A fan’s favorite player is very dependent on when they began rooting for the Cincinnati Reds. Growing up, my favorite player was always Chris Sabo.
How many kids, growing up in the late-80s and early-90s put on their Cincinnati Reds cap and a pair of swim goggles before heading out to the backyard? C’mon, I can’t be the only one, right? Reds Hall of Famer Chris Sabo endeared himself to the fans in Cincinnati with his grit and hustle. He was also my favorite player growing up.
Sabo was drafted by the Reds in 1983, but didn’t make his big league debut until the 1988 season. Sabo’s minor league stats were never really overly impressive. Over the first five seasons of his professional, Sabo never hit over .292 and the most home runs he would ever record in the minors came during his first season with the Cedar Rapids Reds.
A ray of light shown on Sabo during spring training, as third baseman Buddy Bell was slated to open the season on the injured list and Cincinnati needed someone to man the hot corner. Sabo got the call from manager Pete Rose and made his major league debut on April 4, 1988 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sporting his flattop haircut and Rec Specs, Sabo quickly became a fan favorite. His .271 batting average, 40 doubles, 44 RBIs and 46 stolen bases were also enough to get the attention more than just the Reds faithful, as Sabo went the All-Star Game and took home Rookie of the Year honors, beating out Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace.
A down year in 1989, one that saw Sabo play in just 82 games, set the stage for the former second-round pick to emerge as one of the team’s best players during the Reds wire-to-wire run to the 1990 World Series Championship.
Sabo led Cincinnati in home runs (25), doubles (38) and runs scored (95). He also stole 25 bases and posted an .819 OPS. Sabo’s two-run homer in Game 4 of the NLCS proved to be the difference and the right-handed hitter owned the second-best batting average on the team during the World Series, going 9-for-16 (.563) with two home runs and five RBIs.
Sabo went the All-Star Game in 1990 and 1991, in fact, the season following the Reds World Series run was actually Sabo’s best of his career. He hit for .301 with career highs in home runs (26), RBIs (88) and hits (175).
Chris Sabo spent some injury-plagued seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals before returning to Cincinnati in 1996. His return to the Queen City wasn’t exactly as Sabo had hoped, but it was great to see “Spuds” end his career in a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
Sabo was an easy player to cheer for. His heart and grit reminded several fans of the full-steam-ahead attitude to Pete Rose played with. While Sabo may have never reached the heights of Rose, he’s still fondly remember by those throughout Reds Country.
Watching Chris Sabo play was an absolute treat any time I got to see the Cincinnati Reds play, be it on television or in person. Sabo is back in baseball and is currently serving as the head coach for the Akron Zips. Best of luck “Spuds”!