The Cincinnati Reds broke through in 2010 as being the first Reds team in fifteen years to crack the code for entry into October baseball. For years, Reds fans have hoped and pleaded for a winning team. Current owner Bob Castellini took over ownership of the team promising to put a winner on the field. Dusty Baker was made manager and Walt Jocketty and former general manager, Wayne Krivsky, laid the foundation to put enough talent on the field to be able to compete with any team in the National league.
The 2010 team was not the first team, however, that seemed like it had the talent to make the playoffs. The year before the Reds signed Ken Griffey Jr., they won 98 games and lost in a one game playoff vs. Al Leiter and the Mets to make the playoffs. The next season expectations were sky high, only to see the team squander a great opportunity to play for the post season.
So what made 2010 so much different for the Reds?
The Reds finally got the leadership it took to be successful and fight through the ups and downs of a 162 game season. In life, sports, and baseball, the difference between being good and great can be so small, and quite often the difference is unnoticable to the common fan. For years the Reds seemed to lack an identifiable leader or a strong enough manager to help his team bounce back from the ebs and flows of a long season.
In Dusty Baker‘s third year, he got it right; seemingly everytime his team faced adversity, he kept them on an even keel and allowed his team to respond stronger than before. As the Reds were swept before the All-Star break in Philadelphia and in August in Cincinnati vs. St. Louis, many counted the Reds out. They responded with strings of wins after both occurrences. Every move that Baker made may not have worked perfectly, but Baker preached to his team to believe in one another and to look across the field and see a guy who will fight for you and everyone else. That led to unity and a togetherness that led each player to rejoice in one another’s successes.
The Reds also often lacked a player on the field to be the vocal leader, and a player to lead by example. When Walt Jocketty traded Edwin Encarnacion for Scott Rolen in 2009, there was no doubt the move was made while looking toward 2010. Rolen came in and provided a steadying influence as he led by example with unwavering professionalism.
Orlando Cabrera was signed to play shortstop just before Spring Training in Arizona, and he provided the vocal leadership needed to ensure that each player kept the team goals in mind. He has been to the playoffs numerous times with numerous teams.
Furthermore, the Reds found a superstar who shows nothing but an unselfish professionalism in all circumstances. Votto could be counted on to make the big play, and then ask for none of the credit in return. The amount of respect the teammates have for Joey Votto was evident when Votto was initially left off of the National League All-Star team by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Votto’s teammates rushed to every microphone they could find to campaign for their friend and teammate to be added to the roster by the fans. Votto, however, seemed even a little uncomfortable in such a spotlight, but he was nonetheless added to the roster, and he will likely garner MVP honors in less than twenty-four hours.
Also Brandon Phillips played a unique leadership role where he showed the type of youthful enthusiasm that is infectious throughout a clubhouse. Phillips, while often outspoken, wanted to win as much as anyone, and when he unintentionally caused a brawl versus the Cardinals, his caring and desire to win was evident to everyone in that locker room.
And finally…Jonny Gomes. The much maligned and much applauded left fielder plays the game the right way. Drawing comparisons to Pete Rose, he never takes a play off and give 100% at all times. As he went all-out, he expected nothing less from his teammates.
All these influences combined to show the Reds what it took to make the playoffs, and how to play the game the right way. As they made the playoffs, they simply could not put together a full nine innings to win the October games that they absolutely had to win. On the biggest stage that Reds baseball has been on in years, they faltered, and…they learned.
In 2011, the Reds will be different and more experienced. They may not have the same 25 guys in the locker room, but they will be ready and willing. If they make it back to the postseason in 2011, you can bet that the result will be different, and Reds fans will be smiling a little later into October.