland in a virtual dead heat for second place.3 Ewing, though not a native, typified the regional nature of the team's scouting. Over his eight years with the Reds, 25 percent of all spots in the opening-day lineup were occupied by players born within 100 miles of Cincinnati's League Park—18 percent by players born within 35 miles.

Ewing's first Major League manager was John Alexander "Bid" McPhee. McPhee was an institution...


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