Feb. 27, 2006
New-look Reds management chasing old-fashioned success
By Scott Miller / CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Much of the charm of spring training is in the optimism that this summer will be warmer than last, that this season the hits will drop with two outs and the game on the line, that the rain won't begin falling until you have the lead and five innings are in the book.
Except if it's this spring, and you're the Cincinnati Reds.
Then the charm is in clinging to the faith that, with a new owner, a new general manager and a new direction that, oh, the next decade or so will be better than the last.
"Listen, you're never there," the new owner, Bob Castellini, says from behind the desk of his new office overlooking the practice fields here. "I would tell you that we have a better baseball team than people think we have, and I think we have a better organization than people think we have.
"But we've got to prove it."
There is no visible sign reading "Under new management." They haven't changed the marquee outside to a gaudy neon, and the menu in places looks distressingly familiar to last year's, such as the over-boiled pitchers who compiled the National League's worst ERA last summer.
But indications of change are everywhere, from Castellini's smart decision to tap into the Reds' past by bringing in guest instructors such as Johnny Bench, Davey Concepcion and Tom Browning to the expected announcement that the franchise will purchase Sarasota's Florida State League franchise from Boston.
That will firmly entrench the Reds here for all 12 months of the year, giving them a warm-weather base from which to improve their minor league operations and host major league players for injury-rehabilitation assignments, among other things.
"Everybody knows how good our fans are," Castellini continues. "We don't have to prove that. All we have to do is put a contender on the field.
"We're the oldest franchise in baseball. We've won more World Series than anybody except the Red Sox, Cardinals and Yankees. Cincinnati is synonymous with the Reds and baseball."
Except, as the game's turbo-charged economics have left some franchises in the dust, baseball and the Reds are no longer the shining beacon of light they once were. Thanks to five consecutive sub-.500 seasons and the disastrous decision last year to award pitcher Eric Milton a three-year, $25 million deal, there now is a distinctly weather-worn look, leaving a whole lot more for new GM Wayne Krivsky to do than to simply apply a little touchup and little paint.
"They're all big jobs," says Krivsky, 51, who was hired to replace Dan O'Brien less than three weeks ago. "There are 30 big jobs. I don't care who you are, the White Sox, the Astros or somebody who finished in last place.
"You can only do so much in a day, and you hope you're better the next day than you were the day before. And you hope you're better the next month than the month before. It's a huge job for every GM. And sometimes it's tougher, after you get to .500 or above .500, to try to stay there."
Their spring training offices are separated by fewer than 10 steps, and it's as symbolic as anything else. If the Reds are to recapture some of those Big Red Machine echoes from years past, it will only happen with Castellini and Krivsky working side by side, shirt-sleeves rolled up, locked into the same plan.
Krivsky, a Duke graduate, is a baseball lifer who spent the past 11 years as Minnesota GM Terry Ryan's assistant after putting in 14 years as an assistant GM in Texas.
His welcome-to-the-fraternity moment came when another GM who labored for years before being handed a franchise of his own, new Los Angeles GM Ned Colletti, left him a telephone message a couple of weeks ago.
"Wayne, this is Ned," Krivsky heard when he retrieved the message. "Congratulations. That's great. I'm happy for you. It wasn't too long ago when you and I were on the outside looking in. You've worked hard and you deserve it, and I'm the second-happiest GM right now because I can say I'm now 29th on the seniority list."
"That was a great message," Krivsky says. "I still haven't talked to Ned, but he got me laughing at 1 a.m. when I listened to it. That was a special message."
Castellini, a Georgetown University graduate who received his MBA from Wharton Graduate School, took control of the Reds on Jan. 19 after holding a minor ownership stake in the franchise in the early 1990s. He was a partner in the Texas Rangers in 1989 and in the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. He also was an investor in the St. Louis Cardinals.
One of his moments of enlightenment came 10 years ago, when he attended his first spring training as a Cardinals investor.
"I walked into the vending room, and there were Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst having a cup of coffee," Castellini says of the Hall of Famers. "I never forgot that."
That's why he asked the Hall of Famer Bench to help select a list of past Cincinnati greats to invite to help instruct at this spring's camp. In addition to Bench, Concepcion and Browning, others who will be here at various times include Eric Davis, George Foster, Chris Sabo and Kal Daniels.
"We're excited to be here," says Browning, who last wore a Cincinnati uniform in 1994. "We're excited that they want us to be a part of it in any capacity. The guys on the club have been real receptive. That's what we're here for, if we can help their careers.
"Even if it's just sharing stories from our careers."
Perhaps Browning, who has taken on Milton as one of his special projects given the similarities between the two -- both lefty, fly ball pitchers -- and the other ex-Red greats do not possess mystical powers to immediately turn things around. But at the very least, perhaps current Reds such as Milton, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Ryan Freel and Edwin Encarnacion -- Reds who have only seen the difficult times -- might come away from their sunshine chats with a better appreciation for what the Reds once stood for.
And perhaps, even if only a wee bit, some of that will translate into their work in the field.
"We know how far south on the totem pole we are," says Browning, who still lives in the Cincinnati area. "We're not perennial guys anymore like we used to be. Not getting that publicity, not being expected to do anything, I think that's about to change.
"I think the city of Cincinnati will be pleasantly surprised."
Browning continues, talking about the aura that once radiated from the Reds in the days of all-black spikes and clean-shaven faces. He and Castellini each speak of injecting pride back into the organization, and it's earnest and well-intentioned talk.
But that's where Krivsky and the baseball staff come in, because the easiest and quickest way to instill pride is by -- novel idea here -- fielding good players.
Though the Reds lineup has been highly productive in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, leading the NL in runs scored (820) and home runs (222) last season behind guys like Dunn, Kearns, Pena and Ken Griffey Jr., the pitching is thinner than the excuse of a teenager who has broken curfew.
Milton set a club record by serving up a major league-leading 40 homers last season, and Reds manager Jerry Narron already named his opening day starter in Aaron Harang -- whose lifetime record is 31-32 and who has never won more than 11 games in a season.
"It's right there on paper," Krivsky says of his pitching. "We shouldn't be using the ballpark as an excuse. There are no excuses. If you make your pitches, you can win anywhere."
In an effort to add depth and give Narron choices, Krivsky has scooped up several players in recent days, including left-handed pitcher Michael Gosling, first baseman Scott Hatteberg and outfielders Quinton McCracken and Tuffy Rhodes.
"He's a hard charger," Castellini says of Krivsky. "A hard charger, a hard worker and a good baseball man."
Like every other owner, Castellini comes to the game with an impressive array of successes in the business world. Chairman and chief executive officer of the Castellini Company, he oversees businesses from food processing to public warehousing to transportation logistics.
The Reds payroll this season will be somewhere between $60 million and $65 million, similar to last year's, and Castellini has given no indication he's going to whittle it anytime soon.
"As soon as we can win, that's half the battle," he says. "Then it turns into reality. That's not just baseball, that's all organizations.
"You have to have that intense focus, and at the same time, it's fun. Baseball is fun. This isn't just chasing the dollar, like market shares. Baseball is just a wonderful, wonderful experience for everyone involved, and when you're winning. ...
"In a career setting, you can't have more fun than to be a part of a winning baseball team."
Out the window, on the fields below, the boys who will be Reds swung and pitched and hit under the broiling Florida sun. They won in Cincinnati once. It's no easy thing chasing both the future and the past at the same time.