The Rays vs the Reds and the nature of fandom

What's important to you as a fan?

A couple of weeks ago, on the World’s Most Dangerous Podcast, we debated the nature of fandom by attempting to answer this question: would you rather be a fan of a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who make the playoffs regularly (but no championship yet), but trading away all your stars after four years. Or a team where you get to know and love the players and they stick around a while. Put more succinctly: would you prefer pennants (but not championships) or the memories of rooting for players like Joey Votto.

The question arose because of a discussion on the twitters between a couple of my favorite follows, Chris Garber and Carlos Guevara. Chris, of course, is the co-author of the greatest Cincinnati Reds book in all of recorded history — he wrote the good chapters — and has been a longtime contributor to my podcast. Carlos is a former Major League pitcher who was drafted by the Reds in 2003. He’s also one of the hosts of Late Night Reds Talk, a fun show that was rendered significantly less fun when they invited me on as a guest this summer:

As noted above, on episode #397 of my show, Chris and I debated the question. It was prompted by this exchange between Chris and Carlos:

Certainly, there are good arguments on both sides of this debate. (And yes, I need to have Carlos on the show to debate it with him, because he makes a great point here.) From the Tampa perspective, look at what they’ve done over the last 14 seasons: 7 playoff appearances, two American League pennants, two World Series losses, ten seasons with a record above .500. Competitive almost every year, with two golden opportunities to win a championship, but they haven’t broken through yet.

Meanwhile, during that same span, the Reds have made four playoff appearances, never even sniffing a World Series, twice losing in a Wild Card game and twice losing in the Division Series. Six seasons ended with the Reds over .500, but they lost 90+ games four times (as opposed to one for Tampa Bay).

On the other hand, the Reds had Joey Votto for that entire time. Day after day, at-bat after at-bat, we have enjoyed the opportunity to watch Votto master his craft, winning an MVP and being robbed of another one (and finishing in the top 7 of MVP voting four more times). He represented Cincinnati at the All-Star Game on five occasions and has put together a legendary career, almost certainly the greatest hitter in the entire history of this franchise. (Okay, we can debate that one, and maybe we will in the coming weeks.) At any rate, he’s clearly one of the best players Cincinnati has ever seen.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of Rays that have been on the Tampa Bay roster throughout that entire span:

Yep, that’s the list. The last time Tampa Bay made the World Series (2020), their longest-tenured player was center fielder Kevin Keirmaier, who had been with the club nearly twice as long as anyone else on the roster (since 2013, when he appeared in one game).

Of course, that’s a little unfair, I concede; very few teams in all of baseball have had a player on their roster for that entire time. Among players on 2021 rosters, only five (other than Votto) have played for the same club during the 14-year span we’re looking at: Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), and Brett Gardner (Yankees).

But that’s kind of the point. We’ve been able to enjoy something special, with Joey Votto spending his entire career in a Reds uniform. He’ll join all-time greats like Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, Dave Concepcion, and Gabriel Guerrero as players who never played for any other organization. It’s not something you see every day, and I have taken great pleasure in watching Votto do his thing. I can’t wait to see him enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a Reds cap atop his head on the plaque that will live forever in Cooperstown.

However, as much as I’ve enjoyed watching Votto over the years, I’d trade it all for a competitive team. Give me what Tampa is doing over whatever it is that Cincinnati is doing. I want a team that’s in the mix nearly every year. Two World Series appearances? Are you kidding me? I don’t care that they lost them both, Cincinnati hasn’t sniffed a National League pennant in more than three decades.

Watch how much fun Atlanta and Houston fans have been having during this World Series. Don’t you want that experience? Isn’t that why we root for the Reds, or for any sports team for that matter? For a shot at glory, a chance to go down in history? We’re just rooting for laundry, after all.

In Cincinnati, we remember the 2010 Central Division champs with a fondness that is completely out of proportion to what they actually achieved. Heck, most of us think dreamily back to the 1999 Reds, a team that didn’t even make the playoffs. These are among the most exciting experiences for a large number of Reds fans who were born after 1988.

I dunno, I’ve really enjoyed Votto’s career, and I’m so glad I got the chance to see him in a Reds uniform. But my favorite Reds memory in my lifetime is the 1990 World Series championship. I never dreamed the Reds wouldn’t return to the Fall Classic, like, ever.

Give me a competitive team every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I’ll be perfectly happy rooting for guys who were only in Cincinnati for a few years, as long as they win baseball games while they are here.

What do you think?

The World’s Most Dangerous Podcast

A 12-episode series from the gang at Redleg Nation Radio

The off-season is here, so we are happy to present you with our original series, Building the Machine. Over the next 4 weeks, we're going to bring you the story of the Big Red Machine, Cincinnati’s baseball dynasty that changed the game forever. Day by day, year by year, you’ll see how the Machine was constructed, all the highs and lows, and the legacy that remains.

If you missed the show when it first aired, here's what you can expect: Each week, we’ll be bringing you two episodes, each focusing on a single year, from 1969 to 1979. If you didn’t get to experience the Big Red Machine as they were dominating baseball, you’re going to enjoy the chance to experience the story as if you were there, and learn more about the names and events that were so important in shaping the narrative around the Cincinnati Reds.

If you were fortunate enough to watch the Machine live, this will be a fun blast from the past.

Here is Episode 1 of Building the Machine: The Origin Story.

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