Looking back: Reds won World Series 30 years ago

The Reds were big underdogs in 1990 but swept the A’s for their fifth world title



With the 2020 World Series starting on Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas, it’s a reminder the Cincinnati Reds haven’t played in the World Series in 30 years.

Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers takes place on the 30th anniversary of Game 4 of the 1990 World Series. The Reds completed a four-game sweep of the Oakland A’s on Oct. 20, 1990, with a 2-1 victory on the road.

Here is one of Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy’s Dayton Daily News stories from 1990 summing up the last world championship won by the Reds:

Reds hammer it home: ‘U Can’t Touch this’

For one final time in 1990, M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” screeched off the walls of the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse Saturday night, barely audible above the din of players awash in celebration.

The Cincinnati Reds were celebrating their first world championship since 1976 and Hammer time was apropos.

The San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres couldn’t touch them in the National League West.

» PHOTOS: 1990 team reunites in 2015

The Pittsburgh Pirates couldn’t touch them in the National League playoffs. And the Oakland Athletics not only couldn’t touch them, they couldn’t even come within reach in the World Series.

The Reds hammered and hammered and hammered and hammered — four straight victories over the smug American League champions when the baseball world expected the A’s to expose the Reds as frauds. The frauds were the A’s, all puffed up with no place to go. They went down. They went down easy. And they went down with their best pitcher whimpering.

Even though the Reds beat him twice, Dave Stewart wouldn’t bow gracefully.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, we’re the best team in baseball,” Stewart said. “The team that plays the best wins the World Series. Put Cincinnati in our division for 162 games and they wouldn’t even be in the World Series. In fact, I’m going on record now. We’ll be back next year. Will Cincinnati?”

In the first inning of Saturday night’s 2-1 clincher, Stewart ripped a fastball off Billy Hatcher’s hand, knocking him from the game. Hatcher set a World Series record for four games with a .750 batting average, and Cincinnati relief pitcher Rob Dibble reacted angrily to Stewart’s modus operandi.

“I felt that was a horse feathers thing to do — hit a guy because he’s hot,” Dibble said. “Of course I think it was intentional. He put his guys in jeopardy and he is lucky he isn’t in the National League where he has to bat. If he would have ruined Billy’s career, I guarantee somebody would have gotten him.”

Stewart was hostile when told of Dibble’s remarks.

“Tell him he is a punk,” Stewart said. “Tell him to talk to me when he has won 20 games or saved 40. He’s a reliever who doesn’t know how to pitch. He has a fastball and that’s it. Tell him to learn how to pitch. He is stupid and doesn’t know anything about baseball. I hit people by mistake, not on purpose.”

» PHOTOS: Memorable shots from 1990 World Series

Dibble may or may not know how to pitch, but the Oakland A’s certainly didn’t know how to hit him — or any other Cincinnati pitchers. The A’s didn’t score a single run after the third inning in any of the four games. And they didn’t score a run in any of the four games against the Cincinnati bullpen. In Game 4, the last 22 pseudo-hitters went down ingloriously in order — no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors, no chance — against winner Jose Rijo and Randy Myers.

The Reds' earned run average was 1.70, holding the A’s to a .207 average. The Bash Brothers were trashed. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were 4 for 26 and Canseco — the $23 million man — was reduced to a 23-cent trinket in Game 4, benched by Manager Tony La Russa.

Meanwhile, the Reds ripped Oakland’s pitching, reputed to be the best on the continent, for a .317 average. They beat Stewart twice. And they beat Dennis Eckersley, owner of the biggest bullpen reputation on the continent.

“Everyone was so worried about Oakland sweeping us they looked past our whole team,” Dibble said. “From what we read, they had a better bullpen, better starters, better hitters, blah, blah, blah. But we don’t worry about what we read, we worry about what the Reds are capable of doing, which is beating any team on any given night.”

The Reds had a better bullpen, better starters, better hitters and, yes, better blah, blah, blah.

Notwithstanding Stewart’s defiance, several A’s acknowledged the obvious.

Give Stewart some credit, though. Rijo, who won two games and effortlessly flicked aside the last 20 A’s he saw with slider after slider after slider in Game 4, was still on the field in uniform an hour after the game, his eyes now dry from earlier joyful tears and a celebratory cigar clenched in his teeth. Stewart, dressed nattily in a charcoal grey suit, approached Rijo and threw his arms around him.

“I love ya, man,” Stewart said.

Eckersley admitted embarrassment over the sweep, but said, “We never felt we were the most awesome team walking down the pike. The media made us to be that. These guys were on time, Jack. I don’t think too many people could have beaten them, even if we were playing good.”

It wasn’t as dramatic as Kirk Gibson’s ninth-inning, pinch-hit home run for Los Angeles that started the A’s on their slide in the 1988 World Series, but Eckersley called a home run by now-hospitalized Eric Davis in Game 1 in the first inning as the troublemaker, the trend-setter.

“It’s a bomb in the first inning and it was domination in every game from then on,” Eckersley said. “They crushed us twice and they beat us at our own game twice.”

The A’s were heavily favored to whip the Dodgers in ’88, too, but lost in five games.

“Same results, but a little different,” McGwire said. “The 1990 Reds are a better team than the Dodgers of 1988, but both beat the doo-doo out of us. You don’t have to scratch your heads searching for a reason. You have to give them credit. They were very impressive.”

Broadcaster Johnny Bench, catcher for the Reds' last world champions, also pointed to the Davis home run as the watershed.

“Before the Series, the players stood behind Eric, to a man,” Bench said. “Not a bad thing was said by any player. Then, in his first at-bat, he homers, first pitch, and the floodgates opened. I thought it was huge. If they needed anything emotional to get them going, it was Eric.”

Oakland Manager La Russa said it the way a gracious loser should say it.

“We have an outstanding offensive club against any pitching staff in the world. Sometimes it doesn’t work,” he said. “They have an outstanding pitching staff against any offense in the world. When it doesn’t work, somebody beats you. I don’t want to analyze it to death. I just want to say, ‘Nice going, Cincinnati, you deserve it.'”

Meanwhile, there was a humorous advertisement on page B-10 of the Sunday Oakland Tribune, right under the end of the paper’s story on the final game. “World Series Tickets, Buy and Sell.” Nobody bought, nobody sold.

As Rijo, who wore his “It’s Over” T-shirt under his uniform every game, said with a wide grin, “Oh, yes, it’s over. It’s over. Big-time.”

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