With Lou Piniella and the Nasty Boys, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds won the pennant and pulled off an upset for the ages
It was a nasty month for baseball.
In 1989, the Cincinnati Reds were in the dumps. The team finished 75-87, good for fifth in the National League West. Twice, the team had lost 10 games in a row, and that July the team posted an abysmal 7-19 record.
But that was nothing compared to what happened in August of 1989, when Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Bartlett Giamatti permanently banned from baseball Reds manager Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader who had guided the Reds to over 400 wins. Eight days later, Giamatti died of a heart attack.
A now Rose-less Reds installed the lesser-known Tommy Helms as manager. Helms finished out the season but Reds owner Marge Schott wasted no time in bringing in a new skipper to Cincinnati, former Yankees manager, Lou Piniella.
In his opening press conference at Riverfront Stadium, Piniella expressed his confidence in the team. “This is a good ball club I’m coming to,” he said. “It’s not like I’m going into a rebuilding process. This is a ball club that can win next year.” Piniella proved to be spot-on in his analysis.
Make no mistake: this was not the Big Red Machine of the 1970s that produced three Hall of Famers in Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench. Offensively, the team did not hit for great power and no single player stood out for his impressive stats. But the collective of Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill, Mariano Duncan, Todd Benzinger, and Hal Morris was greater than the sum of its parts.
Though no player on the team had more than 100 RBIs nor did anyone score 100 runs (Sabo was the closest at 95), the team combined for 166 stolen bases and a .265 team batting average. The Reds’ 1,466 hits were good for fourth in all of baseball.
Pitching-wise, Piniella’s rotation included Tom Browning, Jose Rijo, Jack Armstrong, Danny Jackson, and Norm Charlton, who would also be called for bullpen duty. Browning, now in his sixth full year in Cincinnati, was considered the ace, but Rijo had a lower ERA (2.70) and more strikeouts (152).
The Cincinnati bullpen was the X-factor. “Mr. Mellow” Randy Myers (31) and the hard-throwing Rob Dibble (11) combined for 42 saves and brought a menacing presence into the late innings. With a 100-mph fastball, Dibble was simply overpowering. Myers was a soldier-of-fortune eccentric who kept grenades and a machete in his locker. By season’s end, however, he had carved up NL batting orders like a tender filet. Together with Norm Charlton, Dibble and Myers were known as the “Nasty Boys.”
Storming out to a 13-3 April record, the Reds made an early claim on the NL West, and by the end of May, they were eight games up on the second-place Dodgers. But the Reds fell into a second-half slump, going 41-42 in their last 83 games, and limped into the postseason as an underdog to Jim Leyland’s Pittsburgh Pirates, who won the NL East.
The National League Championship Series (NLCS) was a river city showdown, as two teams with stadiums perched on the mighty Ohio met for the fourth time in championship series history. Games alternated between Cincinnati’s Riverfront and Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium.
Though the Pirates thieved Game 1 in Cincinnati’s backyard, the Reds countered with three straight victories behind the strong pitching of Browning, Jackson, and Rijo. Myers closed Games 2 and 3, while Dibble put a lid on Game 4.
Pittsburgh didn’t go down without a fight, as it won Game 5 with its ace, Doug Drabek, and nearly took Game 6 until Glenn Braggs robbed Carmelo Martinez of a ninth-inning, go-ahead home run.
After dispatching the Pirates 4 games to 2, the Reds faced the muscular Oakland A’s in the World Series.
Few gave the Reds a chance against a team that included Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, and the Bash Brothers—Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. This was the same A’s team that had shredded their cross-bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants, in four games in the 1989 World Series.
Unbelievably, Cincinnati swept the Series, taking the first two games at home and the final two at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Rijo, who won Games 1 and 4, took home the MVP award, Billy Hatcher slapped nine hits in 12 at-bats (.750 average), and Sabo had as many hits in 16 at bats (.563 average). Hatcher’s .750 average broke Babe Ruth’s record for batting average in a World Series– a record that still stands. In addition, Larkin hit .353 for the series and scored three runs. Conversely, the A’s produced a total of eight runs in four games, as Canseco hit .083 and McGwire a paltry .214.
The Series was one of the greatest upsets in MLB history.
It’s been said that the only way to counter force is with greater force. The Reds’ nasty response to the Bash Brothers and the overall A’s moxie was Dibble, Myers, and Charlton. “Those three guys,” Larkin once said, “I thought they were the most valuable piece of the ’90 team.” H&A
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