My latest column for Cincinnati Magazine explores whether Bob Castellini’s ownership team is meddling in the decisions of the baseball operations department:

Last week, I opined thusly: Dick Williams is a smart guy. Reds general manager Nick Krall is smart. There is no reason to believe they don’t understand the perils of short-term decision-making at this crucial moment in the rebuild. Whether their hands are being tied by ownership is another question entirely.

It’s that last sentence I want to address this week. More precisely: Do the Cincinnati Reds have an ownership problem?

If we were to open up this question to the segment of Reds fans who are also talk radio listeners and/or deep thinkers on Twitter dot com, the answer would be a resounding YES. But the overwhelming reason given by that crowd would boil down to one word: money. I’ve heard the refrain more times than I care to count: Bob Castellini cares more about bobble-head nights than he cares about spending money on the team.

To those fans, let me be clear: I think the Cincinnati Reds may very well have an ownership problem, but it has little to do with money.

Read the entire piece for my reasoning. But the short answer is, well, yes.

40 Responses

  1. Mike Adams

    A few possible captions for your photo above:

    “Now I told him I wanted Billy out there, who is this guy playing center field?!”

    “Let’s see, if we take out that stuff right there, we can put another bar in the ball park!”

    “Go! And lose no more.”

    “Now that is more like it, another bunt!”

    • Sliotar

      Well played, Mike.

      Can’t get enough of the thoughts of Mr. Bring Winning Baseball back to Cincinnati.

  2. Colorado Red

    I am sure he is meddling.
    but it is his money, and his team.
    Living in the Rockies hard to support the Reds by going to games.
    (Out of town, when they played here).
    Never the less, I hope Bob wises up, and stops it.
    Nice article.

  3. bouwills

    I didn’t agree with all of the Marge Schott criticism. Cincy has always overdone the Mike Brown criticism. There’s an biased precedent in this town for blaming the owner. I don’t know enough about Castellini’s involvement in baseball operations to pass judgement, but the relationship between Castellini & Jocketty did not serve this rebuild well. Krivsky was more independent & , in my opinion, did a better job than Jocketty. Walt needs to retire, both formally & actually. It’s difficult to judge William’s performance when Walt (& through Walt- Bob) still have a hand in personnel decisions.

    • Michael Smith

      Bouwills it is very hard to judge the front office. Every-time we want to blame Williams about not moving player x you hear that Castalinni had his hands in it. My favorite is the quote that he says this is what I want to do and unless the guys who are in the front office throw Molotov Cocktails at him that is what they do. Micro managing at its best. CEO’s create the plan, the management team below them execute the plan. He should not be highly active in these smaller day to day decisions.

    • David

      I think that is exactly right. Bob through Walt is influencing and micromanaging a lot of stuff that Krall and Williams want to do. And don’t forget, the Dick Williams is the son of one of the ownership group.
      I am not terribly impressed by Walt’s career. He traded a lot of minor league talent that the Cardinals had to stay competitive, and in the end, they ran out of talent. Which is why the Cardinals eventually showed Walt the door. And Walt ALWAYS had Pujols to build his team line up around for over 10 years.

      • greenmtred

        I’m not defending Jocketty, but did the Cards really run out of talent? They’ve been competitive fior a long time, in spite of some ups and downs, which are inevitable.

  4. Bryan E

    Look across the major sports and the correlation between team quality and owner publicity is inverse. The more you hear about/know of the owner, the more disorganized the team.
    New York Knicks
    LA Clippers (In the Don Sterling days)
    Cincinnati Bengals
    Dallas Cowboys
    Cincinnati Reds
    New York Mets

    Who owns the Philadelphia Eagles, San Antonio Spurs, St. Louis Cardinals (we probably all know that though), Houston Astros, or the Chicago Cubs?

    Exactly. These franchises are identified by their front offices and coaches/managers. Not the people who sign their checks. I’m not saying Big Bob is telling everyone how to do their job, but he is a public owner and that in and of itself is a problem. He needs to spend his time handling the direction of the business, not the operations of it.

    • lost11found

      I live in the philly area, and there is plenty of conversation about the involvement of ownership of the Eagles in things.

      Now winning blunts lots of the critical commentary but its like a volcano, just dorment to until the next eruption.

    • Joel

      Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots throws a wrench into that one. As does, and I hate myself for saying this, the Rooney family with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mara family with the NY Giants. Steinbrenner with the Yankees. All people or families who are very well known and have generally had good success in professional sports. At times, those same people are accused of meddling too much, particularly Steinbrenner. Is there any question that Steinbrenner put together some of the best baseball teams in history? Bob Kraft, similarly, is quite often in the sporting news and st times getting criticized for a bad trade or stupid deal. Meanwhile, his team has been in 8 Super Bowls since 2002 and has won 5 of them. Few teams have ever been so successful.

      • greenmtred

        You’re right about Kraft and Steinbrenner, but they had (have) amazing amounts of filthy lucre to buy talent.

      • Joel

        Then again, the Patriots’ payroll is, per sportrac, about $181.6 million, ranking them 20th in the league. The highest is the Jags at $231 million. None of that is really the point. The comment I was responding to was about whether meddling owners are by rule successful or not. Evidence is clear that there is no such rule. My opinion is that the rule is if one wins a championship he/she is a genius and a fantastic owner and leader of a team. If the Reds has won the World Series when they had Votto, Choo, Phillips, Bruce, Cueto, healthy Homer, Latos and Chapman, the opinions of fans would probably be more along the lines of “gee, Castellini usually makes such great decisions, why in the world is he messing it up by holding onto Hamilton for so long?” rather than, he’s a meddler and the meddling is ruining the team.

      • greenmtred

        I realised as soon as I hit reply that I should have confined my reflection to Steinbrenner. I don’t follow NFL much, but I live in New England, and am not aware of Kraft meddling, though he is certainly visible.

  5. Jim Walker

    Here’s the breakpoint for me between meddling and the owner exercising his prerogative about how his business is run by those he hired to run it.

    If the discussion is about the best way to have a winning team, say the speed/ defense/ pitching being focal points versus offense based on slugging. I don’t feel it is meddling for the discussion to flow from the owner’s preference.

    The role of the management employees is to point out the advantages and disadvantages of the owner’s preferred approach and offer alternatives they feel may be better. However in the end the choice is the owner’s to make and management’s to fulfill.

    On the other hand It is meddling if the owner says keep player Y or go out and sign (or trade for) player Z whatever the cost or put a certain player at a certain position or bat a particular player at a specific spot in the lineup.

    And I find it hard to believe that an owner wouldn’t understand that it would inhibit or influence his management employees when he makes public pronouncements about wanting to keep players.

  6. big5ed

    I simply do not buy the argument, apparently Canon #1 of RLN, that Bob Castellini is a senile, drooling moron (“SDM”), incapable of understanding that Billy Hamilton has weaknesses as an offensive player.

    SDMs do not make hundreds of millions of dollars. SDMs do not persuade other mega-millionaires to be minority investors with them. SDMS do not pour tons of money every year into stadium improvements (anybody remember how barren the original GABP was?). SDMs, facing a 50-year organizational drought in developing Latin American hitters, don’t fill their minor league systems with promising Dominicans and other Latin hitters.

    Stop this, already. The Rosenthal and Heyman stories are not sourced; they are likely just lazy repeats of similarly non-sourced rumors. The Hamilton and Gennett stories are pretty much identical – the boss says he wants his players to stay here. Of course the boss says that. What is he supposed to say: “I can’t wait until that scrawny wuss Hamilton gets DFAed!”?

    If a reporter wants to know what Castellini’s actual influence is, ASK HIM. Or ask Dick Williams. Arrange an interview, and dig into that issue in depth, on camera. Daugherty didn’t appear to follow up on Castellini’s answer about his exerting too much influence, but this was the following paragraph:

    “[Castellini] said the Reds didn’t get any decent offers for Billy Hamilton over the winter. ‘We will keep Billy Hamilton until we feel like we can’t. He’s the best defensive centerfielder in baseball.'”

    Reasonable people can differ over what this means, but one very plausible interpretation is “Hamilton’s defense is great, but we understand his offensive limitations and we won’t overpay for it.”

    {Canon #2 of RLN is that Christian Yelich is better than Willie Mays and Ted Williams put together – the greatest of all time by a longshot – and that any team that gets him will immediately improve by at least 25 games.}

    • Steve Mancuso

      It doesn’t really help your case to drastically mischaracterize the arguments you want to criticize. No one — let alone canon — here thinks Bob Castelllini is a senile drooling moron. Same with your ridiculous assertion about the claims about Christian Yelich. Is that really the only way you can make your argument credible?

      You have a few good points. But it’s hard to get past your insulting overstatements to really digest your message. If you were being fair to our authors, you’d notice the nuance you call for, the skepticism you call for in the Heyman report, for example, is all there in the original writing.

      • big5ed

        But, Steve, a good 30% of the comments on this topic over the past month are premised on the notion that Castellini consistently “meddles” or interferes with personnel decisions, often using the logic that owning the Reds is his retirement toy. And tthat figure is probably closer to 80%.

        Hey, maybe he does.

        But my point is that exactly 0% of us, me included, have any idea what is actually going on upstairs. Nobody knows what the Reds were offered for Hamilton (at any time), or what they could have traded Harvey for, or what their real plan is with Gennett, or what BC has told Dick Williams about Hamilton, or any number of things in which Castellini is purportedly meddling.

        Everybody is just guessing. I believe it to be illogical and disrespectful to assume (as many here clearly do) that a man who has made hundreds of million in business is unable to set aside his emotions and apply his business acumen to this enterprise. I don’t agree with everything they do, like playing service-time games, but I do understand that they are actually trying to make rational decisions.

        Canons #1 & #2 are allusions to RLN commenters, not the site’s authors. (Shirley, you don’t deny the Yelich obsession here this spring? And I say that, fully expecting Y to stick it to me by going 11-for-14 this week.)

      • Steve Mancuso

        I agree with a lot of that. I’ve got my own thoughts about Castellini, and might write about it in the next few days, but it’s all guessing with degrees of education, as you say. Obviously there’s a long distance between thinking a guy with old-school baseball tendencies (like Castellini and Walt Jocketty) because of being a certain age hasn’t kept up with all the current thinking about winning games and saying he’s a drooling moron. I realize you were exaggerating, but still …

        Given the nightly news, do I really need to point out there are countless examples of people being successful in one business and lousy in another? From a business standpoint, Castellini has been massively successful with the Reds. The organization has gained almost a billion dollars in value since he bought the team. Not all due to him, but that’s the business world, too.

        While at first I probably contributed to the Yelich obsession, I tried to push back later on when I saw some of the trade packages commenters thought would be reasonable. I would have loved for the Reds to acquire him. But he’s one player and as far as I know isn’t a starting pitcher.

      • Seat101

        “Given the nightly news……” Are we injecting politics into this?

    • Sliotar

      Big Ed,

      Castellini was quoted on a Reds Caravan stop (W Va, I think?) that he wanted Hamilton here forever. It is repeated here, by a respected national MLB reporter, Jerry Crasnick.

      “but owner Bob Castellini would have to approve any (Hamilton) trade deal. “I hope Billy Hamilton is with us forever,” Castellini said last January. I’m told his feelings on the topic haven’t changed.
      No one is calling Castellini a moron, Many (including me) are pretty sure meddles. Other quotes from BC earlier this season backs this up.

      He desperately wants to win with the Reds as he has in other businesses, but skills in one industry don’t translate to another so easily. BC is stubborn and refuses to hire the experienced, modern-day (not Jocketty, yesterday’s man) MLB expertise the Reds are starving for.

      (PS – Yelich wasn’t getting this team to the playoffs this year, and probably not in 2019, either. Moar help needed still.)

      • greenmtred

        Castellini’s second quote about BH does add some nuance and, as Big5Ed says, I’d hardly expect him to run Billy down like a dog. He probably likes watching him play. I do, too, but he implied openness to the possibility of trading him.

    • doofus

      I simply would like to know when Mr. Castellini and the Williams’ brothers will fulfill this proclamation? “We will build one of the most respected organizations in baseball. As partners in other successful baseball organizations we know how it’s done.”

      I respectfully disagree with your arguments. Bob Castellini proved with his 2006 proclamation that he as a propensity to be out front with his feelings, his vision on issues. He doesn’t shy away, whether he’s right, or wrong. However, This is the 13 season of Castellini’s reign. In the last 55 years only Marge Schott has been principle owner longer than BC. When will they prove to us fans that they really know how it is done?

    • Jeffrey Copeland

      This is a great example of a Strawman argument. In fact there are multiple examples of it in here. I think the main thought here is Castellini is really good at making money and has done a tremendous amount of good on the Fan experience side of the organization, but he should leave baseball decisions to baseball people. Fans do not make great decisions when it comes to players because we think more with our hearts than our heads. Bob makes fan-like heart decisions, that’s not good for the long term health of the organization.

      • big5ed

        Jeffrey, my point is that we don’t actually know that Bob makes “fan-like heart decisions.” I understand that is the narrative, but if we don’t know what they ever been offered for Hamilton, or how the potential trades were discussed, then how do we know if the narrative is true?

        It isn’t irrational for them to have hung on to Hamilton this year, even at the deadline, and even if I thought otherwise. I could see where a rational GM would believe that the outfield defense, other than Hamilton, would be awful and that it would be a disservice to developing a young pitching staff to trade away a truly superior defender.

        I just do not see enough evidence to convict Castellini of “fan-like heart decisions.” My guess, and it is a guess, is that Castellini is a lot more of a hard-nosed businessman than is generally supposed here.

      • seanuc

        Fair points. But there is evidence: (1) the use of Homer this year (2) trading Chapman at his lowest point (3) not trading Frazier at peak value because of the All Star game (4) not winning a home playoff game in this millennia (5) three seasons of 90+ losses (6) keeping Price for way too long. If you go back to the promises made by ownership in the letter that Chad reviewed at the start of this year, I think it’s fair to say that the Reds have failed to deliver. And that is on the owner.

      • greenmtred

        The buck stops here. But, really, the personnel moves and non-moves you identify very possibly weren’t engineered by the owner. The lack of on-field success is certainly at odds with Castellini’s pronouncement in the beginning of his ownership. He was flush with excitement, probably confident that the success he’s known in business would translate, and probably completely ignorant of how hard it is to build a lastingly successful MLB franchise. The point about the meddling is that we don’t know. We’re guessing. We guess about a lot of stuff, and that’s okay, as long as we don’t confuse our guesses with established facts.

  7. doofus

    I’ve never read where anyone in this forum said Yelich was better than both Mays and Williams.

    Yeah, I guess Yelich’s numbers to-date: .310/.373/.510, 19-HR’s, 61-RBI’s, 25-doubles, 84-Runs, 14/2 SB/CS, 137 wRC+, .381 wOBA, .209 ISO, would not help the Reds, after all they really don’t compare to any outfielder the Reds have now.

    • greenmtred

      I’m pretty sure that remark was hyperbole born of frustration. Yelich is good. He’d help, but the Reds would still be in last place, and would have given up a good deal of very promising young talent–multiple players–to get him.

  8. Jeff Reed

    Bob Castellini was president of the Castellini Group of Companies from 1970 to 1992. In the ensuing 26 years he’s been Chairman of the Board, usually a position in the corporate world that is not fulltime so he probably has time to meddle in the baseball operations of the Reds. I think Castellini has and will spend money if the FO consensus is in line with his opinion. This is in contrast to old-time owners like Powell Crosley of the Reds and Del Webb/Dan Topping of the Yankees who rarely gave an opinion about baseball operations in the newspapers of the day.

  9. sultanofswaff

    All I’ll say is this—my facebook feed features Billy Hamilton as much as the whole rest of the team COMBINED. Speaks volumes imo.

  10. ManuelT

    I heard Thom Brennaman basically say it’s Castellini’s money and who is anyone to tell him how to spend that money. I don’t buy that garbage. Each franchise is a sort of public entity and the owner has to be accountable to the fan base, not the other way around. They’ve saved millions from trading off all the guys they did. They should have used more of that money to splurge on IFAs when they had the chance. Because realistically, we’re not going to be significant players on the FA market for the foreseeable future. Who was the guy we lost out on by being outbid? Was his last name Robert?

  11. Timmy RedLeg

    Billy Hamilton seems to be very popular in the above posts. So, I’ll give my opinion. And, that is all it is, an opinion. I believe the only reason Billy Hamilton is still a Red is because the Reds, whether that’s Mr. Castillini, or D. Williams, or W. Jocketty, value him more than any other team in baseball. In other words, they want more back for Billy, than anyone’s willing to give.

  12. roger garrett

    We don’t really know if Bob meddles or not.If he does then it needs to stop if he doesn’t then he needs to get rid of those who haven’t made this team a winner.The fans want to win and we have to assume Bob does too because well he is the owner.Its on him to fix and until he does well he is going to be blamed.He isn’t dumb,he is in business to make money which he is but I don’t think its all about the money but rather he is a fan that owns the team.Like us he has his favorites and will back them regardless of their performance but I also think he can make it personal like the Homer thing.I can see him being from the old school,as I am also.saying he will pitch until he can’t because I am paying him 25 million.Personally the lineups and who plays outside of Bob’s guys is coming from Walt who is a vet and grit guy which means young guys watch and oh by the way if they watch why develop any.This is why the Cards said bye bye. Riggs stammered and back peddled after stating Winker was the odd man out and remember what Price said about Winker also.

  13. Joel

    Everyone needs to calm down. So much of these stories are pure speculation. Is there evidence that Castellini meddles with payroll and roster decisions? Sure. How do we know that’s a bad thing? We don’t. It’s possible that the baseball professionals (Williams, Krall, et al) we have running the team are the ones making bad decisions. It’s possible that Castellini is. It’s also possible that the common denominator between the Reds’ last playoff appearance and today is Castellini, so maybe he does know at least a few things about running a baseball team. Maybe it’s a combination: Castellini made bad decision A while Williams messed up decision B, etc. (this will sound familiar anyone who has run an organization or tried to do a huge project).

    Here’s what we do know that 100% true, if the Reds win a World Series, most people will praise the entire organization for running such a superb baseball team. If they continue to lose more than 81 games each year with no improvement, then most people will continue to speculate as to the relative intelligence of the ownership and front office with respect to we who watch the team from our various chairs or couches.

    • greenmtred

      That’s a calm and reasoned point of view, but I’m not confident that we’d stop complaining about the manager and FO if the Reds played well, because we certainly didn’t when they did play well. World Series? That might do it if we won, but maybe not even then, since style points would probably be lacking.

      • Joel

        Yeah, you’re probably right. I guess it proves that a lot of people don’t do too much or know all that much, but they think that they’re better at and more knowledgeable about everything anyway.

  14. doofus

    The bottom-line is that this franchise has underperformed much to long. Who is responsible? I’ve read the posts of those protecting Bob Castellini. If he’s not responsible, then who is? Why doesn’t BC DO SOMETHING TO MAKE THE LOSING STOP?! After all he’s the one who proclaimed: “We will bring championship baseball to Cincinnati.”

  15. doofus

    For the fans, the Reds are a passion. For the owners, the Reds are a toy.