Hal McCoy: Tenure with Reds will taint Lindner's legacy
As a Cincinnati philanthropist, Carl Lindner earns an "A" for awesome. His wallet prints are all over the city.
As an owner and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds, Lindner earns an "F" for flop. His wallet was not much of a factor in the fortunes of the moribund Reds over the past few seasons.
His most famous quote — and there are very few from the man who was a baseball recluse as far as the media is concerned — said it all and it was uttered shortly after he became majority owner and CEO: "I don't want to make money, but I don't want to lose money, either."
He certainly earned money during his tenure as lead chair for the Reds. His sale of the Reds for $270 million assured that.
But as a man whose business is worth $22 billion, he missed a chance to insure himself a legacy in Cincinnati. He'll be remembered as a philanthropist, but he could have become a Cincinnati icon by loosening some of his fortune into turning out Big Red Machine II. Instead, his teams were more like The Little Red Radio Flyers.
He leaves the CEO's chair with five straight losing seasons and no championship rings.
It seems a bit strange that a man who built a $22 billion empire by investing money didn't realize that to make money in baseball, and to build a winner, one must spend money.
So did he leave any imprint on Cincinnati baseball?
If he has a legacy, it is Ken Griffey Jr. He gave approval to then-general manager Jim Bowden to trade with Seattle for Griffey and to give the megastar outfielder a 10-year, $116.5 million contract.
That occurred in February 2000 and Lindner attended the press conference in the Crosley Room of old Riverfront Stadium. It was the only press conference involving the Reds he ever attended.
He attended some home games, sitting with his wife several rows up behind home plate, but never was spotted at a road game.
His other appearance in the limelight was when former shortstop Barry Larkin was about to become a free agent. Bowden traded Larkin to the New York Mets, but Larkin used his no-trade power to squash the deal.
Lindner immediately stepped in and signed Larkin to a three-year, $27 million contract, a move that infuriated Bowden and other members of the front office.
Lindner's reason: "Barry Larkin is my grandson's favorite player."
When the three-year contract expired, the Reds were ready to let Larkin go. He talked about retirement and the Reds planned a day for him. Larkin called off the ceremonies and Lindner stepped up with another one-year contract.
One thing the Reds seldom did under Lindner's watch was pay large sums for free agents. Unfortunately for him, when he did allow general manager Dan O'Brien to invest $22.5 million over three years in left-handed pitcher Eric Milton it was a fiasco, with a capital 'F.'
It exploded in his face when Milton's first season with the Reds last year was an 8-15 bust. He had a 6.47 earned-run average — the worst in club history for a starter with more than 30 starts — and gave up 40 home runs in 186 1/3 innings.
Milton has two years remaining on the contract to make amends, but the Reds were not players on the big-name pitchers free-agent market this year. Instead they traded popular first baseman Sean Casey and his $8 million salary to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Dave Williams, a left-handed pitcher with injury issues and a career losing major-league record.
Lindner was the boss when the team moved into new Great American Ball Park in 2003. Fans were told that a new stadium and expected attendance surges would turn the team into a winner. Instead, the team got worse and the fans didn't forget the promise. When Lindner was introduced on the field on Opening Day 2004 he was booed.
Lindner's problem was that he purchased the team to make certain it was owned locally, that it wouldn't be sold to outsiders. It was a civic pride move, not one to build a winning team.
He sold most of his shares to Robert Castellini because he is a friend and he is part of Cincinnati. Reds fans hope they won't see more of the same, that Castellini is committed to winning and fans won't be force-fed mouthwash.
As they say over at Timex, or in the case of baseball players, over at Rolex, only time will tell.