Photo Credit: Library of Congress

The Last Hurrah is a series that discusses the final major sports events at sporting venues around the world.

On Thursday, October 12th, 1911, the Chicago Cubs faced the Cincinnati Reds in the final MLB game to be played at Palace of the Fans in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Palace of the Fans opened in 1902, replacing the Reds’ old home stadium in League Park, which the Reds had played at since the 1884 season. However, League Park was beset with a number of design flaws, most notably the awkward shape of the field due to the surrounding streets, causing a very short right field which resulted in the American Association, the league that the Reds were a part of at the time, to make a rule exception that any ball hit over the right field fence would be called a double rather than a home run. The stadium was also designed to face into the sun rather than away from it. This caused the sunlight to be directly in the eyes of the batters, however there wasn’t anything the teams could do about it at that point since all games were played during the day, and the first official night game wouldn’t happen for over 50 more years.

The grandstands were also shoddily built, as shown in the 1884 Opening Day game against the Columbus Buckeyes, in which the stands collapsed shortly after the game. It was reported that one spectator was killed in the collapse, however the Reds denied this, stating that the story was sensationalized and that only a few fans suffered minor injuries. However, the supposed fatality is still a debated topic today. The outfield fence also blew apart at one point due to wind, causing even more risk of injury for players and fans. The Cincinnati Enquirer published an article recommending that children not be brought to games for fear of injury and that spectators check their life insurance policies before attending.

As if this wasn’t enough, the stadium also lacked adequate drainage, resulting in the field being flooded often and frequently soggy and muddy due to rainstorms. Due to all of these issues, I imagine that the players were probably eager to move to their new field for the 1902 season.

I should point out that while it wasn’t a “new” stadium per se as Palace of the Fans was in the same location as League Park, there were a lot of changes made to distinguish it from its predecessor.

The primary reason for the change was a small fire in 1900 which damaged part of the League Park grandstands. Instead of repairing the grandstands, the Reds decided to build brand new grandstands on the opposite end of the field. For the 1900 and 1901 seasons, only the grandstands facing left field were open, cutting down seating capacity significantly. Fans that were unable to find room in the remaining stands often sat in unused boxcars on the railroad tracks behind left and center field.

Inspired by architecture displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the new stands featured hand-carved Corinthian columns, as well as private boxes, similar to those seen at operas, to encourage wealthy individuals to attend games. The old League Park grandstands were demolished at the conclusion of the 1901 season, and the field was flipped to have the Palace of the Fans stands facing behind home plate, thus resolving the issue of the sun being right in the batters’ eyes. However, another design blunder soon surfaced, as they forgot to include any dugouts or clubhouses, forcing the players to sit on benches directly in front of the field-level stands. Palace of the Fans was also just the second major league ballpark to not use wood as the primary building material, as they instead used iron and cement in construction.

The Reds played at Palace of the Fans from 1902 through 1911, with little success as the team only finished as high as third in the National League during that span, occurring in 1904. The stadium was originally known as “League Park II”, however over time the Palace of the Fans name gained more popularity and was eventually adopted as the true moniker.

The stadium was also noteworthy for hosting an unofficial night game in 1909, as temporary lighting was brought in for a game between local members of the Elks Lodge fraternity in Cincinnati and nearby Newport, Kentucky, which the Reds used as an experiment to test if their games could be held under the lights and potentially boost their attendance. While the game received mostly positive reviews, the team determined that the lighting simply wasn’t powerful enough to have night games at the professional level.

By 1911, the team had run into other logistical issues as well, as the stadium could only hold up to 6,000 people, making it the smallest in the league in terms of seating capacity. Making matters worse, safety inspectors found that the Reds had not been keeping up with maintenance of the facility, as cracks were found in girders and support beams, as well as the floors of the private boxes being found to be unsafe as well. It looked as though the Palace of the Fans was on its last legs as the Reds looked to finish up the 1911 season.

The Reds came into the final game with a 69-83 record, while the Cubs held a strong 92-61 record, but were already eliminated from the World Series due to the dominating performance of the New York Giants, who finished with a 99-54 record.

The Reds had lost two of three in their most recent series, also at home, against the St. Louis Cardinals, while the Cubs won two of three at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds sent up Bert Humphries, who started the season with the Philadelphia Phillies, as the starting pitcher and had a 6-4 record coming into the game. Meanwhile, the Cubs started Cy Slapnicka, who had just made his MLB debut two weeks prior in a 7-5 loss to the Boston Rustlers, but was looking to earn his first major league win against the Reds in the Thursday afternoon game.

The game started out with the Reds breaking the ice in the first inning with a run, followed by them doubling it with another run in the third. The fourth saw the Cubs cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth, but the Reds would respond in the bottom of the sixth with a run to restore the lead to 3-1.

In the top of the seventh, the Cubs scored another run, but the Reds came back in the bottom of the same inning to put themselves back ahead by two runs. The Cubs would make one last-ditch effort in the ninth inning as they got another run, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Reds claimed it 4-3.

Humphries took the win, and improved his record to 7-4, with one run allowed on six hits and no walks over five innings pitched, while Slapnicka fell to 0-2 with four runs allowed on eight hits and five walks given up over eight innings. Slapnicka would have to wait until 1918 to get his first and only major league win, as he ending up spending most of his career in the minor leagues. Reds pitcher Ray Boyd picked up the save, going four innings allowing two runs, but never giving up the lead.

On the offensive side, right fielder Mike Mitchell earned two RBIs for the Reds, while center fielder Johnny Bates and shortstop Jimmy Esmond trailed behind with one each. For the Cubs, third baseman Jim Doyle had an RBI, as well as catcher Peaches Graham and Slapnicka creating his own run support with an RBI as well.

The game ended both the Reds’ and the Cubs’ seasons, with the Reds falling in sixth place in the NL while the Cubs took second. However, after the season was over, the final nail in the coffin for the Palace of the Fans came in the form of another fire that destroyed most of the grandstands. On Tuesday, November 14th, 1911, the remaining portions of the stadium were demolished. The former site of Palace of the Fans was used for the Reds’ new ballpark, Redland Field, later known as Crosley Field, in 1912. However, this time a lot more effort would be put into the design and execution of the new stadium, as Crosley Field would be the Reds’ home for the next 58 years. After Crosley Field closed in 1970, the site was used as an auto impound lot for the next two years before being demolished in 1972. Today the site of Crosley Field, and by extension Palace of the Fans and League Park, is occupied by Phillips Supply Company, a small janitorial and sanitary supply distributor. Also on the site is a painted home plate design where the home plate for Crosley Field would have been, as well as a plaque and a few seats, in recognition to the site that had hosted Reds baseball for 86 years.

Photo Credit: MLBCathedrals

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Opening Day by John Erardi & Greg Rhodes

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