Selecting the best player to wear the #17 in Cincinnati Reds history was one of the more difficult numbers on the list to pick a winner from, as many in Reds lore have donned the uniform. There is only one man who transcended the number, and was a fan favorite during a golden time in Reds history. Chris Sabo is the best to ever wear the #17 in Cincinnati Reds history.
The man so daftly known as “Spuds,” broke on the scene in April of 1988 and made the whole rookie process look quite unassuming. Sabo not only made the All-Star team that year, he was voted as the National League’s Rookie of the Year after stealing a career-high 46 bases.
Having started his career on an unattainable pace, Sabo’s numbers understandably dialed back a bit. Injuries wrecked his 1989 season, playing in just over half the games, and allowing him to only steal 14 bags. Thankfully, he picked up where he left off his rookie season the next few years as he was an integral part of the Reds winning the World Series in 1990. Sabo received All-Star honors and finished the highest he ever would in his career in MVP voting, 14th, after belting 25 homeruns to go with his 25 stolen bases.
Still, his 1991 campaign is regarded as his finest season of his big league career. Sabo went for career-highs in multiple offensive categories, such as; hits (175), homeruns (26), RBI’s (88), batting average (.301) and OPS (.859). With the Reds finishing a miserable 74-88 the season after winning the World Series, Sabo’s numbers did not bode well for the MVP chase, finishing him a respectable, but forgettable, 20th.
As with so many players that get to this level, injuries took Chris Sabo’s career. He played his last full campaign in 1993 as a member of the Reds, but was done with baseball just three years later after attempting to hang on with the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Sabo tried to resurrect his career in 1996 back with the Reds organization, but with no such luck. The once fan favorite knew it was time to string up the spikes.
What made Sabo so unique and marketable to the fan base, was the usage of his gigantic, bottle sized goggles that he wore during a time when fashion was certainly different to that of today. In fact, there is a Twitter account dedicated to covering the Reds, dubbed “Chris Sabo’s Goggles.” (@Goggles17) Not many athletes are fortunate enough to be that popular for the remainder of their career after having such a brief, flame-like stint in the pros.
The list of candidates for the odd number were extensive, beginning with All-time greats Dazzy Vance and Ernie Lombardi. Vance made his career in other venues, and only wore the number for one season while in the Queen City. Lombardi on the other hand, was never alright with committing to just one number, as he wore 17 for just a single season. Those that wore it for an extended period and drew a heavy amount of consideration were Eddie Joost and Tommy Harper. Joost was a slick fielding shortstop with a ton of pop in his bat, which was rare for the time he played. (1936-1955) He never managed to reach an All-Star game with the Reds though, not quite measuring up to the accomplishments of Sabo. Tommy Harper was another brilliant player for a season or two while in Cincinnati, producing from the leadoff role during the mid-1960s. Where Harper falls short is in his lack of All-Star game invites and the fact that the team at that time was not all that great. Plus, he doesn’t have a Twitter account dedicated in his remembrance. Lastly, Shin-Soo Choo had one of the most brilliant individual outfield seasons from a Reds player in recent memory last year, and had he somehow signed on for an extended period of time, there is no doubt in my mind, this spot would have been his someday. Many athletes of today’s generation levitate towards the payday, which is understandably, but it just quantifies how uniquely special Chris Sabo truly is.
The Reds haven’t seen a third baseman with the talent level of Sabo’s in quite some time. He will always be fondly remembered as an intricate part of the 1990 World Series Champion team, and he has been enshrined in the Reds Hall of Fame. We salute Sabo and his unmistakable Goggles for being the best to ever wear the #17 for the Cincinnati Reds.