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From milk cows to Cooperstown

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-

Ladies and gentlemen, now that we’ve been treated to a bit of “global warming” and I’ve mowed the yard a trio of times, it is official – I have baseball fever.

It’s about time!

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a Cincinnati Reds fan. I grew up watching some of the great Reds of all time: Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Tom Seaver, etc. And when I couldn’t see the games, I’d listen to Marty and Joe on the radio as often as I could.

Johnny Bench hit a home run in the first Reds game I ever attended at Riverfront Stadium. It was one of 389 homers the Hall-of-Famer hit in his 17-year career.

After that, I really wanted a baseball card of Johnny Bench. A friend at church gave me one.

I’ll never forget that.

I also wanted a No. 5 Johnny Bench jersey, so I remember taking a red magic marker and a white T-shirt and making one. I’m sure my Mom will never forget that – or maybe she has. (I’m sure she’ll probably give me an answer after she reads this in The Highland County Press.)

Today, when I hear Marty Brennaman call a Reds game, I oftentimes think about my childhood and recall the aforementioned Reds (and many others who donned the Cincinnati uniform) with fondness. I do miss hearing the voice of Joe Nuxhall, and can’t believe that most members of the “Big Red Machine” are now in their 60s and 70s. (I know, I know, I’m getting old.)

But while Johnny Bench is my No. 2 favorite Red of all time and Pete Rose checks in at No. 3, my all-time favorite Cincinnati Red is a player I never saw play.

My favorite Reds player was born 120 years ago this month (on May 8, 1893, to be precise).

He made his Major League debut 100 years ago this year.

He helped the Reds win their first World Series title more than 90 years ago.

He retired nearly 82 years ago at the age of 38.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame more than 50 years ago, and he died 25 years ago at the age of 94.

In 1969, fans voted him the “Greatest Red Who Ever Lived,” and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at final game at historic Crosley Field (which was known as Redland Field from 1912-33) on June 24, 1970.

Later, Joe Morgan called him “The best of us all.”

Not long at all after I became a baseball and Reds fan, my Granddad sat me down and told me stories about Edd J. Roush, the player Morgan referred to as “The best of us all.”

You would probably guess the main reason Edd Roush is my favorite Red is because of his surname (or that we’re distantly related); but more than anything, it’s because that was one of the first times my Granddad sat me down and told me stories of days gone by. And until he passed away in 2006, my Granddad told me so many priceless stories, stories I cherish … and times I miss.

I remember when Granddad pulled out the book, “The Roush Family in America,” and turned to Page 672, where I first saw what Edd Roush looked like.

He told me about how Edd Roush used what many believe was the heaviest bat in baseball history, at 48 ounces, and how Roush claimed he never broke a bat in his career.

He told me how Roush was famous for “holding out” of spring training over salary disputes and even sat out an entire season in 1930.

He told me how Edd Roush was considered by some to be the greatest hitter of his era, how he played 12 seasons for the Reds and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. (Wonder what took so long?)

Edd Roush never wore a number during his playing career (though I later found out he wore No. 67 during his one season as a Reds coach in 1938); but since he played mostly center field, I wore No. 8 in his tribute when I played varsity baseball for coach Rick Earley’s Hillsboro Indians in 1990-91.

(Here’s a fast-fact, the Reds began wearing numbers on their jerseys in 1932, though some sources report the Reds players wore numbers on their sleeves in 1883 and 1888, according to the 2006 book “Now Batting, Number…: The Mystique, Superstition and Lore of Baseball’s Uniform Numbers.”)

The first time I ever chatted with Marty Brennaman, when I told him my name, he paused and said, “Roush, that’s a great Reds baseball name” and we talked about Edd Roush for a few minutes (my brother, Eric, has a very similar story about Marty).

Folks, Edd Roush made his Major League debut for the Chicago White Sox in 1913 at the age of 20, and played with the Reds from 1916-26 and again in 1931.

He was a career .323 hitter, and you can easily find all of his lifetime stats online or at the library. But perhaps the most amazing thing about Edd Roush is that in his 18 years in the big leagues, he only struck out a total of 260 times.

By comparison, former Reds outfielder Adam Dunn struck out a whopping 222 times in 2012, and in his 13-year career, Dunn’s had 2,063 Ks so far (as of this writing).

In 1921, the left-handed swinging Roush struck out just eight times in 463 at-bats.

Dunn has already struck out 32 times in 99 at-bats this year (again, as of this writing).

I know the eras are much different, but it’s still amazing.

Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson played during the same era as Edd Roush and fanned 3,509 hitters in his career. People still struck out nearly a century ago, and some whiffed more than others.

Roush was also known as an outstanding outfielder with a tremendous left throwing arm.

A few years ago, my wife, Helen, bought me the book “Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series.”

I’ve read it cover-to-cover several times. It was written by Edd Roush’s granddaughter, Susan Dellinger, Ph.D., and it not only does a great job of detailing the 1919 “Black Sox” series, it gives a fascinating look at the life of a Reds great, along with a unique look at what baseball was like so many, many years ago.

If you’re a baseball fan and history buff, it’s a must-read.

Edd Roush never expected to make it big in baseball. He grew up on a farm in Indiana, and later explained that, “One of my chores was to milk the cows, which meant getting up before dawn and going out to that cold, dark barn. I didn’t expect to make it all the way to the big leagues; I just had to get away from them damn cows.”

Of course, he did so much more than that. From the cows to Cooperstown – I agree with Joe Morgan, Edd Roush is the best Red of all.

Steve Roush is a publisher and editor and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.

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