Happy New Year, everyone! I have been granted publishing permission by Red Hot Mama, so watch for my periodic articles here as I continue my penchant for analysis, occasional humor, and frequent vitriolic diatribes.
I think we can all agree that the Reds 2007 was not so much a disappointment as it was a horrible yet somewhat fascinating train wreck. So let’s close that chapter of our collective history by reviewing the most memorable moments from that ill-fated year.
10. Let’s start with the most recent news. The Reds trade Josh Hamilton to the Rangers for young hard-throwing Edinson Volquez a native of the Dominican Republic. Whatever your take on this trade, you have to admit it was high stakes poker on Kriv-dawg’s part to take a shot at a inexperienced pitcher by dealing a 5-tool player in Hamilton. Yet the Reds got Hamilton as a rule 5 pick so even if Volquez busts the Reds really don’t lose much of an investment. With the Narron brothers gone, there would have been no one to really watch over Hamilton to keep him out of trouble, and perhaps there was fear that he could relapse. Or perhaps the Reds just dealt from a position of strength, having an abundance of outfielders, and addressed their most obvious weakness. Volquez sounds like the perfect student for Mario Soto this spring, as he throws extreme heat (able to hit 97 at will) and a complimentary change-up that drops 30 mph off his base speed. Scouting reports seem to indicate that he needs to improve his curve ball and harness his control. They peg him as a future #2 pitcher.
9. Reds launch their new kids club – the Reds Heads. For those of us with kids this was an awesome program. My son got a cap, a t-shirt, a sweatband, posters, a team calendar, and a bunch of other stuff. We were given a free tour of the ballpark where I had the opportunity to stand at the dugout rail like a manager, at which point a bolt of lightning appeared south of the river, forever etching that view in my memory. You get free game tickets and invited to special events such as a Q&A Pizza Party with reds ace Aaron Harang. I can’t recommend this program enough so if you have kids and plan to go to some games in ’08 you should definitely sign up for the Reds Heads kids club.
8. The Josh Hamilton story. In hindsight maybe this was an unnecessary distraction, a concern expressed by Brandon Phillips in July, but for the first half of the season the guy making all the headlines and getting national media attention was former drug addict Josh Hamilton. While some started calling him Roy Hobbs, he was really just a talented kid trying to make a comeback. His talent was still there and he showed a combination of power and throwing arm that made me think of someone like Dave Parker in his prime as a comparison. I attended a game where he threw out a lead runner who tried to take 3B on a single, which ended the inning. Later Hamilton hit the go-ahead home run. That was the day I borrowed a pen from an usher so I could write his name in on the all-star ballot. I wasn’t the only one because he led all players in 2007 for write-in all-star votes. We all wish Josh the best in Texas and we hope he stays clean and serves as a positive inspiration and role model for the community. Maybe his path will cross with Cincinnati again, as he stated he will always consider Cincinnati his home.
7. Jared Burton emerges as set-up man. Another guy from the Rule-5 draft (kudos to Krivsky). He didn’t contribute right away and if memory serves they hid him off the roster for awhile with a minor injury, but by the second half of the season he was David Weather’s primary set-up man and next to Weathers the only reliable arm out of the pen. He could be a future closer but why take chances when the 7th and 8th innings are really just as important? He’ll get the opportunity to pick up where he left off.
6. Dusty Baker is hired as manager. Unfortunately this story broke on ESPN well before the Reds could prepare a public relations front (i.e. a feel-good press conference and positive articles on the website, the now defunct Cincinnati Post, and the Enquirer). Thus, the fans began to chatter amongst themselves and the initial reaction was one of the ugliest things I have seen in quite awhile. No one came right out and said anything racist, but how can you otherwise explain why so many people thought Baker was an absolute terrible choice? His resume shows he is a winner, and in fact both of his previous gigs as manager he took over a struggling team and managed them to the playoffs in his first year. But don’t try to argue facts with people who are reeling with emotions that they probably don’t understand themselves. “Harang and Arroyo’s arms will fall off!” the peanut gallery hollered in unison. “And Bailey is doomed!”
“OK,” I responded, “you do realize Harang and Arroyo already lead the league in innings pitched, right? They are proven workhorses that go into the 8th and 9th innings almost everytime out. They both also have dictated that they know when they are gassed and tell the manager when they want to come out.” Somehow, I think Dusty will handle them just fine. Call it a hunch. As for Bailey, he will be towards the bottom of the rotation. He is not Mark Prior because Prior was at the TOP of his rotation. Any #1 pitcher is expected to give you about 220 innings. With Prior’s medical history I agree that probably wasn’t a recipe for long-term health, but what can you do, these are the Cubs we are talking about and they smelled their first World Series in something like 130 years.
Anyhow, the main thing about Dusty’s hiring is it shows that owner Bob Castellini is pulling out all the stops and going for the gold. They could have very easily trotted Pete Mackanin out there and saved themselves millions of dollars, and Pete did such a decent job we couldn’t have been too critical if they chose to go that route, but they didn’t. Why didn’t they? Because they wanted to show the fans and the media that the Cincinnati Reds are playing to win. We aren’t going to be the Kansas City Royals of the national league. Before Castellini took over, I think that last sentence was very debateable.
5. Jerry Narron is fired. I’ll be the first to admit that Jerry fooled me when he first came on the scene. I think I called him a gunslinger. The reason I became infatuated with him was because he was an actual major league manager, whereas Dave Miley was a minor league manager that clearly had no idea how to run a clubhouse or a professional organization. To sum up the Miley years is simple: the massage chair fiasco. So in comes Narron and it was such a nice upgrade that a lot of us got fooled into thinking this guy was a winner. He did make a nice run in early 06 but something happened as that season wore on. Jerry stopped showing fire. He seemed to accept that the Reds just didn’t have the karma or luck or whatever you want to call it to outplay the Cardinals. I watched as LaRussa pretty much had his way with the umpires while Narron would just look down and shake his head when they would blatantly manipulate the strike zone. I am sure there is more to it than that, but Jerry just seemed to lose the edge as 06 closed out and 07 was just a train wreck right out of the chute, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph. So adios to Jerry and good luck doing whatever you are gonna do next. We do thank you for transitioning us from “total laughing joke” to “somewhat scrappy and dangerous”. You did better than Miley that is for sure.
4. Brandon Phillips joins the 30/30 club. I liked this kid as soon as he joined the Reds. He has surprising power, speed to steal, and plays great defensively. I call him “Lightning in a Bottle” because he was like a magic antidote for our annual “who the heck is gonna play second base” query. Remember when the answer to that question was Tony Womack? I bet you do. Anyhow, Phillips exeeded even my optimistic expectations by clubbing 30+ dingers in 07. He’s proven to be instrumental in the Reds’ emergence as a somewhat respectable team.
3. Aaron Harang is a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Last year was good, but 07 is the year when Aaron Harang put it all together. Even national media pundits throw his name out when discussing the best pitchers in the league. Maybe he will never win Cy Young playing for the Reds because GABP will inflate his home numbers, but we know what we got and management’s decision to sign him long term last off season is looking rather brilliant.
2. Freel nearly kills himself making spectacular catch while crashing into the wall. In a season with few pleasant memories, this is a moment that will stick out forever. I personally consider it to be the greatest catch I have ever witnessed but history will probably not agree simply because the game was mostly meaningless as the Reds’ season was doomed from the onset. Hopper and Freel both dashed to grab the ball which was hit to the right-center alley just short of the wall. Freel made the grab but Hopper arrived at the same moment and also would have gotten his glove on the ball. Instead they collided and Freel whirly-birded and crashed into the wall. I believe his head and neck hit the base of the wall as he went down. He lay motionless on the field for what seemed like forever. I was truly scared that his career or even his life might be over. The umpire raced over and looked down and apparently seeing the ball in Freel’s glove as he lay unconscious on the ground signaled that it was a catch. Video would later show that Hopper might have nudged the ball a couple of inches into Freel’s glove, but I will argue that he made the catch as you could see it clearly in his glove as he spun a full rotation, and perhaps as he lost unconsciousness on the ground the ball trickled out and Hopper wanted to ensure the ump made the right call so he tampered with the evidence a little bit. That’s my take on the greatest catch ever.
1. Reds sign Francisco Cordero to richest contract in franchise history. It was also the most money league-wide ever paid to a relief pitcher. The high stakes almost desperate signing was a direct result of the Reds horrific bullpen. Honestly I can’t remember the last time the Reds had a respectable bullpen, but it very well may go all the way back to the Nasty Boys. If I never see Gary Majewski throw another inning it will be too soon. Hopefully with Cordero closing it out the Reds bullpen woes will become a thing of the past. That is what we sincerely hope as we head into 2008. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!