Of time and the team on the river

A Legend of the Fan's Hunger in his Youth

After I wrote last week that I was nervous about the upcoming Reds off-season (read it here, if you haven’t yet), I received a ton of feedback. Much of it agreed with my rank punditry and sheer speculation, but I heard a lot of pushback, as well. Some of you think that it’s way too early in the off-season to be worried…and I agree! It’s why I kept saying things like this in that column:

Again, let me be clear: there is not nearly enough evidence to draw this conclusion! We are less than a year removed from the Reds’ biggest free agent shopping spree in club history! I suppose that I’m just battle-scarred from three decades of watching Reds ownership cynically refuse even to pretend that they could compete for championships.

At this point, after all these years, it’s pretty clear that I’m okay being Charlie Brown, with the Reds playing the role of Lucy. I’m going to keep coming back for more, no matter how many times I allow the Reds to fool me into thinking they are actually going to try to compete for a championship. This year will be different! Right?

On the other hand, these disappointments and heartbreaks are a part of our story as Reds fans. It’s what we pass down to our sons and daughters. If you’re a Cincinnati sports fan, you know what I’m talking about. It comes with the territory.

And while I definitely want more championships, I still like talking about the disappointments, for some reason. (Misery loves company, perhaps?)

Some of those disappointments were even laced with joy. I’m thinking here about 1995, when the Reds were swept by the Braves in the National League Championship Series. Truthfully, that was one of the best Reds teams of my lifetime. Reggie Sanders was a beast (.306/.397/.579, 28 HR, 99 RBI, 155 OPS+)*. Barry Larkin was, well, Barry Larkin. Ron Gant starred in the midst of his brief stay in Cincinnati. Pete Schourek finished second in Cy Young voting (Pete Schourek!). Davey Johnson was the manager, the most underrated skipper in Reds history.

*Induct Reggie Sanders into the Reds Hall of Fame immediately, please.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the World Series. You know what happened in that NLCS. We don’t discuss it around here.

How about 1999? The Reds traded away Bret Boone and Paul Konerko in the off-season, but traded for Greg Vaughn (in a deal that included Sanders) and signed Steve Avery. Avery was awful (6-7, 5.16 ERA), and everyone gave credit to Vaughn (.245/.347/.535, 45 HR, 118 RBI); but while he was great, Vaughn was only fifth on the team in bWAR. Center fielder Mike Cameron was brilliant (5.5 WAR), and Larkin, Sean Casey, and Pokey Reese were good, as well.

The top pitcher on that team was Pete Harnisch (16-10, 3.68), but manager Jack McKeon somehow figured out how to lead the underdog Reds to a 96-win season that tied the Mets for the National League Wild Card spot. The 96 wins were the most for a Reds team since the 1976 Big Red Machine Reds, and they set a record for runs scored by a Reds team.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the World Series. They lost to the Mets in a one-game playoff (curse you, Al Leiter!), and didn’t even make the real playoffs. It was gutting. Remember?

Or 2010? You remember that one. Reds win the National League Central to make the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the World Series*. The Reds promptly got no-hit by the Phillies and swept out of the playoffs in short order. Lots of fun, then lots of sad.

*There’s a theme here.

Other disappointments in my life as a Reds fans were just disappointments. I told you a few weeks ago about the first game I ever attended in person, at Riverfront Stadium, and the disappointment of not getting to watch Johnny Bench play in his final season. What I didn’t tell you is that I still had the hope that I’d get to see Bench play the next day. Except that my family decided, over my strenuous objections, that they’d prefer to spend the day at Kings Island instead of going to the ballgame. Really.

I’m not making myself feel any better.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, let’s talk about the 1988 All-Star Game, hosted by Cincinnati. The Reds were firmly entrenched in a run of second-place finishes with some guy named Pete Rose at the helm. Their old nemesis, the Dodgers, were destined to finish the season as champions. But in mid-July, the eyes of the world were on Cincinnati as the Queen City hosted the Mid-Summer Classic.

The town didn’t go crazy like they did the most recent time the ASG was in town, but it was fun anyway. I wanted so much to attend the game, but alas—another disappointment! So I sat on my sofa at home and watched the broadcast, which began with this ludicrous opening.*

*Actually, the All-Star Gala the day before was much more ludicrous. You have to watch some of these videos.

But despite the fact that I wasn’t at the stadium, I was pleased that some Reds were honored. Danny Jackson, on his way to a 23-8 season and a second place finish in Cy Young balloting was selected. Barry Larkin—destined to become my favorite player ever—was picked for the first of 12 All-Star appearances in a Hall of Fame career.

And then there was Chris Sabo. Sabo was a dynamo that year. He ultimately won the Rookie of the Year award, and by mid-season, he had taken Cincinnati by storm with his unique brand of hustle and production on the field. Plus, he wore those cool goggles. There was no one like him in baseball, and Cincinnati loved every second of it. Heck, three decades later, some dumb writers are still publishing nonsense about him.

Year after year, my favorite part of the All-Star festivities is the introduction of the players. Specifically, I always got a thrill when Cincinnati’s players were introduced. In 1988, it was fun to see the standing ovation for the Reds players. Watch it here. I still enjoy how amped everyone got over Sabo’s introduction.

The American League won that night, which didn’t really matter to me. What mattered to me was how my Reds performed. Danny Jackson didn’t even get to pitch. Barry Larkin came on as a substitute, but went 0-2, striking out once.

And then there’s Chris Sabo. Only one other third baseman was selected for the National League roster: Pittsburgh’s Bobby Bonilla, who was deservedly selected as the starter. Given all the hype around Sabo, and the fact that the game was being held in Cincinnati, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Sabo would have an opportunity to do something cool.

Nope. He only got a chance to pinch-run for Gary Carter. Sabo did steal second base, and the stadium went nuts when that happened. But after that appearance, Sabo didn’t take over at third base. He returned to the bench, concluding the first of his three All-Star appearances. Bonilla played the entire game, almost unimaginable for an All-Star game.

My irritation with the National League manager over his contempt for Sabo—and for MY REDS—lingers to this day. That manager? Whitey Herzog, skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals. July 12, 1988: The first day I decided, as a teenager, that I would hate the Cardinals forever. And I still do. It has become a way of life.

It has been nearly three decades, and I still haven’t forgiven Whitey Herzog. And until he apologizes to me personally, I likely never will.

So yeah, disappointment comes with the territory. Maybe the Reds really are working hard to trade Sonny Gray, and maybe the team is going to spiral downward in a haze of cost-cutting maneuvers.

But maybe not. Maybe they’ll get creative and fill some holes and the Reds will be back on top in 2021. We’re going to stick with them either way, aren’t we? We always do. And if they break our hearts again…well, maybe we’ll get a good story out of it.

What’s that you say, Mr. Castellini? Okay, put the football down. I’m going to kick it really far this time!

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Blast From The Past

Someone explain why Schottzie had to be in every single picture? (Also, check out our guy Chris Welsh, the crafty left-hander.)

If you have a Cincinnati sports-related picture you’d like to share here, send it my way (dotsonc@gmail.com).

What I’m Reading

Charlie Goldsmith: Paul Scruggs carries Xavier to Crosstown Shootout victory over UC

Robert Weintraub: Once again, the Bengals win by losing

Justin Williams: The inside story of John Brannen and a Cincinnati Bearcats season on the brink ($)

Doug Gray: The Reds are reportedly working hard to trade Sonny Gray

Bobby Nightengale: Cincinnati Reds planning for fans at GABP in 2021; Jesse Winker prefers OF over DH

What Chad’s Watching

“Mildred Pierce,” from 1945, was a lot of fun. Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, White Christmas), “Mildred Pierce” stars Joan Crawford in the role that finally won her an Oscar, playing a housewife who builds a successful business after her husband leaves her. But it’s much more: the film opens with a murder and tosses a lot of misdirection at you while discovering the guilty party. Recommended.

Finished season one of “Peaky Blinders” on Netflix this week. Wow. That’s good TV.

And…finally, we watched episode 2 of (season one of) “The Mandalorian.” It was fine. I’m not sure I see what everyone has been raving about, but I will keep watching.

The World’s Most Dangerous Reds Podcast

Redleg Nation Radio #355: Bill & Chad’s Excellent Adventure

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K. Bill Lack and I discuss the latest news around the Reds, including the recent non-tenders of a few players, and the level of optimism we should be feeling as Cincinnati heads into the long, cold winter.

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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