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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 23, 2024 11:11 am PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

There is nothing sadder in baseball than seeing a once proud franchise become a shell of its former self. The Cincinnati Reds were baseball’s original pro team and now they’re nothing but a bad NL Central Division joke with a side of Skyline Chili.

Here at Baseball or Bust we’ve called out teams like the big market Red Sox for going from champions to chumps – but the Reds have so far escaped our wrath.

No longer is that true.

What in the world has happened to this franchise under owner Bob Castellini, who was once a minority owner of the Cardinals? The way he’s run the Reds into the ground is actually good news for the Cardinals, NL Central Division rivals.

The Big Red Machine is long gone.

Welcome to the yearly failures of the Little Red Machine.

The Reds have not won a playoff series since 1995 when they beat the Dodgers 3-0 in the NLDS and then were promptly swept by the Braves. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990, the days of the Nasty Boys, featuring my friend Rob Dibble.

It is a shame what has happened to this franchise and their devoted fans. Cincinnati was always one of my favorite baseball cities for their love of their team throughout the region.

Now with the Bengals a perennial NFL power, it is even more of an embarrassing situation for the Reds.

The manager used to hold the power in baseball. Now it’s the GM’s world and there are so many bad GMs out there, and as a result there are so many bad teams.

Castellini led an ownership group that purchased the Reds for $260 million back in 2006 and in 2022 the team had an estimated value of 1.19 billion, according to Forbes; so he is sitting on a gold mine – but you would not know it from the way the Reds are run.

Back in April of 2022 the owner’s son, Phil Castellini, the team president, chastised the fans when he was asked why fans should have faith in ownership and management that the latest rebuild will be worthwhile, telling them via 700 WLW: “Well, where are you gonna go? Let’s start there. Sell the team to who? … If you want to look at what you’d do to make this team more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists (in), it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.’’

Way to go, Phil.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, young Castellini offered a strange comment recently as explained by Hall of Fame Baseball Writer Hal McCoy, one of the most respected baseball writers in the history of the game (and you can find him and his vast sports knowledge at HalMcCoy.com).

“Not too long ago Phil Castellini was speaking to the Rosie Reds,’’ McCoy told BallNine, speaking about the fan group that supports the Reds and was founded in 1964 (and in these fan clubs you will not find a more devoted fan base). “He said, yeah we have a lot of good players in our minor league system, but we won’t be able to keep them.’’

A chart was put up too: “Teams Out of Contention by Opening Day.’’ Castellini noted that “since 2019, there is a 75 percent increase in the number of MLB teams out of contention by Opening Day.’’

Essentially Phil Castellini is saying: Wait ‘til next year before this year has even started.

Yikes!

Cincinnati Reds Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini (r) pumps up the crowd before The Budweiser All-Star Concert, Part of the Pepsi Concert Series at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday, July 11, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Preston Mack/MLB via Getty Images)

That’s a lot to take in from the president of your ball club. Yes, the Reds don’t have the monster payroll of the Mets; but this is tough for fans to take.

When I asked McCoy what he sees in the Reds’ future he noted, “I don’t see a whole lot in the Reds future, they are in about the 10th year of a rebuild plan and every time they think they got it, they break it up and start all over again.’’

And the fans are left holding the chili.

McCoy has been around the Reds forever and knows where all the bodies are buried, so he is brutally honest when he talks about the Reds and Bob Castellini.

“I’ll never forget when in 2008 they fired GM Wayne Krivsky early in the season and at the press conference I said to Bob Castellini, ‘When is this franchise going to get some continuity?’”

“He looked at me and he said, real nasty, ‘We just aren’t going to lose anymore.’ ’’

Turns out what he really meant to say was the Reds weren’t going to win anymore.

“How has that worked out?’’ McCoy said. “Since then they have played about .400 ball and have had like five seasons of 90 or more losses and never won a playoff series.

What’s really a shame is there are some good people I know in the Reds organization – but their hands have been tied by owners and the Nerd-filled front office.

“The worst thing they ever did,’’ McCoy said, getting to the heart of the problem, “was to fire Dusty Baker.’’

That was after the 2013 season. During his six seasons as Reds manager Dusty was 509-463. Baker is loving life now as manager of the World Champion Astros.

“They fired Dusty because they lost a one-game wild card game in Pittsburgh,’’ McCoy said, disbelief still in his voice.

I was at that game. That was the game where the Pirates’ PNC crowd got to Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. And that was a game that was a dream matchup for reporters, with Clint Hurdle managing the Pirates and Dusty Baker managing the Reds.

Those two men made you want to go to the ballpark, and that was just the reporters; imagine how much their players loved playing for them.

Cincinnati Reds mascot Mr. Redlegs watches the game all by himself from the stands in the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on September 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

And here is the story behind that terrible decision.

“Dusty told me after the game he was fired,’’ McCoy said.

McCoy’s reaction was: “What!’’

“Yeah,’’ Dusty explained. “They wanted me to fire my hitting coach and I said, ‘If you want to fire my hitting coach, just fire me.’ And he did.’’

Dusty stood up for his hitting coach Brook Jacoby and paid the price. Walt Jocketty was the GM, and he was friends with Castellini since their Cardinal days together. Dusty’s last Reds team finished 90-72. Bryan Price became manager and the next season the Reds fell to 76-86.

Goodbye postseason.

“Walt Jocketty and Dusty did not get along and Jocketty was just looking for a reason to get rid of him,’’ McCoy said.

One thing I have learned through my decades in baseball is if the GM wants to get rid of the manager, there is nothing that can be done to save that manager. That’s why so many managers today will do whatever the GM asks and play any lineup; any situation the GM wants them to play.

The manager used to hold the power in baseball. Now it’s the GM’s world and there are so many bad GMs out there, and as a result there are so many bad teams.

That decision to fire Dusty haunts the once proud franchise to this day.

In the weird 2020 season, not really a season at all, the third place 31-29 Reds were gifted a wild card series but were swept, 2-0 by the Braves, their typical postseason embarrassment.

Since 2001 the Reds have finished eight seasons with 90 or more losses and in 2022, they outdid themselves losing 100 games. This is a franchise in reverse under GM Nick Krall. This is a franchise that is buried under the weight of analytics.

Nerds are great at one thing, and that is promising a rebuild.

Cincinnati Reds CEO Bob Castellini seen during ceremonies honoring Joe Morgan at Great American Ball Park on September 7, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The Reds also tried to re-invent the pitching wheel by hiring Kyle Boddy as minor league pitching coordinator after the 2019 season; and then Boddy was promoted to Director of Pitching – but he parted ways with the organization after two years. Boddy, the founder of Driveline, a data driven facility, certainly was an out of the box hire.

David Bell is the current manager of the Reds, but he is being guided by the front office in every way. “You go into his office and there’s a stack of papers about five inches high,’’ McCoy said. “What he should do in this situation. What he should do in that situation. It’s ugly.’’

That’s the way it is in the Reds’ little world.

You can only imagine what Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, and those of the Big Red Machine era think of today’s game with the Little Red Machine going nowhere. To top it all off for the Reds, fans that support Pete Rose still can’t see him in the Hall of Fame because of his betting past even though betting for the fan is a big part of the game in Rob Manfred’s MLB world.

“When Castellini took over the team he was one of those owners who showed up everywhere, came into the clubhouse – and as the team got worse and worse, he became a recluse, you never see him,’’ McCoy said. “He stays in his office and has his own private box, and you never see him.’’

One of the reasons I enjoyed going to Great American Ballpark was because it had a tremendous press box, but that box has been “re-imagined’’ now too as the new Boone County Bourbon Press Club; and the real press box is much smaller and is tossed down the left field line. I certainly enjoy my bourbon and maybe it is the best way to enjoy this version of the Little Red Machine.

One former major league executive is perplexed by where the organization is heading, telling Baseball or Bust, “It’s very sad to watch. They are nerd heavy in the office, he has a few baseball people in the field but they have made so many mistakes, there is no direction there. A lot of damage has been done in that system, they have gone totally backwards.’’

Overall view of Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees players lined up on field during player introductions before Game 1 at Riverfront Stadium. Reds players (L-R) Pete Rose (14), Ken Griffey Sr. (30), Joe Morgan (8), Tony Perez (24), Dan Driessen (22), George Foster (15), Johnny Bench (5), Cesar Geronimo (20), and Dave Concepcion (13). Bronx, NY 10/16/1976 (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)

This team is so far removed from the Big Red Machine that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and ’76. In 1975 they beat the Red Sox in seven games, one of the greatest World Series ever, and then they came back in 1976 to sweep the Yankees in four games. Pete Rose was the MVP in 1975, Johnny Bench was the MVP in 1976. They didn’t win the World Series again until they swept the A’s in 1990.

It was in 1869 that the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team.

Every year the Reds have an Opening Day Parade, and I was lucky enough to attend one of those parades – and the community pride that was on display that day was overwhelming. It’s what baseball is supposed to be to the fan base.

With the team having no chance of success this season and the talented young players apparently not being around for the long haul, this is going to be a tough sell; but I bet the Reds fans show up in force on Opening Day for the parade no matter what.

“There’s still some good people there,’’ the executive said of the team. “But they are signing all these utility players. You got to know who you are. Your window is smaller than the big market teams, but then when it’s time you can’t try to go all-in in one year in the middle of your rebuild because you just set yourself back. The Reds have made some bad signings and in a market like that you can’t afford to miss on say, a Mike Moustakas (four year deal for $64 million), or somebody. He gets a one-year deal then all of a sudden you give him four. It’s not a good situation there right now and I don’t see much hope the way they are going about it; and I feel for the fans, they are such great fans. They deserve better. It’s a mess over there.’’

That’s one honest, unfiltered opinion.

Bob and Phil Castellini should take notice.

The Reds have set themselves back to square one. And that’s a crying baseball shame.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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