Sunday, July 13, 2003

Reds product hardly worthy of fan support at this rate



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It's getting embarrassing, watching the Cincinnati Reds haul in Medicare patients to try out as pitchers. If you can't be a starting pitcher for the Reds, what's your next stop, a pasture? If you can't pitch here, do they strip you for parts?

Please, no more Albie Lopezes.

Watching the Reds is like watching Bull Durham. Without the Durham. Unofficially, the season died last Sunday, when Bob Boone pulled a perfectly fine Paul Wilson after a perfectly fine 90 pitches and seven innings. The Reds were winning 5-2 then. They lost 6-5. The rest of the season is stomping on the grave.

(Officially, '03 went bust the day Jimmy Anderson made the starting rotation. Where's Jimbo hurling now, on the back-40?)

You could blame Boone if you like. My e-mail research has you blaming Boone for everything from losing streaks to toenail fungus. But blaming the '03 Reds on Boone is like blaming your leaky roof on the plumber.

Boone had to pull Wilson last week partly because the Reds are using a four-man starting rotation. They're using a four-man starting rotation because they don't have a choice. They don't have a choice because management can't develop starting pitching and ownership won't buy it.

It's a failure all the way around. It's more galling when you realize this team until two weeks ago had a chance. How many more wires did the everyday eight have to walk successfully before the owners bought them a net?

Ownership's refusal to pay for a major-league starting staff doomed the season to high mediocrity even before the first eager fan slapped down the first $175 for a diamond seat to watch the first home run sail w-a-a-y over Jimmy Anderson's big head.

Ownership dumps on fans

Simply put: You gave ownership a new stadium. Ownership gave you Todd Van Poppel.

"It's just good business sense when you have a new stadium to make more of an investment in the team," says Andrew Zimbalist. He's an economics professor at Smith College. He has written two books on baseball economics, including a new release called May The Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy. He knows what he knows.

Zimbalist said Friday, "You need smart, aggressive management and ownership to take advantage of a new stadium."

Smart? Aggressive? Anybody seen those two around Pretty Good American Ball Park lately? Cleveland was smart when it opened its new place. San Francisco was smart. Baltimore, Arizona. Smart and smart. The Reds are Pittsburgh.

I asked Zimbalist if he felt the team also had a moral obligation to the community. Ideally, this should be a partnership between the citizens who pay for the stadium and the owners who profit from the citizens' money, in the form of an increased return on their investment.

We scratch your wallet, you tickle our fancy. Everyone wins. And not just when the Reds score 12 runs.

"There is certainly a moral responsibility," Zimbalist said, "but it's hard to win the day with that." You do better, he said, pushing the profit argument. To wit: If ownership doesn't improve the product, it won't sell the boxes and the high-end seats that drive the profit engine.

"Unless you have a compelling team on the field, the boxes could stay empty," Zimbalist said. "Then you've lost the boost your new building was intended to provide. Look at Milwaukee and Pittsburgh."

That's why the Brown family finally hired someone competent to run the Bengals.

Money talks, morality walks.

"The amount of emotional and financial investment Cincinnati has made in the Reds, there should always be a moral obligation on the part of ownership to put a winning team on the field," Zimbalist said. "When you build a new stadium, the moral obligation increases."

It would be one thing if smart baseball folks had looked at the Reds rotation on Opening Day and judged it good enough to compete. You can excuse optimism when it's touched by reality. But ownership knew this rotation stunk.

And nobody had a plan. Nobody has one now, either, beyond trying out nags with bad elbows.

Jaime Navarro, Jeff Austin, Albie Lopez. Jose Silva, Joey Hamilton, Osvaldo Fernandez. Brian Moehler, Shawn Estes, Bruce Chen. The Rubens: Mateo, Rivera, Sierra, oh my. Just stop it.

No more players named Gookie, all right? No more D.T.s.

Have a plan. We're all adults here. If you rip this organization up, tell us why. Then tell us how you'll make it better. If you say, it's going to take a few years to fix this absolute mess - and that, folks, is what the Reds are - OK. Just develop a good plan, hire good people and stick with it.

It's hard, but not impossible. Oakland did it, with less money than the Reds have. The Twins did it, the Royals. The Expos, bless 'em, reinvent themselves annually.

If the Reds owners don't want to do it for the community that bought them a new house, then they should do it for themselves. Spend money to make money. You're smart, rich people. You figure it out.

Spare us Albie Lopez and the like. It's embarrassing.

---

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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