|COOPERSTOWN, NY (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)|
7/19/00--- A Rough Couple of Weeks
Being a Reds fan isn't always easy...in fact, it seems that it is rarely so. Sure, we can't complain of infinite mediocrity like Boston or Chicago Cubs fans can (check out Steve Goodman's "A dying Cubs fan's last request"), but the 90's were a roller coaster ride, and it doesn't look like it's going to get better any time soon. In 1990 we won the World Series, going "wire to wire" and never falling out of first place. The next season, primarily due to injuries, we set a record for the worst record of a defending champion (later shattered by the Florida Marlins). We were in first place when the strike robbed the fans of the World Series in 1994. We won our division in 1995, but then got creamed in the playoffs. We sank back to mediocrity until '99, when we lost a tiebreaker game to the New York Mets, which was forced after we were beaten up by the Milwaukee Brewers the weekend before. We signed Griffey and traded for Bichette over the winter, but our makeshift pitching staff finally fell apart this season. And now, a week after the all star break, we have already traded Denny Neagle and Hal Morris, and Barry Larkin -- Mr. Red -- will be lost by season's end, most likely to a trade before the July 31st trading deadline.
Losing Barry hurts. He's definitely the team leader, and he's the sort of player that every team needs. He can hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, snare anything hit to the left side of the infield, and fire off a good, accurate throw to first to get the out. And he can do that as well as he ever has at 36 years of age. He's the ideal #2 hitter. He's patient, has decent power, and can give you the ground ball to the right side to advance the runner to third. On-the-field issues aside, this is a guy who deserves to have his number retired and to get elected into the hall of fame. No one should ever wear #11 as a Cincinnati Red again. He has been the mainstay, and until this year (with Griffey's arrival), the best player in the Reds' lineup for over a decade. I'm 22 years old. When I started to get interested in baseball (around '86), Larkin was the starting shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. That is who he has always been, and frankly should always be.
But if I step back from my emotional response to losing Larkin, I think the Reds' decision not to sign him is a good one. They have a stud defensive player in Gookie Dawkins at AAA who should eventually hit a little better than Pokey Reese (though no one pretends that he'll hit like Larkin does) who's just about ready for The Show. They're building for a championship team in 2003, and frankly, Barry will be 39 years old that year. Will he still be able to pick it like he does now, or will he have moved over to third base or left field by then? Barry's a guy who can command a young stud from a contending team looking to acquire the best shortstop in the National League. It's these young studs we should be concentrating on.
If things go as we hope they do, our 2003 team will probably still have players like Sean Casey, Dmitri Young, Pokey Reese, Rob Bell, Aaron Boone, and, of course, Ken Griffey Jr. But other names will most likely be on the club...players like Dawkins, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Ty Howington, Brandon Larson, Ben Broussard, Jackson Melian, and (assuming he's smart and goes for baseball) Drew Henson. These are the players that we should be banking on to bring a championship to Cincinnati. If we can win a few games between now and then, that's wonderful. But the goal is to have a contending team when we move into our new stadium.
The fact that we are already having good success with our young talent demonstrates that we are definitely on the right track. The key, of course, will be to make sure we can sign our young guys...which may mean losing some of our older guys. Larkin will be sorely missed, but the decision not to sign him should be interpreted as a decision by the Reds to sign the young players instead...players like Casey and Young, both of whom are up for arbitration this winter. So suck it up, Reds fans. You gotta have faith in The Plan and take joy in watching our young guys mesh into what should eventually be the best team in baseball.::sigh:: Blissful optimism. The Reds wouldn't have a winning season again until 2010. Dunn and Kearns panned out, but Dawkins, Howington, Larson, Broussard, Melian (who? I have no memory of him, had to look him up), and Henson did not.
After stopping a deadline deal (to the Mets, I think?) due to his 10/5 status, Barry ended up re-signing with the Reds, and earned $27.7 million over the next four years until his retirement, which accounted for more than a third of all the money he made during his career. He'd play in just 371 games over those four years, all of them at shortstop, and posted a .266/.334/.385 line in that time (0.8 rWAR total--his fielding also had slipped substantially).
And yet, given what happened with those teams (66, 78, 69, and 76 wins from 2001-2003), I have to say I really don't mind that the Reds made what really can only be described as a bad baseball decision in re-signing him. Those teams wouldn't have won anyway. And because of the extension, he was a Red for life. That makes the emotional part of me pretty happy.
Meanwhile, this year, the Reds are currently in first place, with the second-best record in the National league despite a current 3-game losing streak. And Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, and soon will have his number retired--both things I hoped for more than a decade ago. It's a good time to be a Reds fan!