Daniel Matthews has contributed here at Redleg Nation a few times previously (here is his most recent contribution), and we’re always happy to have his perspective. Enjoy!
No, it’s not our beloved Redlegs’ 2-1 defeat of the Oakland A’s in Game 4 of the 1990 World Series to complete the sweep. It’s the last two decades — a score of years — of our nation’s greatest pastime.
I know that 1995-2016 actually covers 22 seasons, but just go with me on this one. As spring training is less than a month away and the 2017 season is creeping ever closer, I’ve been thinking about how much baseball history we have seen in recent years.
One could make the argument that, from 1995-2016, we saw the greatest 20+ year period in baseball history. Of course, this is biased because none of us ever saw Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, or Babe Ruth. For baseball to increase in popularity in the last two decades was vital, especially coming off the strike in 1994 which kept fans away for years, some of whom never returned.
We cherish the history of this great game, but we also need to bask in the moments and accomplishments we are witnessing right now and reflect on the historical accomplishments of the last 22 years.
And did we have them.
- Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s streak.
- The Yankees dynasty of the late 90s.
- The 2001 World Series that went the full seven games, ending with a walk-off win for the Diamondbacks, is now considered one of the greatest Fall Classics ever and was much needed after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
- Though later scandal-filled, Mark McGwire’s and Sammy Sosa’s home run chase of ’98 and Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record in 2007.
- The mini-Giants run of the early 2010s.
- Kansas City’s 2015 World Championship, only its second ever and first in 30 years.
- The breaking of curses for three franchises and their fans who hadn’t reached that summit in multiple generations:
- 2004 Boston Red Sox (first since 1918)
- 2005 Chicago White Sox (first since 1917)
- 2016 Chicago Cubs (first since 1908)
- The rise of a great, young nucleus of stars which included Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Clayton Kershaw to name just a few, as well as another who has a chance of ending his career as the greatest player ever: Mike Trout.
Additionally, these years were also the peak for the construction of updated, retro-style ballparks. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Dodger Stadium are the three oldest ballparks in baseball, but even if clubs did not build new parks, renovations were done (like Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium in 2009). Beautiful, new venues like Busch Stadium, PNC Park, AT&T Park, and our own Great American Ballpark are now centers of historic downtowns thriving and eager for each April when baseball returns.
Of course, as Reds fans, we witnessed some great moments during those years as well.
- The 1995 team won the first ever National League Central Title.
- The 1999 season provided us a team that won 96 games. Though it ended with Al Leiter’s masterpiece of a complete game shutout at Riverfront Stadium in the one-game playoff, that season’s run was magical. Barry Larkin, Greg Vaughn, Dmitri Young, Sean Casey, Pokey Reese & Co. gave us a memorable summer.
- Ken Griffey Jr. in his hometown uniform, albeit 10 years too late.
- The induction of Marty Brennaman and Tony Perez in the Hall of Fame in 2000, and then Barry Larkin in 2012.
- The opening of Great American Ballpark and the end of a stadium that brought home five National League pennants and three world championships.
- Adam Dunn’s monster home runs, including his most dramatic blast that I was fortunate enough to witness in person.
- The development of young stars in the farm system like Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Johnny Cueto.
- The NL Central title teams of 2010 and 2012.
- Todd Frazier winning the 2015 Home Run Derby at GABP.
- Hosting the 2015 All Star Game. It was incredible to see Cincinnati in the spotlight of the baseball world, even if it wasn’t October.
- AND OF COURSE JOEY VOTTO YOU GUYS.
The next score in baseball history will include some great moments, and here are a few we will hopefully witness as Reds fans:
- Marty Brennaman’s retirement.
- The remainder of this rebuilding process and the fruits of the front office’s labor.
- Joey Votto’s retirement as a Red and his election to and induction in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Multiple NL Central titles/playoff appearances, the first ever postseason win at GABP, a pennant or two, and a World Championship.
I’m optimistic about the future of the Reds. For once in a long time, I trust this front office and its personnel decisions. The trade with the Marlins, the free agent signings of Drew Storen and Scott Feldman, and the quality of players picked up in the 2016 draft give us many reasons for hope that signing washed-up, former Cardinals in their late 30s to multiple years will no longer be the norm.
As I get older, I still love my team I grew up with, and I look forward to making several trips to GABP every summer. However, as also a general fan of baseball, I enjoy watching moments and stars that make this game like no other.
We saw some great players in the 90s and early 2000s with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, et al. But those were different players in an era where the home run ruled the game, and front offices valued two or three stats over everything else. Baseball was popular in the late 90s and early 2000s, but today’s game just has a different feel to it.
Now, its popularity is soaring. People have been flooding to the ballparks the past several years (even in the minors in recent years as well) and TV deals are worth billions. I believe that is due in large part to the aforementioned nucleus of stars who are dominating today’s game.
We’re in a different era, and this generation of stars is unlike any other in recent years. Take Mike Trout, for example. He put up a 10.8 WAR in his rookie season. Bryce Harper may end up signing the first 400 million dollar contract in baseball history. Clayton Kershaw’s stats are comparable to Sandy Koufax’s. And do we really have to say anything else about the greatness of Joey Votto? The question now is: how many Hall of Famers are playing on a nightly basis?
So as we look forward to what the 2017 MLB season has to offer us as Reds fans, perhaps it is best that we also reflect on what we have witnessed in recent years and then realize that we just might be watching the greatest generation of players this game has ever seen.
Blame Chad for creating this mess.
Chad launched Redleg Nation in February 2005, and has been writing about the Reds ever since. His first book, “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds” is now available in bookstores and online, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. You can also find Chad’s musings about the Cincinnati Reds in the pages of Cincinnati Magazine.
You can email Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.