Price's rant raises questions over whether he's right man for Reds
In the annals of profanity-laced tirades, Reds manager Bryan Price uncorked one for the ages before Monday evening's game in Milwaukee, unleashing a five-minute, 34-second rant that included 77 variants of the F-bomb. More than just running up the score, however, Price's expletive-laden outburst suggested his failure to grasp the basic fundamentals of the relationship between ballclub and media, raising questions about his fitness for the high-pressure job.
What caused Price to lose his cool? Reports regarding the whereabouts of catcher Devin Mesoraco during Sunday's game, with the skipper questioning Cincinnati Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans as to why it was important for the general public to know which players were available at any given time, given that the information could also potentially benefit the Reds' opponents. You can hear a censored version of the audio here.
To rewind: The 26-year-old Mesoraco—who broke out last season with a 25-homer. 4.8-WAR campaign that earned him All-Star honors—had started the team's first five games of the season from April 6 to 11, then came off the bench due to an injury to backup catcher Brayan Pena on April 12. The following day, he remained behind in Cincinnati for an MRI on his left hip while the team traveled to Chicago. He has not played since, and prior to Sunday's game, Rosecrans reported that Mesoraco remained unavailable to play the field due to an impingement in the hip. At that point, Price told Rosecrans and the rest of the media, "I'm not afraid to use him. It's not a situation where it's 'Oh boy, if I put him in the ballgame and something happens, man…' He's cleared to play in a limited capacity, so I'm not afraid to use him in that capacity."
Down 2–1 in the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the Cardinals with righty Jordan Walden on the mound, the Reds' Brennan Boesch reached on an infield single and stole second on a strikeout to bring up the pitcher's spot. It seemed like an ideal opportunity for Mesoraco to take his cuts, but Price instead called upon Pena, who popped out to third base in what proved to be a fruitless inning as the Reds lost their fourth game in a row and seventh out of eight. Rosecrans asked afterward whether Price considered using Mesoraco in that spot, and the the manager responded "no." But the reporter soon pieced together the reality that the catcher was not with the team; with the Reds set to embark for Milwaukee following the game, no baggage was in front of Mesoraco’s locker (common protocol before road trips), and a source confirmed that he had not been in the dugout during the game.
During Monday's pregame media session, Price—who took over for the fired Dusty Baker following the 2013 season and in his first year on the job went 76–86, the team's worst showing since '08—questioned Rosecrans, who has covered the Reds since '04 for a variety of outlets. Via Rosecrans's transcript:
Bryan Price (BP): Can I ask you a question?
C. Trent Rosecrans (CTR): Sure
BP: I don't understand what the importance is for everybody to know if we have a player that's not here. We don't benefit from the other teams knowing we don't have a player. It does — you don't have to be a Reds fan, but it doesn't help us if our opponents know who is here and who isn't. That's what I want to know.
CTR: Well, as a fan, I'm wondering, here's a spot for Devin Mesoraco, why isn't he there?
BP: Where was the spot?
CTR: As a pinch-hitter? He's an All-Star with 25 home runs last year, I know I asked if it was a lefthanded bat thing, you said no.
BP: I don't get it. It's, you know, look, I don't need you guys to be fans of the Reds, I just need to know if there's something we want to keep here, it stays here. We don't need to know that Tucker Barnhart's in the f------ airport when we haven't spoken to Kyle Skipworth. I think we owe that f------ kid the right to be called and told that he's going to be sent down as opposed to reading that Tucker Barnhart is on his way from Louisville. I just... I don't get it. I don't get why it's got to be this way. Has it always been this way where we just tell f------ everybody everything? So every f------ opponent we have has to know exactly what we have. Which f------ relievers are available, which guys are here and which guys aren't here, when they can play, and what they can do. It's nobody's f------ business. It's certainly not the opponent's business. We have to deal with this f------ bulls---.
I like to talk—and I have spoken as candidly as I can with you people, if that's not good enough, I won't say a f------thing. I'll go, 'yes sir, no sir.' And I can do that. But f---, I've been as candid as I can f------ be about this team and our players, and we've got to deal with this s---, every f------ team that we f------ play has to know every f------ guy that's here and what they can and can't do? F--- me. It's a f------ disgrace. I'm f------ sick of this s---. It's f------ hard enough to f------ win here to have f------ every f------ opponent know exactly what the f--- we bring to the table every day. It's f------ horses---. I don't like it. It's what I'm saying. To make it very clear, I don't like the way that this s---'s going — at all. I don't like it. I don't think you guys need to know everything. And I certainly don't think you need to see something and tweet it out there and make it a f------ world event. How the f--- do we benefit from them knowing we don't have Devin Mesoraco? How do we benefit from that? They benefit from it. I just want to know how we benefit from these f------ people know we don't have a player here. Can you answer that? How is that good for the Reds?
Roll over, Lee Elia, and tell Hal McRae the news. The Reds' manager worked blue for several more minutes, revealing along the way that switch-hitting outfielder Billy Hamilton, who was also out of Sunday's lineup, was dealing with an injured finger that prevented him from hitting righthanded without pain.
One can understand Price’s frustration amid a losing streak, as well as desire to protect his players from finding out about roster moves before they have been told themselves (the Barnhart/Skipworth matter on which Rosecrans had also reported). However, the heart of the matter is the manager’s mistaken notion that Rosecrans (or any media member) is beholden to the team—guarding secrets about player availability and toeing a party line—instead of to his employer and the audience for whom he is reporting. Knowing that Mesoraco isn't available does benefit the Reds' opponents. It is also factually correct, and that Price had suggested beforehand that he was at least on site, only to have the opposite found out, came back to bite him.
Managers quite often do obfuscate when it comes to player availability, for the reasons that Price colorfully illustrated. However, particularly in a competitive media environment where reporters who are around the team on a daily basis not only file pre- and post-game dispatches but are also expected to provide updates via Twitter during games, it's inevitable that some industrious one(s) will piece together the truth. It's also worth noting that fantasy sites such as Roster Resource chart each player's last seven days of usage, and common sense generally dictates that, for example, relievers don't work four days in a row. If a player who has been proclaimed available beforehand is not used in a situation calling for it, the manager will almost certainly have to answer for it at some point. If his answer is less than the whole truth, the concealed information will wind up looking quite damning if it leaks out—and it generally will, given the instincts of reporters who gather information via dozens of off-the-record conversations with team personnel and media colleagues as well as those on the record.
As it happens, there are a few more layers to the story:
• Mesoraco's injury is one that, if it doesn't clear up with rest, could require season-ending surgery, a crippling blow to a team in need of many best-case outcomes to contend. Mesoraco was one of only three Cincinnati regulars who provided above-average offense (an OPS+ of at least 100) last season; his 149 OPS+ and .534 slugging percentage both led the team, and his .359 on-base percentage was second behind Joey Votto's .390, which came in 168 fewer plate appearances.
• Price, now 52 years old, is a first-time manager who never played in the majors but who served as a pitching coach for the Mariners, Diamondbacks and Reds from 2001 to '13, a role in which he had far less day-to-day interaction with the media. Given that Cincinnati missed the playoffs last season after getting that far three times in the previous four years and that the Reds are currently off to a subpar start, it's fair to infer that he’s feeling the heat—particularly given that he has a contract that runs only through '16, and that Baker was fired with a year remaining on his deal. What's more, Price’s lack of media savvy suggests he would have an even more difficult time managing a team in a larger market, surrounded by an even heavier media presence.
• Rosecrans, a well-regarded reporter throughout the industry who has been at the Enquirer since March 2013, has been on the receiving end of a profane outburst from a uniformed Red before. Two years ago, after he was critical of Baker's use of Brandon Phillips in the No. 2 spot in the lineup given the second baseman's low on-base percentage (.310 at the time), Phillips called him "a fat motherf----- … talking negative s---" during his own postgame tirade. He also boasted that he had figured out Rosecrans's Twitter name, as if more than two seconds in Google was required for such detective work. Baker, notorious for his problems when it came to assembling lineups, refused to intervene; just over a month later, he was out of a job.
Via a statement issued by the Reds, Price has apologized for the "wholly inappropriate language" of his outburst, but he "stand[s] by the content of my message," indicating that he's still unclear how this all fits together. Good luck with that.