The Cincinnati Reds’ 26-man opening day payroll was, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, $113.7 million. The Cleveland Guardians were $56.6 million, half the Reds.
Yet in Cincinnati, some 200 fans helped pay for a billboard next to I-75 that read “#SellTheTeamBob,” with “Bob” being Reds majority owner and CEO Robert Castellini. The billboard is, it’s fair to say, a cartoon bubble that captures the thoughts of thousands of Reds fans.
The Reds made the playoffs two years ago. They just missed last year. They emptied the list before this year.
Disgruntled Reds fans want an owner who will invest in talent rather than cut the wage bill. Moreover, they want the results promised by Castellini when he bought the team in 2005.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, there are no hashtags or billboards. Guardians owner Larry Dolan works the same racket as his Reds counterpart: He collects luxury tax money from big-market teams and spends that money on something other than on-field talent. During this time, the value of the franchise exceeded one billion dollars.
So why aren’t Guardians fans, like Reds fans, in revolt?
Well, for one thing, Cleveland is a football city. If the Browns want to sign Deshaun Watson to a record deal, despite 22 pending sexual misconduct lawsuits, there will (and is) quite a stir. But if he is better than Baker Mayfield then it will be fine as Haslams have investigated thoroughly.
In Cincinnati, the NFL team is called “Who Dey?” and Joe Burrow is a nice guy like, say, Oscar Robertson is a nice guy. Burrow’s legend grows when he throws the first pitch in the Reds’ home opener or wins a Super Bowl. On Tuesday, Burrow threw the first pitch.
The Reds are the oldest team in major league sports (depending on how you measure it), they have a regional following that goes back generations, and Cincinnati is the metropolitan epicenter. It’s a baseball town. Live Saint Louis.
Castellini, 80, has handed over the management of the Reds to his son Phil.
Dolan, 91, has handed over stewardship of the Guardians to his son Paul.
Thank you dad!
The difference in perception — which owner is more of a billionaire wellness queen and whose child is more, uh, above average — leaned heavily toward Cincinnati. One of the reasons is this: where the Reds did all they could to reduce the wage bill before and after the offseason lockdown, the Guardians managed to appease their fan base enough.
The Guardians have signed All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez to a five-year contract extension. They also locked up Emmanuel Clase closer. After another quiet offseason, those investments — particularly in Ramirez, one of the game’s best players — have given Cleveland fans a healthy dose of hope.
There was nothing like it in Cincinnati.
As soon as the lockout ended and business picked up last month, the Reds let Nick Castellanos in on free agency. Castellanos, who hit .309 with 34 home runs and 100 RBIs last year, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who passed the luxury tax threshold to get him.
“It’s a lot of respect,” Castellanos told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “At the end of the day, baseball comes down to ownership. The owner wants to invest and cares about winning or not. That says a lot about who (owner John Middleton) is. So Philadelphia should be thrilled that this guy is behind the Phillies.
The #SellTheTeamBob hashtag has gained traction on social media. Then it became a billboard.
Phil Castellini said the team were doing their best with the resources they had, rebuilding from their minor league system and needed patience and support from the fans. Then came Tuesday, when Phil Castellini was asked by radio 700-WLW why fans should have faith in the process. And he said:
“Well, where are you going? Sell the team to whom? That’s the other thing: do you want to have this debate? … What would you do with this team to make it more profitable, to make more money, to be more competitive in the current economic system that (exists in) this game? That would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.
“Be careful what you ask for.”
There are a lot of systemic issues with baseball, starting with owners trying to squeeze every last penny out of the business until it’s completely irrelevant. Considering the average age of a baseball fan (57), that’s where the game is headed.
But damn it, threatening to move the Reds out of Cincinnati doesn’t seem like the smartest way to handle this flimflam.
After the Guardians beat the Reds 10-5 at the Great American Ballpark (which isn’t great), Castellini issued a statement of apology that read, among other things, “We love this city, we love this team, and we love our fans. I understand how our fans feel and I’m sorry.
The Guardians have appeared in three World Series since the Reds last won a playoff series in 1995.
How about this for a business plan: Win.
Result Reds-Guardians, XC