4. Jose Rijo
Jose Rijo had an interesting journey to Cincinnati. He made his Major League debut in 1984 as a 19-year-old with the New York Yankees. Following his rookie season, Rijo was included in a package going to the Oakland A’s in exchange for outfielder Rickey Henderson.
During his three seasons with the A’s, Rijo was a well below-average starter. His final season in Oakland in 1987 saw him compile a 2-7 record with a 5.90 ERA and a 1.785 WHIP. In other words, the season was a complete catastrophe for the young right-hander.
In an eyebrow-raising move in December 1987, new Reds General Manager Murray Cook sent six-time All-Star outfielder Dave Parker to the A’s in exchange for Rijo and left-handed reliever Tim Birtsas. Fair or not, Cook’s legacy would largely be based on the results of this trade.
From the moment he first took the mound at Riverfront Stadium the now 23-year-old Rijo made Cook look like a genius. The 1988 season saw Rijo completely transform himself as a pitcher. Finishing the year with a 13-8 record, a sparkling 2.39 ERA, and an amazing 151 ERA+, it was obvious the Cincinnati Reds front office had pulled off a coup.
For Reds fans you can’t mention Rijo’s name without talking about the 1990 campaign. The Cincinnati Reds lead the NL West division wire-to-wire and secured their first postseason appearance in 11 years. Starting two games in the NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rijo collected a victory in Game 4 and the Reds would win the pennant in six games.
Entering the 1990 World Series the Reds were considered significant underdogs to the defending World Champion Oakland Athletics. The A’s were making their third straight appearance in the Fall Classic and were a juggernaut.
Rickey Henderson would win the MVP and Bob Welch would capture the Cy Young Award. They also had the likes of Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. Managed by Tony LaRussa and featuring a Farm Director by the name of Walt Jocketty the A’s won 103 games during the regular season.
What the A’s didn’t have any longer was Jose Rijo and he was simply masterful against his former team. Earning victories in Game 1 and the Series clincher in Game 4 Rijo hurled 15.1 innings to the tune of a 0.59 ERA and a World Series MVP trophy. Rijo, almost single handedly, authored one of the greatest upsets in Series history.
Rijo would continue to be a dominant presence in the Reds rotation for years to come. Throughout his 10 seasons in the Queen City, Rijo would collect 97 wins against only 61 losses. He finished his career with the Reds sporting a 2.83 ERA and 138 ERA+. Somewhere Murray Cook is smiling.