Tuesday, April 2, 2001
Caretaker and innovator Schwab made Crosley Field the classic that it was – and he helped shape the game

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Matty Schwab lived close enough to walk across the street to come to work at Crosley Field.

If there was a category for groundskeepers and ballpark superintendents at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Reds' Matty Schwab would have been the first one elected.

About 50 years ago.

In 1912 at the ballpark that would become known as Crosley Field, Schwab created the scoreboard design that is still in use today (a simple display of players' names and positions, balls and strikes and out-of-town scores). He pioneered the use of a sprinkler system for baseball diamonds (he adapted it from golf courses) and originated the strapped base tethered to a spike in the ground.

He designed scoreboards for the big-league clubs in New York (Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers), Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

"He didn't do his designs on paper; he built little models of them," said his grandson, Mike Dolan, now the assistant athletic director for facilities at Ohio State who began working for Matty in 1957 at age 19, and followed him as Crosley superintendent (1963-1968).

"He was always tinkering with those models, right on down to the pathways to get from one place to another," Dolan said. "He was always trying to improve on things, get them just right."

Matty's career spanned Bid McPhee to Pete Rose: 1894 to 1963, the year Matty turned 83.

All one has to do is look at a photo of the 1961 World Series at Crosley Field to see what a meticulous grounds superintendent Matty was. The field was perfectly manicured. The Schwabs had pride by the bushel-load. It began with Matty's father, John, who was the Reds' grounds superintendent beginning in 1884 at the first ballpark at Findlay and Western: League Park.

Matty and his brothers, Leonard and Tom, all went to work for their dad and later took over for him. Leonard was the head groundskeeper; Matty, as Crosley's superintendent, was Leonard's supervisor.

"The Schwab family lived right behind the scoreboard at Western Avenue and York Street," Mike recalled. "They walked across the street to go to work."

As stressful as the job is today as groundskeeper or stadium operations in a major-league facility, it was no less so in the 1960s, when Mike was running the show at Crosley.

The grass was stressed, not from being cut as low as it is today, but by the traffic on it. They tried to keep the elephants in the Shriner's parade walking on the edge of the field, as much in foul territory as possible. And you haven't seen foot traffic on a baseball field until you saw Hamilton Night back when Joe Nuxhall was a Red.

Crosley also played host to rodeos in the offseason ("You talk about your bullpens," Mike deadpanned) and jazz festivals back when the lineup was really jazz — Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and Dinah Washington.

Those shows made a jazz fan out of Matty's grandson, but for one day at least he found a reason to pay homage to a musical group from across the pond that saved Crosley Field one night.

There isn't a baseball-park superintendent in the country who hasn't been stressed out at one time or another by a music show. (Doug Gallant, the Reds' current groundskeeper, is already not relishing the thought of the jazz festival and an 'N Sync concert at Cinergy six weeks apart this summer.)

Dolan's favorite music show anecdote comes out of the Beatles' world tour in 1966.

"They had just done Shea Stadium the night before," Dolan said. "The promoter for the Cincinnati show didn't want to spring for a tarp for the stage.

"It rained right before the show, and all the electric equipment got wet. It was a Saturday night.

"The kids were still streaming in, and I'm thinking, ‘They're gonna tear this place down when they get this news.'

"But the Beatles were great about it. They said their next show wasn't until Monday in St. Louis, and that they'd go on Sunday at Crosley. All the kids had to do was bring their ticket stubs.

"I became a Beatles fan right then and there on the spot. It beat having Crosley torn down."


The Beatles had played Memphis on August 19th, then were to play Crosley Field on August 20th when it rained and the concert was postponed until August 21st.

The Shea Stadium show was held two days later, on August 23rd, after the Crosley Field Show on August 21st in the afternoon and at Busch II in St. Louis that evening.