Minnie Lee’s scorebooks: A two-decade love letter to Reds baseball

Sporting News

Minnie Lee Olges loved her Cincinnati Reds.

Nearly every summer night for almost two decades, this sweet baseball-loving grandma settled into her recliner, the one next to the screen door leading to the driveway, and listened to Reds broadcasting legends Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call Cincinnati baseball games on her radio.

In her house, the second-to-last one on a quiet dead-end street in Louisville, Ky., Minnie Lee kept score as her beloved Reds competed on the field. She didn’t have cable TV, so she couldn’t watch many games, but she didn’t need to. She watched the Reds through Marty and Joe’s words, and she told their stories on her score sheets.

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She started her collection in 1973, first on the back of an envelope, then on what was supposed to be a score sheet for a college basketball All-Star game between players from Kentucky and Tennessee, then on loose-leaf pieces of paper and finally in spiral-bound notebooks.

The thing is, nobody really knew the extent of what she was doing every single devoted night. She lived alone, retired and long separated from her husband, though her daughter Mary lived with her husband, Bob, and three sons seven houses up the street, and they visited regularly.

“She didn’t drive, so we would take her to the grocery store once a week, or church or wherever, and she would always say, ‘Honey, I have to be back at 7 because the Reds are playing,’” grandson Mike Murphy told Sporting News. “We all knew that. We knew she liked it, but you don’t know how much she loved it until you get into the scorebooks.”

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Minnie Lee’s scorebooks are utterly, beautifully, stunningly amazing. It’s not a stretch to say they’re worthy of a spot in one of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s museum displays. They represent the essence of America’s connection, deep and true, with baseball.

“Her scorebook had a heart,” Murphy said. “There’s a heartbeat to that thing. It’s not just numbers and data.”

They’re amazing because of the detail. She created her own scorebook grid, using a carefully folded piece of paper as a de facto ruler to keep her lines straight. She had her own style of scorekeeping, too — for example, “Stos” was a swinging strikeout, “GoSS” was a ground out to the shortstop, “S.RF” was a single to right field and a simple “H” stood for home run.

She would flip the page over and write down — always in cursive — details as fast as she could when the action got hot. And the more Marty and Joe got excited, the more she was excited, and the larger her writing became. “Rose’s night!!” spilled into the line above and the line below, with a double underline on Sept. 11, 1985, the night Rose collected hit No. 4,192 to pass Ty Cobb on the all-time hit list. She loved Marty and Joe; the notebooks are full of “Marty says …” or “Joe says …” followed by the little tidbits they’d share on the air, or just the back-and-forth of the pair she loved so much.

They’re amazing because of how she used her scorebooks as a journal, not just of her life but significant events in the sport and in our country. If she missed any action, she’d always write why.

“I missed this part of the game. Johnny and Stephanie were here,” she jotted in her scoresheet over the first five innings of Game 1 of the 1976 World Series between the Reds and Yankees. “Had to care for Angel and missed this,” she wrote in the sixth and seventh innings of the July 15, 1984, game, when she went to tend to her neighbor’s dog.

“She put family first. She never put listening to the ballgames above her family,” daughter Mary Murphy said. “If we came to visit, not being aware that there was a game being played, she never mentioned the game or cut our visits short so she could start keeping score.”

On March 30, 1981, she stopped listening to the Reds game in the sixth inning, writing this on her scoresheet: “President Reagan was shot and 3 other men. I watched on TV and missed the rest of this game, but the Reds won.”

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The biggest moments in Reds history for two decades, good and bad, are there: The Big Red Machine’s failures and successes in October, the magical 1990 World Series team, the disappointing 1980s. And it’s not just Reds moments. Minnie Lee made sure she found the important games — like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run — on her radio, and she kept score throughout the playoffs, whether or not the Reds were playing. She documented Reggie Jackson’s three-homer World Series game in 1977 and the earthquake that shut down the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants shortly before Game 3 was about to start.

Minnie Lee didn’t score every single game every year, but she didn't miss many. She’d give up baseball for the holy days on the Catholic calendar, and the 10 p.m. local start times for West Coast games could be tough to finish when the family had 7 a.m. Mass the next morning. Whatever the reason, she’d always write it down in her notebook.

Her grandson Mike's passion is to share Minnie Lee’s passion with baseball fans — especially Reds fans — everywhere. He created a Twitter account, Grandma’s Reds Scorebook, in April and tweets out pictures of her captivating scoresheets every day. The challenge isn’t finding something to tweet every day, it’s deciding which year to choose among so many great options.

Minnie Lee died in 1996 at 90 years old, but thanks to her youngest grandson, her passion for baseball can finally get the audience it deserves.

“This is not just a Reds fans story. It’s a baseball love story,” Murphy said. “It crosses generations and demographics. This touches everyone, with her humbleness, her uncanny sense of humor. There’s something in here for everybody.”

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Marty Brennaman saw bits and pieces of Minnie Lee’s work for the first time this past weekend.

“What she did, it’s incredible, really unbelievable. It’s almost incomprehensible, to try and explain to somebody how in-depth she went, basically documenting day to day, the ups and downs of this baseball team, for a lot of years,” Brennaman said. “For someone to have such a passion for the game, and particularly for a team, to do that on a daily basis over a period of that many years is just mind-boggling.”

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If Minnie Lee was writing about Marty’s excitement level during the phone interview Sunday, her cursive letters would have been HUGE. It was obvious the Hall of Fame broadcaster — the 2000 Ford C. Frick award winner called Reds games on the radio from 1974 to 2019 — was enthralled with the life’s work of the biggest fan he never met.

MORE: Marty Brennaman will always belong to the Reds

“It’s just incredible. It really is. I would have loved to be able to sit down with her and just talk Reds baseball,” Brennaman said. “That would have been the ultimate because of how much she loved the game. I’m sure she felt a personal connection between herself and all the players whose names she wrote down day to day over the years.

“The icing on the cake was the times she felt compelled to write notes, for whatever the reason: preparing a certain type of food or whatever. That’s unbelievable.”

And he is fully on board with the idea that Minnie Lee’s scorebooks need to be seen by baseball fans everywhere.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything,” he said, “in all the years I’ve been around with this team, that in-depth for that many seasons.”

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Nobody in the family really knows when Minnie Lee became a Reds fan, or how she learned to keep score. She lived in Cincinnati for a couple of years early in her marriage before moving to Louisville, but she never attended a single baseball game, again, as far as anyone in the family knows. But regardless of how/when it started, that love of baseball helped carry her through the final 20-plus years of her life.

Minnie Lee’s scoresheets are a bit overwhelming, at first glance. She packed incredible amounts of information on each page, with little notes written into the margins, but the more you see, the more they start to make sense. It’s not that there’s a method to the madness; there’s a method to the passion.

As Murphy went page by page through the notebook in the years after his grandmother's death, he laughed every time she tried to guess how to spell players’ names. She didn’t have a newspaper subscription, so her only option was to phonetically sound out names as she heard Marty and Joe say them and write every attempt out to see what looked right.

FOSTER: The day the Reds and Braves made me fall in love with baseball

Ken Griffey was “Ken Griffe” for the first several years of her scorekeeping career; Murphy likes to joke that Griffey didn’t earn the ‘y’ at the end of his name until after he was part of Tom Seaver’s no-hitter in 1978. And Paul O’Neill? Well, there’s just about every variation imaginable written into her lineups. When it came to the visiting players, the guys Marty and Joe didn’t talk about as often, those were really a challenge. There’s one page on which Minnie Lee has written about a dozen different possibilities for Orel Hershiser. Terry Pendleton posed all sorts of issues. And Bob Ojeda? How in the world is a ‘J’ silent?

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Quick Griffey aside: He was one of Minnie Lee’s all-time favorite players (Ron Oester was another). As Murphy points out, she just writes about him differently than most other Reds. And her note about his final game in a Reds uniform (Aug. 17, 1990) is amazing, for several reasons.

Everyone hates to see him leave. I guess he has been with the team (as a player) longer than anyone else. Tony Perez is still with the Reds but not playing (coach at first base). Ken Griffey is the last of the “Big Red Machine.” His son, Ken Griffey, Jr., is in baseball, too. I just hope our Griffey will get some job in baseball.

“She would have had the biggest hoot if she knew how good Junior became,” Murphy said.

Oh, and Mike learned that his grandma LOVED the fights that sometimes happened on the baseball diamond.

“That was totally out of character for her. She was a hard worker, but the most mild-mannered person. You never heard her cuss,” he said. “But the way she wrote about fights, you would think she was a chain-smokin’, foul-mouthed, drinking-ringside-double-bird-flippin’-off-at-the-wrestlers type. But she was not that way at all. That was the biggest pleasant surprise for all of us when I started finding these things. She loved that stuff.”

On July 29, 1990, Minnie Lee chronicled a fight between the Reds and Phillies.

Some fight!!! I wish I could have seen it or at least heard all of it on the radio. Marty and Joe were yelling so & noise turned up too high.

MORE: The day the Reds' Mario Soto went ballistic at Wrigley Field

As she got older and her hearing worsened, she had to turn up the volume on her radio, to the point where anyone standing outside two or three houses away could hear the game clearly, the noise escaping through that screen door. Good thing her neighbors loved her, too. So by 1990, it was already loud, and when Marty and Joe started yelling during the basebrawl, well, the pitch was just too much for her to make anything else out.

Minnie Lee was away from her house for three weeks in 1984, caring for Miss Boesser, her former landlord turned friend who was in declining health.

“While she was gone, she asked me to keep the newspaper sports page of the Reds,” Mary Murphy said.

Thing is, Mary wasn’t a baseball fan. She thought her mother wanted the reports about the local minor league team, the Louisville Redbirds, then the Cardinals’ Triple-A team.

Oops. So on a page in her book — that year, she used loose-leaf paper in a binder — Minnie Lee wrote: “I missed the games from June 25/84 to July 15/84. Was with Miss Boesser at her place.”

And nothing more was made of it.

“She didn’t fuss or get mad or anything,” Mary Murphy said, laughing as she thought back. “She just said, ‘It’s the Cincinnati Reds I wanted.’”

Reading through his grandma’s scorebooks, over and over, Murphy noticed a trend.

“As she got older, she did get more emotionally into the writing,” he said. “I think she was lonely, I guess. I’d love to know, did she ever go back and pull it out in December or January and go back and look through it? I never got to ask those questions. Those are things I wished I could ask.”

Here’s what she wrote after the penultimate game of the 1989 season, a 9-2 loss to the Astros that left the Reds with a 75-86 record.

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And here’s the last game in Minnie Lee’s scorebook, October 27, 1991.

You remember that one. Jack Morris pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball as the Twins outlasted the Braves in one of the best World Series Game 7s in baseball history. This is what she wrote:

Twins won World Series in 7 games.
1991
I have never seen a bunch so Happy as the Twins are!
Both teams were wonderful. I feel for the losers, but to let the other team get only 1 run was good.


Those six lines of typed text? Minnie Lee used 18 lines’ worth of space on her paper. And of those 41 words, eight were double-underlined.

Yep, Minnie Lee really loved baseball.

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Minnie Lee Prewitt was born on Jan. 23, 1906.

She played basketball for the Cambellsville College team — she was teammates with her sisters, Stella and Ethel — and she was president of her sophomore class in college. Under her picture in the Garnett and Gray yearbook was this poem …

“A girl that’s seldom meek and mild,
The girl that’s peppy all the while,
The girl that’s never cross nor blue;
Minnie Lee, that’s you.”


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Her life was far too often marked by tragedy. She was the second of nine children born to Milo and Thula Prewitt, two of whom died in infancy. Her parents were killed in a well accident when she was 15 — a gas explosion overwhelmed Milo as he was digging the well, then Thula when she went in to help her husband — and the siblings were split up, though they stayed in touch as best they could.

Minnie Lee and her husband, Joe Olges, had five children. Their first, Joseph, died when he was 8; he fell through the ice of a frozen pond and drowned, on Feb. 3, 1942, an accident too awful to even think about.

Despite the tragedy, Mary Murphy remembers a happy childhood. She remembers her mother reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” giving life to Mark Twain’s characters with her tone and inflections; she’d taken drama classes and put those lessons to use when reading stories to her children — and, Mary notes, was a big reason her scorebook notebooks included big letters and underlines and exclamation points for emphasis.

“She was a very loving mother,” said Mary, who is now 81 and still lives in the same house on the dead-end street. “She never raised her voice. We knew by her eyes that we’d better behave.”

Minnie Lee often worked as a nanny — picking up tasty recipes for her family along the way — and spent many, many years working in the nursery at St. Joseph’s Orphanage.

Minnie Lee has other two daughters, Ruth and Roberta. Jack, Minnie Lee and Joe’s second-born son, played fullback for the Flaget High football team in Louisville that won city, state and Catholic championships in 1952, a team quarterbacked by Paul Hornung. Yes, that Paul Hornung. Before he was the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, four-time NFL champion (including Super Bowl I) and Pro Football Hall of Famer, he followed the lead blocks of Jack Olges to an unforgettable high school football season.

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Mike Murphy, the youngest of Minnie Lee’s 14 grandchildren, was born one year before she started her scorebook obsession/collection, and the two shared a special bond.

Nearly every morning during the summer, Murphy would ride his bike down the street just to ask his grandma if Johnny Bench, his favorite player, hit a home run the night before. When the family would gather for Thanksgiving or Christmas at Minnie Lee’s house, Murphy would sneak away to look at the stack of notebooks and just imagine the glorious baseball stories they told.

Mike would tag along when his mom and grandma went to the grocery store; his quarter allowance was enough to buy one pack of baseball cards, which he would open next to his grandma on the bench seat of the family Oldsmobile on the way home. The 1978 Topps set stands out in his memory, and two cards in particular. The first one was Steve Garvey, because Murphy’s T-ball team was the Dodgers, and Garvey’s Popeye-esque forearms looked like the forearms on his dad, who was a steelworker and a bricklayer.

The other was Cesar Geronimo.

“I remember flipping through the pack and finding a Reds player,” Murphy said. “I said, ‘Grandma, who’s he?’ And when she said Cesar Geronimo, I thought that was the coolest name I’d ever heard. I made her say it back to me about 50 times. The other guys on the team were named Joe, Pete, George, Ken, Dave, Tom … so when I heard Cesar Geronimo? I was enamored with him from that point on.”

Minnie Lee was, essentially, Murphy’s own personal Baseball-Reference; if the players he saw in his packs played in the National League and Marty and Joe talked about them, she had a story. She could tell him which cards were good and which ones weren’t. And she knew which ones knew the value of a good education, too.

“Mike had a hard time with the first grade,” Mary Murphy said, with a motherly laugh all these years later. “He’d cry and didn’t want to go to school. He’d stand and look out the window and say, ‘Did Johnny Bench have to go do school?’”

It took a couple of months to adjust — the strict Catholic school nuns were a shock to the system of a boy who grew up in such a loving environment — but with the knowledge that Johnny Bench endured school, Murphy decided he could, too.

And he stuck with it. He’s a special education teacher at an elementary school in Louisville, back in the classroom after years as a school administrator. And the one time he met Johnny Bench? Murphy asked the Hall of Famer to sign “Johnny Bench, 1965 Valedictorian.”

“He turned to the guy next to him,” Murphy recalled with a laugh, “and said, ‘I have never signed that in my entire life.’”

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Because the two shared a love of baseball, it eventually became Murphy’s honor to give his grandma the same Christmas gift every year: a 200-sheet, three-section notebook and a package of pens.

“She played it up when I gave it to her, too. Trust me,” Murphy said. “Her eyes were big, like, ‘I know what’s in here. I’m set!’”

When Murphy got a little older, the two would flip through the notebooks together at her house, Murphy sipping on a cup of Postum and eating a cheese blintz or a pimento-cheese sandwich lovingly prepared by his grandma.

Murphy collected the notebooks after Minnie Lee died of natural causes in 1996, at 90 years old. He knew he wanted to do something special with them, but wasn’t sure exactly what. Finally, with his brother Jeff’s wedding approaching in July 2007 — knowing the family would be together — Murphy dove into his new project. For two months, he organized and stacked and copied pages and notebooks, crying and laughing constantly as he read his grandma’s words.

A few days before Jeff’s wedding, Murphy told his brother about his project and asked whether it would be OK to give them out at the end of his reception. Jeff, of course, agreed.

Murphy made four copies of this labor of love, a binder book he titled “Game day through the eyes of Marty & Joe and the ears of Minnie Lee.” He separated the book into nine sections, each tailored to unique elements of his grandma’s scoresheets. He gave one to his mom, one to his uncle Jack, one to his Aunt Ruth and one to his Aunt Roberta, Minnie Lee’s four surviving children. He wrote a letter to the four, a heartfelt note that included this near the end.

I truly believe she kept these books for us to read and share later. There are so many priceless memories in this book. We are truly blessed to be able to read these simple conversations that she had with herself and hear her wisdom long after her death. I wanted these notebooks because of my early memories with her growing up. I had no idea that they contained all of these priceless memories. I’ve laughed and cried many of times during this process. Grad some Kleenex, enjoy and share these experiences with your families.

And for each of Minnie Lee’s kids, Murphy found and clipped out a piece of paper where she’d written out her name, so the letter was signed by their mother.

Brennaman was blown away by the book when he saw pictures.

"I thought that was really cool, I swear to goodness," he said. "Periodically, people will show me things similar to hers, but not nearly to the extent in which she undertook it."

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One last story for today, though there are thousands more screaming to be told.

Murphy played catcher because he wanted to be like Johnny Bench, so when Bench retired after the 1983 season, Murphy needed a new favorite catcher. The easy choice was Gary Carter, the Expos’ All-Star catcher who always had a huge smile on his face and played the game with Bench’s passion.

When Carter was traded to the Mets before the 1985 season, Murphy became a big Mets fan. The 1986 season was unforgettable; Carter finished third in the NL MVP voting and the Mets went on to win a classic World Series against the Red Sox.

So when Murphy was doing his book project, he flipped through Minnie Lee’s section on the 1986 postseason. What she wrote after the Mets won the NLCS made him sob uncontrollably.

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Now for the World Series!! Mike, I’m hoping your Mets win!! I know you are pulling for them, I am too. Ray Knight is an ex-Red. I’d like for MacNamara’s team to play well, too.”

Read that again. Murphy certainly has, hundreds of times.

“You open that up years later, not knowing it’s there, and you see that?”

Mike paused.

“It’s like she was leaving us all love notes the whole time.”

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