JASPER — The Jasper Reds have endured challenges during their existence, but it’s thanks in large part to business manager Bob Alles, who enters his 50th season with the team, that they’re able to do so.
The Reds have a storied tradition that dates back to their first season in 1893, and as they get set to embark on another campaign in 2022, this team also could’ve been long gone — as they nearly folded in the 1970s.
“Slow-pitch softball was taking its peak then, and a lot of guys quit playing baseball,” said Alles, a contributor to The Herald’s Looking Back section. “And the bad thing was the college players — a lot of them were playing that instead of baseball.
“And that made it rough, but a lot of credit has to go to the late Chuck Berger and Donny Kleiser,” he said. “They reorganized this team in 1967. There were three years in the Sixties where we didn’t have a team and if they hadn’t have done that — God knows they may have never started up again.”
The 1971 Jasper graduate went on to the University of Evansville, but while he bleeds the red and white, he told of when he once played that first season of 1973 in a game against the Reds for the defunct Ireland Merchants, taking up an offer from Pat Stanley of the Merchants.
“I called Pat, and I said, ‘Is the offer still on the table?’” Alles said. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’ So, I called Jerry Birge (who was the Reds’ business manager at that time), and said, ‘Jerry, I’m going to play the second half at Ireland.’ We played Jasper the last game, they beat us, 20-3, I think it was — and that turned out to be the last game for the Ireland Merchants.”
That home run happened on July 29, 1973, against pitcher Mark Hildenbrand.
He homered against the Reds while playing for the Merchants, but Birge told him afterward that he thought that was it for the Reds — citing his children and a busy work life.
In his Keeping Score column with The Herald on April 19, 1974, Birge, who served as field manager in 1970, wrote, “Reds’ Future In Jeopardy.” This was after the Jasper Corporation financially helped the Reds in 1972 and 1973, and the 1957 Jasper graduate thought the team would be no more.
“I thought it was a done deal until the Alles’ entered into the program,” Birge said. “If anybody — it wasn’t me, it was the Alles people that saved the Jasper Reds, they really did.”
Terry Giesler, a 1973 Jasper grad who did track instead of play baseball, put the uniform on in 1974 and played third base that year — and he was more than happy to help out.
“I just knew that he and his family were involved with the Reds program over the years,” Giesler said. “His dad (Jerome “Chick” Alles) and a bunch of other people, and we talked baseball all the time. So, it was easy for me to join and play with him that summer.”
Brother Tom Alles, the team historian, described Bob as an aggressive manager who would try to steal bases with players who could run, or knowing when to take a pitcher out of a game.
“One of the things I remember the most about him managing — we’d be playing somebody, and he would intentionally walk a guy, first base would be open — he would intentionally walk their third or fourth hitter,” he said. “And I played 20 years — I bet I only remember a couple of times when an opposing manager walked one of us. It wasn’t in their mindset, and it would work out so often that I just distinctly remember that something he would do that other teams wouldn’t do back to us, and it worked out so well for him so many times.”
Tom lauded Bob’s ability to handle different personalities and try to get many different players into games in the 1980s.
“Once we got it going, man, we were turning people away a lot of years because we didn’t have room,” Bob said.
Bob can pinpoint when he thought the Reds turned a corner. One player was late to a game after playing softball, and Alles declined pleas to put him in and send him to the plate. He vowed no softball the next year.
“Gary Corbin (a 1970 Jasper grad) said, ‘You’ll never get a team,’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m at the point I want to try because I’m sick of this.’ …Once we started that, we got guys who wanted to be there, were dedicated to be there and you could see it incrementally got better, and all of a sudden, man, we had some really, really good teams.”
“I played softball, too, later on,” Giesler said. “And there were a few players that played softball that wanted to come up to play for the Reds, and he said, ‘No, I’ve got to have a commitment from you, and if you’re playing softball, I can’t take you in because we want people that are going to be here and playing baseball full-time.’ ”
Don Eckstein, a 1967 Jasper graduate and former catcher for the Wildcats, played for the Reds during his summers in college and suited at up for the team at age 60 on July 31, 2010, was “very, very worried” the Reds would go under before they were saved.
“I’m not saying I was real confident (the Alles Brothers could save the team), but luckily, Alvin Ruxer had put some money in the trust, and so, some money was available to keep them going,” Eckstein said. “And then, they got local donations also — don’t ever discount that — the support of the community and that’s what kept it going. But Bob and Bill and Tom, they’ve worked their butts off to keep it going.”
And for Eckstein, who moved back earlier this year to Jasper from Texas, was happy the team never folded.
“I always looked forward — when I moved back to Jasper — I’d be going to Jasper Reds games again, so tremendous relief that they kept it going,” he said.
A lifelong love affair with the game and team
Those who are guests of Bob’s household and make their way down to the basement will see all the baseball memorabilia that adorns the walls and showcases. Memorabilia of both the Cincinnati Reds and Bob’s beloved San Francisco Giants are on display. There are Wheaties boxes and bobble heads, as well as mementos from Jasper’s 2000 Class 3A State Championship team, of which Michael Alles, Bob’s son, was a member. Michael’s Jasper jersey and blue medal is framed in his father’s basement.
In a community that loves its baseball, the Alles family has done its part to encapsulate that.
“Every game is different,” Bob said. “You see something that maybe you’ve never seen before and that intrigues me a little bit. We’ve had games where we were ahead, 9-0, and lost. We’ve had games where we were behind, 9-0 and won, we’ve had a doubleheader one time where both teams won by the 10-run rule.
“It’s unique because the guy hitting .200 can beat you,” he added. “In basketball, it’s more consistent — if a guy’s averaging 20 points, he’s usually going to get them…In baseball, you get your 27 outs, and you’re not beat till then. In football or basketball, if you’re way behind, it’s impossible to come back late with just a minute left. But here, you can be down and get a rally and somebody makes an error and this and that — and then boom, you can still win.”
The love affair dates back to when they were real young, and before Bob and his siblings put their stamp on the Reds, when Chick, the future Jasper mayor, played for them, as did some uncles in Ed Hoffman and Maurice “Bumps” Hoffman. The five siblings — Joe, Bob, Bill, Tom and Jerry — all know what it’s like to be around America’s Pastime.
The Reds were once one of the hottest tickets in town along with high school basketball in the winter. After World War II — in the late 1940s and into the 1950s — going to a Reds game was often the thing to do in town before televisions and air conditioning entered homes.
“There were a lot of people back then because there wasn’t a lot of baseball on television back in the ’60s,” said Greg Eckerle, a 1970 Jasper grad who is a Reds fan and contributes historical sports pieces to The Herald. “I can still remember — I lived on North Jackson Street by the current golf course, and I could hear the PA announcers. When somebody hit a home run — I can still remember Bill Bohnert hitting a home run and the PA announcer going nuts when I was a little kid. But yeah, on Sunday afternoons, that was the big deal in town, that was the place to go because like I said — no television sports. So, (the) Jasper Reds were the thing back in the ‘50s and the ’60s.”
Homes without air conditioning were even hotter during the summer than if it was 90 degrees outside, and the Alles Family didn’t always have air conditioning, and with Chick playing, the family spent a lot of time Recreation Field (now known as Ruxer Field).
“When I was a little kid, he would take us to the games, and we would get to go out and throw — because we’d go early for batting practices and stuff — and we’d get to throw with some of the players,” Bob said.
“And man, they were like major leaguers to us, and we’d go to a lot of the games. And he was winding down toward the end of his career, most part that I remember, but he’d pinch hit — or he’d fill in here or there. But we went to a lot of the ballgames, especially when the game was over, we got to go out and run the bases. And that was a big thrill for us — it probably seems a little unusual, but we really enjoyed it. We’d chase foul balls for him, and it was great — it was family entertainment.”
“Dad played his last game a couple weeks before Jerry turned three,” Tom said. “So, I don’t think he has any memories. I just have the vaguest memories of being at the games — mostly I remember being at night games, and when Dad played his last game, I was less than six-and-a-half. So, I don’t remember a lot about him making specific plays or batting. I remember seeing him, but somebody, my mom (Annie) had to watch me, had to make sure I didn’t fall out of the stands or something like that at six-and-a-half — but I do remember it, and we were always around baseball.”
“My dad was a good hitter, good power hitter, even did a little pitching for the Reds — and he really liked the game,” Bill said. “My memory doesn’t go back as far when he was really, really a good player in the early fifties because that’s when I was born.”
There is one memory Bill has of his father that stands out, though.
He had said, ‘Oh, I can’t hit a home run anymore,’ ” he said. “By golly, he hit one (laughs). I remember saying, ‘Gee, Dad. I thought you said you couldn’t hit the home run anymore.’ ”
The one who would have the most memories of Chick would be Joe, who was also a bat boy for the Reds during the 1950s.
“One of my fondest memories was a game when we were playing…we probably played Petersburg over here at Jasper,” Joe said. “And it was like the eighth or ninth inning, and Dad came to the bench, it was the Reds’ turn to bat, and he pointed out to the pitcher out there from Petersburg and he said, ‘Do you know who that is, Joe?’ and I said, ‘No, who is that?’ and he said, ‘That’s Don Liddle.’”
Liddle was from Mt. Carmel, Illinois, and pitched in the Major Leagues from 1953 through 1956, winning a World Series with the New York Giants in 1954. He was the man on the mound when the legendary Willie Mays made his famous catch in Game 1 of that year’s Fall Classic, and also was the winning pitcher when the Giants swept the-then Cleveland Indians in Game 4.
Joe estimated this took place in 1959 or 1960.
“Since this was Don Liddle, my God, this was a guy who pitched in the 1954 World Series, and it was almost the end of the game, and I thought, ‘I got to get his autograph,’ ” Joe said. “And I looked around the dugout, there was no spare paper or anything, and I tore up a popcorn box — an empty box of popcorn, and borrowed a ballpoint pen from somebody. And after the last out was made and that was the end of the game, I ran out towards the pitcher’s mound as he’s walking off to the visitors’ side of the field, and I said, ‘Mr. Liddle, Mr. Liddle, can I get your autograph?’
“He stopped, he grabbed it, he started signing, he looked at me and he said, ‘It’s been a long time since anybody asked me for one of these,’ ” he added.
Of the five Alles brothers, Joe was the only one who never played for the Reds.
“I played Pony League and then the natural progression would’ve been to next play high school and then try to play for the Reds,” Joe said. “But at the time, we were on tight money, and I had after-school jobs. And nobody ever said anything to me, but I felt like even to go play high school, I would have to give up my after-school job, and I just — on my own, with no pressure from anybody — decided not to do that.
“Also, I was what you called a good field, no hit kind of guy — so, I don’t know if I even would’ve made the high school team, it was very competitive,” he added.
Joe was a senior in 1967, the first year of the modern Indiana High School Athletic Association state baseball tournament, with Jasper making it to the Final Four. So, Joe guessed he probably wouldn’t have made it anyway.
“But I love the game, and I always went to every game — every Reds game before being a bat boy, after being a bat boy,” Joe said. “And of course, my brothers — they were all better players than I was anyways and I enjoyed watching them play.”
The brothers liked all sports when they were younger, but baseball was the clear favorite among the brothers — who spent their afternoons playing during the summer at Jasper’s Gutzweiler Park on 16th Street.
“We used to go up there all summer long and play every day,” Tom said. “It was right up the street from our house, and kids just showed up. Around one o’clock, they just kind of showed up, we picked teams and we’d play baseball all afternoon, no adults, had a blast.”
And Tom can remember Bob running things even back when they were growing up.
“He organized us — guys in my age group — in a little team and scheduled games,” he said. “They were neighborhood teams back in those days, and there was another team over a few blocks to the east of us over by Green Street, and we would play (their) games, and he would organize the games and make our lineup.
“So, even when he was in grade school, he was managing, he was scheduling games,” Tom continued.
Chick played until he was 37 in 1963, and Tom played until he was 37 in 1994 — which was nothing more than a coincidence. But the family patriarch playing for the team was a big reason for the Alles Family being so tied to the Reds. Their late uncle, Jim, helped raise funds for the Reds during the 1950s. One of the prouder moments for the Alles Family and the Reds came on Aug. 19, 1978, when four of the five brothers — Bob, Bill, Tom and Jerry — all made their way into the game at the-then Recreation Field to welcome a team from Vienna, Illinois. The Reds lost their doubleheader, 9-6, then 3-2, for a final record of 9-7.
But that first game was the first time ever four brothers were in the starting lineup — with Tom having three singles, Bill doubling and tripling, while Bob and Jerry both doubled.
“(Jerry) only would’ve been 17 when he played in that game,” Tom said.
“(Bob) was a good player, he was a power hitter, he had a big swing,” Bill said. “Tom was also a power hitter. Tom was the fiery player. There was nobody that was not going to give it 100% when Tom was out there. He gave it 100%, and so did everybody else. And Bob, he really stopped playing when he had a detached retina in 1981. So, that was kind of it for him.
“...Jerry, the youngest, he was a five-tool player,” Bill later said. “He could do it all. I remember one year, Bob and I were talking one year, ‘Jerry, he’s maybe not having as good a season,’ but we looked at the stats. He was hitting over .300, he was near the team lead in home runs, he always could steal bases, he was a centerfielder, nobody ever played it better on the Reds — and of course, he had a really good arm — so, that was Jerry’s talent. So, when we were all able to play in one game, that was special.”
“It was cool,” said Jerry, a 1979 Jasper grad. “I remember being on the field, I don’t remember the stats or anything. I just took a moment to look around and see my other brothers out there…I was still in high school. That was after my junior year there. I played after the high school season. So (I) didn’t have a lot of games that year.”
A banner centennial
The Reds celebrated their 100th anniversary in 1993 after starting out as the Jasper Acmes. The Alles Brothers will brag on the team being older than the historical Dubois County Courthouse, and Tom was a special contributor to The Herald during 1993 on the Reds’ centennial. But that 1993 season proved to be special in more ways than one. A 1-4 start proved to be a footnote before winning 10 straight games. A big win came against St. Wendel for the right to play in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. for the first time in team history.
“When we first got to go to Wichita in ’93 and play in the tourney out there — and I know Bob thought about it, I know Gary Corbin and I all thought about it,” Tom said. “He thought about that first year he was managing in ’74 where we actually had a couple players who hadn’t even played in high school, they maybe played JV or something — they played varsity just to get through that season.”
But as big of a win as that was during the team’s 29-win season, perhaps the biggest win in team history came on Aug. 4 in that World Series against Kansas’ Elkhart Dusters, erasing a 4-0 deficit in that game and turning it into an 8-7 win.
Bob stepped aside after that 1993 season, but still hired umpires for games. He returned to managing in 1996, and Bill has been the team’s skipper since 1999.
“I said, ‘Bill, why don’t you take this over and do it for a few years and we’ll see what happens,’ ” Bob said. “And he said, ‘Okay.’ And of course, the story goes, he’s still there today.”
Challenges persisting to this day
There is no salary for the likes of Bob or Bill, who do what they do for free. The Reds have withstood the test of time, even while other teams and leagues in the area have folded. Whereas League Stadium can get jam-packed on the Fourth of July for a Dubois County Bombers game, Reds games can draw few fans or even no fans.
But despite not being the only ticket in town during the summer, the attendance differences don’t bother Bob.
“We’ve never worried about crowds,” he said. “We wish we’d have drawn more and back in the day, they did. But really, since I’ve been involved, we’ve had very few big crowds, ever. And we brought in the St. Louis Pros for years and a team called the Indianapolis Clowns that went around the country and even played in some Major League stadiums. We always say if a guy is worried about the crowds, he’s not going to be with us very long.”
The organization also makes funds from its reunions, which it held in April since the first time before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve had a lot of help,” Bob said. “The late Alvin Ruxer helped us financially a lot, and now his nephew, Bob, helps us. And then there’s players who even played before I got involved that will send money every year because they want to see it keep going.”
However, finances aren’t the only thing the Reds have to worry about as each year rolls around.
“Our biggest thing right now is getting teams to play,” Bill said. “There’s just not many teams around anymore that are set up like we are. And so, (Bob’s) really got to reach out — he really spends a lot of time on the phone every spring and summer putting together a schedule. It is getting more difficult, but he’s been able to do it. And I hope he can continue to use his abilities to keep us going that way.”
There’s a fire for the sport burning inside of Bob — who doesn’t hunt, doesn’t fish, doesn’t play golf, but likes baseball, and was recently inducted into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“His love for baseball — I think we all have in that the family,” Jerry said. “Everybody’s passionate about something — hunting, fishing, our happens to be baseball. And we enjoy being around on the field. We made a lot of great relationships, that’s been the best part of it.”
“Just the amount of hours that he puts in — his finding opponents, finding umpires, that’s all behind the scenes before we ever go to the field, all that work’s been done,” Joe said. “They have to go to Illinois to play teams, they have to go to Terre Haute or Louisville to find teams to play because of the dearth of local teams anymore — most of these towns around here don’t have a team anymore.”
“I think it’s just a passion for him,” Eckerle said. “It’s something that he’s always been around with his dad playing. Back when he was growing up, he was always around it, and I think he just didn’t want to see it die, as well as his brothers. So, it’s just what he does. We all have hobbies, so I think this is his hobby and his passion to keep it alive all these years.”
“I think it’s just something he loves doing — I think you have to to do it,” Tom said. “And I just don’t think anybody realizes all the time and effort he’s put in all these years. I mean, I probably don’t have a full appreciation, but I know it’s a lot.”
“It’s the people side of it and not the wins and losses,” Bob said on what he’s proudest of. “And I want to win — I want to be clear, I like to win as much as anybody around. But that is not the end all, be all for me — never has been, never will be.”