I miss baseball in October in Cincinnati.
Last weekend, the lovely Mrs. Dotson and I went down to The Holy Grail with some friends. It was the first day of October, and the Cincinnati Reds were still playing out the string of a season in which they remained competitive for a while, but ultimately faded. You know how the season went; I don’t need to recap it, do I? (Well, I did recap the season over at Cincinnati Magazine, if you are interested.)
For the first time in many years, the Reds were actually (technically) in the playoff race until the season’s final week. That’s big-time progress from an organization that has mostly been miserable for the last three decades. That’s exciting!
Well, maybe not. The Reds had already been eliminated by last Friday, and they were playing the final series of the season in Pittsburgh. The game was playing on the big screen across the street, but as we sat down, I noticed that the Reds game vs. the Pirates that night was not showing on any of the roughly 100 screens at The Holy Grail. There was college football — the BYU game, maybe? — and there was the Golf Channel. But the Reds were in the second inning against the Pirates, Luis Castillo was pitching well, and yet I couldn’t watch the game.
In Cincinnati. Literally across from Great American Ball Park. The Holy Grail didn’t even bother to update the lineup.
When the server came around, I asked the question that was on my mind: “Is there a reason the Reds game isn’t on any of these televisions?” My wife flashed me a look and later said that I was too accusatory. Perhaps I was. It wasn’t the server’s fault. I made sure to over-tip, just in case.
But I was genuinely curious. The Reds had a winning record, the first time that has happened in a full season in eight years. Eight years! Sure, the club had been eliminated by this point, but wasn’t there enough interest to justify showing the game on at least one screen? Was the interest level that low?
I don’t mention this to criticize The Holy Grail. I enjoy going to that particular establishment as often as I can, and it’s generally a great atmosphere to watch a game with like-minded fans. And as soon as I mentioned it, they turned the game on a bunch of screens. I’m serious: it’s a legitimately good sports bar, and they aren’t paying me to say that. (Yet. I’m open to offers.)
But how did we get here? How is it possible that no one but me cared about the fact that the Reds game wasn’t showing on a single screen in a popular sports bar during the baseball season?
It’s quite possible that I’m reading too much into this. But to me, it looks like more evidence that Reds fans have just become apathetic. And given the fact that ownership doesn’t seem to care about the team, why should the fans care?
For some time now, I’ve been concerned about what I call the “lost generation” of Reds fans. You would think that ownership would be concerned about this as well, but there’s no evidence to support that contention.
I’ve written about this before, but there are 30-year-olds who don’t remember the last time the Reds won a playoff series. The following night, we went to the FC Cincinnati game at TQL Stadium. FCC played horribly, but I saw a bunch of twenty-something fans wearing blue and orange, singing and tossing smoke bombs in The Bailey. To those fans, the 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 16 of the last 20 full seasons. (That’s not good, by the way.)
This off-season seems like a pivotal moment for the team that has defined this city for so many decades and that just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first Redlegs squad a couple of years ago. But this fan base appears to be more apathetic than I’ve ever seen. The reason for that: it’s the fan base the Reds have cultivated by being mostly awful for an entire generation. It’s the fan base the Reds have cultivated by having two straight ownership groups whose primary interest seems to be in convincing you that the franchise is too poor to compete with other professional baseball franchises.
For more than half a decade now, the Reds have been attempting to rebuild the team on the field. When they cut that rebuilding effort short last off-season, jettisoning quality players that would have helped in a playoff run in the name of saving a few bucks (I’m looking at you, Raisel Iglesias and Archie Bradley), they proved to the fans that ownership had more important priorities than putting a winning team on the field.
The rebuild of the roster, engineered by former President of Baseball Operation Dick Williams, came very close to bearing fruit. This year’s team was alternately fun and frustrating, but it was obvious that they were very close to being a really good team. Reds ownership and management just needed to finish the “rebuild.” They needed to Trust the Process.
They did not, for monetary reasons. Bob Castellini’s wallet wasn’t fat enough, evidently. So the “rebuild” was a failure in the end. Rebuilding the fractured relationship with the Reds fan base may be a much taller order.
This is why I will boycott Bob Castellini until he sells the team. But I won’t stop writing about the Reds. Because YOU deserve better.
Over at the Mother Ship, my final column of the season identified six off-season moves the Reds need to make to be competitive in 2022. I encourage you to read it, because I just wasted my time if you don’t.
In the latest episode of my podcast, Nate and I debated some post-season awards for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds. Be sure to listen, subscribe, and tell your friends about the show. (If you like us, tell your friends. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.)
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