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A serious inquiry into "Reds Hot"

Hey, remember that time the 1990 Reds dropped a rap song?

The year 1990 was a pretty magical time for R&B/Hip-Hop. Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" made its way up the charts in May. Later that summer, MC Hammer "hammer danced" his way into our hearts with "U Can't Touch This." Artists like Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Keith Sweat were all making their presence known.

However, there is one song that has been too easily forgotten from the musical landscape of that year. For dear readers, 1990 was also the fateful year that gave us "Reds Hot" by B-Lark and the Homeboys.

You're not familiar with this song? I had forgotten all about it until MLB Network re-aired their "Nasty Boys" documentary over the weekend. The movie tells the story of the eccentric back end of the Reds bullpen that helped carry them to the 1990 World Series. The documentary also reminds viewers that on their way to a championship, the Reds performed a musical tribute befitting of such a dominant team.

Without further ado, I give you "Reds Hot."

I have a lot of questions about this video. The first obviously being, "How does something like this happen?"

However, there is so much going on in these 4 minutes and 46 seconds that it's worthy of a a little more of our time. It's difficult to take it all in the first time you see it. That's why I watched the video fifteen times last night. Let me be your tour guide through everything that makes Reds Hot so wonderful.

Paul O'Neill: Let me tell you a story about a baseball team

You could imagine having a conversation with your friend like this:

Friend: Hey, do you remember that time Paul O'Neill was a rapper?

You: Hahahahaha

Friend: No, seriously

Your friend would be correct in this instance.

Paul O'Neill...

Yes, this Paul O'Neill

Yeah, that guy. He opened a rap song in 1990 with some of the most intense reading of words off a piece of paper you'll ever see.

While the image of Paul O'Neill rapping is funny enough, it's not really the main story of this opening verse. O'Neill sets the stage for everything that is about to unfold by proclaiming:

"Let me tell you a story about a baseball team
On top of the game and it's not a dream
From 5th to 1st the pennant we have won
Now I present the champions"

The story of the 1990 Reds was a beautiful story, and parts of this song do tell it. There are a few references to players and their prowess on the field (some of this is also lies; we'll get there). However, this song really isn't "a story about a baseball team." If you look at the focus of the song I think we can boil it's message down to three things:

  • Stay in school
  • Don't do drugs
  • Especially cocaine
Why? Because as the team will shortly remind you by the end of this song:

Here's a special message for you
Say no to drugs, say no to crack
Just hit the books and the ball with the bat
And you can win the world series of life

Who doesn't want to win the World Series of life?

Will Herm really deliver?

Around the 2:27 mark of the song fans are told:

"When duty calls, Herm will deliver
Crushing blows that will make you shiver"

This portion of the lyrics is one of the more brazen attempts to rewrite baseball history that I've ever seen. The "Herm" being reference here is Herm Winningham. During the 1990 season he played in 84 games for Cincinnati. If you knew nothing about him you should suspect he was at least a home run crushing hitter at the plate based on these lyrics.

You would be wrong.

Herm Winningham hit 3 HR in 1990. His career high was back-to-back seasons of 4 HR in 1986-1987 for Montreal. He had a decent season at the plate, but his productivity doesn't quite match the description offered in "Reds Hot." This feels like someone said, "Hey we need to fill 10 seconds," and Herm was ready to pounce on the opportunity.

The moment Billy Hatcher realized this was a terrible idea

Not surprisingly this was the same look my wife gave me when I fired this song up for the 15th time last night trying to transcribe the lyrics.

Who is Spuds MacKenzie?

If you're listening carefully, an unexpected name pops up several times in this song. First, Barry Larkin informs fans that he's here with the rest of his crew. One of those crew members went by the name "Spuds MacKenzie." Second, during Chris Sabo's highly anticipated verse he concludes his rhymes with the phrase "It's me, Spuds MacKenzie."

If you're a younger Reds fan you might be tempted to head over to Baseball Reference and find out more about this Spuds MacKenzie who had such an important impact on this team. However, you'll be disappointed to discover that no player with that name was on the team. Spuds MacKenzie was in fact Chris Sabo himself.

So how did Sabo earn this nickname? According to his Wikipedia page "Pete Rose gave Sabo the nickname 'Spuds' during his rookie season in 1988, citing a resemblance to a bull terrier character in Bud Light commercials named Spuds MacKenzie."

Oh, you're not familiar with this bull terrier? My memory was a little hazy as well, but thanks to the magic of YouTube we can relive what made him such a hit in the late 80's.

Because the internet is a wonderful place, you can actually spend part of your day doing a deep dive on the story of Spuds MacKenzie. Check out: "The Life and Death of Spuds MacKenzie: The Original Party Animal"

All of the wonderful dancing

There are so many things to love about this video, but easily my favorite thing is the various dance moves employed by the players. As you're watching the video three players stand out, and those three men will help bring this article to a close as we pit them against one another in a dance contest.

Let's meet the contestants (each clip is cued to the relevant portion of dancing).

Contestant #1 Randy Myers

Oh how I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the team told this guy...

...he was going to be a part of a team rap/dance video. Maybe they would have expected pushback, but based on the evidence above Randy Myers embraced this idea with the same zeal that he exuded in all other areas of his life.

Contestant #2 Billy Hatcher

Maybe the face that Billy Hatcher made above was when he remembered they filmed him dancing, and thousands of people were going to see it.

Contestant #3 Norm Charlton

There's a lot that I appreciate about Norm Charlton's performance here. Not only did he pull off the turtleneck/red leather jacket combo, but he also gave people like me (non-dancers) their moment in the sun.

If you are one of the many people who would love to dance but can't, you completely understand what's happening to Norm in this clip. The music hits, and it's good. This induces a sway that allows him (me) to feel like he's participating in the dancing.

Slowly you can see it. The beat is moving up his body...taking control. A small snarl comes across his face as the song is just too much. At this point his arms come uncrossed...his body ready to give itself over to the beat.

And then the snapping begins. I can't tell you how often I've found myself overcome in a sway/snap combo that makes me feel like I could be a dancer in a Beyonce video. It's my go-to move, it's Norm's go-to move, and it's a move that thankfully will bring this recap to a close.

The weather has gotten colder outside this week, and the new baseball season seems so far away right now. However, maybe on those days where you're staring out the window looking for the first signs of spring, you can turn on this song and have your spirit lifted just a little bit.

Because even when it's frigid cold outside, it can always be "Reds Hot" in our hearts.