First, the truth. When Nation editor Steve Mancuso asked for a quick 100-word prediction of the 2016 Cincinnati Reds, I almost wrote: “I hope these Reds aren’t as bad as the team in 1982.”

The train wreck in 1982 resulted in a record of 61-101. The Engineer of that debacle was General Manager Dick Wagner.

The current 2016 disaster, 55 games into this current season is worse, record-wise but not by much. The 1982 Reds were 23-32 at this juncture, the current Reds on Saturday morning were 20-35, just three games to the south. And while pitching injuries are a part of this equation, one simply can’t look past how brutal the bullpen has been. When you’re “closer” and one of your “set up” men are demoted to Triple A so early in the season, you scratch your head and wonder just what the Reds front office was thinking about for the last several months.

The biggest difference between 1982 and 2016 is this: In 1981, the Reds had the best record in baseball. They missed the playoffs due to MLB’s adoption of a split-season concept due to a players strike, er labor stoppage. The Reds’ stunning slide the next year was unexpected. In 2015, the Reds barely averted losing 100 games. This season was expected to be a bad one, by those with a realistic and honest vision. Just not as bad as it is. There have been some ugly moments that, for the sake of our collective sanity, I will not summarize.

After  the 1981 season, Wagner traded three starters (Ken Griffey, George Foster and Ray Knight) and acquiesced to Johnny Bench’s demand to be moved to third base. The return Wagner got in the trades were centerfielder Cesar Cedeño, catcher Alex Trevino, relief pitcher Jim Kern and a couple of pitching prospects in Greg Harris and Brian Ryder. In a separate deal, he acquired one-time phenom Clint Hurdle from Kansas City for journeyman pitcher Scott Brown.

Wagner also counted on help from the farm system in outfielders Paul Householder, Duane Walker and Eddie Milner.

None of this worked out. Once one of the best players in baseball for Houston, Cedeño was an “old” 31 (to borrow a quote from Bill DeWitt) when the Reds got him. Cedeño’s power numbers were low and his speed was gone. Householder and Walker never panned out. Ryder and Harris produced next to nothing. Trevino was simply awful. Hurdle batted .208 in just 19 games and had one double and one RBI.

So are the 2016 Reds as bad or worse than the 1982 team?

I could put numerous charts and graphs in this article using statistical data but I didn’t. First, I don’t know how to do it. Second, you would probably be bored stiff if I did.

But when you compare the two teams position by position, the 2016 Reds have a clear advantage— in right field (Jay Bruce), first base (Joey Votto) second base (Brandon Phillips) and left field (Adam Duvall, although he still has a small sample size.)

I’d also give the nod to Tucker Barnhart over Trevino because Trevino was one of the worst catchers in a Reds uniform I ever saw.

It’s the pitching staffs where the 1982 Reds had a vast edge. The ’82 Reds actually had an ace in Mario Soto. This meant they had a legitimate chance to win every fifth day and also avoid long losing streaks. They also had Frank Pastore (8-13) and Bruce Berenyi (8-18) who had decent stuff and pitched most of the season. Tom Hume had 17 saves out of the bullpen and was the lone All-Star representative for Cincinnati in 1982; he even had a save in the All-Star game that season.

The Reds 2016 bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. A couple of them, Tony Cingrani and Blake Wood, have had their moments but their relief corps is the worst in baseball.

There’s a chance if the Reds get healthy they can avert losing over 100 games but I wouldn’t count on it. Many of our “protected assets” litter the disabled list. And if the Reds trade Bruce and Zack Cozart it’s not going to help the offense out. I understand it’s the right move to make but only if the Reds get the right prospects in return to build on.

When I asked him about the 1982 Reds, Milner said, “Well, we had Mario Soto,” and after a pause, added, “and nobody else.”

The 2016 Reds? Hmmm. Cozart and Bruce. Votto and Duvall. Brandon Finnegan and … nobody else.

I understand the rebuilding process in the baseball world of 2016. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I know, the Astros and the Cubs went through this as well. And I will never desert the Cincinnati Reds. But this hurts. It really does.

14 Responses

  1. Rude Onederful

    That was the year Mario Soto replaced Davey C. as my favorite Red. Too bad he pitched for those awful teams & then Pete Rose burnt him out by the time they were competitive again.

  2. Scott Carter

    Can’t say I appreciate you bringing up those bad memories of ’82. But you are right the hardest part of that year was just missing the playoff because of the player strike/work stoppage and then being so bad the next year. I remember ranting during the offseason about how bad those trades were and then hoping I was wrong. It was great though watching Mario pitch. He was a master and truth Pastore and Berenyi would have been decent enough on a better a team. The 2016 team could be competitive if not for the joke of the bullpen.

  3. JB WV

    I thought they traded Dave Collins, too. I remember how bad it was when Concepcion was hitting third. He was an ok hitter, but hitting third? God, it was a long year. At least this years team has the potential to improve with the highly-touted kids coming up.

  4. Phil Gasson

    Seaver 14-2 , Fernando 13-6. Fernando won the
    cy young. That sits in my crawl to this day.

    • Nj Redsfan

      That was 1981. Fernando won because he was so unexpectedly dominant in the first “half” of that split season and was a media darling. But you are right – Seaver had the best year overall.

  5. David Eberly

    I remember a popular bumper sticker from that year: “I still love the Reds, it’s Dick Wagner I hate!”

    We’ve had bad luck replacing a successful GM with protege named “Dick W.” Let’s hope works out better this time.

    • Michael E

      The good news is we aren’t really replacing a successful GM. Jocketty has done a few things well, true, but overall, no one would give him a thumbs up over his reign. He came in with quite a bit of talent just hitting primes and some of the best pitching we have seen in decades (at least concerning the Reds which never have above average pitching).

      So maybe that means we’re replacing a mediocre (at best) GM with a great one? One can dream, even if the trades of the off-season were underwhelming, to be kind.

  6. ohiojimw

    I recall being in attendance the day the Reds raised their self proclaimed 1981 “pennant” for “1981 Best Record in Baseball”. I suppose had the team been doing at least fair to middling, it might have seemed not off the wall; but, given the circumstance, it seemed ludicrous. Of course we were all provided with our own small replica pennant to take home (or to the nearest trash bin).

    Then there was the less than stellar effort of the Reds to deal with Hispanic names that contained a letter, ñ, not found in the English alphabet when they spelled out the names on the back of the uniforms, One of the jokes in my circle was that the Reds had misunderstood and while they thought they were trading for Cesar Cedeño, they had in fact traded for another guy with a similar name, Cesar Cedeno. Then at some point the Reds made a bit of a deal out acknowledging Hispanic heritage started misspelling the name as Cédeno on the uniform. Eventually somebody rounded up some tildes and things got set right.

  7. Jack

    The Reds Bullpen has 15 losses! If they turn 8 of those into wins (which is easily possible) then the record would be 30-28. The same as the Cardinals. This team isn’t nearly as bad as that 82 team. That team was hard to watch. Comparing Trevino to Barnhart is no contest. Trevino was a nightmare. I love Soto bit when the starters get back in a couple of weeks I will take this starting 5 over 82s. It was Soto and then hope for rain.

  8. lwblogger2

    Alex Trevino may well have been the worst MLB catcher I’ve ever seen on any team. He was a train-wreck in the batters-box and behind the dish. Just awful.

  9. earmbrister

    This is a season where we need to give playing time to the youngsters. They need to figure out what they have in Duvall, Suarez, Winker, the young SS/2B whose name escapes me, and all of the young pitching. The record is meaningless.

    In a rebuild, the bullpen should be the last area where the Reds devote money/resources. And when the pitching gets healthy, the reinforcements will start to arrive. And when the pitching gets healthy this team will be much more competitive.

    Looking at it as a glass half full.

  10. IrishMike

    If Alex Trevino was so bad in 1982…why did the Reds bring him back in the twilight of his career to play on the 1990 World Champs (for which he hit over 400!!!! …. of course he only played in 7 games)

  11. Playtowin

    Mario Soto was a great pitcher on several awful Reds teams. Dick Wagner made a bunch of dumb moves but ownership was complicent in the dumbness. The 2016 Reds team is better in position players but the bullpen in much worse. A couple of the starters have been worthless too. I wil be surprised if the Reds avoid losing 100 games but I hope they do as this is better group than the 1982 team.