On two occasions recently, Redleg Nation had the pleasure of spending some time talking to Chris Welsh, native Cincinnatian, ex-Reds player, and current Reds television broadcaster.
Chris was very frank with his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the Reds franchise and we appreciate his time.
This interview was done in two sessions, on May 26, 2006 and May 31, 2006.
RN: Redleg Nation
CW: Chris Welsh
RN: Let’s talk about the current Reds. Let’s talk about the new ownership. Bob Castellini. What are you impressions of him?
CW: He is a no nonsense man that has a vision and you’d better hop on board with him because he speaks in bullet points and he’s more a man of action than a man of words.
RN: How much credit should he and Wayne Krivsky get for April?
CW: They inherited some pretty decent players. What credit do you give Castellini, other than hiring Wayne Krivsky? And that was a huge move.
RN: Castellini came in and signed Dunn fairly quickly, does that send a message in the clubhouse?
CW: I think so, yeah. Absolutely. It shows he’s serious. He made his presence known.
As much as Carl Lindner has done for the city of Cincinnati and the surrounding area with charities, etc, he didn’t make himself available the way Castellini did.
Players got to know Castellini. He ran spring training completely differently, it was first class all the way. He hasn’t allowed it to seem as if the people in the organization are penny pinching everywhere they go. And that’s important.
You sign Dunn, you give him big money, avoid the arbitration, that’s great. Then you make a move, immediately, when you hire Wayne Krivsky, who in turn goes out and makes a trade for Bronson Arroyo and then picks up David Ross.
All of a sudden you have some shakers and movers and the players can see that and appreciate that. I think it has a trickle down effect through the whole organization and the attitude is completely different now.
It was dismal last year, in the front office, you had backbiting, you had people that were not listening to good baseball people, and they’d go out and make baseball decisions that didn’t seem very good and they turned out to be even worse than you thought. So, I think it’s all headed in the right direction.
RN: You were here through the Bowden and O’Brien eras, how is the atmosphere in the clubhouse different now?
CW: The players aren’t making fun of the general manager, they did during those other two eras. For the most part, the players saw the phoniness of Jim Bowden. They just saw Dan O’Brien as ill suited for the job of being the Reds GM. That’s the players, that’s not my opinion.
RN: When you bring in a new GM, does he have less “invested” in players brought in by prior regimes, thus he’s freer to make moves?
CW: Of course. Especially if the team struggles.
If the team goes great and that player is a great player, you’re going to keep that player. You’re not going to get rid of Todd Coffey, just because he was here before you got here when he’s your best bullpen player.
But you are going to start to weed out players, when you have other players who play the same position. I think you’re going to see more moves in the off-season with Krivsky doing that.
Everybody has a little different idea of what they want their team to look like. Dan O’Brien lived and died with the “pitch by contact” theory, Krivsky has a little different idea about how certain pitchers should be cast in certain roles.
You have to remember that Krivsky was a scout for 20 years. Wayne and I sat and watched many games together, especially during spring training. Just talking. This was before I ever knew he was going to be GM, so we talked very freely about players. What kind of players he likes, what players he didn’t like, whose got baggage, whose got things he didn’t know about; so I’ve got a pretty good idea of where Wayne is headed as far as what kind of player he wants and who he likes and who, on the Reds, he does not like. And I think eventually you’re going to see him have his own mark on this team.
RN: Jerry Narron. Why did this team seem to play much better last year? Dave Miley had won everywhere he managed in the minors, what was the difference when Narron took over?
CW: I don’t think Dave ever felt like he was really the Reds manager.
He always felt like he was indebted to Dan O’Brien because he got the job. Instead of managing the way Dave Miley managed in the minors, where he had won some games, he managed to keep his job and to keep Dan O’Brien happy.
And there was a lot of backbiting, not necessarily between O’Brien and Dave Miley, there just wasn’t enough mutual respect to go around.
And as soon as the players sense that, you’re in trouble. And Dave, like Jim Leland and Tony LaRussa for that matter, had never played in the big leagues. So, as soon as he started making some goofy moves or as soon as the word got out that he wasn’t standing up to the GM, the players lost respect for him.
RN: Vern Ruhle. The pitching seemed to improve after they let Don Gullett go last year, why?
CW: I don’t know if that was coincidence or not.
A lot of people have gotten on Don Gullett over the years as a bad pitching coach, but Jack McKeon had painted him as a terrific pitching coach, maybe one of the best ever. I think he’s probably somewhere in between.
I don’t think the pitching coach has all that much to do with it.
From my experience up to the major leagues, the pitching coach in the big league level doesn’t instruct. He doesn’t teach very much because guys aren’t willing to be instructed or be taught. They’ve gotten here with their certain stuff and they’re going to stay with their certain stuff and they’re going to either make it or break it that way.
Don Gullett was given project after project. And some guys stuck to the wall and some guys didn’t.
I think it was more or less a coincidence that the pitching improved. I think guys got healthy.
I’m not saying Vern Ruhle’s not a good pitching coach, I don’t think a pitching coach, you fire one, bring another one in the next week and all of a sudden the pitching improves? It’s not because of the pitching coach is doing anything different. These guys are still throwing the way they want to throw.
RN: Any current word on how he’s doing in his cancer treatments?
CW: He’s in the hospital currently in Houston, taking cancer treatments for a very serious form of cancer. I’ve not heard in the last week or so how he’s doing, but we hope to get an update when we get to Houston.
RN: Tommy Hume has been acting pitching coach. He seems like he’s done a nice job.
CW: I’ve always thought Tommy would be a great pitching coach.
Because your pitching coach is very small part instructor. You’re a big part, big brother. And you’re another part – father figure. And you have to be somewhat of a game strategist and have the ear of the manager from a “who to bring in when” standpoint.
He can be their friend, he’s pitched in the big leagues, he was an All Star, he knows that it’s more mental than anything else and he just tries to keep these guys relaxed. He’s a very calming influence and I think that’s very helpful.
RN: Despite the current month long hitting slump, Chris Chambliss seems to be the hitting coach this team was looking for the last few years. Does he have a hitting “theory”?
CW: Yeah, his theory is to basically let the ball get as deep on you as possible. Which is the same theory most every batting coach is teaching now days.
If you notice, the hitters have changed dramatically in 2 generations. Nobody hits like Ted Williams anymore. Ted Williams pulled everything all the time and hit .400. All those guys did.
We were joking the other day. Chris Chambliss, when he was coming up, and even when he was in the big leagues, hitting coaches would tell him, get the bat out, hit the ball out in front of the plate.
Now the theory is to move the ball deep into the zone, keep your hands inside, you have a short stride or no stride at all, where it used to be they had big strides.
Chambliss is teaching what almost everybody else is teaching now, but he’s a very good communicator and he’s very calm. Chambliss is as calm as they come and the guys love him and I think they really listen to him.
You teach a little more hitting up here, than pitching coaches teach pitching. But you can either hit or you can’t hit, bottom line. Why is Henry Blanco a .059 hitter and why is Albert Pujols a .400 hitter? A lot of it has to do with talent.
RN: Reds seem to be running a lot more this year, is this a Billy Hatcher influence?
CW: Yeah, I think it is. You have the health of Felipe Lopez, you have Billy Hatcher, he’s a quiet, confident guy, the guys love him. He doesn’t go to the press and brag about what he’s doing. But they’re impressing upon him the need for speed, the need to put pressure on certain pitching/catching combinations.
RN:, OK, let’s move on to the players. I’m a fan of Adam Dunn, I make no bones about that, but the public seems to be almost bi-polar on him, people like me that like him, think the world of him, the one’s that don’t see him as the second coming of Dave Kingman. Is he a “good to great” player or a guy with a limited ceiling?
CW: It’s an unlimited ceiling as far as how far he can hit a ball. He is what he is. Players reach a plateau and to find out what that is, all you have to do is look at the back of a baseball card.
And Adam Dunn is going to hit somewhere between .245 and .265, no higher, no lower. He’s going to hit his home runs, he’s going to walk, he’s going to strike out a bunch, he’s going to score runs because he’s on base.
Is he a run producer? Not in the sense of being a # 3 or 4 hole hitter. Is he a threat at the plate? Damn right he is. Does a pitcher want to pitch to Adam Dunn? No. Where’s his best spot in the lineup? What kind of lineup is he best in? Those are the types of things you have to take into consideration. The way the arbitration system works, it ‘completely skews the way you value a player.
RN: Do you mean because you have to make early decisions?
CW: Well, no. Here’s a guy that’s a $9M player based on his home runs and OBP, but is he your ideal #3 or 4 hitter? Maybe not. But he’s still a $9M player.
I think Paul Daugherty kind of hit it on the head, I’ve said this for a while.
As long as you don’t set your bar too high for Adam Dunn, as long as you don’t ask him to do things he cannot do, like hit for a higher batting average, hit for a higher batting average with runners in scoring position, you’re not going to be disappointed. He’s going to give you essentially the same season, year after year after year, with some being a little better than others, like the normal variation of a player.
I think that’s the key for Dunn, what do you really expect from Dunn? Don’t expect him to be Albert Pujols because he’s not.
RN: Do you see him as a cornerstone of the franchise’s future?
CW: Yeah, I think you need a home run hitter in your lineup. I think you need a left-handed home run hitter in your lineup and I don’t think he’s a bad defensive player. I think he’s an average defensive player.
I think he’s a threat every time he comes to the plate and if you don’t pitch him right, he’s going to hit the ball a long way and he may come up with a three run homer.
The problem is you don’t hit three run homers off Maddux or Oswalt, Clemons, Pedro Martinez, guys like that. Everybody gets on Dunn for hitting the other team’s middle relief, well, that’s what everybody does
RN: Let’s talk about Junior for a minute. What does he mean to this team? Other than his numbers, when he’s out of the lineup, is there a confidence dip by the players?
CW: I think anytime you’re missing a great player there is. They’re missing Derek Lee in Chicago and look at the setback that they’ve had. I think the same thing with Junior.
It’s hard to replace the guy. I laugh when people say, “Let’s move him out of CF.”
Players on this team know he’s important in the #3 spot and he can still play some pretty good CF. They know the opposing pitcher and manager do not want to pitch to Junior in the clutch and can the same be said for his replacement? I think that’s where he brings something to the table for the Reds.
In the clubhouse, he takes a lot of pressure off of other guys from a media standpoint because the media always wants to talk to Junior and that gives Freel, Aurilia, Hatteburg, and Dunn and Kearns for that matter, a little break because Junior has a line of reporters talking to him, not just the home press guys, but the visiting guys. And that may leave the lesser players alone. And I think that’s an advantage.
RN: You mentioned the “Two Angry Guys” story last week in the local paper, Junior seems to be very sensitive to what is said about him in the press. Isn’t that pretty unusual for someone that’s been in the big leagues for almost two decades?
CW: It’s not unusual for Junior, he always has been. And he’s really sensitive about certain things.
I think Junior’s trying to get people to understand that his life isn’t always as great as it appears just because he makes an immense amount of money, just because he’s immensely talented, just because he always seems to be coming up with some heroics that separates him from us normal people.
He has a life that is different. He can rarely go out in public without being pointed at, accosted, talked to, bothered for autographs. And nowadays, people feel free to say other things to you. He’s been the victim of many, many death threats.
He tries very hard to keep his family life private and at the same time enjoy himself as a human being. He’s a very enjoyable guy, he’s smart, he’s witty, glib, he likes to have fun, and you really see the twinkle in Junior’s eye when you talk to him about kids and his family, things he relishes, because he doesn’t have the same kind of little relationships that a lot of us do with neighbors and acquaintances because you have to be protective of things because you never know why that person’s following you around.
It’s a completely different world, it’s like being Elvis. And I don’t think most people realize how difficult and trying that is on a day-to-day basis.
This guy doesn’t fart without someone writing a story about it. After a while, it’s like “can’t you just let me go somewhere and be like everybody else”?
Junior does get picked on a little bit, is Junior too sensitive?
Yeah, I told him that yesterday, but the fact is he was raised in Cincinnati and has a lot of friends that listen and read for him, and unfortunately for Junior, and like all players that rely on this, the story that they get is not always exactly what was written or said. He’s come to me a couple of times and said, “Why’d you say that?”, I’ve said, “Let’s go back in here and listen to the tape because I didn’t say that”. So he is sensitive about it, there is no question.
RN: Over the last 50 years, this team has a history of very good to great shortstops. Is Felipe Lopez the next one?
CW: He’s got a chance to be.
RN: Is it even fair to expect him to be, I won’t even say a Barry Larkin or Davey Concepcion, but a Roy McMillan or a Leo Cardenas?
CW: He’s probably a better player than Roy was just based on what his tools are.
I think it’s a mental thing for Felipe to take it to the next step. If he wants to be a perennial All Star, I think he can be.
But you find in this business than many of these guys are pretty close in physical talent.
One guy may run a little faster, another guy may be a switch hitter or hit with a little more power, that a difference in tools, but it’s what you have between your ears, what you have in your heart that’s what helps you put the whole package together and you don’t do it just by physical tools alone. You have to want to grind it out, that’s what separates people.
If Felipe Lopez wants to grind it out, he can be one of the best shortstops ever for the Reds. If he doesn’t want to grind as did Concepcion or Larkin, he won’t be as good as they were. That’s the bottom line.
RN: Speaking of working hard. Reports in the media are that Edwin Encarnacion is out there every day working hard with Bucky Dent on his defense. What do you think of him for a 22-year-old kid?
CW: I think he’s got a chance to be a pretty good ballplayer.
I don’t see him working any harder than Felipe Lopez or Scott Hatteburg or Ray Olmedo, when he was up. They want to make a big deal about how he works with Bucky Dent. Bucky’s a terrific infield instructor, he gets them out there and works them, there’s no doubt about it. Edwin’s come a long way already, but he’s got a long way to go.
Defensively, he’s got a long way to go. But you keep reminding yourself that he’s 22 years old and what’s he going to be like 6 years from now? That’s what you try to project, it’s a lot easier to project from now him to age 28 than it was from age 17 to 22. Some people saw it in him back when he was 17 years old and they’re trying to take credit now.
Will he be the third baseman of the future? I don’t know, I see a lot better fielding young third baseman than him. Take Zimmerman over in Washington for instance, he’s a better player. At least a better defensive third baseman. I don’t think Edwin’s ever going to win any Gold Gloves, but he can hit well enough he’s going to be in the lineup somewhere. It might not be third base, but he’ll be in there somewhere.
RN: Let’s move on to the pitching staff. Let’s talk about Bronson Arroyo. Initially there were reports that he was unhappy with being traded, he liked Boston, he owned a home there. Have you gotten any indications that he’s adjusted to liking Cincinnati?
CW: He’s adjusting to reality. He still misses Boston. He still watches them every chance he gets with that forlorn look in his eye.
The reality is he’s playing with a different team with a different group of players and he’s got to adjust to it.
I think he liked the fact that he got off to a great start, they got him some runs early, he was winning some ball games and has a chance to become a folk hero in Cincinnati. I think he’s adjusted, but I also think he’s adjusted to the reality that this team is not the Boston Red Sox and that’s a little disappointing.
RN: What do you think of Todd Coffey? Should he be the closer now? Is he a closer?
CW: I think he’s more important used where he is.
This team doesn’t have a relief ace. Like the 1996 Yankees, when Mariano Rivera was the setup man for John Wetteland. Word was around the American League was if we can get through the 7th and 8th with Rivera, we’ll probably be able to score some runs off Wetteland. And that might be the feeling amongst teams in the National League when they face the Reds, if we can get by Coffey and keep it close, we’ll score a run or two off of Weathers.
Do I think he should be the closer now? Absolutely not. Because the games they don’t use him in the 7th and 8th, won’t matter in the 9th. I think he’s a relief ace right now and think that’s the most important spot.
This team is in desperate need of better middle relief.
RN: They made a trade yesterday (acquiring Esteban Yan), but I don’t foresee this helping them a whole lot, unless this guy has something that his stats don’t show.
CW: It improves arm speed and stuff.
Arizona brought up Enrique Gonzalez out of AAA as a starter, and he’s throwing 94-95 on Sunday afternoon. This is nothing against Justin Germano, but just an example of the timing of it, Reds bring up Justin Germano and he’s throwing 87-88, got a nice curveball, but he’s not a middle reliever in the big leagues. He’s not your 8th inning guy, he’s not your 7th inning guy. That’s not a curveball you’re going to see guys swing and miss at in the big leagues.
Where are the arms that the Detroit Tigers showed? They got to their middle relievers in the 6th inning and they bring in Jason Grill, who throws 92 with a pretty good curveball and then it goes 95-96-97 to a 100 in their middle relief. Same way with the Cubs, they got hard throwers.
I really think the evolution of the middle relievers is one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the last 20 years. What I think is they’ve developed a type of player that comes in and throws 1 or 2 innings and throws very hard and they get them out of there after they’ve faced 6 or 7 batters. The Kyle Farnsworth type of player.
That way you don’t have to rely on Albert Pujols getting himself out, you have someone in there that can throw 98 MPH that can get people out, with “stuff”.
The Reds don’t have any “stuff” guys. The closest you come to it is Todd Coffey and he’s not overpowering like these other guys are, but he’s as close as we’ve got.
RN: Can this team compete into the fall for a playoff spot?
CW: Not the way they are right now.
RN: Ok, you’re the GM, trading deadline is getting close. Would you trade Homer Bailey or someone of his caliber for a “rental player”?
CW: No, absolutely not. I’d be more likely to bring Homer Bailey up than I would to trade him.
RN: Do you think what we’re seeing is an upward trend for the franchise?
CW: Absolutely. I don’t think there is any doubt about it. I think they’ve got a plan now.
I don’t think Bowden ever had a plan.
I think Dan O’Brien’s plan was forever to say your best players were in “A” ball.
What he did set this organization back in my mind. The signings that he made, the trades that he made, not all of them were bad, but for the most part he saddled this team with some baggage. It’ll take a few years to get out from underneath it.
RN: How much attention do you pay to the minor league system and players?
CW: I read the minor league reports every day.
During spring training, I watch the players that people have told me to watch.
I talk to Johnny Alvarez on a semi-regular basis. I touch base with Krivsky on certain players. I don’t have time, to be honest, to ask about kids that are in A ball.
RN: Other than Homer Bailey, can you name some names that you hear good things about?
CW: Oh yeah, you hear good things about Dumatrait, about Bruce, and there are some other kids.
RN: Joey Votto?
CW: I don’t know. We saw Joey play and I think he might be a role player in the big leagues, but I don’t think he’s a “middle of the order” guy anywhere.
Those players are rare. That’s why you have 150 players in camp every spring training in the minor league camp because you’re only looking for a few good men.
To displace a major league player, you have to be damn good.
RN: In closing, let me ask you a couple of fun questions. Do you consider yourself a baseball fan?
RN: Who was your All-time favorite Reds player? As a fan.
CW: As a fan, Pete Rose.
RN: If you could change one thing about baseball, what do you change?
CW: I get rid of the DH. It’s a joke. There are a couple of other things I’d fix too, it doesn’t fix everything in baseball, but that’s the first thing I’d do. I’d get everybody playing the same game.
RN: That’s it then. Chris, thank you very, very much for your time. We really appreciate it.
End of interview.
I’ve been a Reds fan since the late ’60’s, with my luck of being able to attend plenty of games at Riverfront during the BRM era. I was sitting in the Green Seats in the OF when Pete came home in ’84 and was in the Red seats when Glenn Braggs reached over the fence in ’90 to beat the Pirates. I have had many favorites from Jim Maloney to Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, Adam Dunn, and Jay Bruce.