Let’s play a game, let’s grab some years from the Cincinnati Reds past, just 3 seasons, all spaced evenly, the seasons I’m speaking of are 1917, 1938 and 1956.

To most it’s just three random years in the 20th century, unless of course you are a Reds fan.

As the Reds enter the 2010 season they teeter in a small shadow of a classic pattern that they have experienced before, a string of losing seasons, as in, unsuccessful, as in stinky, crap, sub standard. That’s nine straight sub .500 seasons the Reds have chasing them into this opening day, and that’s fortunately for us, (but not your grandfather) is not their worst either.

From 1945 to 1955 the Reds failed to top .500 once, that’s 11 straight seasons, in 1956 they won over 90 games, didn’t win the league, but won the cities hearts as they topped one million for the first time (the last of the 16 teams to achieve the feat)

In 1938 the Reds were a year late in topping .500 felt GM Warren Giles and the 1937 season was the ninth in a row below .500 for the team, a run so bad that collectively the team had a .399 winning percentage during that run and unbeknown to the locals the team was lucky still call Cincinnati its home. Fortunately that particular run ended in 1938.

In 1917 the Reds had a new skipper in the great Christy Mathewson and a 7 year run of sub .500 finishes. Matty vowed to change that and it was his institution of more pitching in the Reds system that would not only get the team to .500 but would define the team as a pitching and defense team for the next decade.

Each season also was the footnote to a Reds appearance in the World Series. The 1919 team was still in many ways a Mathewson creation, the 1939 Reds team was a souped up version of the 38 team, while the 1956 team redefined the type of teams the Reds would produce from pitching first teams to hitting first teams and thus use that model to carry them through their most successful decades.

So here we sit, spring of 2010 the Reds have not hit .500 since 2000, since then the franchise has steered itself slowly and in a truly rudderless fashion enough to drive any diehard away.

And yet….. it’s opening day, and for that we have hope…

Back in those days, if you weren’t I school on Opening Day, everybody just assumed where you were. It was a holiday.

Eddie Brinkman (West Hills guy and MLB SS extraordinaire)

Speaking of shortstops….when Orlando Cabrea takes the spot at short for the Reds on opening day it will the 7th straight different starting shortstop for the Reds in 7 opening days.

Big deal right?

Maybe… however the last time the Reds had a string that equaled this was from 1908 to 1914 when they also had a different shortstop for seven straight seasons.

 1908 - Ruiswitt
 1909 - Mowrey
 1910 - Downey
 1911- Atizer
 1912 - Esmond
 1913 - Tinker
 1914 - Herzog
The current list includes Alex Gonzales two times
 2004- Larkin
 2005- Aurilia
 2008 - Keppinger
 2009 - Gonzales
 2010 - Cabrea
The winning percentage for that era was .460, the winning percentage of the current run is .466.

For years the Reds were spoiled in the shortstop position, now….. not so much. Perhaps good SS play has a lot to do with the Reds success in the past. Opening day is the time the Reds and their fans honor the past, yet it’s also a day that the Reds fans want to forget the past., for the franchise on a whole has long and storied past and yet not a successful one through and through. That however doesn’t concern us, for to the Reds and their fans we will always have opening day.

Opening day in Cincinnati has a long and storied history, interrupted once in 1935 when the Pirates new ownership felt that the Reds had hogged the event for long enough for while the Reds opened at home every year the Pirates opened on the road for 41 straight seasons. This protest led to a scheduling issue that off season that led to the Reds being scheduled to open the season in Pittsburgh as opposed to at home.

The Reds owner Powell Crosley and GM Larry MacPhail raised such a stink over the affair, citing the towns devotion the event, parades, local schools closing at 1:30 to allow children to witness the game or parade that celebrated the event. Wrap that argument up in the poor financial era of the depression and color it with the hue of green and we’ll just note that the game was moved back to Crosley Field, where it continues to be played until they torn that park down and moved the shindig down by the river.

But boy they had fun on the Westside whilst they were there.

1886 The Reds place canaries in cages and hang them at the entrance of the park on Opening Day. Their songs welcome the incoming fans. The Reds lost 5-1 to Louisville.

1959 The Reds last Home Opener that allowed fans to sit on the field, this rule will end the long standing Field Seats rules that carried over from the era before outfield seats were available. The Reds were last team to be allowed to use the rule to squeeze more fans into the game. It was not uncommon for the crowd to surge forward as the Reds hits traveled towards them, nor was it uncommon for them to surge backwards when the opposing teams drives came their way.

With Aaron Harang making his fifth consecutive start on opening day here’s a short list of the most successful OD starters in Reds history;

Mario Soto. Soto started every Opening Day from 1982 to 1988 losing the 1982 game and then wining the next four in a row. He didn’t receive a decision in the 87 or 88 game.

No other Red pitcher has won the Opening Day game more then two times in a row (Pete Schneider, Waite Hoyt, Ewell Blackwell and Tom Browning)

The Reds haven’t had the tradition of a great pitching team, so the list of pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame and also pitched on OD (and received a decision) in Cincinnati is heavily weighed toward the visitors (with Seaver being the only Red) and they are as followed (with an L behind those who lost the contest):
 Jesse Haines L,
 Dizzy Dean
 Grover Alexander
 Cy Young
 Don Sutton
 Don Drysdale
 Waite Hoyt
 Robin Roberts L,
 Tom Seaver L
 Steve Carlton L
 Phil Niekro L
 Jesse Haines.
Opening Day is the most symbolic day of the year for a sports fan, no kick off in September matches the dawn of the day the baseball season starts. For each journey starts with a single step and the baseball season is the purest sports journey available, it’s a long walk in the rain and the sun, with climbs and descents that test your endurance and your will to see it to the end when the leaves are dieing and the crisp air beckons the start of the back and forth sports.

It’s opening day, it’s the rebirth of baseball, it’s spring, it’s life.....it’s beautiful.