Wayne’s World: The Salad Days of Wayne Krivsky
Of GMs past, present and future. And the return of Dusty Baker.
If GorillaGate has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always somebody to blame. There is nothing either right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.
As the frustration rises to the gunwales of the Goodship Redlegs, there’s been no shortage of thinking and finger pointing as an aggrieved vox populi throw organizational bodies over the side almost as fast as the club loses games. Ownership has navigated the Seven Stages of Baseball Grief and arrived finally, thankfully, in the embrace of Stage 7, Acceptance, Rebuilding and Hope. The baseball public? Not so much.
Once the folks running the Reds reached consensus with regard to the rebuild, then articulated it to the public, it was assumed Cincinnatians—knowledgeable baseball fans that they are—would respond in a positive manner. Injuries and the depth of the losing changed all that.
On another front, momentum continues to build within the Fyre Bryan Pryce Movement, as if a new a new captain could turn back time and avoid the iceberg already struck. Along with this comes a wistfulness for the past—and the inevitable revisionist history that always seems to ride shotgun in the fast lane of blame.
This weekend, Dusty Baker comes back to town, having been handed the reins of yet another talented team not unlike the Reds, Cubs and Giants teams he once led through all those yesterdays, lighting their way to dusty death.
The press conference announcing his hire by the Nationals launched a slew of articles hell bent on rehabbing the reputation of a man who languished outside Baseball’s white lines for two years following his dismissal from the Reds. My favorite defense of Baker came from a SportsOnEarth article that insisted that,“No, he [Baker] doesn’t have issues with young players,“ citing his willingness to play Joey Votto as definitive proof. Bryce Harper can breathe a big sigh of relief, I guess.
This ongoing restoration of Baker’s legacy, along with the animus directed toward Price for not doing more with much, much less, has led some to insist Baker was never really the problem to begin with and what was the team thinking replacing him with a pitching coach with no managerial experience. Those of us on the outside seem stuck at Stage 4 of our Baseball Grief—Depression and Reflection.
The Jocketty Jihad—worn, but never completely worn out—also comes with the invocation of a familiar name from the past: Wayne Krivsky. The narrative goes like this: whatever success the Reds had between 2010 and 2013 was largely based on the foundation Krivsky built. Jocketty was the caretaker who failed to build on Wayne’s legacy. So, it was unsurprising to read the following in the comment section on this very blog recently:
“I liked how O’Brien and Krivsky was running the team, build from within, scouting, instruction/development in the minor leagues, etc. They knew their stuff and made the basis for what we had going in the pennant years of 2010, 2012, and 2013.”
Yeah. Well, about that.
I did some reflection of my own. I went back and took another look at the Wayne Krivsky years, those days of wins and roses. I’ll leave Dan O’Brien out of this discussion, detouring just long enough to remind folks that O’Brien was, after all, the guy who signed Eric Milton for what was, at the time, a lot of dollar bills.
Wayne Krivsky, who had been with the Minnesota Twins organization for 12 years, left after the 2005 season and became the general manager of the Reds, following the heels of what seemed like a parade of failed GMs—Jim Bowden and the aforementioned O’Brien among them.
Carl Lindner had hired O’Brien, but now, new owner Bob Castellini, impressed with the way the Twins had dominated the AL Central from 2002-04, and mindful of five straight losing seasons, interviewed Krivsky and St. Louis assistant John Mozeliak among others, and in Castellini’s words, “he [Krivsky] blew us away.”
Chris Buckley became Senior Director of Scouting under Krivsky. During the Buckley/Krivsky tenure, the Reds drafted Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Zack Cozart, Drew Stubbs and Curtis Partch, among others.
Krivsky’s legacy was indeed one of successful scouting, thanks to Buckley and others. It was also a mixed bag of player acquisition, some good, some not so good. Wayne’s Rule 5 acquisition of Josh Hamilton was a thing of magic. Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo stand as reminders of what the GM was capable of.
The best of Krivsky may have remained in the form of Buckley, whom Walt Jocketty kept in place as scouting director. Under Buckley/Jocketty, the Reds drafted Mike Leake, Yonder Alonso, Billy Hamilton, Brad Boxberger, Tucker Barnhart, Tony Cingrani, Yasmani Grandal, Michael Lorensen and Jon Moscot.
If Jocketty was mocked for the unfortunate acquisitions of Skip Schumaker and Jack Hannahan, Krivsky had his white elephants, as well. The Reds were forced to pay Mike Stanton $3.5 million after dumping him during spring training. Josh Fogg was signed for $1.5 million. Rheal Cormier came onboard and would eventually be paid $2-3 million not to pitch for the Reds. The re-signing of a 37-year old David Weathers was a thing of beauty, right? Todd Coffey, anybody? And, of course, there was the very mock-able signing of outfielder Corey Patterson.
But perhaps Krivsky’s most cringe worthy move was his trade of Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to the Nationals for relievers Gary Majewski, the forgettable Royce Clayton, and Bill Bray. Krivsky seemed to have been embarrassingly played by the Nationals and of all people, Jim Bowden, who maybe knew Majewski was damaged goods.
In the spring of 2009, I went to a Lincoln Center screening of the film, Sugar. The story of a pitcher from a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, it portrayed a young, impoverished man’s fight to navigate MLB’s minor leagues. There was a Q&A session at the end, featuring the filmmakers and a former Reds scout. I wondered aloud to the scout about the chances a young Johnny Cueto would develop into a top-of-the-rotation guy. The scout said he knew Cueto well and assured me Johnny would turn out to be something special with the Reds. If my memory serves me correctly, that scout was surely Johnny Almaraz.
Who is Johnny Almaraz? Once in charge of International Scouting, Almaraz was the man who signed young Cueto. He resigned after 17 years because he could no longer work with Wayne Krivsky, who developed a finely-honed reputation for secrecy, for shutting others out of the decision-making process. The Reds lost others, like valued scout Larry Barton. Both were significant losses for the organization at the time.
Once asked what he learned from Twins GM Terry Ryan, Krivsky said, “It’s collective wisdom. It’s including everybody. It’s getting everybody’s opinion and getting all the best information you can and to make a final decision.”
As the familiar trope goes, Krivsky talked the talk, but …
Under the Krivsky years, the Reds went 161-184. When he was fired, Bob Castellini said, “We’ve just come to a point where we’re not going to lose anymore.” Many assumed Castellini’s move to install Jocketty was an “old boys’ network” gambit. But, maybe the Reds’ owner simply tired of bad contracts and an employee who didn’t play well with others.
Krivsky would go on to work with the Mets and the Orioles, but apparently always had an eye toward returning to Minnesota, which he did in 2011.
You might ask: why is all this important? As fans, if we don’t correctly understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various general managers who have passed through the Cincinnati Reds organization, how are we to correctly wrap our collective head around what the Reds are doing now to become relevant in baseball again? It’s easy to play the cynic after decades of losing, of coming up short in the post season, what with the prospect of a couple of more lean years.
Now comes Dick Williams. The very name “Williams” invokes nepotism. He’s already been labeled as nothing more than an insider, another nod to doing things in an insular manner. But what if Williams is really an outsider? His years of private equity and investment banking give him a fresh perspective on the game. He brings a distinctly analytical approach to an organization that has, at best, been behind the curve in the numbers game.
If the Reds front office can take the best of Krivsky, the trading bona fides of Jocketty, and the sabermetric savvy of Williams, can this Titanic Struggle finally be won?
We will see. But first, we revisit the past once again this weekend.
In 2008, Hal McCoy wrote in the Dayton Daily News:
“One of the things he wants known is that Dusty Baker was his choice to manage the Reds and he told owner Bob Castellini at the time, ‘Dusty Baker is my man and he is the guy for the job.’ And Krivsky added, ‘It was my recommendation and Bob agreed.’”
This is the move I will most remember from the Krivsky Era. It all comes full circle this weekend as Baker arrives, wearing a fresh shade of red, the familiar crescent “C” replaced with a scripted “W.” I never cared for the rigid, by-the-book philosophy. The unwillingness to even consider that Aroldis Chapman could have been a starter at a time when the Reds desperately needed another dynamic force to pair with Johnny Beisbol. Most of all, I’ll never forget Baker letting Todd Fraizer rot on the bench in the 2012 playoffs because as the Reds skipper said at the time:
“It’s Scotty’s last rodeo.”
When it comes to Baker, your mileage may vary. And indeed, for all the failures of the 2012 and 2013 post seasons, we should never forget that whatever dreadful mistakes Baker made, like leaving Mat Latos to meltdown on the mound in the 5th inning of Game 5—Johnny Cueto was never there for the Reds when they needed him the most. Not in Game 1 when he had to leave the bump only moments in—not in 2013, when he made only 12 starts for the Reds before being rushed back into that debacle of a wildcard start in Pittsburgh.
There will be much reminiscing, beginning tonight at GABP. Past meets present.
Bring your armor.
The original version of this piece appears at cincinnati.com