Not even Cincinnati's hairdressers know for sure what's wrong with the baseball Reds. The team that once dominated its division and was still strong last year now resides on skid row, 24 games out of first place in the National League West. Only Minnesota, over in the American League, has a worse record.
Ironically, the Reds' frustrations began a year ago when they compiled baseball's best overall record, only to miss out on the playoffs because they won neither half of the strike-induced split season.
No one really expected this year's team to resemble the Big Red Machine of yore or even the club's strong 1981 edition,, not after losing free agent Dave Collins and trading away starters George Foster, Ken Griffey, and Ray Knight. But, then again, no one anticipated the clock would strike midnight so suddenly either.
There are still some outstanding talents on the roster, as evidenced by the three Cincinnati players who made this season's All-Star game - pitchers Mario Soto and Tom Hume, plus shortstop Dave Concepcion. What hurts, though, is that Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver, the team leaders and perennial stars, are having off years. Bench, the lone holdover from the powerhouses of the early 1970s, has hit less than .250 and driven in very few runs. Seaver's pitching record is 4-11.
Other factors that may have contributed to the Reds' demise are management's refusal to sign free agents, Bench's switch from catcher to third base, and the influx of new faces into what was an established lineup.
As is usually the case in this sort of situation, though, the manager got the ax. Long-time coach Russ Nixon replaced John McNamara several weeks ago. Not surprisingly, no dramatic changes have occurred since and the summer appears to be a washout. And not just on the field. Things aren't going well at Riverfront Stadium's normally busy turnstiles, either.