December 31, 2007

TOP 10 Moments of 2007

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.


8 comments to “TOP 10 Moments of 2007”

  1. KC2HMZ says:

    Excellent work!

    The Reds did have a respectable pen during the early part of this century with Graves, Williamson, Sullivan, Mercker, Heredia, Reitsma. Uncle Carl’s July 2003 fire sale destroyed that (along with the rest of the team). And as bad as Miley and Narron may have been, they were Connie Mack and John McGraw compared to Bob Boone and Ray Knight.

    As for Dusty…I agree 100%, his critics refuse to let the facts get in the way.

    I thought the Reds were a major disappointment in 2007. They missed winning the NLC in 2006 by 3-1/2 games only to crash and burn in 2007. The good news is, I think we saw what this team is capable of being once Mackanin took over. This is a laid-back team. Narron had everybody so tight you couldn’t have pulled a needle out of somebody’s ass with a tractor, he was the wrong personality for this clubhouse. I’m expecting better things in 2008.

  2. KC2HMZ says:

    Upon further review…

    I’ve thought of a few other memorable moments I’d probably have in my own Top Ten if I were going to post one. In no particular order:

    Matt Belisle took a perfect game into the sixth inning, not once, but twice. Once on April 28 against the Pirates at PNC Park, and once on Sept. 27 against the Astros. Well, actually against the Astros he took a perfecto into the seventh. But he had to first take it into the sixth an inning earlier in order to get to that point. 🙂

    Brandon Phillips stole two bases on one pitch, that on Aug. 1 in the fourth inning at RFK while the Nationals had The Shift on against Adam Dunn.

    For that matter, there’s also the play Phillips made in the bottom of the ninth on Aug. 30 in Pittsburgh, barehanding Nate McLouth’s liner to right behind Jeff Keppinger and throwing to the plate to erase Josh Phelps and win the game (hey, maybe that’s why the Pirates cut Phelps this winter).

    Those were positive things. The major negative event I’d put on my list is when Jerry Narron benched Edwin Encarnacion for not hustling. EE failed to run out a fly ball on a play when he thought he had fouled the ball out of play. He was benched by Narron, who wanted to send a message to the team. Which he did…that message being, “Make a mistake and you will wind up on the bench” which is an excellent way to have a clubhouse full of tight guys worried more about making a mistake than they are about doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That, in turn, causes them to make mistakes, and mistakes lose games, and too many lost games get the manager fired. The Reds were 5-4 when Narron benched Edwin, 14-20 when Edwin was sent to the minors, 18-28 by the time Edwin returned to the Reds.

    The positive thing about this event is that since Narron had seen first hand what the MTBI did to Freel, nobody had to remind Jerry not to let the door hit him in the ass on his way out.


  3. smartelf says:

    Those are damn fine additions to the highlights, and you know what I totally forgot about Belisle’s accomplishments, as apparently many have when you read the various message boards… this guy has the potential to do some great things, and that was just his first full season as a starter. I still recall back in 05 when he outdueled The Rocket at Minute Maid Park — no easy task especially when you are just making a last second spot start. This guy needs more time and patience from the fans.

    Your last paragraph is totally lost upon me I have no idea what you are trying to say there. what is MTBI?

    I agree benching Encarnacion was a moronic move on Jerry’s part. EE is a young player that needs maybe a talk or inspriational speech. They treated him like a bad puppy spanking him with a newspaper. This guy is supposed to be our heart of the order RBI producer you don’t treat a player with that kind of potential in such a disrespectful manner, and yes you are right it makes everyone paranoid that it could happen to them next. I never liked negative reinforcement… positive vibes is what this team needs.

  4. KC2HMZ says:

    Sorry. Guess I read too much medical literature. MTBI stands for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. To those outside the medical community, that’s known as a concussion. So, my comment was meant to insinuate that Narron’s brain was positioned in a potentially dangerous location in the event that a door should hit him in the ass.

    Getting back to the topic at hand, there’s another one I left off, too – Lopez getting nailed in the face.

    As for Belisle, the key for him is going to be consistency. It’s easy for people to forget his positive accomplishments when in between those two gems he allowed enough damage to finish with a 5.32 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and an ERA of 88. Maybe those are tolerable numbers from a #5 starter, but if that’s your #3, you’re in trouble.


  5. smartelf says:

    Well I agree his numbers were unacceptable for a #3 pitcher… BUT it was his first full year in the rotation and rarely is a guys first season as a starter a good one. Even Harang was iffy his first couple of years. Could anyone have guessed he would develop into the ace he is now? I think Belisle showed enough to earn himself another go-round and I look for a step up in his performance, i.e. more consistency. I think he has the stuff to be a solid #3 guy if he can put it all together. That will be one of the big storylines for ’08.

  6. Red Hot Mama says:

    Q: 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?

    A: 4 years of watching him manage the Cubs. Trumpet the first year if you like; each subsequent year was worse than the last. Poor performance is color blind.

    OTOH, Raquel Aurilia told me how excited she and Richie were for the Reds that he was coming to town, so maybe I’ve got him all wrong.

  7. smartelf says:

    Like I said these are the CUBS we are talking about. Lets see how Piniella does in year 2 and beyond.

    I certainly wasn’t trying to imply that anyone here at RHM said anything racist. I know there are some valid criticisms/concerns to be made, but over at the official message board and some other blogs some of the commentary was downright nasty and the imagined scenarios utterly fantastic, hysterical, over the top.

  8. KC2HMZ says:

    When we say, “This is the Cubs we’re talking about,” this is the history that is being invoked: Managing the Cubs is a job that has unceremoniously chewed up and spit out better managers than Piniella and Baker.

    Joe McCarthy won 3,487 games and seven World Series. Leo Durocher won 3,739 games, Frank Selee won 2,180. All three are in the Hall Of Fame, enshrined at Cooperstown as managers, not as players. Jim Frey (1984) and Don Zimmer (1989) won Manager of the Year awards with the Cubs. Frey went 77-84 the following year, Zimmer went 77-85.

    None of those guys won a World Series managing the Cubs.

    But before insanity set in and they agreed to manage the Cubs:

    Win Percentage:
    Dusty .540, Lou .517

    1st/2nd Place Finishes:
    Dusty 8 in 10 years, Lou 8 in 19 years

    Percentage of 1st/2nd Place Finishes:
    Dusty 80%, Lou 42%