CINCINNATI – A friendly piece of advice for the Castellini family, fall on your sword and offer a genuine apology to Reds fans.
Laugh if you must. But the image right now ain’t good. It’s downright awful.
There doesn’t need to be a “truce” between fans and the team. There needs to be an overhaul of team messaging and image. Period.
The team’s obligation is to provide the fan base with the most competitive product possible within financial means.
Those financial means were impacted very negatively by the pandemic and a collapse in September last season when fans weren’t showing up in the final month for a team that was in playoff position.
General manager Nick Krall was under a directive to slash payroll. And slash he did, saying goodbye to Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Wade Miley, Sonny Gray and Amir Garrett.
Besides the above players in other uniforms and not Cincinnati red and white, there was something else that was unmistakable to Phil Castellini and the 43,036 in attendance Tuesday.
The reaction to the Cincinnati Bengals was overwhelming. From Joe Burrow throwing the first pitch to head coach Zac Taylor to Ja’Marr Chase to the spontaneous “Who-Dey” chants, the city is in a love affair with the new-look, new-attitude men in stripes.
Full kudos to the Reds for recognizing this, capitalizing on the fever and fervor, and making them apart of the greatest Cincinnati annual holiday.
But that love from the fans is not an entitlement. It’s earned. Just ask the Bengals. Any Cincinnatian knows this. It’s a show-me city. Show them a reason to show support and they will.
However, tear down a popular team and sell them off like used parts and you should expect the criticism that Bob and Phil Castellini experienced over the last several months. Throw in a lockout, and they could not have expected to be showered with bouquets.
With the whole city and fan base engaged on Opening Day, Phil Castellini had his chance to allay the fears of the fan base and sympathize with the frustration of those calling for ownership to sell the team.
Instead, we got:
“Well, where are you gonna go? Let’s start there. Sell the team to who?” Castellini asked rhetorically on 700 WLW, the biggest platform in the region. “That’s the thing. You want to have this debate? If you want to look at what you’d do to make this team more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists [in], it would be to pick it up and move it to somewhere else.
“So, be careful what you ask for. I think we’re doing the best we can do with the resources that we have. We’re no more pleased with the results than any of the fans. I’m not sitting here saying anybody should be happy. I’m not polishing trophies in the office right now, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
The second half of that is well-intentioned, except of course for the “be careful what you ask for” part.
4-12-22 Reds COO Phil Castellini Clears the Air https://t.co/A8bDPmGj2x
— Bill Cunningham (@Willie700WLW) April 12, 2022
A brief three-sentence statement issued at 9 p.m. on the night after an Opening Night 10-5 loss to Cleveland (of all teams) apologizing for those words won’t cut it with the fan base, and certainly not on social media.
My statement for Phil Castellini, after those regrettable words, would read something like this:
Dear Reds Fans, more than sincerely apologizing for my words of frustration on Tuesday, I want to reinforce our family’s commitment to making you all proud of a franchise that has long stood for greatness and pride in Cincinnati. We made some difficult decisions in the past month, parting ways with popular players like Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to help us move toward a more competitive financial position while also making room for some our younger talent to flourish. There has been frustration throughout our organization that we haven’t brought home a World Series trophy. As my father said in buying the team in 2006, “We’re buying the Reds to win. Anything else is unacceptable.” That remains as true today as it was 16 years ago.
Sometimes as owners, we become frustrated like you do with on-field performance and off-field rumors and speculation. That unfortunately is what victimized me before Opening Day, a day that should be reserved exclusively for celebrating the longest and grandest tradition in our great city. Our family remains committed to offering this great city the best in baseball and we look forward to the great challenge of matching the enthusiasm generated by our exciting partners to the west along Pete Rose Way. The response to the Bengals and the incredible thrills they provided this city were on clear display in our park Tuesday and certainly justify our decision to invite them as part of our sports family. They have set the bar for us going forward. We look forward to joining the Bengals in providing the very best in sports entertainment and achievement. We have some incredible young talent emerging and I invite Reds fans everywhere to enjoy their development right before our eyes.
Sincerely, Phil Castellini.
Take out online and hard print ads in The Enquirer and on social media channels and make it clear of this organization’s commitment. Sometimes a PR disaster like Tuesday can turn into a great opportunity. This is an opportunity to deliver a heart-felt message to its fan base.
@BrandonSaho gave Phil Castellini a chance to apologize to fans before the game, and Castellini emphatically doubled down. This family doesn’t care about us. These are his true colors, don’t let some corny statement convince you otherwise. Unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/oDr4e0zCdK
— The Nati King (@thenatiking) April 13, 2022
Fans want to love the Reds. That’s why they’re upset. They simply want to hear that the Reds will do everything in their power to make the Reds competitive and eventually a champion.
As someone who grew up with this franchise in its halcyon days of the 1970s and enjoyed everything about the Big Red Machine and its too-brief resurgence in 1990, we’re all in a better mood as Cincinnatians when the Reds are relevant.
Yes, I get that imbalance is part of the calculus right now in Major League Baseball. The teams with their own TV networks have a huge advantage over those that don’t. The Reds just have to get the messaging down. There are loads of reasons to be excited about the future of this franchise, starting with Hunter Greene, Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson and Nick Lodolo.
That’s where the focus of the true Reds fan is. That’s where ownership should be, not on some yokel yelling “Sell the team, Bob” from the “View” seats in the 500 level, or much lower for that matter.
Right now, the irony is that the Bengals have done the improbable of setting a new bar of expectations without even winning a Super Bowl.
What the Bengals did in the offseason only underscores why Reds fans look at the baseball team and wonder why there can’t be more of an effort to match the desire of the football team to win a championship.
You may not win but the message from the fan base is that if you go down with a fight, we’ll be there for you.