Who do the Reds belong to? I want you to think about that for a moment before you answer it. Next year will be the 150th season of professional baseball in Cincinnati. Baseball-Reference defines the current iteration of the franchise as having existed since 1882. That’s a long time. With the possible exception of the Green Bay Packers—a franchise literally owned by the citizens—the Reds have stronger historical ties to the city in which they reside than any other pro team.
The Reds, I would assert, belong to Cincinnati. Bob Castellini may be the owner at the moment, but the team doesn’t belong to him. Next year, when the big 150 happens, we’re all going to hear a lot about the Reds and Cincinnati—community and connection and our team, and all that.
And yet, one of the arguments we’ve heard lately when Castellini’s meddling in baseball operations has come up is, “It’s his team, he can do what he wants.”
Owners get to make money from the team, for sure. That’s the privilege that already being fabulously wealthy affords them. Oh yes, I know, virtually every owner will tell you he runs the team as a nonprofit, but that’s baloney. About half of the revenue baseball generates goes to the players. There are operational costs, of course, but again, if you believe these super rich owners aren’t taking a bunch of that dough home for themselves, well, I’ll just have to call you gullible.
It’s become clear in recent weeks that Castellini is using his position of power as owner/CEO of the Reds to make the team into something of a vanity project. He says what he thinks and “if no one disagrees” they do what he wants. No matter what people within the organization who are actually paid to evaluate baseball talent say, if Castellini likes a player, he’s sticking around. Even if it doesn’t make sense in terms of modern analytics.
That’s not the kind of thing you do if you value the connection between your organization and the community. If you value you that—if you really believe the Reds are a part of Cincinnati—then you hire the best people you can find and let them do their job building a winning baseball team. You don’t block trades. You don’t express any baseball opinions at all if you can help. Watch. Enjoy. Make money.
It’s not as though ownership meddling has any kind of history of working out, either. I can’t think of a single non-disastrous instance in pro-sports.
This is what I want from an owner: Set a budget. Be a likable public face when necessary. Stay in the background. The only question the front office should ever need to ask you is, “Can we have the money to acquire this or that player?” You, as owner, can judge them based on the results and fire them or not. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you have the right to do with the team as you like. You are a steward. The team was here before you, and it will be here after you are gone.
You may think that the average Reds fan would make the same decisions as Castellini and so, in that sense, at least, he’s doing what the community wants him to do. But I’ve run surveys over the course of this season using the @redlegnation Twitter account, which has just shy of 29,000 followers. These polls have shown a fan base that’s more sabermetrically minded than you’d think if your only exposure to the average fan is callers on talk radio. Much of Reds country, for certain, wants to see the kind of plan we were all led to believe was in the works be implemented in a straightforward manner. In essence, let the baseball minds you’ve hired run the team. That’s what you hired them for. Trust them to do their jobs.
These are, for certain, harsh words. I don’t think Bob Castellini means to do any harm. The Reds are very active in the community. Great American Ball Park is wonderful—an underrated gem—though let’s not forget who paid for it). Castellini has done everything right except for meddling in baseball operations. Unfortunately, that’s like studying all week and then oversleeping on the day of the test.
If you want to bring winning baseball back to Cincinnati, your best bet is to let the people who’ve been studying how to do that for years make the decisions.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.