To most fans, Bryan Price was the guy with the phone plastered to his ear when television cameras focused on the Cincinnati Reds’ dugout, singing Bryan’s Song to the bullpen.
They took away his phone, a pitching coach’s top utensil in the dugout, and officially handed him the swivel chair in the manager’s office.
Price was one of manager Dusty Baker’s top lieutenants and acted accordingly, playing the good soldier. Significantly, though, when the media asked Baker about his pitching staff, Baker deferred to Price and said, “Go ask Bryan. He knows more about that than I do.”
And the media had to go searching for Price, a man who knew his place and kept a low profile. But once you found him, it was worth the effort. As pitcher Bronson Arroyo put it, “The guy is freakin’ intelligent.” That he is. And he is even-keeled, soft-spoken, candid and deeply imbued with personality.
Are we talking about Bryan Price or Dusty Baker? Don’t they sound alike? Price was asked about that because when the Reds collapsed like a cheap beach chair the last week of the season it was evident the team’s personality was as cold as a diamond in a freezer. It appeared nobody was able to stick a match under their posteriors and they played as if they had a cab outside the stadium with the meter running.
About being fiery and motivational, Price said, “Just let it be said that I’m a competitive person and let me get a year under my belt before you assign a moniker.”
Price emphasized how much he learned during his four years as Baker’s pitching coach and called Baker a confidante and a friend. As for being a carbon copy, he said, “I can’t manifest something that isn’t there. In my relationship with the media I’ll be honest, direct and forthright. But I won’t interact the same way with the media the way I interacted with the pitchers the past four years.
“I do have high expectations from myself and those will be shared and expected from the players,” he said.
Price said while he learned from Baker, he also assimilated and absorbed things from other managers for whom he worked and played for 30 years, “A compilation of people who have been in my life. Dusty was a leader. And I learned from Lou Piniella, Bob Melvin, Mike Hargrove and Joe Madden. I’ll be a compilation.”
There was, of course, the inevitable subject of accountability. With Price, that should be no problem. His pitchers, to a man, be they starters or relievers, held themselves accountable. If they stunk up the park, they said they stunk up the park. If they made a bad pitch, they said they made a bad pitch. No excuses.
“There is so much turnover in baseball these days that connectivity is hard to come by,” Price said. “You have to unify a group and not expect the manager and coaches to hold the players accountable. They have to hold themselves accountable and we have players with that type of character here already. It is important to bring the 25 players and the coaches together for a common goal.”
That common goal is for the Reds to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs, to win the World Series, and Price emphatically believes “we have the players to make that next step.”
“It is our goal to have unity, a common goal to play the best baseball on a daily basis and with energy,” he said. “When we see those people leaving a game ensconced in Cincinnati red we have to feel we have given them their money’s worth on the field, win or lose.”
Price said it is his job to cultivate a style of play. “What are we known for? Are we relentless, a team that is down by three and finds a way to rally? Are we a team that can knock a starting pitcher out before he completes five innings? Are we a team that puts pressure on the other team by the way we run the bases?
“What would make me happiest is to create an identity as a team that nobody wants to play.”
To his credit, CEO Bob Castellini said, his voice cracking, “It wasn’t the easiest thing to do to have a parting of the ways with Dusty Baker. We were a family. But to have Bryan Price here and knowing he is very capable of stepping in eased the burden.”
And now the burden of taking the Reds to the next step, beyond the first round of the playoffs, is dropped squarely in Price’s lap.