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Bellevue at 150: Baseball and Bellevue

The City of Bellevue turns 150 years old in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its sesquicentennial celebrations have been postponed for a year. In the meantime, local writer and attorney James Dady is writing some pieces about the city and they will be published at The River City News. This is one in a series.

The pride of the local sporting scene of recent seasons has been the transformative improvements to the baseball fields behind the Bellevue vets in the town’s northeast corner.

The renovations were a collaboration of charities, including the Reds Community Fund, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the Cincinnati Zoo, and some 200 volunteers. The project was dedicated in August, 2019.

The improvements include a new synthetic turf infield, a new playground, new dugouts, a new press box, landscaping, and exterior painting, and a new backstop built to commemorate the Palace of the Fans, the home of the Reds at Findlay Street and Western Avenue in Cincinnati from 1902-11.

The fields are the home of the Bellevue High School team and of the local youth leagues

Barring the unforeseen, Bellevue’s young ballplayers will have suitable grounds for their diamond games for some generations to come. Just a good long walk from Great American Ballpark where the modern big-leaguers ply their trade, Bellevue has its place in the long history of the national pastime.

Baseball fans and cinema enthusiasts will recall the 1989 film Eight Men Out, which tells the story convincingly that the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

The director and scenarist John Sayles also plays Ring Lardner, a famous baseball writer of the day. Lardner loved baseball and had a number of friends among the White Sox, but became convinced after seeing some of the games that the Series wasn’t, as the character puts it, “on the level.”

Brimming with contempt, Lardner taunts the wayward players with a song, “I’m Forever Blowing Ballgames (and the gamblers treat us fair)” to the tune of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” on a train trip between Chicago and Cincinnati.

The scene is not the product of artistic license. A biographer of Ring Lardner has written that Lardner and a crony composed the words of the ditty “ … in a roadhouse in Bellevue, Kentucky.”

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A star-crossed figure in the annals of the diamond game is Harry Steinfeldt, authoritatively ranked as the 57th greatest third baseman in history.

Born to German immigrants in St. Louis in 1875, Harry was barely in his teens when he joined a travelling minstrel show. The minstrels would play baseball against the local teams in the towns where they performed, and after a while Harry cast his fortune not in the direction of minstrelsy but toward a career as a ballplayer.

He entered pro ball and eventually made his way to the roster of the Cincinnati Reds.

“He was slow … A heavy hitter, a good fielder, and a wonderful thrower,” said a contemporary.

After seven seasons in Cincinnati, Harry was traded to the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won 116 games in 1906, still a record. Harry led the National League in hits, tied for the league in runs batted in, was second in total bases.  He was the leading hitter on an historic team.

Harry played in an infield along with Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance. Each of them, except Harry, became Hall of Famers. A New York scribe named Franklin Adams penned some lines that still endure about a home-team rally stifled by the double-play combination of ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance,” and so Harry down the baseball decades has become the answer to a trivia question: Who was the third baseman in the infield of Tinker, Evers, and Chance?

The historical books suggest that Harry was a hard case, a type not unknown in baseball history. He may have worn out his welcome in baseball. In 1911, he declined a demotion to the minor leagues, went into business in Cincinnati, and resided in Bellevue, his wife’s hometown.

Harry Steinfeldt died the next year of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 37.

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