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Billy Reed: Chronically underachieving Reds desperately in need of a shakeup in leadership

Bryan Price replaced Dusty Baker as manager of the Reds. Despite a roster with considerable talent, the team has not performed on the field over the past two seasons (MLB.com Photo)

Bryan Price replaced Dusty Baker as manager of the Reds. Despite a roster with considerable talent, the team has not performed on the field over the past two seasons (MLB.com Photo)


I must begin this column about the Cincinnati Reds with a disclaimer. You need to know that no team or franchise, college or pro, has ever owned my loyalty as have the Reds for, oh, 65 years or so. Somewhere there’s a photo of a 9-year-old me getting an autograph from pitcher Herm “The Worm” Wehmeier outside Crosley Field in 1952,

At age 18, I was credentialed by major-league baseball to cover the 1961 World Series between the Reds and the New York Yankees for The Lexington Leader, which then was the city’s afternoon paper. Until somebody can prove me wrong, I’m claiming to be the youngest credentialed writer ever to cover the World Series.

So you get the idea. The Reds are in my DNA. I probably knew about Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell before I knew about FDR. In the 1950s, I was a huge fan of Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, and Johnny Temple. I can still give you the starting lineup, and uniform numbers of the 1956 team that hit 221 homers.

During my days as a newspaper and magazine writer, I tried to be objective whenever I covered the Reds. But I admit to applauding under the press table the night that Pete Rose passed Ty Cobb’s record. And that might have been me who screamed “Yes!” the night in 1978 when the Reds got Tom Seaver from the Mets.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of bad Reds teams without getting upset. They just didn’t have as much talent as their rivals. But the current bunch of core players, most of whom have been together for the better part of six or seven years, don’t fall into that category.

They are the most egregious underachievers I’ve ever seen in a Reds uniform.

Depending on when you read this, they will be 13 or 14 games under. 500. They have been out of contention since June. And please don’t tell me about the injuries that put pitcher Homer Bailey, shortstop Zach Cozart, and catcher Devin Mesoraco out for the season. I don’t want to hear it. Everybody has injuries, and, besides, the Reds replacement players have played well, most notably shortstop Eugenio Suarez.

The Reds have drawn well, both home and away, because they have such an engaging and talented roster. When they’re completely healthy, I can make the case that they have a potential All-Star at seven of the eight everyday positions. The fans love them because you never know when you might see something you’ve never seen before.


* Closer Aroldis Chapman, the lanky left-handed defector from Cuba, has become a rock star. When he comes into a game, everybody moves up the edge of their seats. He throws so hard that the fans are disappointed when he fails to reach 100 mph.

* Centerfielder Billy Hamilton, the fastest man in the game, leads the majors in stolen bases. When he gets on, the game changes. Pitchers become nervous. Fielders get twitchy. Everybody goes into hurry-up mode, which often leads to mistakes. Besides that, Hamilton, a converted shortstop, has turned into a Gold Glove candidate in center. Nobody covers as much ground or makes such accurate throws.

Third baseman Todd Frazier won the 2015 All-Star Game Home Run Derby (Bleacherreport.com Photo)

Third baseman Todd Frazier won the 2015 All-Star Game Home Run Derby (Bleacherreport.com Photo)

* Third-baseman Todd Frazier, one of the most popular players in the game, won the Home Run Contest at the All-Star Game. He’s so strong that he can even hit bad pitches out of the park.

* First-baseman Joey Votto is a former National League MVP and one of the game’s pickiest hitters. He sees the ball like the immortal Ted Williams used to see it, and simply won’t swing at bad pitches unless he must.

* Second-baseman Brandon Phillips is a magician in the field. Did you see the player where he caught a grounder backhanded, then flipped the ball behind his back to the second baseman to start a double play? He’s also a solid hitter – the Reds’ best at the position since Joe Morgan – who can lead off or bat cleanup, whatever the Reds need.

* Right-fielder Jay Bruce is as consistently good in the field as he is streaky at the plate. When he gets hot, he looks like the second coming of Roy Hobbs. But when he goes cold – as he did all of last year and early this season – he is the easiest out in the lineup.

* Until he was injured in June, shortstop Cozart was having the best year of his Reds career. Always a slick fielder, he finally was hitting the ball with some authority. But the Reds really haven’t missed him thanks to Suarez, who’s such a good hitter that there’s talk of moving to him to left next season if Cozart comes back healthy.

* Mesoraco promises to be the Reds’ best catcher since Johnny Bench. His injury hurt more than any other. Yet Brayan Pena and Tucker Barnhart have filled in admirably. Pena does an excellent job of handling the young pitchers. I’d also just as soon see him at bat in the clutch as any of the free swingers.

So how can a team with so much talent have such a bad record?

The answer is simple: Lack of leadership.

In the clubhouse, the Reds haven’t had a natural leader since Scott Rolen retired three years ago. Other than a select few, this seems to be a team of introverts. Unlike the members of the sainted “Big Red Machine,” who liked to hang out in the clubhouse and razz each other, the current players seem like a bunch of actuaries who can’t wait to grab their briefcases and go home.

This might be acceptable if the Reds had a manager who can motivate and lead. Instead, they’ve got Bryan Price, who is best known for a tirade against the media in which he dropped more than 60 f-bombs in five minutes.

When the Reds fired Dusty Baker and named Price, I said at the time that it looked more like an economic move. I’m sure they got Price at lot cheaper than Baker. I’m also sure Price is a good company man who does what he’s told. But he is no leader of men. He’s is not the manager for the future – or, for that matter, the present.

Price He goes strictly by the book. No matter how well a relief pitcher might be doing, Price has to have his seventh-inning specialist and his eight-inning specialist. He made a huge mistake earlier this year when he forced the proud Chapman to intentionally walk a batter for the first time in his career. You don’t always go by the book when you have a pitcher with Chapman’s talent.

Even when economics forced the team to trade Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, the rookie starters have acquitted themselves surprisingly well – only to be undermined by horrible middle relief pitchers. It’s a scenario that has played over and again this season, and it must have a depressing effect on all concerned.

And then there’s the matter of player improvement. Hamilton still strikes out too much and doesn’t get on base enough. Frazier and Bruce, especially, still swing at too many bad pitchers. As a team, the Reds all seem intent on hitting out of the park instead of manufacturing runs with line drives. They have fewer runs to show for their homers than anybody in baseball.

That’s unacceptable, and I put the blame on Price and his staff. Either the players aren’t being taught or they aren’t paying attention. Either way, it points to a lack of leadership. The team needs a jolt, a shakeup, and everyone seems to know it except owner Bob Castellini and general manager Walt Jockerty.

Only a couple of years ago, the Reds had to beat only the St. Louis Cardinals to win their division. Now the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs have shot past the Reds quicker than Hamilton can get from first to third. It’s no coincidence that the Pirates and the Cubs also have better leadership than the Reds. The Cubs’ Joe Maddon is front-runner for Manager of the Year.

Much as it pains me, I will follow the Reds to the bitter end. But I always will view the last two seasons as opportunities lost. And, sadly, the future doesn’t look particularly promising, considering the way Castellini and Jockerty have neglected the farm system.

By the way, the Internet tells me that Herm “The Worm” Wehmeier died in 1973 while testifying in an embezzlement trial. Hmmmm. I wonder if he gave his autograph a few times too many.


Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award twice. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades, but he is perhaps one of media’s most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby.

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