Thursday, January 17, 2002

Reese, Reds part ways for good


Dodgers a possibility for Pokey

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pokey Reese misjudged the marketplace. The Cincinnati Reds tried to make him rich, but Reese thought he could get richer.

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        Reese rejected a contract proposal last spring that would have paid him $21 million over four years. Now the two-time Gold Glove winner is out of work, contemplating a tighter job market in a tougher economy, the victim of bad advice and hardball hubris.

        The only way Reese makes as much money as he rejected from the Reds is if he collects the bounty on Osama bin Laden. The only deals he can make now are at a deep discount.

        The Reds traded Reese to the Colorado Rockies last month. The Rockies promptly traded him to the Boston Red Sox, who declined to make him a tender offer. Reese therefore became a free agent but attracted so little bidding the Reds wondered if he might consider their back-loaded, low-ball offer.

        Answer: No.

        “We did call there a couple weeks ago when he had not signed (thinking) the market may have died for him,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said Wednesday. “But there's not a fit.”

Bound for L.A.?
               Speculation now centers on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who freed up some payroll Tuesday in trading Gary Sheffield to Atlanta. Still, the Dodgers reportedly are talking about a one-year deal, and probably for a lot less than Reese could have made with the Reds (calls to Reese's agent, Mike Nicotera, were not returned).

        This is what can happen when an athlete confuses his wants with his worth. Pokey Reese plays as fine a second base as you will ever see, but his offense has been deteriorating for two years.

        “In '99, when we won 96 games, I thought Pokey Reese was the heart and soul of our club with his energy, his attitude and the way he played,” former Reds coach Dave Collins said Wednesday. “What happened to Pokey the last couple of years, I can't say. I've heard that his attitude wasn't the same.”

        Reese's public persona in 1999 was that of a guileless innocent, an overgrown kid whose wardrobe consisted largely of sports jerseys and whose spare time was dominated by video games. When the Reds declared him a deal-breaker in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade talks, even Reese was startled by his sudden stature.

        Yet somewhere on the road to stardom, Reese took a detour.

A sudden, hard fall
               He blew off Redsfest last January because of a contract impasse and began complaining of racist remarks he was hearing. His critics grew louder and more mean-spirited as Reese's batting average slipped to .224 last season. With the Reds' acquisition of Todd Walker, Reese slipped from untouchable to unwanted.

        “That, to me, epitomizes what's gone on there the last few years,” said Collins, now a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. “Here's a guy they said they wouldn't trade for Ken Griffey Jr. Then they turn around and trade him for Gabe White.”

        Collins believes Reese's career is worth salvaging, but the Reds have tired of trying. Despite repeated recommendations that he make better use of his legs, Reese frustrates team officials by hitting too many balls in the air. Sammy Sosa hit 64 homers last year but maintains a better ground ball/fly ball ratio than does Pokey Reese.

        Maybe a fresh start will help. In any case, staying put is no longer a realistic alternative.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or tsullivan@enquirer.com.
       



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