Every year in this space, I write a Cincinnati Reds preview that is
wildly incorrect -- when I predict a World Seris appearance, the Red
Legs tank; if I foresee gloom and doom, they at least hang around on
the peripherals of a pennant race far longer than one might suppose.
So in this fourth annual edition of "The Hunt for a Reds October," let's dig back into the annals of Red Leg lore and "bottom line" it; by comparing the projected 2008 edition of the Reds with their most successful forebears -- the last Reds team to win a title (1990) and the greatest team in franchise history (1975) we can at least more accurately (one would surmise) project whether or not there is a glimmer of hope for the glint of a World Series trophy shining over the Queen City in 2008. Let's see ...
First, we should start by stating outright, there is nothing remotely
scientific about this analysis; and I should admit that as an Ohioan
born and raised, I will probably find it hard to imagine anyone
comparing particularly well to the Big Red Machine (BRM) of my youth or
even the Nasty Boys of my first post-collegiate place of residence,
also in Ohio ... but regardless, let's meet the contenders!
C David Ross
1B Scott Hatteberg
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Alex Gonzalez
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Adam Dunn
CF Jay Bruce
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
Bench: Freel, Valentin, Votto, Castro, Hopper
SP: Harang, Arroyo, Bailey, Fogg, Volquez
CL: Franciso Cordero
RP: Weathers, Stanton, Belisle, Affeldt, Majewski (Bray, Coffey)
MGR: Dusty Baker
1990 Reds (91-71)
C Joe Oliver
1B Todd Benzinger/Hal Morris
2B Mariano Duncan/Ron Oester
SS Barry Larkin
3B Chris Sabo
LF Billy Hatcher
CF Eric Davis
RF Paul O'Neill
Bench: Reed, Quinones, Winningham, Braggs, Griffey Sr.
SP: Browning, Rijo, Armstrong, Jackson, Robinson
CL: Randy Myers
RP: Dibble, Charlton, Layana, Birtsas, Mahler
MGR: Lou Piniella
1975 Reds (108-54)
C Johnny Bench
1B Tony Perez
2B Joe Morgan
SS Dave Concepcion
3B Pete Rose
LF George Foster
CF Cesar Geronimo
RF Ken Griffey Sr.
Bench: Plummer, Driessen, Flynn, Chaney, Rettenmund, Crowley
SP: Billingham, Nolan, Norman, Darcy, Gullett (Kirby)
CL: Rawly Eastwick
RP: McEnaney, Borbon, C. Carroll, T. Carroll
MGR: Sparky Anderson
Um ... So What?
Okay, let's break that down a little further, position-by-position.
Dave Ross is a nice player, but not quite as good as the '90 Oliver and of course, then you have Arguably The Greatest Catcher Who Ever Lived, Johnny Lee Bench. From a depth perspective, Ryan Hanigan is a .300 career hitter (he's, uh, 3-for-10) but the Reds are in trouble if they need to go to him as a long-term answer. Jeff Reed '90 and Bill Plummer '75 were both better in that regard. Let's go (1) 1975 (2) 1990 (3) 2008. No surprises!
So there's a (some say borderline) Hall of Famer in Tony Perez, a really nice and productive Todd Benzinger/Hal Morris platoon in '90 and, another nice pair in '08, including '07 .310 hitter Scott Hatteberg and rookie masher Joey Votto. It's Perez in a runaway, but very close after that. But let's go, in a mild upset, (1) 1975 (2) 2008 (3) 1990.
Oh, look, another Hall of Famer for the BRM! And it's the '75 NL MVP to boot! The Duncan/Oester pairing in 1990 was more than serviceable, but Brandon Phillips is already the best 2B in Cincinnati since., well. you-know-who. (1) 1975 (2) 2008 (3) 1990.
When Davey Concepcion played shortstop for the Reds, he was generally considered the best shorstop in team history, though that did not land him the Cooperstown plaque young fans all over Ohio assumed (probably in error) he deserved. Anyway, he eventually gave up the Best-Reds-SS title to Barry Larkin, the Cincinnati native who steered the '90 ship. The '08 Reds? Well, Alex (not the ex-Jay) Gonzalez is a heckuva nice player, may even make an All-Star team or two going forward, but he does not belong in the Concepcion-Larkin discussion. (1) 1990 (2) 1975 (3) 2008.
Speaking of potential All-Stars, Edwin Encarnacion is going to make the Rangers regret trading him, especially if Hank Blalock stays injury-prone, but he is not yet to the level of Chris Sabo's career, much less some guy named Rose -- controversy aside, it's hard to argue that Rose was a great, great player and certainly a positive cog in the BRM glory years, regardless of what came next. (1) 1975 (2) 1990 (3) 2008
So we're around the infield and so far ...
What a shock, we see 1975 in the lead 14 points (three for first, etc.) followed by 1990 with nine points and 2008 with 7. Let's move on the outfield and see where this ends up.
Ah, the '08 squad "wins" a position. Perennial 50-homer threat Adam Dunn hit balls farther than even Ted Kluszewski could've dreamt of; '75er Foster actually did hit that many (52) once, but was a few years away from that pace in '75, when he hit 23 and drove in 78 after taking over in LF in May when Rose made the surprising move to 3B. Dunn may reach those marks by the All-Star break! Billy Hatcher, you were a nice player and an important part of a title team, but thanks for stopping by. (1) 2008 (2) 1975 (3) 1990.
iIf Jay Bruce is anywhere near as good as some people think he will be, he may rocket to the top of this list sooner rather than later. But with exactly zero career MLB at-bats so far, who can tell? It's just as likely Ryan Freel might end up the Reds' everyday CF. The '75 squad had Cesar Geronimo, who was a year and 50 points away from a '76 career-best .307 average, and the '90 Reds had Eric Davis, who was a superstar and sure-fire Hall of Famer in 1990. We'll go (1) 1990 (2) 1975 (3) 2008.