Cincinnati Reds: The Improbable 1990 Wire-to-Wire Run

I was three months old when the Cincinnati Reds beat the Oakland Athletics in Oakland to win the 1990 World Series and complete the wire-to-wire season, so I don’t have any first-hand memories of that team. But from the things my dad has told me, what I’ve read and the highlights I’ve watched, the 1990 team was one of the more exciting teams in Reds history. This weekend that team will be honored at GABP, celebrating the 25-year anniversary of their World Series win.

The team finished 91-71, first in the National League West division. They were the first NL team to go wire-to-wire in the 162 game schedule era. The average age of the roster was 27.5. There were five all-star players. They ranked first in the NL in batting average, third in slugging and fourth in on-base percentage. On the pitching side, they ranked second in the NL in ERA, second in strikeouts, third in innings pitched and first in saves.

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The Reds got off to a scorching start in April and May, including going 9-0 to start the season. But they actually had a losing record in the second half with a record of 41-42. They were so far ahead of the other teams in the division that no one was able to catch them for the remainder of the season.

Chris Sabo, Billy Hatcher, Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Paul O’Neill, Todd Benzinger, Joe Oliver and Mariano Duncan made up the Opening Day lineup, in that order. However, that lineup varied quite often as manager Lou Piniella moved around players in the lineup frequently, particularly at the top. It made sense because he had multiple guys who could lead off in Larkin, Hatcher and Sabo. Larkin and Hatcher had 30 stolen bases each, followed by Sabo with 25 and Davis with 21. The team’s home run leaders were Sabo and Davis. Sabo had 25 and Davis had 24.

Even the bench was decent. Benzinger and rookie Hal Morris split time at first base. Although Benzinger had more plate appearances, Morris was the better hitter, with a .340 average. Glenn Braggs, acquired via a midseason trade, immediately started producing at the plate. He hit .299 and had an OBP of .385 in 72 games. Ron Oester, in the final year of his career, also hit .299 in just 64 games.

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Tom Browning, at age 30, led the young pitching staff of Jose Rijo, Jack Armstrong and Danny Jackson. The relievers were Rick Mahler, Tim Layana, and of course, the Nasty Boys: Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers. Charlton was in the bullpen for the majority of the season and the playoffs, but started 16 games in July, August and September. He pitched 154.1 innings, had a 2.74 ERA and two saves. The other two-thirds of the Nasty Boys were just as good as Charlton. Dibble had 136 strikeouts in just 98 innings. He would convert 11 of 17 saves. Myers was the ninth inning pitcher most of the time, recording 31 saves in 37 attempts.

Nationally, no one gave the Reds a chance in 1990, especially in the playoffs. Going into the World Series against Oakland, this team was considered a Cinderella team, the “ultimate underdog.” But they had the talent at the plate and on the mound. The chemistry between the players was there, and they had a fiery manager who knew how to manage. Once the calendar turned to October, it all came together for the Redlegs. And it always bodes well for a team if they start hitting their stride in the playoffs. For the ’90 Reds, everything fell into place for one perfect season.

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