Redleg Nation is the spouse in a bad marriage screaming, “I don’t know who you are anymore!”  Up and down the lineup, this team looks nothing like the club we fell in love with last year.  Fans are screaming for divorce.  Or at least a separation from Dusty Baker.  But, if you think you’ve never seen anything like this season, then you are too young to remember the Reds first full season in Riverfront Stadium.

In 1970, a Young Red Machine burst upon the scene with a budding superstar and fought their way to the World Series before being put in their place by the pitching-rich establishment Orioles.  A year later in ’71, they found themselves floundering.  An off-season injury to Bobby Tolan left the Reds mixing and matching Rose, McRae, Bernie Carbo and Jimmy Stewart in an attempt to cobble together a serviceable outfield.  Two starters the Reds were counting on, Jim Merritt and Wayne Simpson, spent time down at AAA Indy.  Even the offense floundered, as Bench and Perez struggled to hit with RISP. The BRM would go on to finish four games under .500.

Flash forward 40 years to 2010.  Another Young Red Machine burst upon the NL Central, with budding superstar and soon-to-be MVP Votto, winning the division before another pitching-rich organization, the Phillies, ended their season.  A year later, the 2011 Reds are floundering as they mix and match Gomes, Lewis and Heisey in an attempt to cobble together a serviceable outfield.  Two starters the Reds were counting on in the spring, Wood and Volquez, are currently at AAA Louisville.  And the offense?  Despite the deceptive numbers, the Reds continue to struggle, most notably Bruce and Rolen.  With runners in scoring position, this team looks haunted.  The 2011 Reds could easily finish four games under .500, just as their 1971 counterparts did.

The comparison isn’t perfect, but it’s eerie just the same.

The Reds had Bob Howsam then.  They have Walt Jocketty today.  Walt’s reputation is beginning to take a hit in Redsland as this hot summer wears on.  Howsam began righting the ship by acquiring Foster from the Giants, but it should be remembered that Howsam had his own Willy Taveras moments, acquiring Al Ferrara and Buddy Bradford in a desperate attempt to solve the team’s outfield issues.  Good luck finding either of them in the Reds’ Hall of Fame.

Of course, the big trade for Howsam would come shortly thereafter.  Jocketty’s is yet to come.  I believe it’s going to be made, but whether it happens in time to salvage this season remains to be seen.   I would caution anybody who dares to criticize Walt to date: he is nobody’s fool.  He knows the clock is ticking with Votto.  He also is not going to make a panic move and throw away all the work the organization has done to build a fertile farm system that will be relied upon to keep this team relevant for years to come.

Criticize him for taking too long to bring up Cozart if you must.  Just remember that the Reds brought up Homer Bailey too soon in an effort to sell tickets and up until recently were still paying for that decision.   I still can’t help but wonder where Jay Bruce would be in his development today if he had been left to crush Triple A pitching for a season longer.  And major league pitchers have yet to see and adjust to Kid Cozart.  How he responds is still anyone’s guess.

Pulling the trigger on a big trade is an iffy proposition in the best of times.  Howsam had the luxury of knowing the team that left Crosley Field in the summer of 1970 was too plodding for the wall-to-wall billiard table on the riverfront.  He had to make a big move to retool the club.  In retrospect, he had no choice.

Jocketty is in a different position altogether.  It’s impossible to know what he’s thinking, what GMs will do business with him, how much money factors into the equation.  If I were able, I’d bug his phones to find out.  He’s got to hit the bullseye in his assessment of players like Mesoraco, Grandal, Hamilton, Alonso, Boxberger, et. al, and get it exactly right.  He’s got to know who is going to be the future and who is not, while still offering enough to widen the eyes of the GM on the other end of the phone.  He’s got to know who these guys are before everyone else does.

He sees players on the cusp of stardom–Bailey, Leake & Chapman for starters (pun intended).  With an enigmatic Bruce, the reigning MVP, Kid Cozart and the best second baseman in the bigs to anchor the infield, as well as an emerging Johnny Cueto, now is not the time to make a mistake.  The next big trade Jocketty makes will likely define his career.

I don’t envy him.

7 Responses

  1. pinson343

    I’ve often thought of 1971 this season, as a way of thinking that in the long run things still might be OK, even if the Reds finish under .500 this season.

  2. Sultan of Swaff

    I appreciate what you’re getting at, but the McGwire or Chapman/Carpenter acquisitions will probably define Walt. Yes, there are similarities to the ’71 team, but unlike that team, the Reds did this to themselves. With this team ,it’s not the injuries but lack of imagination with this franchise that has dragged on them for some time. More to point, the solutions have often been right under their noses:
    –LF. Knowing we had Alonso, why didn’t we even entertain the thought of moving Votto to left? Why draft Alonso in the first place?
    –SS. Ryan Theriot is a ML SS for chrissakes. Phillips would’ve been an elite player there for the last few years.
    –SP. Continuing to use Chapman as a setup guy, you shortcircuited the option of him being ready for a stretch run this year and pitching a full season next year.
    I don’t want to dump on Walt, IMO he’s done a fine job drafting, which is a huge component of the position. And w/o knowing the budgetary constraints, you can’t lay the lack of offseason activity square on him. In a sense, I’m more curious to find out what this team can be over the next few seasons w/ all the talent we have coming up than I am in finding out if we can pull off a big trade to try and win now. In my mind, the Votto situation renders the idea of winning now rather silly. A smart GM will move him after next season to maximize the retun on investment. So in essence, you have this year and next to make it happen. This year isn’t looking so hot, so it’s like you’d be putting all your chips on one number. That’s not what this developmental plan is about. Stay the course.

  3. Dave Lowenthal

    Lumping Cozart in with Bailey and Bruce is really, really a stretch, if not downright wrong. Cozart is nearly 26 years old. There is simply no comparison, excuse, anything for it.

  4. Brian Erts

    1971 told the Reds one thing, the could NOT move forward with the Crosley Field approach of bats first and foremost. The game was MUCH faster, the infield was in flux and it was evident by the myriad of bodies they threw at SS. Tolan’s speed was missed greatly too and he too was replaced that winter.

    Essentially the next season the Reds were tighter in the up the middle and the infield (with Perez finally removed from 3rd) was much improved, with Morgan replacing Helms and the franchise deciding to sink or swim with Davey. Howsam learned to shape his team quickly, one can only hope that Walt can provide a similar response.

  5. L.A.Red

    At first I desperately wanted the Reds to make a move for an “Ace” starting pitcher…so much so that I was willing to to see us deplete our farm system of our best talent to make it happen. I’ve changed my tune since then…with what the Rays and Rockies want in return for Jimenez and Shields its not worth 3 of our best offensive prospects and a Big League pitcher to make it happen. I think Walt knows this and that’s why there hasn’t been any serious rumors about a deal.

    I’m ok with parting w/ a combination of Leake, Wood, Alonso, Grandal, Sapplet and Volquez (mainly cause I don’t think he works hard like a Cueto) to bring in Shields, but Mesaraco is the real deal and he’s virtually ready to move up to the SHOW. So, trading him should be off the table because its likely Ramon Hernandez will command a lot of money in free agency at the end of the season and I love hannigan behind the plate, but for 162 games I’m doubt his offense will be enough to aid the team in a division title.

  6. George Culver

    Remember too that, Howsam like Jocketty came from the St. Louis organization shortly removed from a World Series championship. . Howsam in 1967 and Jocketty in 2005. So both had a taste of the big time success.

    The 1972 deal that made the Red’s team ( the fleecing of the Astros ) took place in the off season. To quote Howsam ” Nobody wants your dregs any more than you do. You have to give up something to get something.” Therefore, Howsam picked players off of the current major league roster as the ones to part with. I don’t ever remember hearing who the talent evaluators for the Reds were at the time but they were correct in their assessment at the time and advised Howsam as such.

    So it would seem that the key to any good deal is to find a trading partner that incorrectly overvalues your talent. The Tom Seaver deal also comes to mind. But what worries me is who does Jocketty listen to when it comes to evaluation of talent. Which brings me to his close advisor Bill Bavasi. Yes, the former Seattle GM who gave up Seattle’s best prospects to Baltimore for Eric Bedard. That same off season all bloggers around Redsland also wanted to give up a bunch of talent for Bedard, including Joey Votto. An excellent NO DEAL. One can only hope that Jocketty can sift thru all opinions to steer in the right direction. Who does he trust?

    This article has reinforced my own opinion that deals shouldn’t be rushed into just because you know you need something and that you should not jump on the first option and mortgage the future for years to come as previous GM’s have done.

    I, for one, am fine with the patience that this administration has shown. And I surely don’t have the inside information of all front office issues. I, also would love to have a Sheilds, Jiminez and a big hitter in the middle of the lineup but not at he high overpriced costs that comes at the trade deadline. Yes, Seaver was a deadline trade and if the RIGHT deal were to come along, pull the trigger. But be sure that the ones you let go and get back in return don’t break you. Learn from all the past. The good and the bad.

  7. Richard Fitch

    @George Culver: To answer your question, their key evauator seemed to be a guy named Ray Shore. Shore was the first of the “advance scouts,” guys who would head out and evaluate the teams and players on the upcoming schedule. Nobody had ever done this before. Most teams thought we see these players when we play them. We don’t need advance scouts. Of course, seeing opposing players play against somebody other than your team was full of insights organizations would otherwise miss.

    Ray Shore became Howsam’s right hand man.

    Lot’s of discussion went on about Morgan before they traded for him because he had the rep as a malcontent. Of course, his manager, Harry The Hat Walker had problems with black ballplayers and Shore made it his business to know things like that. He knew if a guy was happily married, etc.

    And some teams could not be dealt with. For example, Al Campanis overvalued his prospects to the point that you had to give up the farm to get any of them. The Dodgers had know idea the true worth of their players. Shore once said, “To hear Al talk, the Dodgers’ minor league players could be playing anywhere else, they just weren’t good enough to play for the Dodgers. He always wanted the moon.”