The Cincinnati Reds are one of the more historically significant teams in baseball. While there are a few franchises which have been continuously operating for longer than the Reds have, Cincinnati is still the birthplace of fully openly professional baseball, and the city and the team embrace that heritage. While much has been written – and will continue to be written – about the long and proud history of the Reds, what about the long and proud history of us? Of you and me, the Reds fans?
It turns out that the history of Reds fandom is nearly as interesting as the history of the team. So for the first-ever installment of a new irregular feature detailing some of the Great Moments in Reds Fan History, we bring you the story of the Royal Red Rooters and their run in with a meddlesome St. Louis hotel manager, and, ultimately, federal law enforcement officers.
In the early part of the twentieth century, loose and informal fan clubs were common around major league baseball. The most famous of these was the Royal Rooters, who supported the Boston Americans (who later became the Boston Red Sox). The Royal Rooters were briefly chaired by the sitting mayor of Boston, one John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, whose grandson John F. Kennedy would briefly lead the free world half a century later. The Reds, of course, had a like-minded clique of a fan club of their own, the derivatively named Royal Red Rooters. While there doesn’t seem to have been any local politicians or patriarchs of political dynasties among them, they knew how to have a good time. According to one account, the Royal Red Rooters had "been making festive excursions to various cities to ‘root the team in’ ever since 1919 when the Reds won the pennant and beat the White Sox in the world series."
In late April of 1925, 110 members of the Royal Red Rooters decided to take the party to – where else? – St. Louis to cheer on the Reds in a four game series against the Branch Rickey led Cardinals. They "engaged several Pullmans and travelled as an army," and took over the entire seventeenth floor of the Hotel Statler in downtown St. Louis. The Hotel Statler was then considered one of the finest hotels in the country, and had recently achieved notoriety as the first hotel in the United States with air conditioning. It still exists today, although it’s now called the Renaissance Grand Hotel. The fact that they were able to secure such upscale accommodations indicates that the Royal Red Rooters had some money to throw around. If so, the money was well spent, as the fan club was able to watch the Reds take three of four from the Cardinals in the series, moving into first place in the National League by the time it was over.
On Friday, April 24, 1925, the Royal Red Rooters were among the 2,500 fans in attendance at Sportsman’s Park to watch the Reds beat the Cardinals 7-6 on the strength of Rube Bressler’s four hit day for the third game of the four game set. At the same time, federal prohibition agents were raiding their private dining room at the hotel. According to two absolutely hilarious accounts in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent and Milwaukee Journal newspapers, the hotel’s manager, one C.S. Abell, became suspicious when the Royal Red Rooters were observed unloading 25 barrels, along with "sauerkraut, sausages, pretzels, cheese and other edibles." According to the accounts, when the prohibition agents entered the private dining room, they found two tapped kegs, eleven full, untapped kegs, and twelve empties. They confiscated the remaining kegs and tested their alcohol content. The beer was found to have 3.5 to 4.5 percent alcohol, which was a violation of federal law at the time (beer was legal as long as its alcohol content was below one half of one percent, thus defeating the purpose, which was the entire point).
Traveling with the Royal Red Rooters was Reds owner August "Garry" Herrmann. A colorful and beloved character, Herrmann was known as "The Walking Delicatessen" due to his habit of bringing a large amount of food with him when he traveled. Baseball historian Lee Allen referred to him as "a professional party-thrower," and he was known for his generosity and gregariousness. When informed that his party’s beer was found to be stronger than the law allowed, Herrmann answered, apparently with a straight face, "I can’t believe it. It didn’t taste like that to me."
In the end, several Royal Red Rooters were questioned by the federal prohibition agents, along with the waiters they hired to serve them. No arrests were made, but Herrmann was forced to pay a $500 bond and the beer was destroyed As the Milwaukee Journal observed, this left Hermann and the rest of the Royal Red Rooters "to survive the rest of the visit to St. Louis without their kegs." A grim prospect indeed.
Now, Reds fans take their right to enjoy a beer or several while watching the Reds for granted, as well they should. When playing the Cardinals in particular, alcohol is often a necessity. The Royal Red Rooters, spiritual ancestors to modern-day Red Reporters, were guilty of breaking federal law to be sure, but it was a ridiculous and patently un-American law, and fortunately the nation saw the error of its ways just a few years later. For their determination to enjoy baseball with a beer buzz on, the way God and Alexander Cartwright intended, the Royal Red Rooters’ actions during that trip to St. Louis in 1925 was truly a Great Moment in Reds Fan History.
The 34-Ton Bat by Steve Rushin