Good Vibes Only?

Reds fans and the attempt to stay positive

In the wake of the abrupt ending of the Reds season (swept away by the Braves in the kinda-sorta 2020 playoffs, round one), Cincinnati’s President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams resigned his post at the helm. Here’s the way I put it in my Cincinnati Magazine column this week:

Williams has been the man in charge of the baseball ops department for the last five seasons, and he revolutionized the organization from the ground up. He led the Reds out of the dark ages in terms of analytics, and improved the spring training and minor league operations in innumerable ways.

But ultimately, all the good work by Williams and company has yet to translate into a championship-caliber team on the field (although when you consider the Walt Jocketty/Bob Castellini-sized hole he was trying to dig out of, it is somewhat understandable).

Whether Williams quit on his own — to spend time with his family and his family business, as he said — or whether he was pushed out the door is pure speculation. I’m perfectly willing to take Williams at his word, though I’m not naive enough to believe that Reds fans will ever know the entire truth.

In the spirit of engaging in speculation on this point however, a friend directed me to this piece by John Fay in the Cincinnati Enquirer, with an interesting headline: “Social media had a lot to do with Dick Williams' leaving.” The first sentence read:

In the end,  I think the social media noise became too much for Dick Williams. Williams stepped down as the Reds president of baseball operations last week.

Fay concedes that he is speculating, and goes into the reasons he thinks “social media had a lot to do” with Williams’ decision to step down. Feel free to read it and make your own decision. Fay’s a good guy, and a long-time observer of the Reds, so it’s worth your time.

But as I was discussing Fay’s piece with a friend, he noted that some other things that probably need to be mentioned if we’re talking about social media feedback directed at the Reds: “fan frustration, lost generation, part of the job, while trying to keep his employer relevant.” Those terms are related to a number of long-standing discussions we’ve had, so let me unpack them for you.

First of all, here are some relevant quotes from Dick Williams on the subject, made after the Reds qualified for the expanded 2020 playoffs:

I’ve been doing this now for a while. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there is a lot more negativity out there than there ever used to be. In this seat, it’s my job to wear it every day. The talk show hosts, the tweets, the negative articles, whatever is out there, I can tell you, I feel like it’s my job to soak all that up.

This feels as appropriate of a time as any to thank my wife and kids for being there for me and keeping me positive. It’s not a lot of fun to soak up all that negative energy. I get frustrated when the team doesn’t win. I get bummed out. But when I see all the anger and the hate out there and try to make it go away for the people that believe in us, that’s just part of the job.

It’s tough, but I love it. I do it because I’m honored to have the chance. I really appreciate you guys have been very fair with us and hung in there with us. I have a great relationship communicating with you guys over the last few years as we try to explain to the fans what we were trying to do.

In one sense, he’s not wrong. There is a ton of “negative energy” among Reds fans. Which brings me to the things mentioned above.

First: “fan frustration, lost generation.” There is a lot of negativity on social media. Much of it exists on Twitter, which is often a cesspool of uninformed opinions and merry trolls just trying to create chaos. I’ve met a number of incredible people there, but I’m also forced to take frequent hiatuses to escape the negativity. Nowadays, I dip into Twitter only for Reds talk, and only because I’ve been able to find a good group to discuss baseball with. I can mostly ignore the things that poor Lisa Braun, Reds director of digital media, has to put up with.* She deserves an award.

*I don’t know if I should apologize to Lisa, who is one of the best at her particular trade, but the book I’m currently reading is called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” Social media is toxic and I worry about what it’s doing to our brains.

Let me say up front that I unequivocally condemn the hatred, the trolling, and the violent language directed at Reds players and management on social media. It’s out there, and it’s horrifying. We have a lot of keyboard warriors anonymously posting nonsense because they can. About a dumb sport. Again, social media is toxic.

Further, I loved the positivity that surrounded #GoodVibesOnly near the end of the season, sparked by third baseman Eugenio Suarez’ never-ending good vibes.

But permit me to defend some of the negativity directed at the Reds on social media. There are plenty of very valid criticisms that can be directed at Reds ownership, the front office, the field manager, and the players. As long as those criticisms aren’t couched in the hateful language described above, then I’m 100% in favor of fans expressing their opinions. After all, what have the Reds done in the last three decades to make fans want to do anything other than criticize them?

For a few years now, I’ve been lamenting what I’ve called the “lost generation of Reds fans.” As I’ve said, there are 30-year-olds who don’t remember the last time the Reds won a playoff series (1995, by the way, a quarter of a century ago). To those fans, he wire-to-wire 1990 Reds are ancient history. The Big Red Machine is something Grandpa rambles on about during holiday dinners. For the younger fans baseball needs to engage in order to grow, the Reds are just that team down by the river that’s suffered through losing seasons in 18 of the last 24 years.

So yeah, there’s some negativity — because the Reds have been one of the worst teams in baseball for our entire lives. I constantly beat the drum that we need to try to have fun with baseball; it’s a diversion, it’s not life and death for those of us who watch the game for entertainment. I try to remain as upbeat and positive as I can, both in my columns and in the nonsense I post on social media, because it’s just sports.

But do I understand why hardcore fans of the Reds might be upset over what’s been forced down our throats the last three decades? Yeah, it’s not difficult to comprehend.

Let’s also note that listening to that criticism is part of the job when you’re running a professional sports franchise, whether it should be or not. You ignore popular sentiment at your peril these days, unless you couldn’t care less about bad PR. That would probably be healthier, but it’s not the way big-time sports operates these days.

On the other hand, Williams has been in an impossible position. He did a lot of great work, trying to keep his employer relevant in a competitive field. He didn’t create the mess that he inherited, and if the Reds succeed over the next few years, it’ll will be largely due to the things Williams did during his tenure. Baseball history is going to remember Dick Williams very fondly for doing as much as he did with the cards he was dealt.

Ultimately, I think it’s a bit silly to complain about social media negativity around professional sports. It’s par for the course these days. Either ignore it, or I dunno…win some baseball games, maybe?

But if you’re one of these nattering nabobs of negativity out there on Twitter and Facebook and the like, I would encourage you to direct that criticism where it belongs. I’m talking about Reds owner Bob Castellini, who has completely and utterly failed to deliver on the emphatic promises he made to Reds fans nearly fifteen years ago when his ownership group took control of the club.

Mail him a letter tomorrow.

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This Week at The Magazine

My Cincinnati Magazine column this week is a look at what the Reds need to do over the winter in order to prevent another disappointing finish. If you click this link, you will be permitted to read it. Amazing, right?

Blast From The Past

This week’s blast from the past comes from longtime reader Seth Shaner from New Albany, Ohio, with this caption: “For some reason, Tony the Tiger was at Riverfront in 1991.”

It’s only natural, Seth. After all, Cincinnati’s previous season was ggggrreeeat! (I’m so sorry.)

If you have a Cincinnati sports-related picture you’d like to share here, send it my way (dotsonc@gmail.com). Only rule: it has to be a picture from before 2000.

What I’m Reading

Wick Terrell: Should the Cincinnati Reds have interest in Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim?

Doug Gray: What was the best Reds move of the Dick Williams era?

Justin Williams: John Brannen prepares for UC’s fast-approaching season of uncertainty ($)

Grant Freking: Why Álvaro Barreal is Crucial to FC Cincinnati's Future

Keith Jenkins: UC's Coby Bryant channeling the late Kobe's 'Mamba Mentality' as he leads Bearcats

Rustin Dodd and Brittany Ghiroli: ‘You can’t teach being cool’: Dusty Baker and the art of managing ($)

I finished a couple of books this week, as well: “The Quiet American,” by Graham Greene, and “Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious,” by Seth Kugel. Greene’s tale about friendship and love in Vietnam is a classic for a reason. Highly recommended.

What I’m Watching

I am aware that many of you will have no interest in “I Vitelloni,” but I will recommend it anyway. A well-regarded film from legendary Italian director Federico Fellini, there isn’t much of a plot. Instead, Fellini follows a group of 20-something young men in a small Italian village, as they dream, try to avoid responsibility, and make their way through life.

“Bend of the River” is a forgettable Jimmy Stewart western (with a young Rock Hudson in a small role). Not worth your time unless you are a devoted fan of the western.

“Boogie Nights” is another film like I mentioned last week; perfect to put on in the background when I’m working. It’s in the Dotson Film Hall of Fame.

On the television side, we finished the initial season of HBO Max’s “Perry Mason” this week. It’s fine. I guess it’s good enough that we’ll stick around for season two. How’s that for faint praise?

The World’s Most Dangerous Podcast

Redleg Nation Radio #345: Dick Williams Resigns; What’s Next for the Redlegs?

On this week’s podcast, I got together with my buddy Chris Garber to discuss the big Reds-related news of the week, the resignation of President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams. Strange things are afoot in the Reds front office these days.

We talk about the Cincinnati Reds — for better or for worse — every single week on RNR. Join us for free by subscribing everywhere you find dangerous podcasts. Or any other podcast, really. And you can support the podcast here.

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Thanks for subscribing! The Riverfront is designed to be a place we can explore the experience of being a sports fan in a city that often seems to break our hearts. I want to investigate the things that bring us together as a community, instead of the constant drumbeat you hear elsewhere about the things that divide us.

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If you have any comments, or just want to argue with me about anything I’ve written, feel free to shoot me an email at dotsonc@gmail.com. The best comments will be featured in a future newsletter.