In a broad sense, the St. Louis Cardinals won this weekend’s series against the Cincinnati Reds before a single pitch was thrown at the Great American Ball Park.
In fact, they etched that win in the books 16 years ago, when Bob Castellini was forced to divest himself from the Cardinals’ ownership group in order to become the majority owner of the Reds. With that $ 270 million purchase, made the winter before the Cardinals opened their new ballpark and won the 2006 World Series, the die was cast for the short- and long-term futures of the respective franchises, which have been so entwined in the c- suite.
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr., who resides full time just outside Cincinnati, held a similar stake in the Reds to Castellini’s in the Cardinals before becoming the plurality shareholder of the St. Louis franchise in 1995. It was that connection which brought Castellini’s money to the Cardinals, and it was DeWitt’s influence in the game which helped guide the Reds back to Castellini in return.
The divergence between the two groups has been drastic and the contrast has become quite sharp. DeWitt is not above criticism for some of the incidents of his ownership, with transparently bluffing a move of the Cardinals to Collinsville and more recently decrying a claimed lack of profitability in the game among the worst. Still, grating as those moments may have been, they hardly hold a candle to the follies in the Reds front office.
As the oldest franchise in Major League Baseball, the Reds have a proud history and a committed fan base to help them maintain it. With slightly more than the bare minimum of buy-in from ownership, there’s very little that would prevent Cincinnati from building a consistent team that at least puts up a regular struggle for central division supremacy while building strong community relationships to help fans weather the lean years .
Instead, on the day of the first celebratory Opening Day parade in three years, Castellini’s son Phil, the suffering COO, decided his legacy appointment entitled him to attempt to scare fans through the gates of the ballpark.
“If you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists? It would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else, ”Phil Castellini said on WLW radio. “So be careful what you ask for.”
Setting aside the abject absurdity of the idea MLB would allow one of its most historically important franchises to move, there are still stadium shakedowns in Oakland and Tampa to be completed before anyone thinks about going anywhere. The Cardinals and Reds both stand to take a small hit when the league inevitably expands to Nashville, but they’re likely to be well-compensated in consideration, on top of their respective chunks of a potential expansion fee.
The Reds are also locked into a lease until 2038 at their publicly-funded stadium for which they annually pay $ 1 in rent, and it would be difficult to find such a sweetheart deal in another city that also has the plaza space to hang enormous banners of angry outfielders flexing over befuddled rookie pitchers. There’s simply no realistic possibility that Mr. Redlegs is going to be forced to relocate, which in many ways makes the empty threat all the more insulting.
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Phil Castellini knew and knows all of this, of course, and issued a late evening apology to the fans after a 10-5 opening day loss to the Cleveland Guardians. That loss was the first of nine consecutive leading into this weekend’s series with the Cardinals, pushing the Reds to the worst record in baseball and making them the first team to ten losses.
All of this misfortune is befalling a team that, under the playoff format introduced by the new collective bargaining agreement, would have been in the 2021 postseason. Castellini and crew have claimed to be unable to keep up with salaries being paid around the game, but having trimmed an estimated $ 20 million from the payroll – with likely more still to come – it’s hard to see where they’ve really tried.
With only two players under guaranteed contract for the 2023 season, the teardown to the studs has been laid bare. For all of the criticism of the Cardinals for what’s been argued to be doing just enough to remain competitive, they do in fact clear that bar. However you slice it, the Cardinals at least are trying to win.
It could be a lot worse:
Imagine the alternate universe, then, where the abhorrent Marge Schott was forced from ownership at the same time the DeWitt group was getting serious about majority ownership. Imagine the Cardinals tossed around among undercapitalized groups before the Castellinis swooped in on them. Imagine the banks of the Mississippi looking like the banks of the Ohio, unable to even fill a bandbox as one of baseball’s proudest traditions is bloodlessly drained for dimes.
Be mad at Bill DeWitt if you want, and be frustrated if the Cardinals do not perform up to your standards either on the field or in player acquisitions.
Maintain perspective, though. Look across to the other dugout. It could be a great deal worse.