Cincinnati Reds Completed Impossible World Series Sweep on This Day in 1990


Jul 7, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds former players Rob Dibble (49) and Norm Charlton (37) and Randy Myers (28) are honored prior to the game against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The World Series begins at Kauffman Stadium tomorrow night, and if you squint just right, you might see some things that look familiar.  In particular, we have a mid-American team with no discernible superstars taking on a team from the Bay Area, a scenario which definitely rings a bell if you’ve followed baseball on the Riverfront over the past few decades. If you’re of the right age and mindset, today’s date might even ring your bell:  24 years ago on October 20, the Cincinnati Reds completed their 1990 World Series sweep of t he heavily favored Oakland A’s.

Those Reds were something of a rag-tag bunch who came together in the ashes of the late-1980s team that was supposed to be the second coming of the Big Red Machine but was never able to put it all together, and which stalled in the wake  of the Pete Rose scandal in 1989.  

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Shortstop Barry Larkin was the only regular who played more than 150 games that season, but his offense was barely above league-average at that point, as he had yet to become BARRY LARKIN.  Though his defense was stellar, he was still caught in the shade of Ozzie Smith’s giant shadow with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds’ best player, as he had been since 1986 or so, was center fielder Eric Davis, who characteristically managed only 127 games but set the tone for a team built around fundamental defense, great (if not blazing) speed and solid , double-digit power.

The starting rotation was led by 30-year-old Tom Browning and former Athletic Jose Rijo, both of whom pitched well above league-average but neither of whom blew your mind with their stats.

The bullpen, of course, was in the first year of the post-John Franco era, and the feeling entering the season was that it would be a sore point for the Reds and new manager Lou Piniella.  How silly we were!

By the end of the season, sports fans everywhere knew about the Nasty Boys at the back end of the Reds pitching staff, and it might be argued that lefty Randy Myers and righty Rob Dibble kicked off the trend of true ninth-inning fireballers in earnest.  The tag-team closers each averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings and all but assured that any Reds’ lead heading into the late innings would be converted into a victory.

The Series clincher 24 years ago tonight was typical of the tight, maybe ho-hum baseball that the Reds played all season. Rijo pitched eight-and-a-third innings of two-hit, three walk ball and struck out nine, allowing one run. Myers took over with one out in the ninth, inducing a ground out from Jose Canseco and a foul pop-out from Carney Lansford.

Queue anti-climax and wild celebration.

Those were the 1990 Reds, though, and they are Cincy fan’s last claim to a championship.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals are not a perfect parallel for those plucky Reds, but the similarities are strong enough to let us live vicariously.  And, even though the Giants are no one’s idea of a steamroller, the way the 1990 A’s were, San Fran has been just about unbeatable in October over the last five years, so you have to consider them favorites, at least in that light.

All in all, it seems like a the perfect kind of match-up to help us celebrate our own anniversary, at least if the Reds themselves can’t be part of the fray.

The best part is that Spring Training is now less than four months away.