Hope might spring eternal, but nothing is more eternal than the cycle of baseball. The 2016 Reds will come with gaffs and goofs, as well as the occasional example of promise. Think 1962 Mets!
CINCINNATI — Normally sports fans around here are feeling better by now. The wounds left by the Bengals latest bust have healed, and folks have turned their attention to spring training and Reds baseball.
No matter what’s passed or predicted there existed a general feeling of optimism regarding the Redlegs. As spring came closer, hope thrived. Everywhere you went, you heard it: “Well, you never know. This could be their year.”
Normally, this optimism lasted about, oh, two, three months—maybe a little longer—and then reality sets in, and once more, it was painfully obvious this was not the year; fans were, once again, faced with the fact their club was an “also ran”.
That’s the way it’s been for a long time.
The Reds’ “rebuild” has trashed hope and kicked optimism to the curb. The Cincinnati fan is faced with six months of bad baseball, 162 games as a doormat. That’s a l-o-n-g season.
This year there are no delusions. No one is fooling anybody. Management has fessed-up. They are throwing away the season to build for the future. They’ve traded fan favorites Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, and apparently are still trying to move Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. (If they can get out from under Joey Votto’s contract and receive “plus” prospects in exchange, they will trade him in a heartbeat and be fools not to.)
Thus far, the Reds have received a group of prospects that have wowed no one, and the fallout has brought about a general malaise among fans. Virtually no one is talking about the club in Cincinnati, and the few who are, are angry.
In a community that loves baseball—takes it straight to heart—this is a bad thing. Fans understand the idea and process of rebuilding, but they won’t buy bad decisions. If trades were to be made, why weren’t they made when the most value could be had? Why stand pat, then deal talent for what can be had, which doesn’t appear to be appreciable?
But, seems to me folks are looking at this all wrong. This team has a chance to make history. It could go down in the pages of baseball lore, and it has the potential to be as comical as it is historical.
Think about it. This team could lose 110, 120 games. Now how long does a season like that come along? This year, the Reds—given their division—have the opportunity to reach the historical heights of ineptitude not witnessed since the 1962 Mets. (We toast you Marv Throneberry.)
That season the Mets lost 120 games. It was so entertaining, so legendary, it led to Jimmy Breslin’s national bestseller Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? The book was turned into a Broadway play. How many teams can boast such feats?
Besides, maybe there are benefits in a big ol’ dose of humble pie. Even in bad years, Reds fans have the reputation of being most serious, downright smug in some cases.
A buddy of mine, a big-time baseball fan and a Carolina native, has often said, “Reds fans need to lighten-up a little bit. These guys don’t walk on water any more. It’s not 1975.”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time Cincinnati takes one on the chin. Baseball is cyclical and while mediocrity has been the norm around here, it’s been a while since the locals have seen bottom. Those with a little grey at the temple will remember 1982.
What a year:
• Johnny Bench playing third base, or giving it his best shot.
• Davey Concepcion taking Bench’s catcher’s equipment to him during infield at spring training, laying it down near third and saying: “JB, man, looks like you going to need this stuff even more over here.”
• Manager John McNamara fired during a mid-season losing streak because he refused general manager Dick Wagner’s edict to replace Ron Oester at second base with Tom Lawless. Mac telling reporters, “Yeah, (bleeping) Tommy Lawless, that’s gonna solve all our problems.”
• The debut of Brad “The Animal” Lesley, far more snort than stuff.
• Bruce Berenyi, all the talent in the world — on the side — losing 18 games.
• Frank Pastore emulating teammate Tom Seaver and each losing 13 games.
They were out of it by April and finished in last place, 28 games behind the Western Division winning Atlanta Braves. That Reds team was primarily composed of veterans on the backside of their careers. The 2016 version will be a bunch of guys trying to find their place—if they have one—in the majors, and with that will come gaffs and goofs, as well as the occasional example of promise.
The cycle comes round again, 34 years later. The fickle finger of fate lands on the Reds. Cincinnati come on down. It’s your turn in the barrel.
But this is not all bad.
Just think, a record-setting season—100 losses or more—and you can be a part of it. You can say, “I was there.” You can save a program or a ticket stub to show your grand kids. Someday, you can lean back in the rocker and say, “Yeah, I was there when they tore it all down and started over.”
Only time will tell if it’s a good story or a bad one.
There are baseball people—folks up the management chain in other organizations—who say the Reds have fallen so far behind in scouting and analytics that it will take years for the organization to catch up with the current contenders.
Word on the street is that the Reds brass circulated an in-house memo months ago informing staffers to anticipate a 25% drop in the gross.
So, folks, you might just want to settle in and have a few laughs. Me, I’ve already started.
The other day I was reading about the Reds Caravan, the annual tour designed to build interest for the upcoming season, pulling out, hitting the road.
The headliners included: Cody Reed, Jesse Winker, Amir Garrett, Alex Blandino and Gapper, the mascot.
Some times, all you can do is laugh.