COMMENTARY | Perhaps no other Cincinnati Reds player had a more disappointing 2013 season than veteran left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who started the season on the wrong foot by tearing his shoulder sliding headfirst into third base on opening day.
Ludwick missed most of the season but returned to the Reds for the final two months. Unfortunately, he ran into more problems after his return, notably at the plate and off the field with comments he made.
Heading into 2014, Ludwick would stand to benefit from a fresh start with a new team, but barring a highly improbable trade, Ludwick might have to endure a tough season before he can begin anew elsewhere.
Here are the five reasons why Ludwick could use a fresh start:
Ludwick was poised to have a big 2013 season. Fresh off a stellar 2012 season in which he became the Reds' cleanup hitter and belted 26 homers with 80 RBIs, he was the team's primary right-handed power production source -- for the first game of the season anyway.
The injury Ludwick sustained on opening day was one that made Reds Country cringe not so much because of how the injury looked as it happened but rather the way the injury occurred -- an ill-advised and unnecessary headfirst slide into third base that resulted in a shoulder surgery for Ludwick.
The injury dealt an early blow to the 2013 Reds and will be remembered as one of the more untimely injuries in Reds history long after Ludwick's playing days with the Reds are finished.
The Disappointing Return
Ludwick had the chance to help erase some of the setback his injury brought upon the Reds to start the season. He returned August 12 and proceeded to go 0-for-11. Ludwick did revive his bat somewhat after that, finishing August with a .264 average in 53 at-bats with a pair of home runs and six RBIs.
Then came September.
At a time when the Reds were in the heat of a three-team NL Central race, Ludwick struggled. In his final 83 regular-season plate appearances, Ludwick hit a mere .224 with no homers and knocked in a scant six runs. Ludwick had just three extra-base hits (all doubles) during that final stretch that saw the Reds fall woefully short of the division crown in third place.
The Divisive Comments
In the last week of September, deep in his own funk at the plate, Ludwick brought it upon himself to take the Reds' fans to task for failing to provide a playoff atmosphere for a home series against the New York Mets (from Paul Daugherty's Sept. 26 column for The Cincinnati Enquirer) :
"Coming over here, I heard about how big a baseball town this is. We've put a winning ballclub out there'' three of the last four years, said Ludwick. "This is a good team. When we went to Pittsburgh, they had an advantage. (Fans) were loud. A playoff atmosphere.''
Ludwick said he had an epiphany of sorts Wednesday. With two outs in the Reds 9th, he heard a woman in the fifth row behind the home dugout, loudly taking the fans to task. "We have a great team and our fans (expletive) suck,'' she said, according to Ludwick.
He said a Mets player raised similar issues Tuesday night: "You guys are in the middle of a pennant race and no one's here. What's going on?''
Said Ludwick, "I might be be calling (fans) out. But I'm calling them out in a positive way. We want loud and energetic. It's like a natural Red Bull. We need every positive aspect we can to keep this thing going.''
As it turned out, Reds fans set the attendance record for Great American Ballpark in 2013 and finished with the fifth-highest attendance in franchise history. Also, as it turned, those same Reds fans had just about as good of a chance to drive in a run at the end of the season as Ludwick, who was just 2-for-17 with no extra-base hits and no RBIs to finish the season.
The Reds Country Connection
When Ludwick clarified his criticism of Reds fans, he brought into play his childhood connection with the Reds (from a MLB.com article on Sept. 27):
"They don't understand where I'm coming from," Ludwick said. "I have four grandparents that are in the ground 40 miles from this stadium that grew up in Georgetown, Ohio. My mom and dad were born there. My Dad went to school in Columbus. I grew up a Reds fan. I grew up an Ickey Woods-Boomer Esiason [Bengals]fan. I had better deals to go elsewhere the first and second time. The reason I signed here, the reason I came here, is because this is a place that's dear to my heart."
Ludwick may be the only current Reds player who has any real emotional connection to the Reds outside of his career as a baseball player, but that connection may work against him if he hits at the outset of 2014 like he did at the conclusion of 2013.
The Unearned Contract Extension
In the article reference above, Ludwick remarked that the contracts he signed with the Reds -- first the one-year deal as a free agent in 2012 and then the two-year extension for 2013 and 2014 -- weren't the highest he was offered.
Ludwick most definitely was a bargain for the Reds in 2012 ($2.5 million). Even though he was on the disabled list for most of 2013 and ineffective for the rest of the season, Ludwick only cost the Reds $3 million for 2013 ($2 million signing bonus and $1 million in salary).
The 2014 season is a different story. Ludwick has a base salary of $7.5 million and a 2015 deferred buyout for $4.5 million. Ludwick will essentially make more money with the Reds for 2014 ($12M) than Jay Bruce ($10M). Unless his production approaches that of Bruce, the high cost for the Reds to have Ludwick play could further impact the impression Reds fans have of him.
A $12 million commitment may not drop a bead of sweat for a big-market team, but for a small-market team like the Reds with significant payroll restrictions, that kind of money has even more expectations and pressure attached to it. That above all else is why Ludwick could use a fresh start sooner rather than later.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years and maintains the Football Nostradamus website. You can read his articles about the Reds here.
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