Over the weekend I was having a conversation with a friend, who also happens to be one of the smartest Reds fans I know. (You can follow him—well, his pseudonym anyway—on twitter.com.) He did a really good job crystallizing my conflicted emotions about the current state of the Cincinnati Reds. The conversation was prompted by these thoughts:
This Reds team would have been a serious contender if ownership didn’t sabotage the season. This leaves me so conflicted. I want them to win. I need them to win. But rewarding the bad faith from ownership with postseason games only means they continue down the path in the future.
Plenty will tell me to shut up and enjoy things. I get that but also stop accepting the table scraps. If they expand the playoffs in the next CBA, why would Bob Castellini ever try to field a serious contender again? He won’t. That should be unacceptable for every fan.
I’ve been mulling this over for a very long time. I look forward to being wrong or really stupid. The normal stuff. But really, I’m sorry that I just want this team to be a serious $1 billion organization.
The most recent episode of my podcast focused on this issue as well. We know that Reds management has completely abandoned the fans. It’s hard to get truly excited about a franchise when you have little faith that ownership will actually try to compete in the future.
I told my friend that I’ve been struggling with these thoughts for a while, but I’ve come to a solution that works for me. It won’t work for everyone, I’m sure. If you want to be angry at Castellini for refusing to improve a team that is so close to being a great team, I can’t blame you.
But I’m choosing a different path. I’m just going to enjoy these fun times while we have them, precisely because I have zero faith that anything will change while Castellini owns the team. I resolve to savor these days with a winning Reds team and try to ignore what might happen in the future.
Listen, the Reds have not been competitive for the great majority of the last three decades. As a result, as devoted fans, we’re in nearly uncharted territory as the calendar turns to September. Cincinnati actually has a chance this year! The last time the Reds were in the playoff hunt was all the way back in 2013. (I refuse to include the 10 days last season when the Reds were fighting to finish in eighth place.) Sure, that 2013 season was marked by controversies and an underachieving team and the Reds ultimately finished in third place before being embarrassed in the Wild Card game.
On the other hand, do you remember how much fun the 2010 and 2012 seasons were? It felt like we Reds fans were finally getting paid back for supporting the team through a lost decade. Remember, the franchise hadn’t even been close to contending since 2000, Ken Griffey Jr.’s first season in a Reds uniform, and they were never really close that year. (I guess you could include 2006, but the Reds were just pretenders that season.)
Think about that: Only three times in the last two decades have Reds fans been able to enjoy their team in a pennant race. It’s an absolute crime … but when the Reds were competitive in those years, it was a great time to be a fan. It was fun to head out to the ballyard, watch on television, listen on radio, or even read about the team in the morning paper (it’s a thing fans used to do in the olden days).
The 2021 Reds are in a race now, and it’s glorious. They’re a flawed team, yes, but they’re also a really fun collection of guys who are easy to root for. Even better, they are perhaps the most likable Reds team since, I dunno, 1999? That’s worth something. Shouldn’t we just try to enjoy the good times while we have them?
My friend’s response to my resolution that I would just try to enjoy the moment sounded exactly like something I would have said: “Yeah, I’m trying. Just still feel like I’m being robbed of something. I’m much more in a non-committed mental state in terms of fandom. It’s like this weird state between the lost decade of casual viewing and 2013 low expectations for postseason performance.
“It’s so easy to see them being a legitimate World Series contender. I think that’s why. (Former Reds VP of Baseball Operations) Dick Williams’s plan got a full season and then it was taken out by self-sabotage. I think that’s the other thing. They seemed to actually become a modern baseball team and have a plan. Then the cheap owners bailed on it, and you can see how close they really were. And now cheapness is being rewarded.”
He’s not wrong. The Cincinnati front office is completely dysfunctional; we’re talking Bengals levels of dysfunction, if you can believe it. They abandoned the rebuild just as it was finally getting results. Believe me, over the off-season we’ll be having all of these conversations about the state of the club.
Right now, however, the Reds are sitting pretty in the Wild Card race. Maybe (probably) they’re not a legitimate World Series contender. Nothing can be done about that now. But we can root for a competitive team every night, and we have every reason to believe that they’ll be in the playoffs once October rolls around. You can’t win the World Series if you don’t qualify for the tournament, which means there is plenty to be excited about right now.
So I suggest that we all make every effort to relish Cincinnati’s moment in the limelight over these next five weeks. Going back to the last championship season of 1990, the Reds have been in a pennant race, what, six or seven times? This is a rare thing for most Reds fans who weren’t around for the glory days of the 1970s—and that’s a large portion of the fan base.
I intend to bask in the reflected glory of a Reds team that’s given us so much joy this season. I’m going to enjoy every day the rest of the way with a Reds team that’s relevant on the national stage for the first time in years, despite the negligence of ownership and management. Because if we’ve learned anything from history, the winning days almost certainly aren’t going to last.
Sorry, ignore that last comment. Enjoy the moment!
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.