Whether you celebrate the Reds from a starting date of 1869 (first full professional team), 1882 (first year in the American Association), or 1890 (first year in the National League), you have to be somewhat amazed by the longevity of the Cincinnati team. A 2019 version of a uniform from the past is great, but knowing what was happening when those uniforms debuted is history, and knowing your history is a big part of being a baseball fan, so we’ll try to cover the key events of the year.
Due to a labor dispute, Spring Training was delayed as the Owners and Players’ Union tried to pound out an agreement. Because of this, Spring Training didn’t start until mid-March, delaying Opening Day and putting the Reds in an opponent’s stadium for Opening Day for the first time since 1966. The Reds met the Padres eight days later for their home opener.
Team’s Record that Season
91-71, 1st place, National League West
The first National League team to hold first place from the first game of the season to the last. The team will forever be known to Reds fans as “The Wire to Wire” Reds. Despite starting the season off 30-12, the season wasn’t without its drama. During a stretch from July 24th to August 24th, the fans saw the team go 12-20 and lose 5.5 games in their lead, only to right themselves and continue on with their quest to win the pennant.
2,400,892 (4th of 12)
This was the ninth best attendance total in team history, the sixth best at Riverfront. Remaining in first place all season helped keep the numbers consistent.
- 10 games 40,000+
- 33 games 30,000+
- 21 games 20,000+
Top Ten Years for Reds Attendance:
Year Attendance Park
- 1976 2,629,708 Riverfront
- 2000 2,577,371 Riverfront
- 1978 2,532,497 Riverfront
- 1977 2,519,670 Riverfront
- 2013 2,492,101 GAB
- 2014 2,476,664 GAB
- 1993 2,453,232 Riverfront
- 2015 2,419,506 GAB
- 1990 2,400,892 Riverfront
- 1991 2,372,377 Riverfront
Lou Piniella managed for the Reds for three seasons. Jack McKeon managed the Reds for 3.3 seasons, and both left the team after not receiving a promise from the front office that they would be returning the next season. Both also went on to other jobs where they would achieve great success. This success would cause many in the game to cast disparaging looks at the dysfunctional operations of a Marge Schott-owned team. Lou, however, was able to win his championship with the Reds, which makes him much-loved by the fanbase. That, and his fiery personality and tendency to go crazy on umpires (he threw a base in frustration) and players (he fought Rob Dibble in front of the press) makes him beloved for many of the same reasons Fred Hutchinson was loved by Reds fans. He’s the guy you want on your side; he’s what you want in a foxhole buddy. More of a motivator than a strategist, Piniella (who was a platoon player) did not like to gain the platoon advantage as a manager, eschewing it both on offense and defense, especially when compared to his peers. Not a button pusher by any stretch of the imagination he would manage 17 more seasons in MLB after leaving the Reds.
As Reds Manager:
- Lou Piniella: 256-231 +25
- Jack McKeon: 291-259 +31
In 1972, Lou Piniella played for the Royals, who were managed by Bob Lemon. Their AAA team was located in Omaha and managed by McKeon, who spent a good part of that season whispering in the ear of the Royals executives about what he’d do if he was running the team. In his 1986 book, Sweet Lou, Piniella wrote, “He was a champion second-guesser. Second-guessing is a baseball disease. It destroys more clubs than sore arms. McKeon helped sour the front office on Lemon and greased the skids…I didn’t like his manner, his tone of voice, his sarcasm-and the feeling was mutual. He didn’t like me very much . I just couldn’t play for the man.”
Lou was traded to New York after the 1973 season.
The team’s strong suit was pitching and defense. Browning topped 220 IP, Rijo had 197, and Jack Armstrong had a Derek Dietrich-like first half of the season. The bullpen would prove to be the team’s real strength. This, of course, would be the “Nasty Boys” bullpen.
Rob Dibble, a forebearer of today’s strikeout-infused game, logged 98 innings with a 12.49 K rate. He spent a good portion of the year setting up Randy Meyers, who logged 31 Saves in 66 games.
Norm Charlton split his role between starter and reliever, a strategy Sparky Anderson favored when he didn’t have a strong starting five.
- Rob Dibble 229 ERA+ / 22 times pitched two innings or more in relief.
- Randy Meyers 193 ERA+ / 16 times pitched two innings or more in relief.
- Norm Charlton 146 ERA+ / 12 times pitched two innings or more in relief.
The trio of Paul O’Neil, Eric Davis and Billy Hatcher would be the top three outfielders in Fielding % in the league.
The rest of the roster was a mishmash of young and old. The trio of Morris, Larkin and Sabo had all played together at Michigan. Forty-year-old Ken Griffey Sr. was cut in late August and would later play with his son in Seattle in September. Todd Benzinger, Joe Oliver and Billy Hatcher combined for 1,362 plate appearances of sub-average output, yet all three would factor into the Reds’ sweep of the A’s in the World Series. Hatcher carried the Reds on his back with a .750/.800/1.250/2.050 line and Oliver delivered a .333/.333/.500/.833 line. Benzinger’s contribution was less impactful at the dish, though he is forever etched in the minds of Reds fans as the man who squeezed the final out of Game Four.
Best Red Batter
This Reds team had no player that carried the team for the whole year. What they did have was a set of quality performances throughout the year that provided the team with enough offense to complement their strong pitching and defense. Hal Morris had the highest OPS+ with a 136, but he also had only 336 PA’s and grounded into 12 DP’s and hit only 7 HR’s. Sabo hit .270/.343/.476/.819 for the season, a line built mostly before the All-Star Game when he hit a torrid .299/.372/.534/.906, with a second half that was more pedestrian.238/.311/.413/.724. Mariano Duncan contributed with an .821 OPS and a team high 11 triples. Barry Larkin led the NL in hits with 185, though slotted in one of the top three spots in the order he often saved his best performances for the number three slot where he hit.333/.399/.407/.806 in 309 plate appearances. Eric Davis was supposed to lead the team in most hitting categories, and he did hit .260/.347/.486/.833 with 24 HR’s over the season but, it was an uneven performance with an OPS under .700 for three months and two months with it over 1.000.
Sometimes it really is a team game.
Best National League Hitter
Barry Bonds, .970 OPS
After four seasons in the league, Barry Bonds’ game exploded in 1990. He had 33 HR’s, 32 doubles, stole 52 bases, scored 104 runs and knocked-in 114. His rate stats of .301/.406/.565/.970 produced his first .300 average and OB% over .400. He walked 93 times and struck out only 83 times. If there was something to complain about it would be the 13 times he was caught stealing. For his efforts, he won the Silver Slugger and the MVP Award, something he’d do six more times in his career.
Best Red Pitcher
Jose Rijo, 24 RSAA
Jose Rijo Timeline:
- 1965 – Born in the Dominican Republic
- 1980 – 15-year-old Rijo signs with the Yankees for $3,500
- 1984 – 4/8, Makes Yankees and debuts
- 1984 – 12/5, Traded to Oakland as part of the Rickey Henderson trade
- 1986 – Strikes out 16 Mariners in the Kingdome
- 1987 – Traded to Reds in the Dave Parker deal
- 1988 – Reds trade Dennis Rasmussen and slide Rijo into his spot in the rotation
- 1989 – Injures back and misses last part of the season
- 1990 – Pitches 197 innings and becomes the Reds ace
- 1990 – October, Leads Reds to sweep over the Oakland A’s and wins the Series MVP
- 1991 – Goes 15-6, leads the league in WHIP and comes in 4th place in Cy Young voting
- 1992 – Develops elbow pain and is placed on a 65-70 pitch limit for starts
- 1993 – Leads league in strikeouts
- 1994 – Chosen to be on NL All-Star team, does not play
- 1995 – Develops bone spurs in his elbow and has Tommy John surgery on 8/22
- 1996 – Has more surgery in November, does not play
- 1997 – Rehabs, does not play
- 1998 – Granted Free Agency
- 1999 – Opens Baseball Academy, does not play
- 2000 – Takes the year off from throwing, does not play
- 2001 – 8/17 Called up to Reds, pitches two innings in relief, will appear in 13 games, pitching 17 innings
- 2002 – Vacillates between starter and reliever, pitching 77 innings with an ERA over 5.00
- 2003 – Has elbow pain in spring and undergoes his sixth arm operation, does not play
- 2003 – Granted Free Agency by Reds
- 2004 – Begins working with Washington Nationals
- 2005 – Elected into the Reds HOF
Best National League Pitcher
Ed Whitson, 33 RSAA
Born in Tennessee, he found pitching success on the west coast, pitching exceptionally well for a surprise team and, if he wasn’t the team’s best pitcher, it was pretty darn close. Guys like this have been lapped-up by teams like the Yankees for years and it was no different with this guy. Things changed once he was there. They said the pressure of New York got to him, affected his performance, proved he wasn’t a gamer.
Some people might think I’m writing about Sonny Gray, who just spent a year and a half in New York experiencing just that. But, I’m talking about Ed Whitson.
In 1990, Doug Drabek won the Cy Young, but Ed Whitson had a better ERA+, gave up less HR’s, and pitched as many innings. He just did it for a fifth-place team. Whitson’s greatest claim to fame is the brawl he had with his manager Billy Martin in a hotel bar in a Baltimore suburb late in the 1985 season. Both men were fueled with alcohol by the end of a long day and Martin had already been in an argument with another guest at the bar over rude remarks Martin made toward a man’s wife. The anger Whitson felt over his recent treatment by Martin oozed over and soon the two men were having words. Martin’s usual fighting approach was to get the first swing in; he was famous for cold cocking unsuspecting opponents as he’d done as a Red to Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer. This approach did not work, as Whitson, at 6’3″, was not only strong but trained in martial arts. By the end of the evening, Martin had made a scene in front of the general public, his fellow coaches and his players. He also had a broken arm and several cuts and bruises. This battle would have an effect on the team as Martin was fired and his job given to Lou Piniella, who would hone his management style in New York before bringing it to Cincinnati.
Whitson would ride his career out in San Diego, which evidently fit his style and temperament better than New York. His 1990 season with an ERA of 2.64 and a 3.07 FIP was a sign that he could throw the ball as well as he could kick a man.
My favorite thing about Whitson, (aside from the time he kicked Billy Martin in the groin only to have Martin sneer, ‘Now I am going to have to kill you,”) is that he threw the Palm Ball, which is an odd, off-speed pitch you don’t see much these days. The reason he threw it was because he once cut his finger on a beer can and developed the grip to continue pitching. That’s a thinking man’s pitcher!
Making their MLB Debut
- Moises Alou
- Luis Gonzalez
- Steve Avery
- Kevin Brown
- Frank Thomas
Making their MLB Exit
- Nick Esasky
- Chet Lemon
- Frank White
- Keith Hernandez
- Dan Quisenberry
The estimated population of the world in 1990 is 5,263,593,000. In the United States, the census counts 248,709,873, an increase of 9.8 percent from the 1980 census. Ohio is the seventh most-populated state with 10,797,630 people. Cincinnati ranks as the 45th largest city in the states with 364,040 people, between Honolulu and Miami.
Team Media Sources
An amazing number of media gems appeared between the 1976 Reds Championship and the 1990 teams. USA Today began publishing in 1982, not known for its approach to hard news, the paper understood sports and excelled at drawing readers to indulge themselves in the sports section. In 1985 they released a 12-page section called “Baseball ’85”, that covered the upcoming season. In January 1990, The National, an all-sports paper, was born to live a short, but fruitful life, providing excellent coverage of the Reds wire to wire season. On the tube, the visiting Reds could be seen on any of the Superstations—WGN (Chicago), WOR (New York) and TBS (Atlanta). The Reds themselves offered the game to locals on SportsChannel Ohio with Steve Lamar and Gordy Coleman describing the action. Also debuting in 1990 were ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and the nightly recap show Baseball Tonight. Designed to be a longer version of George Michael’s Sports Machine, the show provided full coverage of the game across the nation each day of the season and was a can’t-miss for those with cable TV.
The Baseball Tonight Crew 1990:
- Announcer: Gary Miller
- Announcer: John Saunders
- Former Player: Dave Campbell
- Journalist: Peter Gammons
- Journalist: Dave Marash
Television in 1990 was bigger and better, by a large margin.
- Fox TV begins their foray into the large network arena by moving to a third night of broadcasts. They hitch their wagon to The Simpsons and air their first regular episode, “Bart the Genius”, in January.
- ABC premieres Twin Peaks in April, causing cherry pie sales to spike.
- On CBS, a quirky show called Northern Exposure debuts in mid-July.
- MTV airs their first Unplugged in-studio concert (Squeeze).
- Stevie Ray Vaughan is killed in a helicopter crash following a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
- Leonard Bernstein announces his retirement from the conducting podium; he dies five days later.
- Pearl Jam, then named “Mookie Blaylock”, play their first show in Seattle.
- Tool forms in Los Angeles.
1990 marks two of the largest achievements in science and communication when the Hubble Space Telescope is launched, and The World Wide Web software is first tested at CERN. Hard to believe these predate such technological innovations as “The Answering Machine” (1991), The Playstation (1994), and Plasma display screen (1993).
- Trevor Bauer, American baseball player
- Paul George, American basketball player
- Alan Hale Jr, American actor (b. 1921)
- Sarah Vaughan, American jazz vocalist (b. 1924)
- Brent Mydland, American keyboard player (b. 1952)
- B. F. Skinner, American psychologist (b. 1904)
Once Bob Howsam righted the Reds ship in 1984, he decided to retire again. The Reds’ new principal owner, Marge Schott, would prove to be a difficult owner to work with and the Reds would churn through three GM’s in the next 8 years. All three had worked for the Yankees and each had a hand in the creation of the 1990 team.
Bill Bergesch – Hired October 1984
Former Title – Director of Baseball Operations – New York Yankees
- First Move – Keefe Cato to San Diego for Darren Burroughs. Bergesch made only 2 trades in his first 8 months on the job.
- Most Famous Player Traded First – Cesar Cedeno was traded to the Cardinals in August for Mark Jackson. Cesar was out of the game the next year but strung together 76 magical at bats for the NL pennant winners.
- Most Famous Trade Pickup – Buddy Bell. Ten months into the job, Bergesch made his first significant trade and it was a steal, trading Duane Walker and Jeff Russell in mid-July of 1985.
- Best Young Player Pickup –It took Bergesch 15 months to pick-up a future impact Red, though again it was steal. The Reds relinquished Wayne Krenchicki and ended up with Norm Charlton.
- Who’d he cut? – Every GM comes aboard with a plan that often doesn’t include the former regime’s players. The axe often swings freely, and in Bergesch’s tenure the axe took down longtime Red Frank Pastore.
- Biggest Mistake – Being slow on the trade trigger was Bill’s greatest weakness and it would eventually cost him his job as he held-on to both the Reds shortstop prospects and the quickly multiplying outfield prospects.
- First Draft – Bergesch endeared himself to Reds fans forever by being the GM who chose Barry Larkin with the 4th pick in the 1985 draft.
Murray Cook – Hired in October 1987
Former Title: Montreal GM and Yankee Employee
- First Move – Unlike his predecessor, Cook started off with a bang, trading Kurt Stillwell for left hander Danny Jackson, who would be a major player for the Reds for the next few years.
- Most Famous Player Traded First – Targeting pitching was Cook’s first order of business, so he moved Dave Parker for Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas.
- Most Famous Trade Pickup – Danny Jackson was an established starter who immediately strengthened the Reds weak staff.
- Best Young Player Pickup – Jose Rijo would go on to be one of the best pitchers in team history.
- Who’d he cut? – Cook was the man who sent Tom Hume into the coaching profession in the Autumn of 1987.
- Biggest Mistake – Saddled without a first-round choice in the 1988 draft, Cook took Jeff Branson with the number one pick, in a draft that was largely disappointing from top to bottom for the Reds.
- First Draft – See above.
Bob Quinn – Hired October 1989
Former Title: Yankee Employee
- First Move – It almost seems common with Reds general managers, the first deal is usually a deal for arms, and in Cook’s case it was no different. In December, he sent John Franco to the Mets for Randy Meyers and Kip Gross.
- Most Famous Player Traded First – John Franco was the Reds closer and a fan favorite, but evidently he was easy to replace.
- Most Famous Trade Pickup – Billy Hatcher/Bill Doran. Not looking for big name players, Quinn’s biggest names acquired would play roles in the 1990 team’s run for the title, and neither cost more than a middling prospect.
- Best Young Player Pickup – Quinn’s 2nd trade was a steal for the Reds as Quinn picked the pocket of his former employers the Yankees and traded Tim Leary and Van Snider for Hal Morris.
- Who’d he cut? – Quinn was the man responsible for finally getting Dave Collins off the field of play.
- Biggest Mistake – The man drove the bus to the World Series in his first season. We’ll give this one a pass.
- First Draft – In Quinn’s first draft he created what some consider a cardinal sin. He drafted a catcher with his first pick. Holy Steve Swisher, it didn’t fail… nor impress many either.
Many forget that Astroturf was big part of this era of baseball. Quite a few teams played on turf, while today we only have three: Toronto, Tampa and, joining this year, the Diamondbacks.
The following teams had turf in the National League in 1990:
The San Francisco Giants had turf from 1970- 1978, returning to grass in 1979.
These American League teams had turf in 1990:
The Chicago White Sox became the first team to install artificial turf in an outdoor stadium. They used it in the infield and adjacent foul territory at Comiskey Park from 1969 through 1975, returning to grass in 1976.
Photo of Eric Davis by Rick Dikeman. License for the photo can be found here. The photo was slightly cropped.