(This is the third in a series of articles on historic pennant races involving the Cincinnati Reds in the modern era of baseball.)

There are a lot of great memories of 1999.

The Mayor. Greg Vaughn. A heated Division race and a close Wild Card race.

The 1999 Reds re-energized a dormant fan base, brought Riverfront Stadium back to life and was one of the best hitting teams in the history of the Cincinnati Reds. Ultimately, what doomed the ’99 Reds was the same thing that happened in 1956, 1965 and 1969 — not enough starting pitching.

1999 was the year Wayne Gretzky made his NHL debut, President Clinton was impeached (but not convicted) and the Euro made its debut. For Reds fans, it was an exciting summer.

Top 5 Movies of 1999 (according to me)

October Sky

The Green Mile

Payback

Being John Malkovich

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Best Sports Movie of 1979

The Hurricane

Top 5 Albums of 1979 (according to me again)

Brand New Day (Sting)

Supernatural (Carlos Santana)

The Blues (Eric Clapton)

18 Tracks (Bruce Springsteen)

Live at Fillmore East (Jimi Hendrix)

Reds Manager

Jack McKeon

Going into the Season

Expectations were not high for the 1999 season. The Reds were a less than mediocre 77-85 in 1998 and finished a whopping 25 games behind in fourth place. Cincinnati seemed to have a formidable bullpen but the starting pitching was full of question marks and, more specifically, journeymen. General Manager Jim Bowden looked to beef up the starters by acquiring Denny Neagle from the Braves (along with rightfielder Michael Tucker and pitcher Rob Bell) for Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger. Bowden also signed pitcher Steve Avery as a free agent. But then Bowden pulled off two major trades; he got Mike Cameron, a legitimate centerfielder, from the Chicago White Sox for Paul Konerko. The emergence of first baseman Sean Casey made Konerko expendable. Then, Bowden traded Reggie Sanders, Damian Jackson and Josh Harris to the Padres for Greg Vaughn and Mark Sweeney. Reds fans would forget about Sweeney; they would not forget Greg Vaughn.

The Almost Great Eight

The ’99 Reds were mashers. They scored the most runs (865) in their history for one season. They also had the highest slugging percentage (.451) in franchise history. The Reds hit 9 home runs in a 22-3 win September 4th over the Phillies. The Reds could also run, stealing 164 bases. They were an offensive juggernaut.

Several Reds — including Casey (.332, 25 HR, 99 RBI), Vaughn (.245, 46/118), catcher Eddie Taubensee (.311, 21/87), second baseman Pokey Reese and Cameron (.256, 21/66)– had career years. Future Hall of Famer and 1995 NL MVP Barry Larkin played a career high 161 games, batting .293 with 12 homers and 75 RBI’s.

Vaughn was the heart and soul of this 1999 team. He was the undisputed leader and an incredible locker room presence. A physically intimidating hitter at the plate (similar to new Reds Hall of Famer Dave Parker) Greg Vaughn was the catalyst of this baseball team.

Two races in one

The ’99 Reds were not only in a hotly contested Division race with the Houston Astros but in the wild card race as well with the New York Mets. Cincinnati started slow but built up momentum as the summer went on. They didn’t climb over the .500 mark until May 19 when they clobbered Colorado 24-12. Thanks to an 8 game winning streak and another one of 10 in a row, the Reds put themselves in contention and Reds fans bought in, crashing the gates. Casey and Larkin were the most popular players, Vaughn was Vaughn, Reese was a defensive guru at second base and Taubensee was Johnny Bench minus the arm. Still, his performance was the best by a Cincinnati catcher since Bench played the game.

Running out of gas

By the last two weeks of the season, the Reds bullpen, solid most of the year, started to show some wear and tear. The starters couldn’t go deep into games. Of the 5 starters, only one could have a legitimate shot at making the Cincinnati rotation in 2014 — Pete Harnisch. The others wouldn’t stand a chance. Harnisch (16-10, 3.68) was the #1 starter followed by Steve Parris (11-4), Neagle (9-5), Ron Villone (9-7) and Brett Tomko (7-8.). All five would be out of Cincy by the end of 2001. The bullpen was led by closer Danny Graves (8-7, 27 saves) Rookie of the Year Scott Williamson (12-7, 2.41) and durable rubber armed Scott Sullivan (5-4, 3.01).

The Milwaukee Series

With a 90-63 record, the Reds put on a final burst to try and catch Houston, who led virtually the entire season, winning 6 in a row, including a Harnich-pitched 4-1 win over the Astros. But in the next game at Houston, Parris lost just his third game of the season by a 4-1 score and the Reds finished the regular season with a three game series at Milwaukee. On a Friday night, Vaughn and Cameron homered and the Reds took a 3-1 lead behind Neagle after 6 innings. Williamson worked a scoreless 7th but gave up two runs to tie the game 3-3 in the 8th. Sullivan lost it in the 10th inning. That loss was a crusher. Pitcher Juan Guzman, a late trade acquisition by Bowden, was routed the next night in a 7-run third inning and the Brewers won that one 10-6. Harnisch bailed the Reds out with a 7-1 win in the final game of the regular season after a long rain delay. Houston also won that day, which prevented a three-way tie between the Reds, Mets and Astros.

The Playoffs

The Reds hosted the Mets  in a one-game playoff at Riverfront Stadium (the only one in it’s 32 year history). The walk-up crowd from the game was impressive (54,621) but the Reds weren’t. Parris was hit hard, knocked out in the third inning and the Reds looked like a tired team that was drained from the race. Al Leiter tossed a shutout and the Mets easily won 6-0. Leiter allowed just two hits in the game.

Summary

’99 was a special summer for Reds fans. It’s easy to remember that final series in Milwaukee, especially the Friday night game blown by the bullpen. But what really killed the Reds that year was their slow start (not going above .500 until after the sixth week of the season) and their starting pitchers. It was the biggest weakness for that team and wouldn’t improve for the next decade thanks to some bad draft choices and no trades. The Reds lost Vaughn to free agency; the slugger had two decent seasons for Tampa Bay, then injuries finished his career. Bowden traded for Ken Griffey Junior after the ’99 season but Manager Jack McKeon wondered out loud who was going to pitch for the Reds. He was right. Parris’ record in 2000 fell to 12-17 and his ERA ballooned to 4.81, The big pick up was Elmer Dessens (remember him?) who finished 11-5. The Cardinals finished 10 games ahead of the Reds in 2000.

This was the last hurrah for Riverfront Stadium (I refuse to call it Cinergy Field.) The 90s yielded the Nasty Boys and a World Series championship, another strike-shortened promising season (1994) a Division Title in 1995 that included a playoff sweep of the Dodgers and the ’99 Hit Men. But the last three years of Riverfront would be forgettable aside from Junior coming Home. The Stadium that started with Sparky Anderson and an NL pennant finished with Bob Boone and a third place team that finished 15 games behind the Cardinals.

John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”

Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. Great recap, it was exciting to follow that team, rarely lost a series after May. I recall Taubensee hitting a grand slam against the Cards on a business day special, then they went to Houston and won the first game. I believe their magic number was 2, and they only got it to 1 as the Mets never lost

  2. It is ironic that what goes around comes around 15 years later. I thought I remembered Graves having some involvement in the “Friday night” game in Milwaukee; so, I checked the play by play on BB reference. Graves (typically the closer) was brought in during the bottom of the 8th after Williamson had allowed the 2 run single to tie the game with 1 out. Graves recorded the final 2 outs on a strike’m out throw’em out DP and then went on to pitch a scoreless 9th before the Reds gave up the ghost in the 10th with Sullivan on the mound.

    How might history have turned out differently had McKeon gone to his closer 2 batters sooner to face the #3 Milwuakee hitter with 1 out and runners on 2nd and 3rd but the Reds up by 2 runs.

    • Graves and Williamson were co-closers. Williamson had been dominant for most of the season but was worn out and ineffective at that point.

  3. I remember 94 and watched playoffs in 95. But 99 will prob always be my favorite team.

  4. Thanks for helping me relive a fun year. I lived and died with that 1999 team. There was one minor quibble with the opening context: 1999 was Gretzky’s last year in the NHL (I think), not his first (debut) year. Regardless, a nice piece – Thanks!

  5. Mr. Ring thank you for helping me relive these memorable seasons.

    The 1999 team was one of the tightest group of players I have ever seen. Broke my heart when Leiter bested them in the 1-game playoff. What a FANtastic season. The celebrations, Captain Jack dozing off in the dugout………….what a bunch!

  6. This was a fun summer, for sure. I hated how it ended, though, with that long rain delay on the last game of the season that essentially forced the Reds to play into the wee hours of the morning and then fly back to Cincy for the 1 game playoff against the Mets. I always kinda felt that they got hosed a little because of that delay.

  7. Scott Sullivan was an absolute horse. If I had a vote, he’s a ‘yes’ to the Reds HOF. Dude averaged 100+ IP for 6 straight seasons. Wow.

  8. Looking at the stats, Graves/Sullivan/Williamson all had multiple seasons throwing over 100 IP for the Reds.

    Now can someone explain why the Reds baby one of the best athletes in baseball (Chapman) when he hasn’t even thrown 72 IP in a season yet?

    • The best explanation is that the Reds don’t need him to throw that many innings. Graves, Sullivan and Williamson compiled so many innings because the starting pitching just wasn’t very good and the bullpen was needed more. Also, until this year, there were a lot of good arms in the pen to choose from. Hence, less need for Chapman.

    • McKeon overused Williamson, who was dominant for most of the season but worn out at the end, and never again had as good a season as that rookie year.

  9. A big part of the story was Dodger manager Dave Johnson, who had a grudge against both the Mets and Reds for letting him go, have the Dodgers lie down in their final two games against the Astros, letting his stars Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown go home.
    Sheffield owned Jose Lima, who pitched for the Astros on Saturday. And on Sunday, with Brown gone and his Dodger replacement at a funeral, the Dodgers brought up a minor leaguer who got shelled in the first inning.

    When Johnson (whom I always liked other than this one case) was asked if Sheffield and Brown were absent because he did not want to help the Reds or Mets, he became furious and challenged the reporter to step outside and ask him that. I’d say that answered the question.

    In the event of a 3 way tie, the Reds would have played the Astros in a tie breaker and the Mets would have gone home. The Reds had played well against the Astros that season.

    • I was waiting for him to bring up the Davey angle. I was so mad that he laid down like that. Plus, if I recall correctly, the rain delay was more than just “lengthy”. It lasted until the wee hours of the next morning before they could finish the game. Then to have to face Leiter a few hours later (including a trip back to Cincy), the team was exhausted and it showed.

  10. Nice article, Mr. Ring. You have good taste in favorite players, Pinson and Robby, same as mine.

  11. I was at the 9/4/99 homer phest in Philly. It was glorious. Suffered only minor heckles at the Vet; mostly the crowd was too depressed to give much thought to a Reds fan.

Comments are closed.

About John Ring

John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal "Reptar."

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Reds History