New owners determined to field winner

New owners determined to field winner

CINCINNATI -- A lifelong -- but disenchanted -- Reds fan tired of watching losing teams, businessman Robert Castellini finally decided to do something about it.

Two years ago, he didn't renew his luxury box at Great American Ball Park.

This week, Castellini officially became the majority owner of the oldest franchise in baseball.

The sale of the Reds from Carl Lindner to his group was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball on Thursday. Permitted to speak for the first time publicly since beginning the process in November, the 64-year-old shared his vision for the team Friday afternoon.

"We're buying the Reds to win," said Castellini from a podium near ownership partners Thomas and Joe Williams. "Anything else is unacceptable. We will not rest until we are putting a contender on the field, year in and year out."

Cincinnati has posted five consecutive losing seasons and last reached the postseason in 1995. The club was 73-89 and finished fifth in the National League Central Division in 2005.

How long did Castellini believe it would take to turn things around?

"Our goal is to put a contender on the field this year," he said. "We're going to be a better team than people think we are. All that withstanding, we were chosen last in our division. We're going to be better than that. We very much hope to have a contender on the field."

Eager to put his thumbprint on the club as its chief executive officer, Castellini did some reorganizing in the front office by separating the baseball and business sides. He announced that chief operating officer John Allen would remain to head the business operations. In a pledge to fans, he promised no ticket price increases from last season and that the club would increase its community visibility.

Castellini also plans to upgrade the team's scouting and Minor League development system.

Instead of reporting to Allen, as he had done since becoming general manager in late 2003, Dan O'Brien will now report directly to the new owner.

"It's real evident that he's genuinely passionate and really cares about this team and this city," O'Brien said. "That can only mean good things for this franchise."

With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, Castellini wasn't expecting any major roster shakeups. But, it didn't mean that ways to improve weren't being explored.

"We'd sure like to have either a closer or top-notch starting pitcher for our rotation," Castellini said. "We're out there looking every day. Most of these people are not available anymore. We'd have to do it through trades. Most of the teams want our good young position players. It's going to be difficult, but it's not for lack of trying."

The Reds plan to give O'Brien an estimated payroll of $60-65 million to work with in the upcoming season. Castellini also indicated he wasn't afraid to put aside economics in favor of winning.

"If the occasion calls for it," Castellini said. "If we're into the middle of July and we're a contender, we're going to have to go with it and bite the bullet. That would be an example. Are we going to try and do that early on? No. We're going to stick to our budget."

"Winning is the priority," O'Brien said. "There's no doubt he'll be supportive in achieving that goal."

Castellini also answered a burning question on the minds of many -- What role may Lou Piniella have with the Reds? During his imposed silence earlier in the offseason, Castellini was spotted having lunch with the former Reds manager. Piniella resigned from his managing job with the Devil Rays after last season.

"I wanted Lou to come up here in the worst way as a special advisor," Castellini said. "He promised me, if I asked him to, he'd come down to Spring Training. He's just a terrific guy. He will not be with us this year."

The new ownership group, which purchased about 70 percent of a Reds team reportedly valued at $270 million, has a long history in baseball. Castellini, a magnate in the fruit and vegetable industry, was previously a minority holder in the Rangers and Orioles in the 1980s and 90s. He was a minority stakeholder in the Cardinals until this year, along with the Williams brothers, whose father was a general partner on the Reds from 1966-82.

"For Tom and myself, it's an extremely special day to be able to be involved with the Cincinnati Reds franchise as my father and uncle were at one time," Joe Williams said. "We only hope to be as successful."

Castellini provided immediate indication he will be a hands-on and passionate owner. He has taken office in Great American Ball Park and plans to be actively involved.

"We didn't get involved with the Reds to wallow in mediocrity," Castellini said. "If that's all we have to offer, we shouldn't be hanging around. We're going to give it 110 percent to put a contender on the field."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.