Chad recently wrote an article talking about a lost generation of Reds fans. I am among the lowly who barely remember the Reds last playoff series victory in 1995. I watched that entire sweep, but those memories fade just a little every year.
I grew up on stories of the Big Red Machine. My father, a 1975 high school graduate, comforted my brother and I with tales of the good, ole days. It was a bittersweet consolation prize as I listened to Marty and Joe relay the mediocrity of the teams of my youth. In retrospect, that stretch was less frustrating than the current era of losing.
The Reds were rarely horrible after that 1995 season, winning at least 76 games 9 times from 1996-2009. They never had back-to-back 90 loss seasons. Because of that, each year offered hope that they would finally return to the postseason and just maybe, make a run that many of us haven’t really seen before.
Looking back, those front offices often applied band aids to gaping wounds. Each year, the Reds slowly leaked oil, so slowly that it felt like they were contending, but the front office never addressed the issues that kept holding them back, which were mostly pitching related.
The patchwork the Reds did at the expense of a real rebuild made them perennial losers for roughly a decade. It was the wrong way to construct a winner, but their pseudo-competitiveness made it feel more tolerable.
The current poor stretch of baseball is different. The Reds have committed to getting younger and have traded aging assets to improve their long-term fortunes. The overhaul I wanted them to do in the early to mid-2000s is exactly what they’ve tried to do in the last few seasons. The general approach makes more sense than what they tried to do during the decade of the 2000s.
Unfortunately, the last five years have made the 1996-2009 period seem like an era of great prosperity. Not only have the Reds been bad, they have been slothful in offering hope. The 2015-2016 teams were old and uninteresting. The 2017-2018 teams were younger but just as unsuccessful.
The 2018 season was especially harmful to the good will between fans and the organization because it was the year some expected things to turn around.
I notice friends my age losing interest. “Don’t they have the same team as last year” one quipped when I noted they should be better in 2018. In hindsight, he was right. I expected the young pitching to grow; none of it really did. To casual fans, they did nothing to improve, like the team just didn’t care.
The Reds genuinely thought Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, and potentially others would take big steps forward; they had good reason to think that might happen based on how 2017 ended. Many fans just saw was an unwillingness to upgrade a disastrous rotation.
That feeling has led to frustration and even worse, apathy, maybe especially among 20-35 years who weren’t alive or don’t remember 1990. Fans my age are having kids, and while we remember the joys of going to the ballpark with our parents, the current product has been so disheartening that many seem unwilling to carry on their family ball park traditions.
That will all change if the Reds can sport a winner soon. I believe they have made better decisions now than during the 2000s, but for casual fans, it doesn’t feel like it. The Reds should never make decisions based on how the fanbase (or owner) feels, but they need a sense of urgency right now. If they are unable to turn this franchise around soon, my peers will get used to taking their families to other events on summer nights, their kids rarely or never experiencing the joy of an enthused crowd at GABP.
That’s how one lost generation becomes two.