With a revamped— and hopefully better- starting rotation for the 2019 season, who do you think will be the Opening Day starter for the Cincinnati Reds when they take on Pittsburgh on March 28?
Let’s face it. Opening Day is still huge in Cincinnati. It used to belong solely to Reds fans—it was the first game of the year. So to be named the starter pitcher was a big honor.
In Reds history, Mario Soto leads the way with six Opening Days starts. Jose Rijo started four in a row. But there were also starts made by Joey Hamilton, Jimmy Haynes, Cory Lidle, Scott Feldman, and Mike Remlinger.
Homer Bailey got the nod last season. He called it “cool” when he was selected but his aloofness, which Bailey was known for, showed. And, as most of you know, 2018 was a disastrous season for Bailey.
But there was one other Red Opening Day starter that suffered an ugly season comparable to Bailey’s in modern Reds history and that was Woodie Fryman.
Fryman was a moderately successful left-handed starting pitcher for the Montreal Expos in the 1976 season. He was named their Player of the Year after posting a 13-13 record, pitching 216.0 innings and a 3.13 ERA for a last-place team. The then-37-year-old southpaw had been in the majors for 10 years. In a disastrous trade, Reds General Manager Bob Howsam sent Tony Perez and relief pitcher Will McEnaney to the Expos for Fryman and reliever Dale Murray.
The trade paved the way for Dan Driessen to start at first base with Perez gone. Many felt Driessen had the potential to win a batting title. And while Driessen played well for the next several years, the Reds loss of Perez was devastating in terms of his clubhouse presence and leadership. Howsam later deemed the trade a big mistake.
And so it was that Woodie Fryman, the much traveled veteran, started Opening Day for the two-time defending World Champion Reds in 1977. But Fryman, who was a Kentucky native, and Manager Sparky Anderson, never got along. By the end of May, Fryman was banished to the bullpen.
And then in June, with a 5-5 record and an earned run average of 5.38, Fryman pulled a Carson Palmer-stunt decades before the Bengals quarterback quit on his team.
Fryman did the same thing and retired. He essentially quit the Reds. Howsam then traded for Tom Seaver, a true #1 pitcher if there ever was one, but with the defection of Don Gullett to the Yankees by free agency and the trades of Gary Nolan and Jack Billingham, Anderson was left mostly with a rotation of Seaver, Fred Norman, Paul Moskau and Doug Capilla.
But in 2019, new Manager David Bell has some options for his 2019 Opening Day starter. I selfishly hope that Luis Castillo gets the nod. He pitched very well in the second half of 2018. But what if Wood or Gray or Disco pitches lights out in spring training?
It’s a nice problem to have.
But please: not Scott Feldman.