Cincinnati Reds Immemorial: Closing Time Edition

When it’s late, when you’re ready to close the bar, when it’s time to head home and take pride in your day’s success, when all the lights and signs are turned off but you’ve still got unwanted guests, it’s good to have a closer in house that can handle a quick and some times dirty escort out of the building. Even better is when that closer is as tough as he his unstable, as mean as he is confident, as quirky as he is resolved.

And some times, it’s all the better when you have a trio of those guys that combine to fit that bill. Rough and ugly. Uncouth and unkempt. And just downright…well, if nothing else, nasty.

In the history of a sport that stretches into multiple centuries rather than decades, the concept of a closer exists still in a small subsection of baseball’s annals. Even as the calendar turns from one page to the next, the idea of a closer changes with it. Today, we think of a closer as THE guy. Ninth inning, three run lead or less, save on the line, he is the one guy we turn to, rain or shine, sleet or snow, three days in a row or on five days rest, as reliable as the US Post Office, which is to say, not very. Bring him in to mop up when the night was easy and slow and you’re bound to leave with a little dirt left on your floors. Put him out there when you might be working a little overtime and he might be a little shaky with getting folks out the door.

He’s the ultimate in the era of specialist relievers, charged with getting the final three outs of any ball game in which your team leads. And at this point, the Reds don’t have that guy on the 25 man roster. It’s hard to imagine but easy to remember, at one time they had three.

Of course, that trio of dominating “closers” known as The Nasty Boys lead a team through the championship series and the quick four game follow up that some people referred to as a World Series but wasn’t much of a series at all. You couldn’t walk down the streets of Cincinnati for more than a few blocks without seeing cartoon caricatures of the trio emblazoned on a t-shirt, clad in road uniforms, casually standing next to each other, arms on the shoulder of another, confident that the imaginary mound they stood in front of was as much their property as the stadium it resided in. As daring a fashion statement as they made complimenting each other on various pieces of apparel, the true coalescing took place in the bullpen.

Norm Charlton, even with a nickname like “The Sheriff,” was almost the forgotten member of the trio because he wasn’t as quirky or as ill tempered as his counterparts, but his pliability was unrivaled. He started out in the bullpen with the other two Nasty Boys, but found himself a starter as the season progressed. But by his very nature he was an understated personality. The mean streak was there and the willingness to throw at his own mother existed, but he just came in and did his job. There were no histrionics, fights with managers, big leg kick or triple digit fastballs. He’d plunk you. He’d pitch inside. He loved pitching inside, in fact. There were simply bigger personalities in baseball and especially on his own team. But one indelible memory imprinted him in the hearts and minds of Reds fans everywhere. Of course, it was when Charlton barreled into Mike Scioscia at home plate of a game where the Reds were up 9-4 in the bottom of the 7th. More than all the success he had, that moment showed he was as worthy of any other to represent the “Nasty Boys.”

Rob Dibble, probably the most notorious of all, was that punk kid full of passion and bravado that made you glad he was toying with the spine of your opponent rather than staring into the hearts of you and your teammates. In the middle of all the brush backs and bean balls, he had a fireball as red hot as his glove combined with just enough lack of control that more than a few shaky batters found out how much jelly they had in their knees while facing him. And when they got the courage stocked up to face the heat, he’d drop a slider in the strike zone to make them flinch or out of the strike zone to make them awkwardly wave good bye, yet another brusque exit. In 1989, he became one of only 41 major league pitchers to strike out the side on only 9 pitches. And when they wouldn’t submit to his stuff, he’d throw at them and start a brawl, like he did in 1991 against the Houston Astros. And that heat wasn’t reserved only for the other teams. When he wasn’t busy intimidating his opposition from the mound, he was antagonizing fans with a launched fast ball into the center field seats or engaging his manager with a wrestling match in the middle of the locker room. But not until after 1990. Before the championship, his temper was focused entirely on his opponents.

But it was Randy Myers who combined those personalities, equal parts Charlton and Dibble, dropped that concoction in with the decent production of Tim Layana and Tim Birtsas, mixed it in with his own talent to create a drink that the residents in Cincinnati could drink by the gallon and never feel the least bit hungover. While Myers had almost every bit the talent that Dibble and Charlton had and despite the initial dislike that came from fans when he was traded for the revered John Franco, he didn’t have near the temper or give off the smallest inkling that he had anywhere near the bravado. And maybe that’s why the relationship worked so well. Myers was seen as strange to many who didn’t drop their rifle or hunting knife as they shed their Mossy Oak camouflage in mid-Winter to emerge from the Vancouver, Washington mountains and show up to play baseball, but his steadfast stability on his mound and in his demeanor gave the impression that the show of intense personality from his mates were easily reigned in when needed. And apparently that impression was the correct one. Myers didn’t mind sharing the “closer’s” role and by the time they all three rolled into the Championship Series, Dibble and Myers combined to pitch 10.2 innings of scoreless shutdown baseball and earned co-MVP honors for the 6 game set while Charlton took the loss in Game 1, giving up the 1 earned run that cost him the game before going scoreless the rest of the series. They could not equal the feat in the World Series, but only because Oakland fell in a short four games, allowing the Boys the opportunity to pitch scoreless baseball in only 8.2 innings. Myers kept their talent in play, their minds in focus and their filthy stuff striking out hitters at a magnificent rate. He led these men into battle and marked them with the name we know them by today, the name we cheered them by then, Nasty Boys, right there clear as day on the shirt.

So the Reds will go through this offseason and try to find a way to fill the gap left by Francisco Cordero, perhaps a role he never quite completely satisfied. Perhaps they’ll sign someone, maybe they’ll trade for someone, maybe they’ll promote someone. But back in that special summer of 1990, back when the Reds had three closers filling in wherever needed, dominating and intimidating no matter who they faced or when they faced them, there wasn’t a better trio in all of baseball. And if there were a few remaining stragglers hanging around hoping to get some service while these boys were closing, there wasn’t a better set of guys than the Nasty Boys to throw them out of your place.