Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Turn the team around

Reds: Managerial firings

Monday's firing of Reds general manager Jim Bowden, manager Bob Boone and two coaches (Story) was more than a baseball move to shake up a team that has plunged into awfulness after a decent first half of the season.

It was a welcome signal to area taxpayers and fans that the organization may yet take seriously its community responsibility to field a solid, competitive team that will attract visitors and boost the downtown economy.

That's what voters thought they were getting when they were asked to support a publicly funded stadium. For years, Reds management explained its personnel moves as part of a grand strategy to rebuild the team for a breakout year in 2003, with its move into the new Great American Ball Park. "Build it and we will win," Bowden vowed. Maybe he wanted a cornfield in left.

Nobody expected, as chief operating officer John Allen put it, that the team could win the World Series right off the bat, but most assumed it could be contending for a playoff spot. The Reds are contending, all right - with Milwaukee for the division's worst record. The team is near the bottom in many categories - including errors, which may say much about how this team has been coached. There have been rumblings of discord in the front office, and complaints about Boone's managerial moves and handling of the pitchers.

Explaining the Reds' record in terms of the season-ending injury to star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. won't cut it - not with "replacement" Jose Guillen hitting for power (22 home runs) and average (.342).

Monday's firing may have given a bit of satisfaction to former manager Jack McKeon, who brought a surprising, scrappy Reds team to the brink of the playoffs with a 96-win season in 1999, then was dumped a year later to make way for Boone. Cap'n Jack now skippers the Florida Marlins, who are enjoying their best record since 1997.

Interim manager Dave Miley, up from Louisville (Story), will need some McKeon-like magic to salvage what should have been an exciting inaugural season. But turning things around will take more than a new manager. It will take a team that masters the fundamentals and hustles, and an ownership that shows commitment - and provides decent starting pitching.

Cincinnati's love for the Reds runs deep. It must not remain unrequited for long.

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