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Big League Stew

Concession Speech: 2012 Cincinnati Reds

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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With the regular season over, teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.

But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next is our friend Mo Egger of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati. He wrote the 10 best things about being a Reds fan for us earlier this year.

My fellow Reds fan: This is not the speech I thought I'd be giving and this is certainly not when I thought I'd be giving it. Like you, I'm heartbroken, filled with disappointment, and still a little hungover. If only the Reds hammered back booze the way I did in the aftermath of the NLDS meltdown, perhaps they would've washed away whatever it was they were choking on.

Let me first say congratulations to the San Francisco Giants. I know, I know, those words are as hard for you to hear as it was for me to say, but they were worthy opponents, deserving victors, and who among isn't a little excited that we could be spending the rest of the month seeing random crowd shots featuring grown men wearing wool panda hats?

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I need someone from the Bay Area to help me here: Do Giants fans have bars they go to before and after games?  And do women populate these bars?  Has one of them ever seen a guy walk in with one of these hats and said to their girlfriends, "Know what?  That guy in the panda hat, I gotta talk to him?"

The Giants won the NLDS, and we certainly wish them well as they play in the National League Championship Series, not because any of us have any endearing feelings for them, but because most of us would rather watch those new episodes of Cougar Town that TBS keps hammering down our throats during playoff games than watch the Cardinals play in another World Series.

I will admit that I don't watch a lot of TBS, but are there really only three shows on that network?  Do they really fill the entire 24-hour grid with Cougar Town, re-runs of Big Bang Theory and unseen first-run episodes of Conan that half of Hollywood tries to pretend to watch?  Can I get some Andy Griffith Show reruns just to take my back to my childhood when they'd show that during Braves rain delays?

This was a fun season, one that saw one of our own get enshrined in Cooperstown, and one of great individual accomplishments as well. Three Reds made the All-Star team.  One Red turned into a legit Rookie Of The Year candidate while another has real Cy Young Award hopes. Led by one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, the Reds assembled baseball's best bullpen. Long the source of fan discontent, Homer Bailey delivered by his finest season, punctuated by both his no-hitter, the franchise's first in 24 years, and a spectacular, if unfortunately wasted, performance in the postseason.

This is where I have an obligation to mention that Chipper Jones retired. No, Chips didn't play for the Reds. There was a rule implanted in May that dictated that every baseball-related piece must somehow mention the fact that Chipper was hanging it up so I'm fulfilling that requirement.  I don't think it says anything about mocking the fact that a 40 year-old man still goes by the name "Chipper" though I do think it prevents me from wondering if 'ol Chippy had any celebration parties at Hooters.

This was a resilient bunch, one that overcame the loss of their most important player for six weeks, and they were lucky one as well, with no starter missing a turn the entire season. Their year was punctuated by unforgettable moments — Joey Votto's walkoff grand slam to beat the Nationals on Mother's Day, which capped off what I called the best single-game individual performance in GABP history....

That was one of nine walkoff wins in 2012. Among them was Heisey's crucial single to beat the Cardinals in April....

There was Wilson Valdez's walkoff squeeze against Detroit....

We had Frazier's bomb to beat the Braves....

And we had Ludwick's big fly to beat the Cards again.

That helped the Reds to a three-game sweep of the Cardinals right after the All-Star Break.

There was also the day, right after we found out the Reds would be without Votto for a while, that they came back from down 6-0 to beat the Diamondbacks.

There was so much more. When Todd Frazier wasn't getting big hits, he was saving people from choking.

The Frazier Heimlich maneuver story had a surprisingly short shelf life. As the Reds were choking away the NLDS, no one made references to Frazier being able to duplicate his heroics by preventing his team from gagging against the Giants. It'd be one thing if that guy in Pittsburgh died, but he ended up surviving, right?  Also, was there a single better story in baseball in 2012 than Todd saving this dude's life? Can you imagine had Bryce Harper done this? National writers would just now be recovering from tired forearms. And if Tim Tebow ever saves someone's life, you know by actually wrapping his arms around someone and forcing food from out of their esophagus and not using his mythical powers to for higher purposes like covering punts,  I'm officially moving to the Sudan.

When he wasn't dominating on the mound, Aroldis Chapman was doing somersaults off of it.

In addition to magical nights like the one where Drew Stubbs took Francisco Cordero deep in Houston...

...we had Charlie Sheen's bizarre appearances at the ballpark. We also had The Bronson Arroyo/Aroldis Chapman duet....

And we had the night when Marty Brennaman shaved his head on the field for charity after the Reds' 10-game winning streak.

Great American Ballpark was a great place to be this summer, for big series against the Cardinals and Pirates, for Barry Larkin's number retirement ceremony, and for the team Hall of Fame inductions of Sean Casey and Dan Driessen. And GABP rocked during the the division-clinching against the Dodgers.

This was a great summer to live in Cincinnati, with the fun centering around a 97-win Reds team that effectively wrapped up the division title before the GOP primaries were over.

I live in Cincinnati, which means I live in Ohio, which means that the Romney and Obama campaigns are spending more time in Cincinnati than Nick Lachey does.  That's not hard to do because Nick Lachey doesn't live here.  He just pretends to when the local teams are good.

The Reds ended a 17-year drought, winning a postseason game for the first time since 1995.  Their 5-2 Game 1 win over the Giants was on of the gutsiest team wins in recent memory, and while the series'ending is still fresh in our minds, it shouldn't erase the memory of how it began.

The season did end prematurely and suddenly.  Up 2-0, our Reds did the unimaginable, losing three straight games at home to the Giants, ending a potential run to the World Series.  The disappointment is still bitter and massive and the blame for it is still very widespread.

The Reds' playoff collapse will be both remembered and dissected for a long time. Despite it however, I'm proud of this team's memorable and valiant campaign. And while we head into the winter trying to wash out the bitter aftertaste of postseason defeat, we will do what Cubs fans do better than anyone, we will concede the 2012 baseball season, except that we will do so gracefully and respectfully, without blaming a goat, a curse, or some nerd wearing a walkman.

Unless the Cardinals end up winning the World Series again. Then I'll do exactly what Cubs fans do and gracefully give my TV the finger.

Mistakes were made: We will spend the next few months in deep reflection of what happened during three days in October. Questions will be asked, and blame will be assessed, but this will not be a time for scapegoating. Those who want to point the finger should find a team picture and point at it, for the fault lies with nearly everyone in that photo.

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(AP)

We won't make excuses either, though who among us would like to see how the NLDS would've played out if Johnny Cueto hadn't injured his oblique?  And while Joey Votto admirably changed his game after coming back from a knee injury to become the majors' highest-paid singles hitter, one can't help but wonder if I'd be making this speech if had been blessed with good health.

We must acknowledge the fact that this failure falls at the feet of everyone, from the manager whose questionable decisions will be dissected for months, to the blown opportunities that plagued the Reds for three days. This team had chances to deliver knockout blows in three separate first innings, but selfishly ran themselves out of one, left the bases loaded in another, and blew a two-on/one-out chance in yet another.

They left 28 men on base in the three games and they repeatedly wasted opportunities to either deliver knockout blows — stranding eight runners in the first four innings of Game 4 — or get the big hits needed to dig out of holes — leaving two on base in each of the last three innings of Game 5.

The problems that plagued this team all season caught up to it in October. The offense's inconsistency throughout the regular season carried over into the playoffs. They scored 14 runs in Games 1 and 2, then just eight in the final three. The Game 3 loss was especially frustrating. Homer Bailey, Sean Marshall, and Aroldis Chapman held the Panda Hats to one run and one hit through nine innings, and the Reds still lost

The gloves failed them too. Scott Rolen, a surehanded if creaky third baseman, made a critical error in the 10th inning of Game 3, and Zack Cozart's error in the fifth inning of Game 5 kept the Reds from minimizing the damage in the only frame the Giants scored in.

In mere days, Dusty Baker went from enjoying some of his finest moments — the handling of the team in game one after Cueto's injury  — to making us endure a few of his worst. He pulled Chapman too early in Game 3, he stayed with Mike Leake and Mat Latos too long in games 4 and 5, and while Bruce Bochy managed the final three games like a man whose team was on the verge of a mass execution if they lost, Dusty Baker handled the final two games of the NLDS with the same urgency of a man being led to the electric chair.

But I won't boil this down to one failed decision, or one blown chance. This team, which made the playoffs as a very cohesive team, exited early from them because of their collective failures, not because of one individual.

Mudslinging time: Friends, our team has no one to blame but itself, but I can understand your disappointment turning to anger. I feel your frustration with the Reds. And I get why you lack faith in a system that has the National League's fifth-best team, one that faded from the NL Central Race back when Call Me Maybe parodies were still funny, still playing for the championship that has eluded us.

I know this new system gave soft cushions to teams that lagged behind teams like the Reds for six months, and I know the newly-implemented Wild Card Game allowed teams to advance by taking advantage of new wrinkles like the newly-introduced outfield fly rule.

I know it's upsetting that the San Fran turnaround was ignited, in part, by a rousing pre-game speech before Game 3 that was given by a guy who running inspires more awkward looks than a tuba player making out with a cheerleader.  I know you're ticked that the guy who had the most debilitating hit of the season looks young enough to date Bengals cheerleaders and that the guy whose clutch Game 4 performance slowly tilted the series, still looks like he should be spending his afternoons kicking a hacky sack ball around the parking lot of a gas station.

But now is not the time for name-calling. And it's not time for finger-pointing either, primarily because Tony La Russa has retired, presumably to go invent yet another sport. Just as the Reds must own up to their own failures, we must hold them, and only them, responsible as well.

Hope For The Future: Fellow Reds fans, this is a time of great disappointment, but it too should be a time of great hope.  This franchise will be back and if they can improve in a just a few areas and avoid the mistakes of 2012, there's no reason why 2013 can't be even brighter.

This is my concession speech, a rambling one at that. I'm more long-winded than Clinton, right? But it's also a chance for me to report to you on the state of the Cincinnati Reds, and my friends, the state of this franchise is as strong as it's been in a very long time. Once a picture of instability, this organization is now a model of stability, armed with its strongest nucleus in years, and its window for winning is very wide open.

A team that won 97 games in 2012 remains mostly intact for 2013 and beyond. Joey Votto will still be a Red when we've colonized Neptune, and as along as he's healthy, he's a perennial MVP candidate. Brandon Phillips is still playing at a high enough level that we'll put off worrying about the long-term ramifications of his contract extension. Bruce, now one of baseball's premiere power-hitters, and Todd Frazier, fresh off one of the sport's best rookie seasons, are both entering their prime years and both are under contract for a while.

The Reds rotation, which used to feature more retreads and has-beens than an NFL pregame show, is young, durable, under contract, and might not yet have reached its peak. Few teams will go into 2013 with a foursome along the lines of Cueto, Latos, Arroyo, and Bailey.

Aroldis Chapman may start next season, which shouldn't happen. Or he may close again next season, which he should. Either way, no other team has such a weapon. Regardless of what they do with the Cuban Missile, the bullpen will still be loaded.

This franchise has committed finances to retain their own stars, and they made some smart moves in free agency and the trade market while avoiding the temptation to sign free agents simply for the sake of signing one.

This team's biggest sins pre-2008 usually involved signing players on the fringe of free agency, often for too much money, simply for the sake of being able to point to us and say "Hey look, we signed someone.  We didn't just spend our per diem at the winter meetings on lap dances and liquor, we did some actual work!  We're like a real baseball team!  Buy tickets, okay?

For the first time in a very long time the Reds are approaching a season from a position of strength. Their postseason collapse shouldn't obscure the fact that they have one of the more enviable rosters in the game, and though the upper reaches of the minor leagues have dried up a bit — the inevitable result of so many players arriving in Cincinnati at or close to the same time AND the trades made last offseason to acquire Mat Latos and Sean Marshall — the organization's pipeline is still producing heralded pitchers like Daniel Corcino and Tony Cingrani and minor league baseball's most talked-about prospect in Billy Hamilton.

My friends, this is a good time to root for the Reds. There's a ton of work to be done, and many key decisions for this franchise to make, but the short-term future is as bright as its been in a long time.

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(AP)

A Change Is Going To Come Fellow Reds fans, we must hope that this franchise learns from its own reent history and avoids the same mistakes from two seasons ago. In the offseason after a surprising 91-win 2010, they did almost nothing to improve upon a team that probably overachieved, and the result in 2011 was a very disappointing losing season.

The Reds were very good in 2012, but they weren't without flaws, and this offseason can't come without changes.

It's time to find a new center fielder. Drew Stubbs has gotten less productive each year he's been a Red, and he strikes out more often than a guy selling hygiene products in the parking lot of a Brewers game. On another team, specifically one that had a true leadoff hitter playing elsewhere, you could put up with Stubbs' offensive issues and take advantage of his defensive excellence, but we're spent the last three seasons trying to identify someone to consistently hit first to no avail.

Their next center fielder needs to be someone who can lead off.

That fix is not likely to be a long-term solution given Billy Hamilton's expected arrival by 2014, so the Reds must find someone to bridge the gap this coming season with someone who can give the Reds reasonable upgrades at a reasonable price.

Might I propose a good, hard look at Angel Pagan?

Ryan Ludwick needs to return.  He and the Reds have a mutual option for 2013. They need to look at each other, shrug their shoulders and say "this is working, right?" to ensure that he's part of the team next year.

The bench needs to improve, which is did in the second half with the addition of Xavier Paul.  Chris Heisey is a nice fourth outfielder (And yes, Reds fans, he is a fourth outfielder), but you'll find more Major League caliber players during an August visit to Williamsport than you would on the Reds bench this season.

This team, despite its collapse in October, doesn't need a major overhaul. It needs a few tweaks. Find some starting pitching depth. Get Devin Mesoraco ready to contribute more behind the plate. And yes, bring back Dusty Baker, which they've confirmed with an extension.

It's time, Reds fans, to get behind your manager. He made some questionable moves in the playoffs, but he did a masterful job with this team this season. And in the face of his reputation for not being very good with younger players, this team's core consists of guys who either made their Major League debuts under Dusty or arrived just before the beginning of his tenure.

You might not like him, but his players do. Here in Ohio we understand what it means to have the backing of core consituents. No constituency is more important for a manager than his players.

We have our differences with Dusty and we've made a lot out of them, but with the announcement that he is coming back, it's time to support the manager of this baseball team.

At least until we see his Opening Day lineup.

The big finish: Reds fans, we have indeed come a long way.  From the misery of the Dunn and Griffey years, to the excitement of the Votto and Phillips era, we have seen this organization progress from irrelevant to elite.  After years of ownership that either pinched pennies or made fiscal decisions that would make a 22 year-old girl look financially savvy, the Reds are now owned by people who continue to reinvest in the team and make mostly sound financial moves. For more than a decade, this organization's farm system produced fewer stars than 10 seasons worth of American Idol.  Now, the team is stacked with quality, homegrown talent, with more on the way.

After years of pain and slow progress, the Reds are now one of the best teams in baseball.  They still have a long way to go. There's still plenty of work to be done.  And no one said getting back to the World Series would be without some setbacks along the way. But for the first time in a long time, we can envision a day where the Reds once sit atop the baseball world. It is a fantastic time to be a fan of the Cincinnati Reds.

God Bless the Cincinnati Reds. God Bless Fans of the Cincinnati Reds. And to hell with the St. Louis Cardinals!

Follow Mo on Twitter and read his blog at ESPN 1530

Previous Concession Speeches: Los Angeles AngelsTexas Rangers, Atlanta BravesChicago White SoxTampa Bay RaysMilwaukee BrewersPhiladelphia PhilliesArizona DiamondbacksPittsburgh Pirates,Cleveland IndiansBoston Red SoxMinnesota TwinsSan Diego PadresNew York MetsMiami MarlinsChicago CubsToronto Blue JaysColorado RockiesKansas City Royals, Houston Astros

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