RRRetrospective: The pitching of 2003

Thank you for September. - LinkedIn, I guess?

Who the hell is Charles Dickens? Jim Bowden is the real author of Bleak House.

2003 was the year Great American Ball Park opened. General Manager Jim Bowden promised to have a championship-caliber team in place for the new ballpark. Jim Bowden lied. Cincinnati went 69-93 that year.

Opening Day in the new stadium was a 10-1 loss to Kris Benson and the Pirates. Reggie Sanders hit the first home run in Great American, but he no longer played for the Reds. You know who did play for the Reds in 2003? Thirty of the worst pitchers ever to wear the famed Cincinnati pinstripes & dropshadows.

For as much grousing as there's been this year, the franchise has come light years in the past decade. In order to celebrate this, we had the good men and women of Red Reporter tell us a bit about their favorite pitcher on the 2003 staff. None of these guys were our favorites because they were any good; the best man selected was a LOOGY with a 3.5 bb/9 and 5.1 k/9. They were at least interesting, though, and the best we had to cheer for in those dark days of a dark decade. Please share your favorites in the comments:

Grahamophone - Jimmy Anderson:

We like to think that good teams bring out the best in players, such as Ryan Ludwick rebounding with the 2012 Reds. In much the same way, it often feels as if bad teams bring out the worst in players -- see Delmon Young and the 2013 Phillies. The lowly 2003 Reds certainly had that ability. Coming in to the 2003 season, Jimmy Anderson had a 5.17 ERA in over 500 innings and was 18 games below .500 in his career (24-42), albeit on some pretty awful Pirates teams. There was absolutely no reason to get excited about him.

Anderson, however, was not about to disappoint that side of us that wants to watch the video of an airshow disaster. In his limited playing time (38.2 innings), Anderson pushed the limits of how bad a pitcher can be. He allowed 38 earned runs, for a smooth 8.84 ERA. If you include his one unearned run, he gave up more than a run an inning. That type of outcome requires the proper mix of incompetence. Anderson allowed 14 hits per nine innings, struck out only three batters per nine, and walked more than three per nine. Of those 14 hits, nearly two per nine innings were home runs. His batting average on balls in play was terrible, he couldn't strand baserunners, and routine flyballs floated over the fence like a raft in rapids.

FordhamRam - Jeff Austin, "The Anti-Vander Meer":

In 2002, the Reds had two pitchers that were previously drafted in the first round by other teams in Joey Hamilton and Shawn Estes. While the two had mild success with other ball clubs, they were respectively 4-10 with a 5.27 ERA in 17 starts and 1-3 with an ERA of 7.71 in 6 starts. With this stellar track record of reclamation projects, the Reds, on March 6, 2003, decided to trade Alan Moye and Damaso Espino for Brian Shackelford and Jeff Austin.

Austin was drafted number four overall in the 1998 Amateur Draft by the Kansas Royals and made his debut with the Royals at age 24 in 2001. By 2002, Austin had accumulated 37 major league innings and had an ERA over 5.00. This major league experience immediately qualified Austin for placement in the 2003 Reds rotation following an injury sustained by Jimmy Haynes in April that year.

Austin made his Reds debut on April 25, 2003 with relatively little fanfare and suffered a loss to the San Diego Padres. For a team ever looking for silver linings in their rotation, Austin went six innings and struck out six while sustaining the loss on 4 earned runs. Austin then put together a string of replacement level performance starts, winning two out of his next three appearances. On May 11, Austin went seven strong innings striking out seven in a win against the Milwaukee Brewers. At that point, Austin was 2-1 with a respectable 4.44 ERA. However, this would be the high point of Austin’s tenure with the Reds.

After going only 3.1 innings in his previous start, Jeff Austin, on May 23, 2003, pitched what was perhaps the worst start in Reds history. I would describe it with words, but my vocabulary is too limited to do it justice. Here it is:

0IP, 3H, 5R, 5ER, 4BB, 0K

Yes. He was pulled after giving up five runs and failing to record an out. In a season of bad starts by Reds pitchers, Jeff Austin essentially pitched the worst of all of them. There are 1,262 instances of pitchers starting games and leaving with an ERA of INF in Major League history, but Austin’s next start is one that made him a legend in terms of terrible pitching.

Jeff Austin started one more game for the Reds on May 28, 2013. The good news was that Austin was able to record two outs this time. The bad news was that he gave up five runs in the process. For the first time in Reds history, a pitcher failed to get out of the first inning in consecutive starts in instances unrelated to injury.

.2 IP, 4H, 5R, 5ER, 1BB, 0K, 4HR, 7BF, 1GB, 5FB [Ed note: Joey Hamilton's line for that game also must be witnessed]

By the end of May, Austin had an ERA of 8.58 and was given a bus ticket to Louisville. Austin, thankfully, never pitched again for the Reds and should not be forgotten for providing arguably the two worst back-to-back starts in Reds history. While other pitchers may have been more notorious for their ineffectiveness in 2003, nobody matched Austin in terms of awfulness over a short period of time.

kcgard2 - On Felix Heredia:

Truth be told, I don’t even remember Felix Heredia ever pitching for the Reds. I only know Felix Heredia for one reason, basically: when I was 11 or so, I had a baseball card of Felix Heredia. It was a kind of cool card, it had a special foil surface and it said ROOKIE real big on it and he looked young and promising and I liked his name too. On that card, Felix Heredia was a Marlin, and that is literally all I knew of Felix Heredia until we were asked to do a short piece on our favorite pitcher from the 2003 Reds team.

The pitching on that 2003 Reds team was terrible. However bad you think it was, it was worse. Aaron Harang joined the Reds at the end of that year and pitched in 9 games, but picking Harang from the 2003 team seems like cheating. And as I was looking at the roster of names of guys who pitched at some point for the Reds in 2003, Heredia was one of the very few that did not come immediately associated with feelings of queasiness, feelings of disgust, or feelings of disappointment. The only feeling was that Heredia was a Marlin, and I kind of liked his baseball card. He may have been the best pitcher in the Reds bullpen that year, but I don’t remember him at all. And when it comes to the Reds pitching staff from 2003, remembering nothing at all about a guy is just about the biggest compliment any of them could receive.

ken - Scott Sullivan:

"Throwback" is commonly tossed around whenever someone stretches a single to a double or records a four-out save, but submariner Scott Sullivan truly fit the bill. The guy grew up milking cows. He learned to throw sidearmed as a walk-on at Auburn after his coach spotted something while Sullivan was shagging balls. As a Red, he threw triple digit innings in every year from 1998 - 2001, and a fitting 97 innings in ‘97. He earned 9 Saves and a million Holds.

By August 2003, the team’s Y2K glory days were firmly behind it.Sullivan’s were, too. He was coming off his worst year by ERA and walking hitters at a career high rate. Still, Sullivan was one of the most respected guys in the clubhouse and the leader of the team’s chapel services. The Reds waited until August 21 to deal Sullivan - three days after his wife gave birth to their third child - and weeks after the housecleaning in both the clubhouse and the management suite. For many of the remaining players, it felt like the last straw. Sean Casey reflected that. "They say no player s irreplaceable, but a guy like Scott Sullivan is irreplaceable." Chris Reitsma was more direct: "It’s a joke."

Charlie Scrabbles - Phil Norton:

Back in those dark days, I comforted myself with any number of wiles. Phil Norton was chief among them. In '03, the Reds traded John Koronka to get him, and he had a September you could dream on. The season was already lost when he came on, but his 14⅔ innings with a 2.45 ERA gave me hope. The whole pitching staff was lousy, but with the recently drafted Ryan Wagner and the wily lefthander Norton, they had what I called a good start.

Damn, those were dark days.

BK - Chris Reitsma:

For some reason, when I think of the guys who pitched for the early-2000s Reds teams, Chris Reitsma is one of the first names that comes to mind. I remember his Canadian-ness (foreshadowing the Votto era to come?), and the amazing start to his career he had. This was the days before Farmers Only columns, so when Reitsma made his debut in 2001, he was just a 23-year-old kid that the Reds picked up in some trade. In his first four games, he was lights out. 4 starts, 2-1 record, 1.03 ERA. Sure, he didn't strike out many guys, but the Reds really have something here, right?

Cy Schourek - Josh Hall:

Josh Hall walked too many, gave up too many home runs, and was oft-injured. Besides that, he was great. Drafted in the 7th round of the 1998 draft (10 picks before Matt Holliday), he spent the entire 1999 season on the shelf. Rising up through the ranks, the 22-year-old came up from AA Chattanooga for a spot-start on August 2, going 5 solid innings with only 2ER against the Giants. He came up again in September, pitching an inning in relief in a blowout loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 6, and then starting on the 9th, because hey, that's what you do with previously-injured 22-year-old arms in September of a lost season.

I went to a game in Wrigley on September 14. Hall started against Carlos Zambrano and the Central-leading Cubs. The young man from Lexington, VA went 7IP, 7H, 0R, 0ER, 2BB, 8K. The Reds won, 1-0, on a Russ Branyan single in the top of the 9th. Hall did not get the win.

Josh Hall would get injured again in 2004. He never pitched again in the majors, and his last (and only truly healthy) season in baseball came in 2010 for the Lancaster Barnstormers in the (of course) independent leagues. LinkedIn tells me he's a broker in Lexington now, and he completed an EMT course at the local community college.

But he'll always have September 14. And I will to. The Reds had a phoenom on their hands, yes sir, and I was there to see this 22-year-old become the next great Reds pitcher. Anything was possible that night when we both went to sleep. I've been waiting until 2010 to wake back up.

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