The 1970’s were an exciting time for baseball, especially in Cincinnati. While the Cincinnati team’s greatest on-field moments didn’t occur until the mid-1970’s, the early part of the decade saw a Cincinnati fan become a beloved figure in baseball at the time, and even cross over into popular culture. It all started when, on a frustratingly unspecified date in the summer of 1970, Morganna the Kissing Bandit made her debut.
Morganna Roberts was, appropriately enough, born on the fourth of July in 1954 in Louisville, Kentucky. She appears to have had a difficult upbringing.. She grew up poor and was disowned by her mother. Eventually, she ran away from home at age 13, spending time living on the street. Soon after, her desperate circumstances led her to lie about her age in order to become a shockingly young exotic dancer.
Morganna’s career as a public figure began during the 1970 season, when she ran onto the field at Riverfront Stadium and kissed Pete Rose. The exact date of this encounter appears to be lost to history. On at least one occasion, Morganna mentioned that it happened during a Sunday afternoon game. She was also quoted at least once as saying that Rose was playing center field at the time, and pretty much all sources claim the encounter happened at Riverfront as opposed to Crosley Field (Riverfront opened on June 30, 1970). Unfortunately, that version of events is impossible. Rose only appeared in five games in center field in 1970. Two were away games, and the three home games were all in late June of that year, before Riverfront Stadium opened. So either most sources were wrong in identifying the venue as Riverfront Stadium, or, far more likely in my opinion, Morganna was incorrect about the position Rose was playing at the time (an understandable mistake, given the fact that Rose played nearly every other game that year in right field).
Regardless of the fact that I just spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to nail down the date of an event that ultimately means nothing, it should be pointed out that, based on Morganna’s July 4, 1954 birth date, she would have likely been 17 years old at the time. So it’s therefore somewhat understandable that Morganna cites her reason for running onto the field the fact that her friend "dirty-double-dared" her. Like many of us, Morganna was unable to resist a dirty-double-dare, so she ran onto the field to kiss Rose. "Where I’m from, you don’t turn down a dirty-double-dare," she stated. I’m not from Louisville, but I know some reading this are, so perhaps they can weigh in on the truth of that statement.
According to Morganna, Rose "used terrible language," and hurt her feelings. But cooler heads prevailed, and the very next night, demonstrating the class and sound judgment for which he is still known around the world, Rose showed up at the "night spot" where Morganna was "appearing" with an apology and a dozen roses. A Cincinnati sportswriter (whose identity is also lost to history) subsequently named her "The Kissing Bandit," and the name stuck.
At that point, a legend was born. By 1986, Morganna herself believed that she had kissed 18 baseball players since 1970. George Brett was the only player she victimized twice, with her other victims included Nolan Ryan, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych and the San Diego Chicken. She also did not limit herself to baseball, kissing football coaches Lou Holtz and Barry Switzer, jockey Jorge Valasquez, and the odd basketball and hockey player. Her exploits led her to far more fame than she could have achieved otherwise, leading to appearances on the Tonight Show and in both Sports Illustrated and Playboy magazines. Also, her IMDB page lists her as having appeared in the 1996 movie Kingpin, playing herself.
Her hobby was not without its risks, however. She was arrested 20 times in various cities and was nearly brought to trial in Houston (the charges were eventually dropped). Most seriously, in 1971, she returned to Cincinnati, this time with her sights set on Johnny Bench. Stadium security stopped her, however, and she claims she was kicked in the ribs and beaten unconscious by the Riverfront Stadium security guards, which, if true, is on the extremely short list of the most disgraceful moments in the long history of the Reds.
Morganna retired from public life in 1999. She now lives in suburban Columbus, Ohio, with her husband of over 25 years. Her contributions to 1970’s and 1980’s popular culture will be long remembered, and although her appallingly early introduction to the world of exotic dancing and her assault by Cincinnati security guards might lead some to label her as a victim, she seems to be at peace with her life and the experiences she has had. Late in her career, she summed up her time in the spotlight, saying, "The main reason I’m doing this is because it’s fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it." Hard to argue with that.