It may begin with the sound of a crack or even something as innocuously hollow as a “whump” or a dull thud. Or the trigger may be a sudden change in the weather. The ingredients are a weak layer—also known as the failure layer—within the snowpack and a sloped surface. If the weak layer is deep enough in the snow, you risk something experts call a slab avalanche.
Ninety percent of avalanches are triggered by humans. If you were listening closely, that hollow sound could be heard in the form of the sudden waiver of Wade Miley. That “whump” sound came in the form of Phil Castellini and his “where else you gonna go” tone-deaf gaffe. Just as the weak layer is often deep in the snow, the weakest layer would prove to be the organization’s deepest layer—ownership.
The change in weather, epitomized by the Sonny Gray, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez moves begat the slab that began an unstoppable slide downhill. Thus, there really was no other way for this season to end. Once it began, it became an unstoppable event, game after game, series after series, month after month. Injuries all season long were book-ended by the gutting of half the team before Opening Day, followed by a final purge in the form of Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Brandon Drury. All of it presaged a slow motion collapse that made 100 losses not merely possible, but almost inevitable. Game 162 and a 15-2 loss to the Stupid Cubs was a fitting metaphor for a season. And metaphors are all around the ballpark if you care to look.
Next season offers no guarantee of better days. Much of the treasure that was obtained in the fire sale is at least another year or more away. Returning players from injury are huge question marks. Can two-time Tommy John surgery patient Tejay Antone defy the considerable odds against him and return to relevance? Will Tony Santillan continue to develop? Does Lucas Sims have a future in the Reds’ bullpen? Does Joey have one more memorable season inside him?
There are signposts ahead that might point the way. If a couple of key future pieces of the franchise are not signed to long-term deals, it will be a major red flag telling the fanbase that ownership might never spend. If Kyle Farmer is still holding down an infield position in 2023, another red flag will be planted deep into the infield dirt. If the outfield remains a perpetual tryout camp for Aristides Aquino, if Mike Moustakas is still a Red, well …
Despite the howling of the social media masses, Nick Krall proved to be up to the task. But if ownership is intent on competing on the cheap and only the cheap, kicking the can down the road for yet another season, Krall, his manager, and the coaches will get buried in the next wave of winter weather. You want David Bell gone? Just remember the son’s unintentionally prescient words: “be careful what you wish for.”
In an unintended irony, meager attendance aligned perfectly with payroll. The Reds are on the verge of becoming baseball’s version of the self-licking ice cream cone, existing only to perpetuate a never-ending rebuild that rakes in TV money and little else.
Upon my arrival for my first game of the season, it’s my ritual to walk to the medallion painted on the floor at the entrance to GABP and plant my feet, to feel at one with the promise of a new season. Before I leave for the last time, I do the same, this time to take a moment to come to terms with the silence of bats and gloves, the approach of winter, the barren concrete of Crosley Terrace, the absence of this game of ball.
Walking across the eastern plaza to my car one final time in 2022, I turned back to look inside the windows of what was once the Machine Room. Its insides have been stripped bare as it awaits a new look, probably a new name, most certainly a new purpose, one more in tune with whatever the powers that be believe will generate more revenue. It’s another metaphor not just for the season past, but for what’s to come.
At the end of the slide, the snow comes to a stop, turning into ice and setting up like concrete. As the experts say, this is what makes avalanches so dangerous to skiers, who cannot hope to dig themselves out of harm’s way and can only wait for rescue.
Who will rescue a fanbase that has suffered through this avalanche of a season, the worst in decades? This season desperately needed a sherpa. Instead, it got a dilettante, the failure layer. Born on Third and Heading for Home.
We have a long winter to contemplate.