Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Loser Opened Pandora's Box

The 2008 season was kind of a lost one for us, wasn’t it? Throughout this painfully painful losing streak, this season was by far the most depressing. I had gone into the season with the same desperate optimism I had in seasons past, but that optimism was drained from me in April and never returned except in some frantic form a couple of times in spring. By the time the summer came around, reason and rationality had returned to me, and thoughts of October were no more.

The question is – why was it more disappointing than the other seven losing seasons? If you think about it, we’ve always had reason to hope throughout the streak. In 2001 and 2002, it was early, and we thought surely our team would be back in the playoffs next year, especially since Griffey “couldn’t be hurt every year.” In 2003 we were in contention for the first half of the season, and in 2004 we were in first place in the early going, even making the cover of Sports Illustrated as the surprise of the season. Of course, we all know about the SI curse. It was in full effect that year.

2005 stunk, but a change in ownership during the off season brought with it a great new hope, and indeed, that 2006 season was fun, even if it ended badly after we threw a quarter of our offense into the Leatherpants rubbish bin. To be eliminated in the last couple of days of the season, well, that’s something to cheer for after five losing seasons in a row. In the end, though, it just went as another L in the season column.

Still, our proximity to October baseball in 2006 gave reason to hope for the 2007 season. We could improve on the weak spots, and did – with one glaring exception. Our calfpen was terrible.

Ah, well, what can you do except go and sign one of the top closers in the game and another darn good relief pitcher and get rid of the garbage, giving a renewed sense of hope? And then they had to go and stink up every field in baseball. We were the “dark horse” of the league. Sports Illustrated picked us to come in second. But no, we had to start Corey Patterson in centerfield every damn day even as his batting average remained below the Mendoza line and his on base percentage rivaled that of a pitcher’s. We let our future star rot away in the minors for a couple of months to save a few bucks in arbitration while we were in desperate need of offense, a future star who hit 21 homers when it was finally deemed cheap enough to bring him up, too late to save the season.

And so now, after so many years of disappointment, what do we do? Can we allow ourselves to hope? Can we allow ourselves to think that maybe this is finally going to be our year? Can we stand up and raise our heads high, proud of the long winning tradition of our team, no longer one of the jokes of the Major Leagues?

Not when trade rumors swirl around the names of 22 year old Homer Bailey for 35 year old Jermaine Dye. Not when tornadoes fly around the names Edwin Encarnacion for Willy Taveras. Not when you have a new GM who seems to have a love affair for soon-to-be washed up veterans. Not when you don’t know if you have a shortstop or a catcher or if you only have one outfielder.

It’s been eight years, folks. There is a statute of limitations for hope. I’m pretty sure the one for Reds fans is up. So go put in your 1975 Big Red Machine DVD and dream away – it seems like a movie now, a work of fiction.

And yet…

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