Best Cincinnati Reds Ever: Austin Kearns v. Ryan Freel

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First Round Matchup No. 8 Austin Kearns v. No. 9 Ryan Freel


A former No. 7 overall pick out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998, Kearns was one of the more coveted players in the team’s minor league system. He didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, 2002, finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year race, while slashing .315/.407/.500 with 13 HR and 56 RBIs.

But inconsistency over his next four seasons in Cincinnati left fans fantasizing about what could have been. Instead the Reds flirted with last place in the division for five years and Kearns became a .267/.358/.468 hitter with 71 career home runs in 452 career games with the Reds. He was then packaged to Washington during the 2006 season, arguably the most complete season of his career, in a deal headlined by relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski.

Injuries ultimately derailed Kearns’ career and plagued what could have been a productive outfielder for the Reds for a decade more. But, as Zach Lowe elocuted in his 2011 piece on Grantland Austin Kearns and former teammate Adam Dunn were Joey Votto and Jay Bruce before Votto and Bruce. Do with that how you like. 

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Looking for an exemplary utility player? The type of player who molds a championship team together? Ryan Freel fit this description to a T. The only difference is that in his six years with the Cincinnati Reds, not one time did his team’s finish above .500 and only one time did they reach 80 wins (2006).

But that doesn’t take away from what Freel meant to the organization. Originally a 10th round pick of Toronto in 1995, he didn’t make his MLB debut until six years later in a short stint with the Blue Jays. Two years later and Freel was playing 43 games with the Reds and quickly became a fan favorite, rarely finishing a game with a clean jersey. His hard-nosed, all-out-effort style of play appealed to fans and kept him around in Cincinnati for five more years. He played more than 100 games in each of the next three seasons (2004-06) including a career-high 143 games in ’04. In those three seasons Freel averaged nearly 37 stolen bases with a .273 AVG while earning playing time at second base, third base and all three outfield positions.

Freel didn’t last forever — just six years — with the Reds, but his memories are a permanent mainstay in the minds of Reds fans.

And let us not forget Farney, the little guy who lived in Freel’s head. What’s not to like about a guy who had conversations with an imaginary friend in his head? I rest my case.

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