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Alas, the Poor Reds
Tim Crothers
May 05, 1997
We knew them well...and we didn't think they'd be this bad, Walking sluggers, Torched by an Angel
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May 05, 1997

Alas, The Poor Reds

We knew them well...and we didn't think they'd be this bad, Walking sluggers, Torched by an Angel

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April Is the Hottest Month

The Rockies' Larry Walker (above) was hitting a robust .469 at week's end, guaranteeing that, with only three days left in the month, he would have one of the hottest-hitting Aprils ever. But before he starts dusting off mantel space for his batting title trophy, Walker should know that some fast starters have slowed as the season dragged on. Max Alvis of the Indians, for instance, hit .444 in April 1966 and ended up hitting .245. Here are the best April starts since the expansion era began in 1961 and how those seasons played out.

PLAYER, TEAM

YEAR

APRIL AVG.

FINAL AVG.

WILLIE MAYS, Giants

1964

.488

.296

KEN SINGLETON, Orioles

1981

.472

.278

PETE ROSE, Reds

1976

.466

.323

FRANK ROBINSON, Orioles

1966

.463

.316*

GEORGE BRETT, Royals

1983

.460

.310

*Led the league.

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Having been outscored by 50 runs and sporting a 7-15 record at week's end, the Reds are about as close as baseball gets to tragedy, at least this side of Wrigley Field. So it hardly seemed out of place last week when Cincinnati manager Ray Knight suddenly began quoting from Shakespeare. Knight alluded to Macbeth when he was asked to comment on the Reds' offense: "It's full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

He's right, of course. After splitting a pair of games with the Phillies over the weekend, the Reds were hitting .244 for the season. Eight-time All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin had just three RBIs and was hobbled by a sore Achilles tendon, which will probably improve only with surgery or a long rest. First baseman Hal Morris and rightfielder Ruben Sierra had combined for two homers in 146 at bats. And rightfielder Reggie Sanders, who was put on the 15-day disabled list last Friday with a bulging disk in his back, had to wear slippers to the ballpark recently because he couldn't bend over to tie his shoes.

But Knight invoked Hamlet, declaring, "Ay, there's the rub," when he laid most of the blame for his club's bad start on his pitching staff. The Cincinnati pitchers had a league-worst 6.03 earned run average through Sunday, in large part because they had yielded 109 walks, 18 more than any other staff. The starting pitchers had a particularly horrid 7.18 ERA and were completing fewer than five innings per start. John Smiley, last year's ace, was 1-4 with a 7.00 ERA.

Knight is convinced that his players are in a rare total team funk that they're bound to come out of soon. "You look at the back of their bubblegum cards, and you see what numbers these guys should produce," Knight says. "I have to have faith that our time will come, but so far it's been embarrassing. This isn't managing, it's torture."

"We just stink right now," says Larkin. "We're terrible. This is a multidimensional slump. It's raining. It's pouring. Is there a curse on us?"

Last week the team's flagship radio station conducted a telephone poll on whether Knight should be fired. The vote was 159 to 46 to dump him. "As an organization we are failing from top to bottom," Reds general manager Jim Bowden says. "You can't just blame it on the manager. It's the Morrises, Smileys, Larkins and everyone else who isn't doing his job. Our team has great chemistry, but you can't afford to let them get too comfortable. Sometimes you have to trade friends and popular players to get some attention in the clubhouse."

Sitting in his office last Saturday afternoon, Knight recited a familiar soliloquy as he talked about his own uncertain future and the difficulties his club faced in trying to turn it around after a bad start. " 'To be, or not to be: That is the question,' " the Cincinnati skipper said. " 'Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?' "

It sounded pretty good, until Knight was reluctantly reminded just how poorly things turned out for Hamlet.

Yes, Indeed, I'm Walkin'

With a runner on second base and two outs in a game against the Giants on April 15, Phillies righthander Bobby Munoz intentionally walked Barry Bonds. It was hardly an innovative approach, pitching around Bonds, except that the game was in the first inning. "I don't see any reason to pitch to him unless you have no other choice," said rookie Philadelphia manager Terry Francona. "My feeling is, let's make somebody else beat us. As a manager you come to realize that Bonds can break your heart just as easily in the first inning as the ninth."

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