Of Time and the Team on the River

 

 

Over the years, I’ve experienced a number of disappointments brought about by the simple fact that I’m a Reds fan. You probably have a similar story. I guess I should blame that on my father, or his father, but whatever the cause, I’ve been a Reds fan my whole life and that hasn’t always been a pleasant road to travel.

Sure, some of those disappointments were laced with joy. I’m thinking here about 1995, when the Reds were swept by the Braves in the National League Championship Series. Truthfully, that was one of the best Reds teams of my lifetime. Reggie Sanders was a beast (.306/.397/.579, 28 HR, 99 RBI, 155 OPS+)*. Barry Larkin was, well, Barry Larkin. Ron Gant starred in the midst of his brief stay in Cincinnati. Pete Schourek finished second in Cy Young voting (Pete Schourek!). Davey Johnson was the manager, the most underrated skipper in Reds history.

*Remind me to write a piece someday advocating Sanders’ election to the Reds Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the World Series.

How about 1999? The Reds traded away Bret Boone and Paul Konerko in the off-season, but traded for Greg Vaughn (in a deal that included Sanders; feel free to shed a tear) and signed Steve Avery (shed many tears). Avery was awful (6-7, 5.16 ERA), and everyone gave credit to Vaughn (.245/.347/.535, 45 HR, 118 RBI), and he was great, but Vaughn was only fifth on the team in bWAR. Center fielder Mike Cameron was brilliant (5.5 WAR), and Larkin, Sean Casey, and Pokey Reese were good, as well.

The top pitcher on that team was Pete Harnisch (16-10, 3.68), but manager Jack McKeon somehow figured out how to lead the underdog Reds to a 96-win season that tied the Mets for the National League Wild Card spot. The 96 wins were the most for a Reds team since the 1976 Big Red Machine Reds, and they set a record for runs scored by a Reds team.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the World Series. They lost to the Mets in a one-game playoff (curse you, Al Leiter!), and didn’t even make the real playoffs.

Or 2010? You remember that one. Reds win the National League Central to make the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the World Series*. The Reds promptly got no-hit by the Phillies and swept out of the playoffs in short order. Lots of fun, then lots of sad.

*There’s a theme here.

Other disappointments in my life as a Reds fans were just disappointments. I recall the first game I ever attended in person, at Riverfront Stadium. All I wanted was to see Johnny Bench, in his final season, now playing mostly third base. It was a glorious day…until the starting lineups were announced, and I saw that Wayne Krenchicki was starting at the hot corner. Even the fact that Gary Redus stole third and home, and the Reds won 4-3, couldn’t make the day much better.

Then again, there was always the hope that I’d get to see Bench play the next day. Except that my family decided, over my strenuous objections, that they’d prefer to spend the day at Kings Island instead of going to the ballgame. Really.

I’m not making myself feel any better.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, though I took a circuitous route to get here, I actually wanted to talk about the last time the Reds hosted an All-Star Game. I’m talking about 1988, of course. The Reds were firmly entrenched in a run of second-place finishes with some guy named Pete Rose at the helm. Their old nemesis, the Dodgers, were destined to finish the season as champions. But in mid-July, the eyes of the world were on Cincinnati as the Queen City hosted the Mid-Summer Classic.

The town didn’t go crazy like they have this year, but it was fun anyway. I begged and pleaded to attend the game, but my pleas were to no avail—another disappointment! So I sat on my sofa at home and watched the broadcast, which began with this ludicrous opening.*

*Actually, the All-Star Gala the day before was much more ludicrous. You have to watch some of these videos.

But despite the fact that I wasn’t at the stadium, I was pleased that some Reds were honored. Danny Jackson, on his way to a 23-8 season and a second place finish in Cy Young balloting was selected. Barry Larkin—destined to become my favorite player ever—was picked for the first of 12 All-Star appearances in a Hall of Fame career.

And then there was Chris Sabo. Sabo was a dynamo that year. He ultimately won the Rookie of the Year award, and by mid-season, he had taken Cincinnati by storm with his unique brand of hustle and production on the field. Plus, he wore those cool goggles. There was no one like him in baseball, and Cincinnati loved every second of it. Heck, 27 years later, some dumb writers are still publishing nonsense about him.

Year after year, my favorite part of the All-Star festivities is the introduction of the players. Specifically, I always got a thrill when Cincinnati’s players were introduced; this is something I’ve evidently passed down to my son, because we never miss that part of the game. In 1988, it was fun to see the standing ovation for the Reds players. Watch it here. I still enjoy how amped everyone got over Sabo’s introduction.

The American League won that night, which didn’t really matter to me. (This was long before Bud Selig decided to make the Game count for something, by giving the victor home field advantage in the World Series.) What mattered to me was how my Reds performed. Danny Jackson didn’t even get to pitch. Barry Larkin came on as a substitute, but went 0-2, striking out once.

And then there’s Chris Sabo. Only one other third baseman was selected for the National League roster: Pittsburgh’s Bobby Bonilla, who was deservedly selected as the starter. Given all the hype around Sabo, and the fact that the game was being held in Cincinnati, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Sabo would have an opportunity to do something cool.

Nope. He only got a chance to pinch-run for Gary Carter. Sabo did steal second base, and the stadium went nuts when that happened. But after that appearance, Sabo didn’t take over at third base. He returned to the bench, concluding the first of his three All-Star appearances. Bonilla played the entire game, almost unimaginable for an All-Star game.

My irritation with the National League manager over his contempt for Sabo—and for MY REDS—lingers to this day. That manager? Whitey Herzog, skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals. July 12, 1988: The first day I decided, as a teenager, that I would hate the Cardinals forever. And I still do. It has become a way of life.

This week, we’re all enjoying the All-Star festivities. Todd Frazier got things going with a bang, and I’m sure the game is going to be a lot of fun. But I’ll be watching National League manager Bruce Bochy closely. He’d better give Frazier and Aroldis Chapman every opportunity to shine. Bochy doesn’t want to get on my bad list.

After all, it has been nearly three decades, and I still haven’t forgiven Whitey Herzog. And until he apologizes to me personally, I likely never will.

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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