Allen making over Reds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Allen's odd job begins with odd jobs. Before the Cincinnati Reds' interim impresario can rebuild the organization, he must first see to some repairs.

''The whirlpool doesn't work at all,'' Jose Rijo said. ''It hasn't worked in two years. It smells funny and it just doesn't keep the water hot. It gets to 88 (degrees), but I need it at 110.''

Allen introduced himself to his ballclub before Friday's 6-1 loss to the Montreal Expos and was immediately inundated with work orders. Besides the worn-out whirlpool, players also complained that the club's indoor batting cage is battered, cramped and poorly lit. Clubhouse video equipment is inadequate and outdated. The Reds exercise room has not had a treadmill since Tom Browning was let go and took his home.

''Most of the weights we've got here, I brought here myself,'' Rijo said.

Twelve years of Marge Schott's management have left the local ballclub comically underequipped. Department heads often have supplies shipped to their homes for fear Schott would pounce on the package and confiscate the contents. Among Allen's first orders of business during his two-month audition is to end the organization's neglect of its infrastructure. His job is reminiscent of the role James Garner played in The Great Escape. The Scrounger.

''There's some fixes, some additions and improvements that should be made - I will admit that,'' Allen said. ''In 60 days, I'm not sure how much that I will get done. But I will say one thing: I'm a firm believer in the trade concept. You know, trade off for seats, trade off for an advertisement on the scoreboard. In Columbus, we traded for our lawn service.''

AstroTurf, happily, need not be mowed, so that's one less item on Allen's agenda. But his ultimate list promises to be long. Allen has asked manager Ray Knight and his coaches for an itemized requisition sheet. He promises to attend to each item systematically.

John Allen tells us he will not be Marge Schott's marionette, and his first days in her stead would suggest no strings remain attached. A roving Dixieland band appeared at Riverfront Stadium Friday night, and the world championship banners from 1975, 1976 and 1990 were flown after seasons in storage. The changes were cosmetic rather than costly, and yet encouraging.

Shortly before 9 p.m., a fan sitting on the third-base side could look toward the 1976 banner and see a rainbow beyond it. The symbolism was so plain it could have sprung straight from the pen of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

More change is on deck. Among the promotional gimmicks in the works for this weekend is a ceremony in which nine young fans will be allowed to take a position on the field and obtain a pregame autograph from the corresponding player. The newly revised Reds are out to restore your bond with baseball.

''I'm excited,'' said Barry Larkin, the Reds' most valuable and underutilized employee. ''He (Allen) is trying to inject some fun, get the fans excited. I'd like to see some things change. I'd like to see more interaction between the fans and the players. I'd like to see something fill the stadium up and get it so people are talking positive about this city and this organization.''

From the lowliest front-office flunky to the most superlative shortstop, the Reds are bone-weary of being baseball's laughingstock. They are tired of cutting corners at every turn, of making do with minor-league material and rationed resources. Under Marge Schott, the Reds have been about as state-of-the-art as the kerosene lamp.

The accountant in Allen says the club has no equipment problems that affect its performance on the field. The corporate climber in him says he needs to make a difference if his new position is to become permanent.

This shouldn't be so hard to do, because expectations are not enormous around the Cincinnati Reds. John Allen could make a big splash with a new whirlpool.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published June 15, 1996.