Everybody knew it wasn’t going to happen. Among the infinite possible universes that exist, there is only one of them in which the Cincinnati Reds had any chance at signing Japanese maximum baseball cyborg Shohei Ohtani. And that universe also uses lollipops for currency, everyone on the planet is a billionaire athletic shoe mogul, and intercourse is common, fruitful, and satisfying. It was never going to happen.
But that didn’t stop Dick Williams. The cynic would say that he is too green and naive to understand how these things work and he spent a lot of time and treasure chasing a laudanum vapor dream. But I think it tells us something far more important and positive about the Reds’ General Manager.
If you have not yet, take a look at the promotional materials the organization created in their pitch to Ohtani. You really should check it out for yourself, but suffice to say that it is impressive in both depth and scope. Williams says they spent months on it, and from what we can gather, it sure looks like it (a good bit of the pitch included a lot of propriety materials, so we the public won’t get to see it). They contracted an outside marketing and promotions firm to create a video personally for Ohtani.
When Ohtani’s agent announced the handful of teams to whom he would grant a personal interview, the Reds were not among them. Obviously, most teams weren’t. Word trickled out from each organization that they were out of the running, but curiously the Reds didn’t make such an announcement like everyone else did.
“I didn’t want to go on record saying we were out, because I didn’t believe we should be at that point,” Williams said. “I wanted to try to get us a meeting. I wanted to be at the table, so I kept trying.”
He wasn’t going to give up that easily. He figured if he could just get his foot in the door, he could convince Ohtani that Cincinnati was the right place for him. But on the other hand, it’s quite possible that Ohtani never gave the Reds a second thought. Nobody knows his thought process through all this (aside from his inner circle folks), but one could surmise that he was really only interested in playing on the West Coast and only in the American League, what with their DH and all. So it is possible that this incredible product of months of work was never once opened by the one person for whom it was made. There is something heartbreakingly tragic about that thought.
So yeah, maybe Williams is green and naive. The idiot should know by now that Cincinnati is not a destination for premiere free agents. Only bums and has-beens freely choose to play in Cincinnati, and even then only out of desperation. The whole thing is rigged, anyway.
Me? What I see here is a fresh, new organization philosophy in the Reds’ front office. Small-market teams like the Reds often use their very small-marketness as a crutch. They complain about payroll restrictions and how unfair it is that teams in LA and New York can spend so much more than they can and it isn’t their fault that the team can’t compete because the whole thing is rigged anyway, man. And I think that defeatist line of thinking in self-perpetuating. When you think the system is rigged, you don’t really try anymore.
But dammit, Dick Williams and the Reds really tried to sign Shohei Ohtani. Many teams didn’t even do that. Apparently the Orioles refused to court him out of some sense of principle about how the posting system is not good. Whatever the hell that means. To me, it just sounds like a bunch of crybabying over how unfair the system is. The Reds have done their share of that crybabying over the years, but I really think Dick Williams is a different kind of leader. And I like that. Because the truth is that a well-run team can be successful regardless of what their payroll looks like. See the Indians, Royals, Astros, and Rays as recent examples. The complaining about the rigged system has always been a way of deflecting responsibility and nothing more.
The Reds probably didn’t have a chance to sign Shohei Ohtani. But Dick Williams wasn’t going to take that lying down. I like that.