As you know if you’ve followed the Cincinnati Reds for any length of time, there is rarely a dull moment with this franchise. Last week was no exception.
The Reds went down to Atlanta to visit the defending World Series champions and split their season-opening series. The club showed some fight and personality—two things we saw in abundance last year—and the bullpen actually looked like a group of competent major leaguers, unlike last year’s comedy act. But the highlight of the weekend, without question, was the electric major league debut of pitcher Hunter Greene.
Greene was selected by the Reds with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft and has been atop baseball’s prospect lists ever since. As you might expect from someone who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school, Greene was not intimidated by his first outing on a big league mound. Throwing 100 mph fastballs and mixing in effective sliders and changeups, he struck out six batters in his first three innings of work and looked just like the future ace everyone has been predicting he’d be.
There were some hiccups, to be sure—Greene surrendered a couple of solo homers—but the only takeaway from his first outing was that the kid is a star.
Another story that caught the attention of Cincinnati media last week was the billboard erected on I-75 urging Reds owner Bob Castellini to sell the team. I bear some responsibility. Before I delve into how the #SellTheTeamBob movement went from a running joke on a dumb podcast to an actual billboard, we need to agree on one thing: It’s imperative that Reds fans distinguish between Reds ownership and the team that’s actually on the field.
Listen, the Castellini regime has been a disaster for nearly two decades. I’ve written about it extensively here in the digital pages of Cincinnati Magazine, but every single person who donated to make the billboard a reality wants desperately for the Reds to win today and every day. As some of you have put it: Love the team, hate the ownership.
This entire project started as a joke last year on The Riverfront, the podcast I’ve hosted for more than a decade in which we laugh and cry and generally try to have fun with the curse of being a Reds fan. I’m sure you remember last spring when Castellini forced his baseball ops department to give away good relief pitchers for free and cut the legs out from under a team that should have been really good in 2021. Out of frustration, we joked on the podcast that we should put up a billboard telling Castellini how the fans felt about those penny-pinching transactions.
Months rolled past, and we kept joking about it; Twitter got involved, and people would occasionally mention it at particularly low points for the 2021 Reds. But it was still just an avatar for the fact that fans were frustrated with an ownership group that had failed to deliver on its promises.
Late in the 2021 season, discussions within our podcast’s Slack channel with our most dedicated listeners started taking the idea more seriously. One of our audience members took the initial step of reaching out to local billboard companies. The first company actually refused to do business with us, specifically because they were afraid to upset Castellini and the Reds. The second one agreed, hesitantly, and gave us a price quote in the thousands of dollars. We took no action at that time.
Then Castellini doubled down on dismantling the Reds. After last season, a year in which the Reds were a really fun team who fell just short of the playoffs only because ownership quit on them before the season, the Reds simply gave away pitcher Wade Miley and catcher Tucker Barnhart for no other reason than crass financial considerations. Then pitching coordinator Kyle Boddy, one of the brilliant minds brought in to overhaul player development by former President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams, resigned because the Reds decided to change course mid-stream. Others followed him out the door.
By this point, the drumbeat of talk in our Slack channel and the constant flow of comments on Twitter—many urging us to set up a GoFundMe page—reached fever pitch. We decided a billboard needed to go up, preferably for Opening Day 2022.
But then the lockout happened, and things were up in the air once again. We hadn’t signed a contract yet, and we didn’t even know when or if Opening Day would happen. When the lockout finally ended, the Reds immediately commenced a fire sale, trading away stars like Jesse Winker and Sonny Gray in an attempt to “align payroll to our resources.”
That was the final straw. The Riverfront set up a GoFundMe account, and the response was immediate and amazing. Nearly 200 Reds fans made small donations of $5, $10, or $25 to help us quickly meet our goal, and the rest is history. As you saw if you were watching any local TV newscasts last week, the billboard gave voice to a group of hardcore fans who are sick of Reds ownership’s failures.
Do we think Bob Castellini will see the billboard and immediately decide to sell the franchise to an ownership group who will commit to a plan, stick with that plan, and fund it adequately? Of course not. (We do dream, though.) That was never the point. Instead, we wanted to send a message to 100 Pete Rose Way that Reds fans are fed up and sick of being gaslighted. And judging by how swiftly Castellini’s public relations arm at The Cincinnati Enquirer jumped to his defense this past weekend, the message was received loud and clear.
Reds fans, especially those from the lost generation, are not likely to drop the #SellTheTeamBob hashtag anytime soon. The season is here, however, and even with a roster depleted by a fire sale, the Reds do actually have a number of fun players who are easy to root for—from Joey Votto to Jonathan India to Hunter Greene. I expect that the same fans who are upset with ownership will push another hashtag with just as much fervor: #GoReds.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.