A View From Studio 3: Bruce powering Reds
Outfielder is club's leader by example as it makes another postseason push
If you remember the last time the Reds reached the postseason three times in a four-year span, you must be, at a minimum, roughly 45 years old. I am, and Cincinnati's Big Red Machine from the mid-70's provided my first vivid memories of playoff baseball.
It seemed like a given back then that Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan would help win the National League West and Reds baseball would continue until the leaves turned from green to orange.
Morgan was my favorite of the bunch because his batting stance was easily imitated. On hundreds of different occasions, I pumped my back arm while standing in the batter's box. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.
Fun? You bet.
Did it translate to great success on the diamond? You should know the answer.
In 2010, before Cincinnati faced the Phillies in the NL Division Series, I had a chance to interview Morgan, and after waiting a lifetime, finally had the opportunity to ask about his unusual style. I was so psyched to have the opportunity to talk to him that I didn't really listen to his answer.
My bad. Unforgivable reporting mistake. Woops.
That Reds team had personality, gumption and future Hall of Famers on the field and in the dugout. Back then, my brother and I referred to manager Sparky Anderson as "the guy who looked like our grandfather."
Little did we know, we were watching an iconic baseball man who would win three World Series titles in a 27-year career.
I should point out that I was not technically a Reds fan. But their success created baseball memories for a lifetime.
Jump ahead some 40 years. The Reds are a few weeks away from possibly nailing down a playoff berth for the third time in the last four seasons. Like Anderson decades ago, current Reds manager Dusty Baker is as respected as any in the game. Unlike the Big Red Machine, this group hasn't won a playoff series. They haven't gotten over the hump. Therefore they're rarely mentioned when we talk about the best teams in baseball.
The lack of postseason success is one reason they don't get a ton of national attention. Another seems to be the unassuming and under-the-radar personalities of many star players on the club.
Joey Votto is exhibit A. Shin-Soo Choo fits the bill. Bronson Arroyo is a rock but is hardly noticed outside of the Queen City. A language barrier between many in the media keeps Aroldis Chapman at a distance.
What about behind the closed clubhouse door? Who are guys who stand out? The vocal leaders? This week on MLB Network's The Rundown, I asked right fielder Jay Bruce that question.
"For the most part, we don't have any vocal, vocal leaders," Bruce answered. "I think we have a group of guys who try to do things the right way. Guys that aren't talked about a whole lot are Jack Hannahan and Cesar Izturis. "
And Jay Bruce.
He appears as mild mannered and affable as any player in the game. If fact, Bruce could be one of the least talked about stars in the Majors. I asked if he minded that I attached that moniker to his name.
"No, I don't. Nothing I can control so I don't worry about it too, too much to be honest with you," Bruce said.
When you consider the 26-year-old's achievements, it is a bit odd that Bruce doesn't get more publicity.
Read the following, think about it, then read it again ...
Bruce is the only player in Major League history to hit at least 20 homers in his first season then increase that total in each of the next four seasons.
2008: 21 homers
2009: 22 homers
2010: 25 homers
2011: 32 homers
2012: 34 homers
That's just a sample of his impressive numbers. Bruce set the bar high and many of his numbers have improved steadily.
Physically, his approach hasn't changed much over the years, but Bruce says he's adjusted his mental approach.
"I think just gaining an understanding of the game, understanding what pitchers are trying to do to me, not trying to create things and make things happen as much as I used to," he said.
To paraphrase the Beaumont, Texas native; He's slowing things down and letting the game come to him.
What's coming the Reds' way in the final weeks of the regular season is a dog fight. Head-to-head matchups remain against the clubs they're chasing in the NL Central. Seven contests versus the St. Louis Cardinals and six against the Pirates are on tap, including the final series of the regular season at Great American Ball Park.
A Reds postseason appearance may depend on that final series.
On ballfields across America there is a generation of Reds fans, imitating Bruce and waiting for October memories to call their own.