I'm continuing my ongoing assessment of playoff-bound franchise based upon their dramatic appeal with a look at the Cincinnati Reds. Here's what's to like:
- The Cleveland of Southern Ohio: We generally make a big deal out of cities with tortured fan-bases, but for some reason, Cincinnati rarely makes that list, even though the city went a decade (from '95-'05) without even sniffing the playoffs in either football or baseball. The last time they celebrated a championship was 1990. Certainly, their drought is miniature in comparison with some of the other teams in the league, but of all the remaining contenders, the Reds are the franchise that has waited the longest for the opportunity to play baseball in October.
- A Big Middle Finger To Billy DeWitt, Jr.: The Cardinals aren't exactly the "Evil Empire," but they are the most successful franchise in the history of the N.L. and they were heavily favored to runaway with the Central division again when the season began. But former St. Louis GM, Walt Jocketty, has run roughshod over his former club. To considerable astonishment, Cardinal's owner, Bill DeWitt, fired Jocketty only a year after the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, despite the fact that he'd taken the Redbirds to the postseason eight times in the previous twelve seasons. The Reds jumped at the opportunity to land Jocketty, immediately hiring him as a consultant and inserting him as GM less than a year later. One of his first orders of business was the acquisition of another disgruntled former Cardinal, Scott Rolen, who has had a resurgent season at the center of the Reds lineup. Rumors swirled last offseason that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan might soon follow. Getting back to the promised land before DeWitt would by the capstone of Jocketty's calculated revenge.
- Baker's Curse: Dusty Baker is, by all accounts, one of the most likable managers in the sport. He's adored by his players, convivial with the media, and never squabbles with his front office. He has also been very successful. This will be his fourth division title, with his third different team. He's been named Manager of the Year three times, and could make it four with this year's performance. He also took the Wild Card Giants to within eight outs of a Championship in 2002 and the lowly Cubs to within five outs of the World Series in 2003. His 1400+ victories rank him 25th all-time and within a couple years he will have moved well inside the top 20. Of the 24 managers currently in front of him, sixteen are in the Hall of Fame, and Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Ton LaRussa, and Jim Leyland are almost certainly headed there sooner or later. However, all those who gained induction as managers had won at least one World Series. Baker has never gotten his team to the podium and, at 62, he may be running out of chances. We can be certain, if the Reds have a lead in the late innings of a deciding game, Baker's gonna be sucking on that toothpick like it was his last cigarette before storming the beach at Normandy in 1944.
- The Lucky Charm: Orlando Cabrera is no longer the player he was in the prime of his career, when he was a Gold Glove middle infielder and top-of-the-order hitter, who could surprise you with his power. However, O.C. has been to the postseason six times in the last seven years and with six different franchises. Last year, the Charm hit a crucial homer in Game 163 to lift the Twins into the playoffs, but other than that, he's struggled in October, with just a 609 OPS.
The primary appeal of the Reds is that they are a team which very few fans outside of Cincinnati will have any familiarity with. They have an MVP candidate, Joey Votto, who was best know, prior to this season, for having missed time due to anxiety. Cabrera, Rolen, and Bronson Arroyo have considerable postseason experience, but few other Reds do. Those who haven't had the opportunity to watch them play are going to be wildly surprised by how players like Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, and Edinson Volquez are. They will be even more of an underdog in perception than they are in reality just because they have so few household names. That's exactly the kind of thing that pumps up your NLF.
Narrative Likability Factor: A