CINCINNATI — In any other industry, Jay Bruce would have remained employed by the Reds.
Bruce was a productive, happy worker. He represented everything the Reds want in their players. Family man, loyal. Said all the right things. Great teammate. And he was working for a fair wage in baseball's wacky economics.
But baseball is not like any other industry because of those wacky economics.
That’s why the Bruce trade made sense. The Reds are in the early stages of a big rebuild. Bruce is a free agent after next season. That means the Reds would have had to sign him for a whole lot of money to have around when the team is good again.
Bruce doesn’t spend any time wondering if it could have worked out and he remained a Red.
“I don’t,” he said. “I have a pretty good understanding of the business side of everything and what they felt they needed to do in order to go in the direction they wanted to go in. I respect them for that. I really do.”
Bruce returned to Cincinnati Monday as a New York Met. The Reds showed how much they appreciated his service with a pregame ceremony. Bob Castellini, Walt Jocketty and Dick Williams were on the field to present Bruce a $5,000 check for his charity golf tournament. The fans cheered Bruce all day long.
“It was special,” Bruce said, “but not surprising with the way the Reds have treated me, handled me from the time I got here. It continued the trend there.”
It was a nice day but a sad day if you’re a Reds fan. Bruce is the second-best drafted-and-developed Red of this generation. He should have ended his career here playing with Joey Votto, the best drafted-and-developed player of this generation.
“I think every player wants to finish their career with the team they’re drafted by,” Bruce said. “Rarely does it work out. It’s part of the game.”
Bruce is missed in the clubhouse.
“It’s going to be weird to see him,” Zack Cozart said before Monday’s game. “I was watching the game last night. Just seeing him in a Mets uni is kind of weird. Seeing him hit a home run off (Mat) Latos, that was cool.
“I root for him every time, but I root for him a little more when he hits off Latos.”
Cozart’s point was this: Bruce was an ideal teammate; Latos was not. You want to keep those kind of guys.
I don’t blame the Reds for trading Bruce. I don’t blame Bruce for letting it be known that he wanted a fair-market contract going forward.
I blame the system.
Both the players and owners deserve a fair share of the blame. The owners choose to spend like sailors on leave. The players, despite claims otherwise, almost always go where the most money is.
It’s a great system if you’re one of the fortunate 750 or so players, and you don’t see any teams on the verge of folding. The baseball industry is a money-making machine.
So I don’t see things changing.
That’s just a little sad for Reds fans. The signature moment of my time covering the club was Bruce’s walkoff home run against the Houston Astros to clinch the division in 2010. The burden of nine years of futility had been lifted.
“2010 is when it clicked for us,” Bruce said. “. . . 2010 is when I realized, ‘Man, we’re really good, a very talented team.’ We had the right mix of veterans and youth. Scott Rolen had a tremendous impact on that. Orlando Cabrera. Jonny Gomes. Some guys that led the way veteran-wise who kind of taught me how to be a big leaguer.
“We had a good run.”
Bruce than referred to the turning point with that Reds group - the collapse and loss in the National League Division Series with San Francisco Giants, the eventual World Champions, in 2012.
“I really, truly think we were the best team in the National League that year,” Bruce said. “Had (Johnny) Cueto not gotten hurt — we still won (Game 1) — it would have been a much different series.
“That was the year.”
If things had gone differently, Bruce might still be here. And teaching the young players like Rolen taught him.
But he’s a Met. That’s part of the game. A sad part, but a part nonetheless.
John Fay is freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.