I see every October through my Reds-colored glasses. I’ll bet you do, too. I note the similarities in the teams that advance and where the Reds could have fit in had they done some things differently. I test and retest my theories about why teams win in October, and why they abruptly—but sometimes predictably—go home too early. Technology now affords the ability to watch the reaction of fan bases in real time, and note how many fans often have the same solutions to their favorite team’s shortcomings, whether the front office spent a pittance on payroll or emptied a Brinks truckload of dollar bills into the players’ lockers; whether they are analytic in thinking, or old school; whether their players have grit, or just glam; whether they use iPads in the dugout or an abacus.

The road to Yankee Stadium from my erstwhile home was urban and tangled. Route 4 in New Jersey across the George Washington Bridge and into the ever-present knot of New York traffic, down the Major Deegan Expressway, spitting out across the Macombs Dam Bridge to 161st Street and finally to the giant mausoleum in the Bronx.

It’s been just as congested, convoluted and road-raged for Yankee fans, yet again rerouted from their self-appointed perch as the Lords of Baseball to forgotten also-rans in MLB’s fall classic, also known as The CrapShoot.

I’ve especially enjoyed the bridge and tunnel boys getting home from their day jobs in Hackensack and Rego Park, waxing YouTube poetic on the necessary firings of Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman. These are delights I could barely have imagined a decade ago. But, now, every knucklehead with a navy NY snapback, a Shure mic and a basement internet connection can live in their own GM world of make-believe and become the MLB Network version of Rupert Pupkin.

Yankee fans want Aaron Boone gone the way Reds fans want David Bell sent to Siberia. He’s their whipping boy. Their pound of flesh. The prevailing fan opinion is that Boone is too analytic-centric, too much a puppet of a Cashman front office that values numbers and iPads in the dugout above all else. They hate the way he sets the lineup, the way he handles his bullpen. Sound familiar?

One fan lamented the Astros “celebrating on our field, in our home, in our bedroom where my wife sleeps” (Godfather reference). Another labeled the Yankees “soft,” and lacking leadership. Yankee fans look longingly at the failure to go after Bryce Harper hard enough in free agency, insisting the Steinbrenner family wants to put money in their pockets more than they want championships. They’ll tell you Don Mattingly has that Yankee pedigree that Boone never possessed to be a worthy manager. They long for the return of the Golden Boy, Numbah 2, to set up shop in the front office, to send Cashman and his nerds packing, so real men can go about the business of restoring Yankee pride. They’ll tell you the Yankees don’t have enough “ballplayers,” grinders like Brett Gardner or, you know, maybe Kyle Farmer?

The Yankees have set a “Championship or Bust” mentality. Ownership told their fans just getting to the playoffs every year is not enough. And that’s all the fans in New York will now accept, so the bad takes go on and on from Vinny on the car phone in the Bronx to Frankie in Brooklyn behind the mic. They’ve created a monster of expectations. That Stay Puft man is pounding down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as we speak.

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The Phillies are in the World Series. Your Reds-colored specs may see little difference between the 83 games the Reds won in 2021 and the 87 the Phillies won this season and think, “there but for the grace of Phil Castellini go us.” Or, something like that.

I prefer to look at payroll. Philadelphia spent $255M, one Wade Miley contract less than the Yankees in 2022. For 9 of the last 11 seasons, the Phillies couldn’t finish a season a game over .500. Last year, they crawled to an 82-80 finish. They’ve put the “bank” in Citizens Bank for years. 2013 saw Roy Halladay ($20M), Cliff Lee ($25M), Cole Hamels ($24M), and Ryan Howard ($20M)—the equivalent of 4 Votto contracts—sitting atop a mountain of expectations. Their payroll would eventually drop off in 2016 and 2017, but the margin call was only temporary. The signing of Bryce Harper ($330M), Andrew McCutchen to a contract that would pay the declining ballplayer $20M in 2021, along with the free agent acquisition of Zack Wheeler ($23M per), JT Realmuto ($23M per) and Castellanos ($20M per) looked to be money tossed to the wind once more.

But a funny thing happened with the front office. Ownership doubled down before the 2021 season by hiring Dave Dombrowski as their president of baseball ops. Dombrowski buys ballplayers the way Imelda Marcos once bought shoes. He took the Red Sox farm system apart in the service of buying a World Series Championship in 2018, before being fired little more than a year later. The money he gave to Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and David Price was part of the reason the Red Sox payroll became so bloated with bad contracts that Mookie Betts went buh-bye to Hollywood.

So, it’s no surprise Dave would add Middletown, Ohio’s finest, Kyle Schwarber, for a mere $19M to the Everest of payroll already guaranteed. Despite all this, the Phillies did everything they could in the waning days of the season to give away the last playoff spot to the Milwaukee Brewers, who said, “no thanks, we’re good,” losing 6 of their last 10 games.

Here’s my point: while the ’21 Reds and ’22 Phillies may have only been 4 wins apart, they were many millions apart in payroll, in players who had the talent to rise to the occasion, even if only for a few moments. In the small sample-size cauldron of the playoffs, it only takes one highly paid star to go off and swing a series. The more you have, the better your chances of hanging around in October.

Multiple Bryce Harpers > Multiple Brandon Drurys.

Get ready for the reclamation of the Dusty Baker legacy in Cincinnati as the Series begins. If you want to root for Dusty to finally get that ring, I get it. I’ve long said I’d love to sit down with Baker and listen to him tell stories and impart wisdom. He’s a renaissance guy, far from the typical jock stereotype who knows little of life outside the white lines of the game he plays. He could tell you what’s wrong with your backyard garden or help you with your wine selection at the dinner table. He is by all accounts a good man who I would guess is largely beloved by his players wherever he’s managed.

I just could never get over how he mismanaged the Reds on the field. From his handling of Aaron Harang, who was never the same after his manager had him throw 239 pitches in the span of 8 days, his refusal to start Aroldis Chapman because in his words, “that’s just the way it is,” the insistence on playing a fading Scott Rolen in the 2012 NLDS because it was “Scottie’s last rodeo,” his willingness to let Brandon Phillips abuse a reporter in his office in full view of everyone, to his old school “clogging the bases” mentality, well, it all left me more than ready to move on.

Some want the best team to always be crowned champs. It’s never going to work that way. For that to happen, you’d have to get rid of the playoffs altogether and simply have the NL team with the best record play the AL team with the best record.

We got half of that this year and that’s about as good as we can expect. This time of year is now and forever about TV revenue and that means more teams and more games. You could minimize chances of interlopers like this year’s Phillies by shortening the regular season and making all series longer, eliminating 5-game series and maybe making the World Series 9 games. You could make the team with the worst record from each league play each other in a one game elimination. You could make the byes more meaningful by giving the best team in each league a pass all the way to their respective league championship series.

But maybe the best answer is to just understand that like March Madness, upsets are not a bug, but a feature, and learn to live with it.

And as always, keep increasing that payroll.

30 Responses

  1. Votto4life

    In better years, I would often watch the play-offs and try to determine what areas the Reds would need to improve in to play beyond the first week of October.

    This year, however, the Reds are lacking in so many areas, it’s hard to imagine this team playing in the post season for years to come.

    I know many here are excited about the young pitching. That is a fair point, however, we all know how fragile young arms can be. It is certainly not inconceivable for Nick Lodolo to develop arm problems. Hunter Greene has already had TJ surgery once. One of those guys go down, then all of a sudden, all that good young pitching, is no longer a strength.

    I know people are high on the Reds prospects. Many of them appear to be well thought of. But I have been following baseball for 50 years and if I have learned anything, it’s that most prospects don’t pan out. It’s not to say, the current crop of young Reds all won’t pan out. But I think if you look at things objectively, we will be very lucky to have one or maybe two of the young infielders pan out. Perhaps one will pan out as a starter and another as a bench player. That’s something at least, but is it enough to turn around a 100 loss team? I just don’t think so.

    Ultimately though, my biggest concern is the team’s ownership. I know some here give the Castellinis and Nick Krall a lot of credit. For me though, for the last two years, they have not demonstrated any interest in wining or even having the team be competitive.

    It is more promising, when watching the post-season, to imagine what new players the Reds could bring in, to give Cincinnati it’s sixth World Series title.

    Unlike previous post seasons, this year, I will spend my time wondering what new owner, could come in and turn this mess around. It’s discouraging, especially, when you considered the team isn’t even for sale at this point.

  2. NachosGrande

    I think many (most?) of us were ready for Dusty to move by the end of his Reds’ tenure. However, I’m not sure the Reds ever found a better manager. In fact, other than Sweet Lou, I think Dusty was the best Reds manager in my lifetime. That’s a sad statement coming from a guy who’s almost 40 years old now.

    • Michael

      @nachos, I get what you are saying but I think you have to put Davey Johnson and Jack Mckeon on the list. Them along with Dusty are all what I think are solid to very good managers. Also all of them had the benefit of managing reds teams with something that resembled talent.

    • Oldtimer

      Davey Johnson, too.

      Bryan Price and David Bell are not MLB caliber managers.

  3. Jon

    It won’t happen because we all know this Reds’ ownership group is clueless about running a Major League team, but how sweet would it be if the Reds hired Stearns as GM? They already snatched Derek Johnson from the Brewers a few offseasons ago. Ownership should approach Stearns with an open checkbook and tell him to name his price. Getting a proven GM would go a long way to winning back trust with this fanbase.

    • LDS

      Are we sure DJ was a good thing? Dotson commented on Stearns and Epstein as Reds candidates. But, we’re all wishful thinking. We’ve have Cadtellini, Krall, and Bell. It is what it is. Where you going to go?

  4. Rut

    “This, is the life, we’ve chosen”

    Either Hyman Roth or every friggin Reds fan over 40 (or more accurately all of above)

  5. Rednat

    interesting ideas Richard. i DO Think the playoffs will continue to expand for sure.

    I think the most interesting (and disappointing) aspect of this world series is that this will be the first world series since 1950 not to have an African American player on either roster. This does not bode well for our Redlegs. The reds relied heavily on African American position players in our greatest years in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. From the great Frank Robinson to the great 1999 team which had 7 African American players, blacks have had a big role in our success. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that as the number of African American in the league have dwindled, so has Reds winning percentage over the past couple of decades.

    i don’t know what the answer is. all i know is that baseball has become a country club sport with demographics closer to golf and tennis than football and basketball. i

    • Jim Walker

      The Big Red Machine “Regular 8” was comprised of

      3 African Americans
      3 Latinos
      1Native American significant ancestry
      1 White guy

      MLB and the Reds have regressed.

    • Jim Walker

      I believe the issue is a matter of opportunity and how long it takes any given guy to reach the big money level of MLB versus NBA or NFL.

      To move up in baseball, a guy needs to be on a team; and to really have a shot, he has to be on a travelling “all star” team to get noticed by professional scouts or high level college teams. Ultimately this process requires money from the family or community. And once a guy goes to college or gets immediately signed, he is still looking at more than 6 years before he has a shot a really big money beyond a signing bonus.

      Conversely, guys can develop basketball and football skills on their own or with a couple of friends to where they can get noticed at walkup tryout camps which move them to the next level of organized camps and gets them noticed by the higher level college programs.

      The arrival of NIL money in college sports is going to exacerbate the situation even more for baseball. CJ Stroud, Ohio State’s Heisman candidate quarterback , is estimated to have a current NIL evaluation of over $2m. A few weeks ago, it was reported he handed out $500 gift cards to all his teammates for a men’s wear brand he had just signed an endorsement deal with.

      Barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance, Stroud will declare for the NFL draft in January, be drafted in the early to mid first round, and sign a contract for a life changing amount at age 21.

      MLB needs to find a way to compete for athletes like Stroud.

      • David

        Jim, I think you are pretty much on target, except when you get to kids developing basketball or football skills.
        They develop those in good High School programs, that get noticed by college scouts. A friend of my son in high school, was kind of dumb as a post, but played for a big major (Nick Van Ett, who played for Ohio State). Nick was a tall, fast tight end, and developed his skills in HS, because the HS had a good program and attracted college scouts. Nick did play for an NFL team for a while, but who knows where he is now.
        A couple of the teamates of my younger son (who played some HS football) went on to big things at UK. Because they were in a good program that got noticed; but especially because the one kid was a 6’5″ 290 lb offensive tackle as a HS senior.
        There are a lot of “skill position” athletes that play for mid-majors, Division 2 and 3 colleges, that would probably cut it (at least) in professional minor league baseball.
        Minor league baseball itself is a hard grind. I knew a couple of guys who did get into the minors (signed or drafted) who didn’t last long because they couldn’t hit the better off-speed pitches that they saw. And really, unless you are primo and get a big signing bonus, you really don’t make much in the Minors. And it can be a years-long grind to move up to get a cup of coffee in the Majors, if ever.
        High school and then college are big sorting mechanisms to feed either the NBA or the NFL. The NBA actually has only 2 (!) draft rounds, so they take only the VERY BEST college B-ball players. 60 players out of the literally THOUSANDS that play in Div 1 and Div 2 schools.

      • Jim Walker

        Stroud was probably better developed as a basketball player than as a football player in high school. He was one of those 6’2″-6’3″ point guards of some renown referred to by Old Big Ed below and just another decent high school football QB in an area filled with them. He was not on any top list as a national target.

        He went to one or more entry level 7 on 7 camps in the LA area and got on a waiting list for one of the national college feeder camps. He went into that camp as an unknown among many higher profile guys and emerged as one of the very top guys in the camp. Things developed quickly for him from there.

  6. Melvin

    Honestly, for the most part, I don’t even think about the playoffs when the Reds aren’t in it. It’s too depressing. lol I generally get out my recordings of the 75, 76, and 90 playoffs this time of year instead. It’s probably what keeps me a Reds fan. 🙂

  7. SultanofSwaff

    I just feel strongly that ownership doesn’t understand the financial commitment it takes to compete today. ‘Middle market’ teams are spending well north of $150mil on payroll. Does anyone think the Reds will top $150mil in the next 5 years? If you don’t, then we know the logical extension of that penny pinching will be that instead of building around the core, pieces will have to be traded off….and the boom/bust competitive cycle will spin like a revolving door in perpetuity.

    • Votto4life

      I read on MLBTraderumors that Milwaukee will likely slash payroll this off season. If that happens, the Cardinals will probably win the NL Central uncontested.

      I suppose the Cubs will spend some money this winter, but I doubt it will be enough to compete.

      It’s a shame , for the second straight year the division is there for the taking, as we watch helplessly.

      • MadMike

        V4L, just curious, where did you read that? I was on their Brewers chat and I don’t recall anything along those lines, but that was before the Stearns stepdown. It sounded like an expectation of status quo with baked-in pay raises triggering their usually trades of productive players for futures.

        Those chats are funny to tune into, there seem to be a lot of panicky fans all wanting to blow up their respective teams because they think drastic changes are needed this offseason and the MLBTR guy talking them off the ledge.

      • Votto4life

        Perhaps I read too much into it, but it does seem like The Brewers have some tough decisions coming up this winter.

        Their 2022 payroll was a team record and they have a lot players eligible for arbitration eligible this off season. Maybe they won’t be slashing payroll, but it doesn’t sound like they will be increasing g it either. So like you said, maybe keeping the status quo.

        Here is the link.


    • Harold

      Best of luck to Dusty Baker and Middletown’s finest Kyle. No luck getting additional help for this team. We will continue to be mediocre. The only change I see is that we will end up fighting it out with the Pirates last place as the Cubs, Brewers, and Cards will continue to be competitive. SELL THE TEAM BOB!!!!

    • BK

      I expect Red’s payroll to rise over the next few years, although not in 2023. Payroll for 2020 would have exceeded $140M except for the pandemic.

      On this topic, Forbes released its annual review of NBA franchise values. The two smallest market teams are worth 50 to 60 percent more than the Reds. Both posted healthy operating incomes, which implies they were profitable on a net income basis. Both made the playoffs last year and are strong contenders this year. Both have payrolls over $120M, with the least valuable franchise sitting just below the luxury tax threshold (the other one has a very young team). The NBA will expand in the next few years. Why would an investor buy a small-market MLB franchise vs. another sport where the financial and competitive balances are better?

      • Old Big Ed

        The NBA has the great advantage of having miniscule player development costs, compared to baseball. Guys play college basketball or professionally overseas, and most first-rounders are ready to contribute immediately. Some players get parked in the G-League for a while, but an NBA team has only a handful of those players, none of whom are particularly expensive. (The NFL also has little development expense, for similar reasons.)

        Meanwhile, baseball teams have at least 150 minor league guys under contract, albeit at low wages, not counting needing to fund draft and international signing pools that amount to about $15 million/year. They also need dozens of minor league coaches and other support (trainers, dieticians, traveling secretaries, interpreters, coordinators, scouts, etc., and they have things like medical bills, travel expenses and spring training costs for all these people.

        As Kyler Murray showed and as Jim notes above, why wouldn’t a great athlete cash in now with basketball or football, instead of waiting to age 26 to really hit the big money in baseball, if ever? And that is even more true now, with the big NIL deals.

        Neither side of the collective bargaining process seems to have grasped this issue, and so they continue not to address the problem of not including the best American athletes in the sport.

        On the other hand, you can watch the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament every year, and see dozens of excellent 5’10” to 6’2″ athletes who have little chance to make it in the NBA for size reasons, but who would have had very good prospects in baseball, if they had been given an early enough opportunity. Baseball needs to reach those kids when they are 10-13 years old.

      • BK

        Great points OBE. My point is that until the structural problems get fixed in MLB, the Reds (and other small market teams) will remain at a disadvantage. It wasn’t too long ago that the NBA teetered on irrelevance, with scores of teams tanking to improve their draft position and a small set of teams carrying most of the league’s top players. They’ve found a better path and, in a year, when the overall market is down by 15 percent their franchise values are up by 15 percent.

      • David

        Almost every player in the NBA gets paid A LOT more than the average ML baseball player. Excepting the handful of really YUGE contracts.
        And, the NBA DOES have a salary cap for each team that is re-calculated every year based on the net earnings of the league.
        This does make for interesting “musical chairs” as teams shuffle their rosters to stay under the cap.
        Generally the cap goes up every year, and by contract, the players get paid about 66% of the team earnings every year.
        Contrast that with MLB, and we really don’t know what each team earns or their actual balance sheet.
        The NBA in particular has a very transparent system in place. It has some problems, but is does address competitive balance.

  8. DataDumpster

    There was a very good player in the 1950s named Ray Boone. His son Bob Boone was quite a good player himself, a hard nosed catcher with amazing grit who played 19 years. Later on he was hired by two teams as their manager (including the Reds) but in both instances was let go after 3 years. He never had a winning season. Bob’s son Aaron Boone also had a baseball career, decent but not nearly as distinguished as his predecessors. He obtained his first managerial position with the NY Yankees 5 years ago. Of course, The Yankees finished 1st or 2nd as expected but had no pennants and a lot of sloppy play in the postseason. Despite calls from all corners, he will get another chance to manage next year.

    There was another very good player in the 1950s named Gus Bell…

  9. Daytonnati

    Seeing the Stay-Puft Marshmellow man reminds me of one thing: “Nobody steps on a church in my town.”

  10. TR

    The Philadelphia Phillies have 8 pennants and are going for their third WS championship. They spent the money the last few years and acquired at least three offensive thumpers in Harper, Castellanos and Schwarber, who is from the Cincy metro area. I thought when Kyle Schwarber’s time was up with the Cubs that he would be a main acquisition target for the Reds, but that was not to be. If your from Middletown, Ohio, it’s a real stretch if you’re not a Red’s fan. Schwarber, as the DH, would have, for me, brought back memories of Big Klu at Crosley Field. Both, by the way, attended IU.

  11. Votto4life

    The Cardinals had a team payroll
    of $170,000,000 in 2022, ranking it, just outside of the top 10 highest team payrolls, in the majors last year. In this article linked below, the President of baseball operations, plans for an
    Increase in spending in 2023.

    It likely means, the Cardinals will commit to
    $100,000,000 more in payroll, than the Reds next season.

    • TR

      It’s highly likely, until change is made with managing ownership that wants and is able to field a winning team, that the Reds will go light on payroll and wait for the maturation of the prospects in the farm system. It appears the fanbase will remain in wait and see mode.

      • Votto4life

        I think the Reds are going to follow the Pirates model until there is a change in ownership. What will this mean?

        No expensive Free Agents
        No multi-year contracts
        Trading our young players before they can walk away in free agency.
        Trading our young players after four years to maximize their return
        Focus on the draft and player development
        Sign single season free agents who can be flipped for prospect
        Focus on international signings