What's rong with the Wreds? Even in-fielder Howard Johnson of the Mets couldn't help posing that puzzler at Shea Stadium Saturday as Cincinnati was losing the 16th of its last 18 games and the 19th of its 25 on the season. "Jeez, you guys got a good club," HoJo noted after reaching first in the eighth inning of New York's 5-1 win. "I can't understand it." The Reds' first baseman and manager, Pete Rose, was, like his team, at a loss. "You'd think if a guy's asked that question enough, he'd come up with the damn answer," Rose would say later. "How the hell did I get out of high school?"
Or to put it another way: How did a team favored to win the National League West become the major leagues' worst outfit? The Reds were on such a bleak streak that one beat writer said, "Watching them is like watching telephone poles while driving through Kansas." By the week's end, Cincinnati was last in the league in hitting (.217) and scoring (3.1 runs per game), and its starters' collective ERA was 4.40. Scan the field and you find a variety of disappointments: vets coming undone, sluggers not connecting, stoppers turning into sieves. A 3-2 win Sunday over the peerless Dwight Gooden could only hint at what should have been. "It's been a total team effort of stinking," says coach Tommy Helms.
What has made the plunge even more dramatic is the unlikely rise of the other team in the state. No sane Ohioan would have believed before the season began that the Indians would be fighting for first in the middle of May (page 28) while the Reds would be stuck in the cellar.
Perhaps the answer to Cincinnati's woes lies in this chronology/litany of all that's gone awry:
April 15 (3-3): Dave Parker, who in '85 drove in almost as high a percentage of his team's runs (18.5%) as Hack Wilson did in 1930 when he drove in 190 for the Cubs (19%), begins his current 16-for-80 (.200) tailspin. To this point, Parker has been carrying 33% of Cincy's RBI load.
April 22 (4-6): After dropping three straight, the Reds' home game against San Diego is postponed before it starts because of cold weather—a windchill factor in the 20s. But there are cold spells and there are cold spells. Cincinnati drops the next seven at Riverfront to run its home-loss streak to 11, its longest such freeze-out in this century.
April 27 (5-10): Lissa Kaplan, dog columnist for the Dayton Daily News, reports that the Reds' team mascot, Schottzie, is with pups. The Saint Bernard's litter, sired by Ch. RRR's Super Samson, is due around Memorial Day. With a pregnant pooch slobbering over them, the Reds tumble into the doghouse.
April 28 (5-10): Rose holds a stormy team meeting and the Reds actually win 7-4. Unfortunately, the game is against Detroit, for charity.
April 29 (5-11): The ace of the staff, Mario Soto, ties a major league record by surrendering four homers in an inning to the Expos.
April 30 (5-12): After battling the effects of a hiatal hernia and the flu, Rose concludes the first 0 for April (he had 10 at bats) of his career. Parker, sickened by his steady diet of 2-0 breaking balls, decides to go home and barbecue a goat. Advises Paul Meyer of the Daily News, "Any of your teammates will do."