Naysayer: Elly-Mania Is Here

And that’s good for me and the Cincinnati Reds.
Photo courtesy Cincinnati Reds

THE SMELL of fresh-cut grass in springtime. That sweet smell of the grass hearkens me back to my childhood playing Little League baseball. Arriving at the field smelling the recently cropped outfield, seeing the freshly dragged infield, the new bases, the new pitching rubber, and the feel and smell of a brand-new baseball right out of the box.

It also reminds me of the excitement I felt for the Big Red Machine decades ago when I was a fan of Major League Baseball. I now must admit the excitement for Reds baseball is back with me all because of one player and his unlimited potential: Elly De La Cruz. 

He is described as electrifying, a phenom, a player with an astronomical ceiling, and all this has led me to join in on Elly-mania!

Growing up in Ohio during the 1970s and ’80s in the time of the Big Red Machine was exciting. Almost every position on those teams was manned by an All Star. In my mind, that period remains truly magical. The Machine was led by coach George “Sparky” Anderson, a Hall of Famer himself. Crosley Field was replaced by Riverfront Stadium. Every home run hit, for a time, rewarded that player with a 55-gallon drum of Marathon gasoline, and as a kid, that was almost an unfathomable amount of gas.

Not since then have I been so enamored with a player as I am with De La Cruz. The last player I had this much affinity for was Venezuelan-born David (Davey) Concepcion. My Little League number was 13, his number. He played shortstop for the Reds; I played shortstop for the Home Bank White Sox. He was an all-star like me. That is where the similarities end.

Due to some MLB rule changes (pitch clock) last year, I decided to give baseball and the Reds another try and was amazed at the unbridled talent and athleticism displayed by the 22-year-old Dominican Republic native De La Cruz.

He burst onto the MLB scene during the second half of last season after being called up from AAA Louisville on June 6. As I watched each game in amazement, this player accomplished feats not seen in a Reds uniform in decades. In 1989, Reds star Eric Davis hit for the cycle—which means a player hits a single, double, triple, and a home run in one game—the last Reds player to do so. De La Cruz did this just two weeks after coming to the majors. De La Cruz wears Davis’ number 44. Coincidence?

His speed on the basepaths is already legendary, and pundits compare him to the very best Reds player that ever stole a base—Joe Morgan. Already this past month, De La Cruz has entered the record book as one of an impressive handful of players to hit seven home runs and steal 15 bases in one calendar month. In a recent loss to the Texas Rangers, he singled and stole second base, making him the first player since Rickey Henderson (May of 1986) to steal 17 bases in one month. (He has a total of 18 now since the season began in March.) Henderson and Morgan are in the Hall of Fame.

De La Cruz has been clocked at less than 15 seconds (14.94) running the basepaths. Last season after hitting a triple to complete a cycle, he went from home to third in 10.44 seconds. What? In 2024 after 25 games he is hitting .281 with seven homers and 18 stolen bases. If he continues at this pace, he could reach 45 home runs and nearly 100 steals. That would make him the first player in baseball history to hit such a mark.

In a recent win over the Phillies, he traveled over 112 feet and made a sliding catch of a pop-up midway down the left field line from shortstop. He routinely steals second and third and scores on sacrifice flies. Last year he stole second, third, and home in the same inning—something I had not ever seen in the majors but plenty of times in youth baseball.

It’s not just his batting and speed that make De La Cruz a very special player. His fielding at shortstop is great. He has a cannon for an arm. His throws to first base have been clocked at 99.8 miles per hour, which is a league record. He set the record last year at 98 mph, then broke it. That’s either faster or nearly as fast as the fastest pitchers in the league. In comparison, the fastest pitch ever recorded was also by a Reds player when Aroldis Chapman threw a 105.8 mph fastball against the San Diego Padres in August of 2010. That still stands as a Guinness World Record.

There are plenty of reasons to fall in love with these Reds. So far, the Reds are a couple of games over .500, but this team has plenty of young players perched to become stars. It took nearly the entire season for the Reds to assemble this team. The club took its time calling players up from the minors as evidenced with De La Cruz. Once assembled, this group provided plenty of excitement in the last weeks of the season and gave fans a peek at the potential these teammates hold.

First baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand, another late call, has a great glove and power galore. Jake Farley in right field leads off and is currently batting .315. Another budding star is Jonathan India, who gives the Reds a solid second baseman with power and speed. Will Benson is a young player with untapped talent. He and De La Cruz became the third pair of teammates in MLB history to hit their first and second home runs in the same game.

Spencer Steer is as versatile a player as you’ll ever find. In his rookie season last year, he led the team by a bunch in games played (156). He was used to play four positions (third; first and second bases plus left field, a position he’d never played before) while waiting for players to heal (Joey Votto) or be called up to fill spots. Already this season he has been tabbed as Player of the Week for the National League once.

The biggest fear of the Reds Nation is the club management will not pony up the cash for a long-term contract when De La Cruz’s current deal is up after this season. He is playing for a mere $742,500 this year. He received a signing bonus in 2018 of $65,000. Next year I predict he will make a lot more. Let’s just hope it’s in a Reds uniform.