So how bad is it?
It snowed on April 9. In the first week of the 2018 season, the Reds lost as many starting players (2) as they had wins. Manager Bryan Price was still making some head-scratching decisions. Some were saying the season is over after just 8 games.
It hasn’t gotten better, as the Reds have started off with a 2-11 record. That’s pretty bad and just plain disgusting to a fan base basically sick of rebuilding. Believe me, I’d rather do an article comparing great starts, when Cincinnati bolted out of the gate on fire and in first place. That’s certainly not the case in 2018. Far from it.
Even in historically awful seasons, the Reds sometimes avoided bad starts. In 2016, they won five of their first six games. But after Colorado destroyed the Reds by the score of 17-4 by battering four Reds pitchers for 7 home runs and 19 hits, Cincinnati was 17-35 en route to losing 94 games. (Those four Reds hurlers, for the record, were Jon Moscot, Daniel Wright, Dayan Diaz and AJ Morris. Seriously.)
In 1982, when they lost 102 games, the Reds managed to reach a record of 30-38 before the wheels came off. Two years later under Vern Rapp, the Reds stumbled out of the gate with a 5-12 record but then won 13 of their next 16 games. But then the Reds sank in July and August with Rapp fired and Pete Rose the new manager.
So let’s use the following criteria for this article: a slow start, injuries and a Reds manager on the hot seat. Two seasons come to mind.
Two disasters were imminent when the 1966 season started. The first were the dividends of the Frank Robinson trade executed after the 1965 season. All Robby did that year in Baltimore was to win the Triple Crown be named Most Valuable Player in the American League and lead the Orioles to a 1966 World Series title. In return for Robinson, GM Bill DeWitt got the trio of pitcher Milt Pappas, outfielder Dick Simpson and relief pitcher Jack Baldschun.
Second was Don Heffner, the new Reds manager, who replaced Dick Sisler. Nicknamed “Shakey” by Reds players, it became quickly apparent there wasn’t a lot of respect for Heffner in the clubhouse.
Cincinnati didn’t open play at Crosley Field until April 14 because of the wet weather. The entire opening series was postponed and the Reds opened on the road. Between the Robinson trade and a 4-13 start, Reds fans were upset and attendance suffered. When the Reds played their first game at Crosley on April 8, there were just 10,266 fans in the seats.
Still, Cincinnati fought back and climbed over the .500 mark at 36-35. The team had some talent– players like Pete Rose, Vada Pinson, Tommy Helms (who would be NL Rookie of the Year), Leo Cardenas, and Johnny Edwards.
Then fate, as they say, moved it’s huge hand.
A disastrous road trip to Houston and California resulted in an 11 game losing streak. How bad did it get? Jim Maloney lost a 2-1 game to the Astros and Mike Cueller. Jim O’Toole suffered the same fate in a 2-1 loss to LA and Don Sutton. Maloney lost another 1-0 game, this time to Sandy Koufax. The Reds were shut out despite getting 10 hits off Koufax. Pappas lost a 1-0 game to Dodger lefty Claude Osteen. Sammy Ellis was staked to a 5-0 lead and lost. And in the 11th consecutive loss, the Reds led the Giants 6-3 in the 7th inning. Willie McCovey homered in the 9th to tie the game with two outs off Billy McCool and San Francisco eventually won 8-7 in 13 innings. McCovey drove home 6 runs.
The season (and the road trip from hell) took a toll on Don Heffner. He was becoming exhausted and frazzled. After one tough loss, he said to Cincinnati Post sportswriter Earl Lawson, “It’s times like these when you feel like slitting your wrists.” Lawson was taken aback and actually became worried Heffner might commit suicide.
One day after the streak was stopped, Heffner was fired, but the season was lost. Pappas finished the year with a 12-11 record, pitching 209 innings and posting an ERA of 4.29. Baldschun was a mop up guy in the bullpen, his best days being with the Phillies years before. Simpson batted .236 with 4 homers and 14 RBI’s in a reserve role. And the Reds were next to last in attendance in the National League for the 1966 season.
When this season began, Bob Boone was the manager. To say he was revered by Reds fans would be quite an overstatement
Like Heffner, Boone didn’t have much pitching at all. But at least Heffner had Maloney (an ace) Pappas (who chewed up innings) and Sammy Ellis, who was a 20-game winner in 1965. Boone had no one like those guys. Not a single Reds pitcher won in double figures that season; Chris Reitsma was their leading winner with a 9-5 record, mostly out of the bullpen.
Opening Day starter Jimmie Haynes was rocked for six runs in the 2nd inning by the Pirates in a rough 10-1 loss. I remember when Boone named Haynes as Opening Day starter. It was stunning. Things didn’t get better for Haynes, who finished with a 2-12 record.
Cincinnati struggled to a 5-12 record to begin the campaign and looked lethargic doing it. The Reds did rally a bit. They climbed over the .500 mark (34-32) and lingered at that level until an 8-game losing streak in July finished them off for good. Impatient Reds fans started a ‘Fire Bob Boone’ website and were relieved after the Reds let Boone go and replaced him with Dave Miley on July 27.
Boone’s lineup construction was mystifying (he batted Adam Dunn leadoff a few times) and he never connected with the Reds fan base. Injuries also doomed that team. Barry Larkin played just 70 games. Ken Griffey Junior was only in 53. The Reds had some punch with Sean Casey, Dunn and Austin Kearns but with Paul Wilson and Danny Graves as their best pitchers, they were going nowhere.
Miley didn’t fare any better after replacing Boone. Neither did Jerry Narron or Pete Mackanin. The Reds were a non-factor in the first decade of the new century in their new ballpark, thanks to a combination of poor scouting, horrible draft picks, injuries and managers who neither inspired or led the team.
The only hope that I have for the 2018 Reds are what they do after the All-Star break. Nick Senzel will be in Cincinnati. Joey Votto will be Joey Votto. Eugenio Suarez will be back. The geniuses in the front office will have either traded Raisel Iglesias or Scooter Gennett (or both) for something substantial and we’ll know if Jose Peraza can handle shortstop.
And Bryan Price? Sorry, we need to move on. It’s not personal. I just don’t see a spark on this team. I see no energy on the bench. I see no accountability.
John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”