Cincinnati Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini must be feeling the heat — and we're not talking about Hunter Greene's fastball.
More than a week after chiding fans for questioning why the Reds front office had cut payroll and gotten rid of productive players for yet another season, Castellini reportedly apologized — but not to the folks in the cheap seats.
Longtime baseball writer Jon Heyman reports in an April 25 tweet that Castellini sent a letter to Reds workers about his now-infamous "Where are you going to go?" remarks that he'd made just before the Reds' home opener on April 12. The team had lost 11 straight games since then until finally beating the St. Louis Cardinals on April 24.
As of 1 p.m. April 26, the Reds own the worst record in Major League Baseball. The team is just 3-13 so far in 2022.
"My remarks were flat wrong and in no way reflect just how committed I am … to the Reds and the city of Cincinnati. I let my frustration get the best of me," Heyman reports Castellini's letter to staff as saying.
Heyman doesn't note when Castellini shared the letter, but in an article posted later on April 25, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Reds' COO sent it on April 22, shortly before the first game of the home series with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Enquirer says that it had obtained and reviewed the letter, which Castellini reportedly sent to Reds staff as an email.
Reds COO Phil Castellini sent apology letter to workers for saying “Where they gonna go?” to fans after fire sale. In it: “My remarks were flat wrong and in no way reflect just how committed I am … to the Reds and the city of Cincinnati. I let my frustration get the best of me.”— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) April 25, 2022
"All of you work tirelessly to put this team in a position to win and provide the best gameday experience for fans coming to Great American Ball Park. And I know how much we believe in this team and what we can accomplish together. It’s why we walk into this ballpark every day, confident in our team – on and off the field," Enquirer writer Bobby Nightengale reports Castellini's letter as saying.
"The Reds are Cincinnati and Cincinnati is the Reds. As stewards of this franchise, we love this team and know the responsibility we have to the Queen City and the fans of Reds Country. We appreciate your commitment to helping build a winning franchise and exceptional ballpark experience that everyone can be proud of, and we will continue, with your help, to do everything we can to make that happen," Castellini reportedly wrote to Reds staff. Read more from Castellini's letter in the Enquirer.
Here's what Phil Castellini had said
Just before the Reds' first home game of the season on April 12, Castellini snidely responded to questions from 700 AM WLW radio about fans' frustration and their calls for the Castellini family to sell the team to someone who will buck up to make Cincinnati a World Series contender. Some fans even had raised more than $4,000 for a billboard urging team owner Bob Castellini — Phil's father — to sell the Reds. The billboard went up in time for the home opener, and fans have continued to sport shirts and hold signs with similar thoughts at games.
That I-75 billboard and fans' growing lack of trust in the team elicited a sharp response from Phil Castellini, who told 700 AM WLW radio that Cincinnatians basically have no recourse when the team repeatedly refuses to pay for productive veteran players.
"Where are you going to go? Let’s start there," Castellini said. "Sell the team to who? If you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money and compete more in the current economic system that this game exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And, so, be careful what you ask for."
Castellini later walked back his comments in a public-relations move, telling WLW a few hours later, "I apologize to Reds fans and regret the comments that I made earlier today. We love this city, we love this team and we love our fans. I understand how our fans feel, and I am sorry."
The Reds' front office continues to grapple with rapidly-falling fan enthusiasm and trust after the team lost free agents like All-Star outfielder Nick Castellanos and traded away big contributors like Jesse Winker, third baseman Eugenio Suárez and pitcher Sonny Gray. Moreover, just before the start of the season, Bob Castellini said in an interview that he wanted to concentrate on younger players, causing fans to fear that 2022 would be yet another "rebuilding season" rather than a legitimate push for playoff glory.
During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Reds made it to the Wild Card playoffs but lost the first round to the Atlanta Braves without scoring at all; before that, Cincinnati hadn't been to the postseason since 2013. The Reds have had just five winning seasons out of the last 15.
In recent months, Castellanos has made clear his disappointment with the team's front office for not extending him a genuine offer after he'd entered free agency in November with $16 million per year left on his contract (officials had presented MLB's minimum qualifying offer of $18.4 million). Castellanos expanded upon those thoughts and more in the April 22 episode of The Chris Rose Rotation podcast, saying that the Reds didn't even call him after he'd opted out of that offer. That continued the team's trend of cutting payroll since at least the 2020 season, Castellanos said.
"The reason why gestures like that (getting a call) are important is because us as baseball players, we're out there playing with emotion. I cared about the Reds. I cared about the city of Cincinnati. I cared about the fans that went there every day," Castellanos, who has since joined the Philadelphia Phillies on a five-year, $100 million contract, told podcast host Chris Rose. "And just in return, you just want to make sure that you're cared for, as well. But that's when the business portion really loses."
During the podcast, Castellanos also empathized with fans of the Reds and other franchises who feel left in the dust as team owners try to chase profit over players.
"Again, this is not me talking shit about anybody. This is just me observing what I have been around," Castellanos said. "The history of baseball in Cincinnati is second to none. The names that have gone through there, the history in that franchise — the fans are dying for something to really believe in again, to get behind, to feel proud of, to call their own. And right now, it's not happening. And that's sad, because as the generations pass and it doesn't become as prevalent. That's how you lose real fans. "
Current Reds players also have shown frustration over the front office's moves. After the Reds went 83-79 in 2021, longtime first baseman (and new social media darling) Joey Votto voiced his concern.
"I have higher expectations to be part of other large Major League moments," Votto said in an interview. "That’s without question concerning to me. I’ve been in the same uniform my entire career. We haven’t done enough winning."
The Cincinnati Reds will host the San Diego Padres April 26-28 at Great American Ball Park.
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