I had nearly 40 years of Billy Joel’s give and take—the New York Times, the Daily News. What those years gave me was baseball that didn’t exist west of the Hudson River Line. It’s a tradition ESPN keeps alive today, all Yankees and Red Sox all the time, with a little Metropolitans mixed in on those rare occasions when the boys from Flushing, Queens managed to outkick their coverage, which wasn’t often.

So, when the Reds ventured into the Bronx for a 3-game series, the trepidation was real. If there was ever a bad time to visit the Death Star, it was a season where the Yankees would have the best record in baseball, while Reds’ ownership had already punted on the season.

The Field of Dreams game was still a month away, but my personal Field of Dreams series would play out over the next three days, as the boys in Pantone 199 would rise to the occasion—and were it not for a couple of wild pitches in the 10th inning, might have done the unthinkable—swept the Park Avenue Pinstripes in New York.

Things had to happen, of course. Clay Holmes—perhaps the best closer in baseball at the time—suddenly couldn’t find home plate with two hands and a map. Gutty pitching by Graham Ashcraft and Luis Castillo kept the Reds within striking distance. Clutch hits would land heroically on the outfield turf.

Three weeks later, the Reds would return to New York, this time to Citi Field to face the first place Mets. In a tale of two boroughs, it would reflect the best of times and the worst of times. Castillo was gone, as was Brandon Drury, who had made key contributions three weeks earlier in the Bronx. Tyler Mahle could no longer be called upon to fill the void, nor could Hunter Greene, who went on the IL with a strained right shoulder. Tyler Stephenson was done for the season with an injury 16 games earlier.

The trade deadline would bring gold and a top five farm system ranking, but the price days later would be a slaughter in Queens, just three weeks after Cincinnati’s courageous stand in the Bronx.

It’s been a while since a New York team has come into Cincinnati playing distinct underdogs. Only 3 teams have spent more money this season than the Philadelphia Phillies, who are chasing the World Series bus with their wallet wide open, spilling out dollar bills on the sidewalk as they run. It hasn’t been a pretty sight.

From 2012 through 2020, the best the Phillies could do was a .500 record, which they managed twice until last season, when they went 82-80. J.T. Realmuto, Zach Wheeler, Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius, along with the recent additions of Kyle Schwarber, Noah Syndergaard and Nick Castellanos are a testament to John Middleton’s unending quest to turn a decade of underachieving around. 2022 looked like more of the same until Joe Girardi got the axe and the team magically began playing competently.

For all the talent and all the money spent, the Phillies are an object lesson on how not to run a baseball team. Still, one couldn’t help but feel envious watching another franchise roll into GABP behind the wheel of a Brinks truck and walk away with a series win.

These last six weeks are an opportunity to watch Lodolo and Ashcraft and keep the fingers crossed for their future. Jake Fraley has been a welcome surprise so far. Jose Barrero finally gets his chance. He needs to make the most of it, while the rest of us need to give him a chance to find his feet in the big leagues.

And Reds fans need to hold tight to this shiny new farm system ranking and hope ownership will get out of the way and let the baseball people do their thing.

A 33RPM version of the Dolly Parton 1973 hit “Jolene” is making the rounds. A New Yorker article review opined the version “comes down to a reasonable alto range, sounding like a soulful male ballad singer,” while the website Open Culture claimed the slowed down version “sounds wonderful, it also manages to reframe the narrative”.

Yesterday, Jolene didn’t just slow down, the needle skidded across the vinyl to a screeching halt with the news that Joey Votto would have season-ending rotator cuff surgery on Friday. For those who’ve been running the Father Time narrative up the flagpole, insisting JoeyMVP should have long ago been benched for younger players, this is going to be welcome news. The scorn and slight regard couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much Votto has in the tank at this point in his career. But, it seems pretty clear now that this shoulder injury, which has plagued him for some time and has gotten progressively worse, is likely a primary reason for his poor performance in 2022.

More importantly, we’ve lost more days to watch the future Hall of Famer ply his trade in a Cincinnati uniform. If that doesn’t bother you, I have nothing else to offer you.

30 Responses

  1. doofus

    Someone in the Phillies TV broadcast crew called the Reds a “Triple A” team after the Reds won the game. Of course the person did not explain all the injuries the Reds have. I live in the Phillies broadcast area so my MLB stream was blacked out from listening to the Reds broadcast team.

    It could have been Tom McCarthy who is notorious for throwing disparaging barbs at the opposition. While he is not far from the truth, he should have been more concerned with explaining why the Phillies have been shutout four time over the last 7 games.

    • Freewheeling on the Fitch Express

      This is some of the finest writing I’ve seen on the internet to date. Perhaps I’m a little more responsive because I’m a Reds fan, and have been since 1960. I still live within the influence of NYC and deplore their teams that are built on the toil of other organizations. It’s sent me – a former minor league GM and 14 years an Eastern League beat writer – running away from baseball and into the arms of horse racing and soccer. Mr. Fitch, your work is sensational.

  2. Old Big Ed

    Baseball is certainly a funny game. At the close of business on June 29, the Yankees were 56-20 and the Reds were 26-48. Starting today, the Yankees are 73-45 and the Reds are 46-70.

    So, over the last 42 games, the Reds are 3 games ahead of the Yankees. The Yankees have played poorly for the same reasons the Reds have at times played poorly — bad bullpen outings and injuries to position players.

    My sense is that Votto will miss a lot of April but that he has one last great run in him. Maybe his final game at GABP will be 2023 or 2024, but I hope it evokes the same feeling as Ted Williams’s last game at Fenway Park, as depicted in the great 1960 John Updike article in the New Yorker — “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” For those who haven’t read it, it can be found at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1960/10/22/hub-fans-bid-kid-adieu

    • Daytonnati

      I remember reading it in college: “Gods do not answer letters” …

  3. Tim

    Although Votto’s numbers have taken a hit, I appreciate the old-fashioned grit he has displayed in playing through the pain. I’ve had a similar issue with my shoulder and it really changes things with your sleep and performance. He’s a gamer and worth every penny the Reds have paid him. If he had been on the Big Red machine with the wins to go with his numbers and gamer attitude, he’d be legendary. I think he is anyway.

  4. Jim Walker

    I am not nearly as bothered by having fewer chances to see Joey in the sunset of his career as I am that the same ownership which signed him to a career contract robbed him of the chance to compete for a World Series ring during his prime by failing to surround him with an even average supporting cast.

    • Daytonnati

      Yes, I have always felt Joey was more loyal to the Reds than the Reds were to him. He could have bailed during the previous rebuild when he still had some tread on the tires and been affordable to a few of the heavyweights.

    • LDS

      I think most of us here agree with you Jim. My only issue with the surgery is that if it’s been bothering him since 2015, getting it out of the way earlier may have enhanced his performance this last 6-7 years. His decline since 2017 is rather precipitous. But water under the bridge. Let him make his farewell tour next year. Don’t use him every day, maybe a platoon of 3-4 players at DH. And let Bob pay him off and let him retire.

      • Daytonnati

        Not to mention the Covid year when he would have missed just 60 games?

      • Bill

        Agree the COVID year would have been the time to do it, but no one expected that to happen. I assume the decision was, miss an entire year or play with some minor discomfort. The discomfort eventually became a problem so now there is no other option. I know with my labrum tear the doctor told me I wasn’t going to hurt it any worse and a cortisone shot made it feel great for a couple of months. I was able to lift weights, train MMA, and almost anything else as long as I was careful with it. Then three years later it became an issue and I had surgery. That was 6 months until I was allowed to do anything then it still wasn’t right, leading to a second surgery and starting the rehab over again.

  5. greenmtred

    With the caveat that his shoulder surgery and rehab must be successful, I’m actually relieved to hear the news, since it’s a plausible explanation for his cataclysmic decline. I know that age always wins: I’m 75 and paying the many prices for a career doing hard manual labor, but Joey’s skills seemed likely to age well, particularly when paired with his intelligence and analytical ability, and he was good–better than good–just last year. So maybe there’s reason to hope for a little more magic.

  6. Redgoggles

    I think it’s also plausible that the original/diagnosis come with an elevated career risk, leading him to “gut it out” and possibly even radically change his approach. Complete speculation but if true, it is possible we’ve seen the last of JV.

    • Redsvol

      You’ve got it Redgoggles. Rotator cuff surgeries are tricky and very often not successful on the regular patient, much less the one who has to have hand to eye coordination in the 99.999 percentile of humans to be successful at his job. I imagine if he’d had surgery in 2015 he might have been much worse the last few years. Rehab from this surgery will be very challenging and not a given to be successful.

  7. Rednat

    good stuff Richard. just begs to question, what role will the “fly over” teams have as mlb tries to survive going forward? what is the point of the pirates and the reds playing this weekend? would the league be stronger if it was just new york, boston ,LA,SanFransisco playing each other every game? is it fair or ethical for Stephenson and India to be playing for the reds next year when they will likely lose 100 games again and they could be contributing to a playoff team?

    • bryant

      I’ve been surprised this summer to be actually enjoying watching this stunningly hapless franchise. There is something about the hopelessness of their standing that has almost forced or permitted me to enjoy the actual game of baseball just for itself. Our minds now are so chronically jacked up, we can’t savor the pace and texture of what it the game has always been and that helped it earn the moniker of America’s National Pastime. Each pitch and each ground ball has a visceral quality to it that is what made me fall in love with it as a little boy now decades ago.

  8. west larry

    Off topic: KC has dfa’d Joel Payamps, a reliever 3.16 era, 28 y o, 17.6 strikeout rate-if he is released, shouldn’t the reds try to sign him to replace one of our less than average relievers currently on their staff?

    • Redsvol

      I saw this too and would be all over him if I were the front office. We should be scouring the waiver wire for relievers and starters and first basemen rest of the year!

    • MadMike

      Good catch Larry! The numbers seemed good at first. I think he will get claimed by somebody.

      I dug around a little bit on BaseballReference. From looking at game logs, he’s seems to be suitable for and mainly has been used for mop up duty only, though. Using the pivotal play tool that sorts AB’s by cWPA (which appears to be a metric that measures significance) he mainly gives up hits in the important ABs. So he’s definitely worth a shot for some team … but he’s not likely to be very good.

  9. Rednat

    THIS injury/surgery at least creates some drama for next year. Can Joey come back and have a magical year? can he pull a pete rose 1981 season and bat .325 next year. THEN the Votto vs Rose debate can really get heated!

    even if the reds stink again next year, i will be down at gabp rooting for Joey for sure

    • David

      Pete Rose was a singles-doubles hitter. During a part of his career, he was a doubles machine. He had a pretty high OBP during the best years of his career (1967-1973).

      Joey Votto hit more home runs and had more rbi’s. He was a run producer. His career OPS is probably much higher than Pete’s, having hit over 300 HR’s in a lot fewer at bats.

      When Pete was on TV as a commentator during post season one year (2016-2017 ?), he always brought up Joey as “an elite hitter”.
      Pete loved Pete, but Pete also could be very generous in acknowledging and praising other good players he played with and against. Pete loves baseball still, despite all his all too human flaws.

      I have had my share of complaints about Joey, but he has played hard for the Reds. And yes, he loved the Reds and was more loyal to the Reds than the Reds (Castellini ownership) have been to him.
      Shoulder surgeries are serious, and he probably thought he could do enough physical therapy to strengthen and heal his shoulder and avoid surgery, which could actually end his career, regardless of how old a player is when the surgery takes place. I don’t know when his rotator cuff was actually torn (probably NOT in 2015, but it might have gotten frayed that year, on the occasion in question, and it hurt). It might have been damaged and finally tore this year.

      Hats off to Joey. He is and was a good man and a very, very good player.

      • Rednat

        i agree with your statements. my only disagreement is that Joey was a “RUN PRODUCER”. I always thought that Joey’s main claim to fame was getting on base, working walks. my main issue with Joey was that he was such a bad base runner that I would have rather had him swing for the fences some times than try to draw a walk. 2021 in my opinion was his best season because of his aggressiveness at the plate. i don’t think he walked much but he truly filled the role of a “power hitter” that year. I think he tried to repeat the same approach this year but the shoulder just wouldn’t allow it.

  10. VegasRed

    Pete had great bat control and actually choked up quite often. If he was playing today they couldn’t shift on him or he would kill them going the other way.

    Now the counter to that is that guys throw harder today and almost every reliever does too, along with nasty stuff.

    I still say Pete could beat the shifts. So could TonyGwynn, Rod Carew and a few others.

    Today even little guys like India are HR hitters.

    • Jim Walker

      Votto had great bat control too in his prime years. He just used it differently than Rose. Votto would battle a pitcher to a stalemate by fouling off endless pitches too close to take and “pitcher’s pitches” that would be strikes until he got a pitch he wanted to hit or drew a walk.

      Votto was well along in his career when sophisticated shifts came into being. His somewhat belated adjustment was to sacrifice OBP for power. Had he been younger, his response might have been to become more of a spray hitter like Rose once he was down in a count or in situations where he felt he absolutely needed to avoid making an out.

      • Pinson343

        Hi Jim, If the shifts were in place when Votto was in his prime, I agree he would have hit to all fields but with long line drives Ted Williams style rather than a Pete Rose style. Remember that the Ted Williams book on hitting was his bible.

        He could have hit 40 or even 50 HRs in a season with that approach – look at what he did last year while missing a month. In 2012 he could do what he wanted, he batted .337/..474/.567 while being limited to singles after his return from the knee injury. He was on pace for 70 doubles before the knee injury.

  11. Pinson343

    This is perhaps not important to the big picture, but between the terrible April and the final 2 for 36, Votto did some good things. His stats can be looked up, instead I’ll give an example. In the Yankee series, he had key and solid hits in all 3 games. In Game 1, the 4 run 9th inning rally began with Votto singling to CF after a walk. In the second game with the Reds down 5-4 in the 5th, Votto hit a ground rule double that drove in a run and sent a runner to 3rd, who scored on a sac fly. In the third game, In the 3 run rally that put the Reds ahead by 4-1, Votto hit a single that drove in a run and later scored. In the 3 run 10th inning rally that won the game, he drove in the first run with a double, then a pinch runner scored for him.

    It was only one series but likely the most exciting and memorable series for the Reds in 2022. And whether Joey is done or not, it will stand out in my memory among the many highlights of his great career.

  12. old-school

    Eno Sarris, perhaps the most analytical baseball writer on the planet, has an article up at the Athletic on Stuff + and Pitching + and 25 pitchers in baseball who have had the most improvement from 2021-2022. Stuff + grades out the physical characteristics of a particular pitch( fastball, slider, curve) etc and then indexes it to the rest of the league with a 100 an average pitch. The second part of the article looks at forecasting 6 young pitchers who might take huge leaps next year based on their stuff+ and pitching + and pitching repertoire.

    Nick Lodolo has the 8th best curveball in the league and the best by a lefty( Stuff + 145) . With an already decent change and sinker, Sarris forecasts if Lodolo could improve his location/command next, he could see a breakout year and become Julio Urias.

    Sarris also does a dive into Graham Ashcraft who’s Stuff + on his slider is 139. He points out the cutter makes Ashcraft unique because its shape reduces platoon splits and gets into comparisons with the cutter of Corbin Burnes. He isnt bullish on Ashcraft increasing his K rate like Burnes but still identifies Ashcraft as 1/6 young pitchers to watch for potentially big strides in 2023. He even says his team are going to modify their models in the off-season because of pitchers like Ashcraft who throw a cutter as their primary fastball and his model only incorporates a 4 seam FB or sinker as the primary definition of a fastball to build a Pitching+ rating.

    Ashcraft and Alexis Diaz surge in his calculations when doing do.

    Either way, it seems Lodolo and Ashcraft might be ready to step forward in 2023 and good news for Reds young pitching development.