Time is Now for Lindner, Reds
Normally, I find "how they made their millions" stories a tad boring. It's usually through inheritance or some complex business dealings-yawn. However, the story of Cincinnati Reds owner Carl Lindner is quite interesting--- bananas. Yep, he sold a whole bunch of bananas and he turned them into millions of clams. We look at a banana split and say "mmmmmmmm," Lindner looks at a banana split and says, "cha-ching!"
Lindner sold so many bananas that he decided to buy himself a major league baseball team-that's a whole lotta bananas. Unfortunately, that's where my admiration for the man ceases.
Upon being named majority owner of the Reds, Lindner made it quite clear that he was not in it to make money, but he also made it quite clear that he wasn't about to lose money either. It's as if he just wanted a big playground for his grandkids that wasn't going to cost him anything. His reluctance to lose a few bananas off the back of the truck, have kept the mid-market Reds drifting in a sea of mediocrity-so close, yet so far.
Some say that it's his money, his team, he should be able to do as he sees fit. But is that accurate? Does the team really belong to him, or is he just a high-profile caretaker for the city and the fans? I tend to lean towards the latter. I believe that owners have an obligation to their fans to do all they can to produce a winner. If Linder knew from the get-go that he wasn't willing to make the necessary concessions to compete at a high level, then why buy in the first place?
And perhaps he is being a tad shortsighted when it comes to the bottom line. Linder has three HUGE factors in his favor:
--The city of Cincinnati loves the Reds. Right now, the fans are battling the negativity, complacency, and frustration that comes with seasons of disappointment and questionable moves from the front office. Nothing gnaws at a fan more than unloading a good player for next to nothing in return, just so the books balance. But the city has always been baseball crazy-give them hope and the turnstiles will explode.
--The Reds open a new stadium this season, which virtually ensures good attendance. Add a winner to a new stadium and Linder could be swimming in green with the increased concessions and merchandising sales that would be sure to follow.
--The number one note of comparison in Cincinnati is Bengals owner Mike Brown. Conduct a popularity poll between Brown and Saddam Hussein and Brown would probably win-by a hair. Lindner doesn't have to do much to make his team the only show in town.
Am I telling another man how he should spend his bananas? You bet. Lindner has a responsibility as a sports owner that owners of other corporations and businesses don't. Right now, the message he seems to send is, "we're probably not going to be all that great, but please, we still want you to come out to the park."
It's hard to say, but given his position, I truly believe I'd take a different approach. Lindner is a very old man, even if the Reds lost millions this year, it still wouldn't make much of a dent in his wallet. I think it would be worth the financial hit to compete for a World Series--to have your team playing in those magical October games. And as stated before, success on the field translates directly to financial success off the field through a variety of different means. He could very well make his money back-or more.
The Reds are not in need of an overhaul. Their general manager, Jim Bowden, who at times is his own worst enemy and at other times is the Reds only hope, has done a solid job of building a core of young players that is ready to bust out. Bowden is also a master at annually finding diamonds in the rough who come cheap (see Jimmy Haynes last year). So, the Reds don't need quantity, but they are desperate for quality in one key department--starting pitching. Add two good starting pitchers, or one great one, and the Reds go from a middling team to a true contender. Problem? It's going to cost some bananas. The Reds have the ammo (trade bait) to get a deal done to acquire any number of high quality pitchers (The Expos Bartolo Colon being the golden nugget at this point), but there doesn't seem to be any way to accomplish this without adding payroll.
Bowden can wheel and deal and find treasures in the trash heap until the cows come home, but the ball is ultimately in Lindner's court. He can keep the status quo and hope that the Reds have a magical season as they did in 1999. Or he can sign off on a bit of a risk venture--- a dare to be great opportunity. In the end, sports is a business, but you can't shake the natural instinct to want to be the best. Mr. Lindner, we know you're a good businessman, now show us that you can be a winner too.
Imagine what a hero Lindner would be if he signed off on the deal(s) that restored the Reds as a champion and gem to the Queen City. He would be the ultimate hero. The fans might just, dare I say………go bananas.