“Come an’ see my amazin’ Mets,” their original manager Casey Stengel liked to crow about his 1962 theater of the absurd. “I been in this game a hundred years but I see new ways to lose I never knew were invented yet.”
Reds manager David Bell isn’t that quick with a quip. Whatever his other virtues, he won’t occupy half the space in the quote anthologies that Stengel does. The Young Perfesser he ain’t. His team’s as funny as the eastbound end of a westbound horse.
Today’s Reds are compared a little too often to those embryonic Mets for futility. When the Original Mets won their very first game after nine straight life-opening losses, “Break up the Mets!” became a prompt wisecrack. These Reds have actually been 6-4 in their last ten games, but their 9-26 record hasn’t inspired such cracks as that. Red fans may yet just crack.
But even those Mets never figured out a way to no-hit the opposition and lose. This year’s Reds figured that out all by themselves in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Against the Pirates, who aren’t exactly out of the tank yet but have at least won in double digits by now. The franchise whose past includes a Big Red Machine have now become the Cincinnati Dreads.
The 1962 Mets (ha! you thought I’d avoid saying it again) had Abbott pitching to Costello with Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know’s on third, and You Don’t Even Want to Think About It at shortstop. These Reds don’t even have the understudies for My Mother, the Car.
Those Mets finished their tragicomic maiden season with their first owner insisting, as she entered 1963, “Let’s hope it is better this year. It has to be. I simply cannot stand 120 losses this year. If we can’t get anything, we are going to cut those losses down. At least to 119.”
This year’s Dreads have a team president who listened to his fan base’s lament over purging five key players on the threshold of Opening Day, thus leaping from competitiveness to tanking in a single bound, and replied, “Well, where you gonna go?”
Let’s start there. I mean, sell the team to who? I mean, that’s the other thing, I mean, you wanna have this debate? If you wanna look at what would you have this team do to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And, so, be careful what you ask for. I think we’re doing the best we can do with the resources that we have.
Joan Payson had a wry sense of humour and a realistic assessment of her embryonic Mets and the unlikely, almost countercultural affection they stirred among New York fans bereft of two storied National League franchises, left with nothing but the smug hubris of a Yankee fan base spoiled by incessant success and blind to the Original Mets’ earthy appeal.
Phil Castellini thinks he can afford to be smug in a one-team baseball city, but he hasn’t learned that buying what you can afford doesn’t always mean you should buy it at all. Especially when you all but admit that the common good of your team and its game is nothing more than showing profit and making money for it.
Mrs. Payson—formerly the lone stockholder voting against the New York Giants moving west—became New York’s empathetic favourite grandma. Mr. Castellini, the son of the Reds’ owner, seems more like Cincinnati’s unapologetically distant, carping, authoritarian father.
Those Mets were a newborn team plucked from the flotsam and jetsam of the National League, in the league’s first expansion draft. These Reds may not even be that good. And that doesn’t stop at what might yet prove to be this year’s won-lost record.
Those Mets and their fans learned to laugh, like Figaro, that they might not weep. These Reds may have to learn to laugh that they might not fall to the temptation presented to 1988 Orioles manager Frank Robinson, late in that team’s season-opening 22-game losing streak. Robinson showed an empathetic reporter a button he’d been given saying, “It’s been lovely, but I have to scream now.”
It hasn’t been lovely for this year’s Dreads, but their fans have to scream now, anyway. The boss all but threw them under the proverbial bus. Among several major league fan bases about whom you can say frustration is a way of life, none of them are as rightfully frustrated as Red fans now.
Last year’s Reds finished third in the National League Central with a winning enough record and continuing hope for another solid race. Then Castellini’s general manager Nick Krall either sent or allowed to walk Nick Castellanos, Sonny Gray, Eugenio Suarez, and Jesse Winker. For the moment I struggle to remember the last time any team effected a fire sale on the threshold of Opening Day.
Castellanos signed with the Phillies and is having a solid season thus far. Gray is solid enough in the middle of the Twins’ starting rotation after his trade there for a spare bolt. Suarez and Winker have opened sleepily in Seattle for the most part, but the Reds could probably have received more in return than a middling pitcher and a few washers.
But nothing seems more telling about this year’s upended Reds than touted rookie howitzer Hunter Greene plus relief pitcher Art Warren combining to no-hit the almost-as-moribund Pirates but still losing, 1-0 Sunday. Thanks to the rule that proclaims no-hitters official only if the no-hit-pitching team throws nine no-ht innings, this one doesn’t even count—except as one further entry into the 2022 ledger of Reds roughing.
What a difference half a century plus eight years makes. On 23 April 1964, the Reds were no-hit by Ken Johnson (a former, very brief Red) and the Houston Colt .45s, but they won, 1-0 . . . and Johnson retains credit for a no-hitter. The game was played in Colt Stadium—about which Original Met (and Hall of Famer) Richie Ashburn observed, “This is the only park in the league where the women wear insect repellant instead of perfume.”
Thus did Johnson have to face the Reds in the top of the ninth. That’s where he lost the game but not the no-hitter. Johnson himself threw Pete Rose’s one-out bunt for a hit wild, allowing Rose to second. Rose took third on a ground out but scored when Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox—approaching the end of his playing career—booted Vada Pinson’s grounder. Johnson retired Hall of Famer Robinson on a fly out to left for the side, but Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall finished the shutout he started in the bottom of the ninth.
That was then, this was now. (Four other teams between 1964 and Sunday have thrown no-hit baseball but lost.) For Sunday’s eventual stinker, the good news was Greene striking nine out in seven and a third innings and 118 pitches. The bad news was Greene walking five while three Pirates pitchers kept the Reds to four hits and two walks. The worse news was Greene walking the next two men he faced after getting rid of Pirates right fielder Jack Suwinski on an eighth inning-opening ground out.
Exit Greene, enter Warren, who promptly walked Pirates left fielder Ben Gamel to load the pads before third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes grounded into a run-scoring force out. Warren managed to induce an inning-ending infield pop out, but the Reds disappeared in order in the top of the ninth.
There wasn’t a Little Tramp, a Keystone Kop, a Marx Brother, or a Stooge among them, either.
By dint of their postgame comments, these Dreads don’t exactly have among them a Shelley Berman, a Lenny Bruce, a Godfrey Cambridge, a George Carlin, or even a Chester A. Riley. What a revoltin’ development that is.
And that single most frustrated fan base in the Show can only shrug, shake its heads, and not so much lament but accept, while quoting an ancient black spiritual that might yet become the Reds’ 2022 epitaph: “Were we really there, when this happened to us?”