Record: 89-79, finished 3rd out of 6 team National League West division
Did this team matter?: Yeah, I think so, but in ways that had little to do with the team itself. First, 1969 was the last full season in Crosley Field, and was the 100th anniversary of the first pro team, and was the last season before the magical run of the 1970s. And it was the first season of divisional play, complete with expanded playoff opportunities, which a promising roster combined with deft roster construction by Bob Howsam (who would trade his starting left fielder, first baseman, and second baseman in the coming seasons to spectacular result), would soon take ample advantage of. I like to think of 1969 as the grainy prelude to the technicolor Big Red Machine.
Performances to remember: Assume you were a Reds fan at the end of the 1969 season. The team had just finished 3rd in the NL West, four games behind the Braves. The 60’s had been OK, but not great, and it might have been hard to distinguish the ’69 season from the other years that decade. Seven times the Reds finished with between 83 and 93 wins (89 in 1969).
Then imagine that one of those cool time traveler events happened like in the movies where you met someone from exactly ten years in the future. He would tell you that the Reds were going to be really, really damn good in the 1970s, with two titles and two more NL pennants. And then he would disappear before you got to ask him any questions.
Wouldn’t you assume, like, HAVE to assume, that Bobby Tolan was going to be one of the biggest reasons for the Reds decade of dominance? After all, he was still just 23 years old, already had over 400 games of major league experience, and had just posted a season that included a .305 batting average, 21 homers, 26 steals, a 124 OPS+, and above average glove work in centerfield. This was a legitimate 5-tool player, who was just coming into his own.
Instead, Tolan had just two more good years left: 1970 and 1972, sandwiching an entire season lost to a torn Achilles tendon.
The Reds, of course, managed along without him just fine. But try telling that to yourself after you met the time traveler.
Wikipedia says: “(The season) consisted of the Reds finishing in third place in the newly established National League West, four games behind the NL West champion Atlanta Braves. The Reds were managed by Dave Bristol, and played their home games at Crosley Field, which was in its final full season of operation, before moving into their new facility in the middle of the following season.”
Uniform notes: The 1969 uniforms essentially matched the 1968 version, only with a centennial patch added. And this style would last through the 1971 season. After which would come a 20-year run of pullover-style jerseys. Akin to the comment earlier, this was the last link to the old world before Astroturf, polyester, and multi-purpose stadia.
My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “It’s plain and keeps repeating the same stuff.”
Record: 91-71, finished 1st in 6-team National League West. Beat Pirates in 6-game NLCS. Swept 4-game World Series over the A’s.
Did this team matter?: At the risk of overemphasizing two personal details, I think the answer to this has to be Yes. Risk #1: this remains the only championship by the Reds in my sentient lifetime. Risk #2, I had not yet entered high school when this season concluded, meaning baseball was still occupying as large a place in my brain as it ever would. So, I think it was a big deal that the underdog Reds swept the heavily favored A’s. I think it was a big deal that the jingoism of 1990 was portrayed via American flag patches on the uniforms. I think Billy Hatcher and Jose Rijo and Randy Myers and Eric Davis’s kidney were big deals. I also think that baseball maybe held a bigger place in the national zeitgeist pre-1994 strike, pre-internet, pre-cord cutting. It feels like a very distant and different place, 1990. And so I think I elevate the importance of that season accordingly.
Performances to remember: Rob Dibble was created to draw attention. He threw harder than anyone else in his era. He was prone to saying and doing dumb things. He had a wild and stiff delivery style that foretold of his short prime well before he was ever injured.
As I mention above, I’m old enough to remember well the 1990 team. I assume not everyone reading this is. If you don’t have an immediate mental picture of Dibble’s pitching motion, go find a video clip now. It defies concise explanation; somehow Dibble was able to lift his left leg well above his waist while simultaneously looking as flexible as a mannequin.
Numbers-wise, Rob Dibble was a precursor to our current era. His 1990 numbers of 136 strikeouts and 34 walks in 98 innings would fit very well at the top of a bullpen depth chart even in today’s velocity-happy game. The rest of his numbers spoke to the strength of the rest of the bullpen as well as manager Lou Piniella’s lack of adherence to strict usage roles: 68 appearances, 29 games finished, 11 saves, 11 decisions, a 1.74 ERA. Today he would be the closer. Then he was called in whenever the team most needed a crazy fireballer.
His postseason numbers in 1990 were even more fun. 7 appearances, 9.7 innings pitched, 14 strikeouts, 2 walks, 3 hits, 0 runs. One NLCS MVP award.
Wikipedia says: “Starting with a club best nine straight wins to open the season, as well as holding the top spot in the National League West every game during the season, the Reds went 41-21 after 62 games, splitting the remaining 100 games 50-50 to end up with a 91-71 record.”
Uniform notes: These uniforms are the wind-down of the Riverfront Stadium era of jerseys: pullovers with the uniform number over one side of the chest and the wishbone C logo over the other. The only practical difference between the 1990 version and the 1972 version (when this style first appeared) is the addition of red and white stripes down the pant leg. The inclusion/addition of the American flag patch (as best as I can remember) was introduced for the World Series.
My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “I like the American flag <giggles>.”
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