Saturday, August 31, 2013

July 8- Cincinnati Reds

If there has ever been a moment of a “complete lapse of judgment” in any of these New Era Cap posts today has certainly become the day to show it. Actually, I really shouldn’t be so hard on myself. After all, this is actually the first Cincinnati Reds cap I purchased. 

It was some time during the summer of 2010 when I strolled into the Lids at Valley River Center in Eugene, Oregon to buy this and a few other caps merely off of a whim. See, I hadn’t quite hatched the plan to purchase all of the game-worn Major League Baseball caps just yet. At this point in time I was still in the “one cap for every team” phase. With the Reds I wasn’t particularly picky. The Lids store in question happened to have all three styles from the last few years available and I simply picked out the one that looked the best on my noggin. The winner of the mix? This lucky fella which served as the Reds’ home and road alternate cap from 1999-2000, served full-time as the home cap from 1999-2006 and the team’s road and alternate cap from 2003-present. Actually, it’s a really complicated mess of years and uniform combos which make it really difficult to give a straight answer; so, for the sake of argument, this cap has been used by the Reds since 1999 and is still being used today.

What’s really interesting about this cap is that it ushered in one of the more dramatic changes in any teams’ cap design. Yes, I realize that to most the cap looks virtually identical to their other caps since the 1970s, but I say you’re not looking hard enough. For example, this cap introduced the black bill, which is a pretty significant change when considering that the Reds’ hats were completely red with the exception of their 1993-1998 pinstripe home caps, which I can’t find anywhere. But the most important feature, the one that has caused bits of grief for some Reds fans, is the shadow added to the “C” logo.

Personally, I don’t mind it. From an art perspective it gives the logo a bit more depth; however, from a fan perspective I can how this could be considered frivolous.

Now, keeping in mind with what I said earlier about only making this my one Reds cap purchase it will help explain why I chose the numbers I did for this cap. With almost all of my other caps I’ve done a great job of keeping the stats, dates and people within the timeframe of when the cap was used on the field; however, based on those standards I totally blew this time around. But, I did it all for the sake of the two most important figures (to me) in Reds history who had the greatest impact on my youth years.

#11- 1990 was a weird year for me. I was seven-years-old, in first grade and playing my second year of T-ball… as a member of the Reds. When the season started I didn’t think much of it, nor did I really know how much getting the jersey with the #11 on the back was going to impact the next decade of my life.

I realize that saying you were one of the best players on your T-ball team is incredibly silly, but it was true. Aside from being able to hit a ball that doesn’t move with ease, I was actually a phenomenal defensive threat. Yes, I am aware of how ridiculous this sounds, but how many seven-year-olds do you know of that were capable of pulling off not one, but TWO unassisted triple plays. Oooooohhhhh you don’t know of any? Exactly, now you do. Granted, in both cases the only reason I was able to pull them off is because the kids on the other team forgot that you’re supposed to go back to the base when a pop fly has been caught, but at the same time I looked pretty good for knowing what I could pull off at such a young age. And like I said, not once, but twice. Only one other time in my life have I been privy to such defensive awareness from someone so young. So yah, the next time you look at that photo of the freckled kid above, just know that behind those eyes is a Gold Glover waiting to embarrass your team.

Enough reminiscing about my “glory days,” Barry Larkin has always been one of my favorite/most hated baseball figures in my life. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a life-long Oakland Athletics fan. That bit of information alone should fill in all the gaps, but I’m not one to leave empty details. Larkin, like Pete Rose, was born and raised in Cincinnati and attended Archbishop Moeller High School where he was a second round draft pick of the Reds as an outfielder. Rather than sign on the dotted line, Larkin passed on their offer and decided to go to college instead. For college, Larkin grew the largest set of balls the state of Ohio had ever seen as he opted to enroll at the University of Michigan. 

He's wearing an extra special cup made of gold.

The funny thing about this move is that Larkin was originally set to play football under Bo Schembechler in 1982. Larkin never saw one play on the field for the Wolverines in football, and it was by chance later that year, Schembechler allowed Larkin to pursue baseball. Good thing he did as Larkin ended up becoming a two-time All-American (1984-1985), led the Wolverines to two College World Series berths, won the 1983 Big-10 Tournament MVP, was the 1984 and 1985 Big-10 Player of the Year and even played on the 1984 US Olympic baseball team. Oh, and he also graduated like a boss. Despite “missing his window” right out of high school the Reds came crawling back and took Larkin with the fourth overall pick in the 1985 Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Larkin played in a total of 175 games in the minor leagues for the AA Vermont Reds (72) and Denver Zephyrs (103) from 1985-1986 before making his MLB debut on August 13, 1986. Larkin only played in 41 games that season but still hit .283 with three home runs, 19 RBI and eight stolen bases. His performance managed to get him one percent of the vote for the National League Rookie of the Year award in what is arguably one of the best campaigns in MLB history as that year also featured the debuts of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Robby Thompson, Todd Worrell (who won), John Kruk and Barry Bonds. Crazy! What many may not remember about Larkin is that he was a platoon shortstop for the first two years of his career as another prospect, Kurt Stillwell, had been called up exactly two months earlier. Luckily for Larkin the Reds front office saw the potential in him and ended up trading Stillwell to the Kansas City Royals at the end of the 1987 season. In 1988 Larkin played in 151 games and had 588 at-bats. Why is this significant? Well, Larkin only struck out 24 times that season, the least in the Majors that season. In fact, the most Larkin ever struck out during a season was 69 times in 1998, a year in which he won the eighth of his nine total Silver Slugger awards.

For 19 years (1986-2004) Larkin was a regular fixture of the Reds lineup. He made 12 All-Star Game appearances, 11 of which came between 1988 and 2000 and won three Gold Gloves from 1994-1996. Keep in mind, Larkin was still battling St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith for these spots and awards most of the time. Larkin maintained a .295 batting average throughout his career, had 2340 hits, 960 RBI, 198 home runs and stole 379 bases. The best statistical season of his career came in 1995 when he went .319/15/66 with 51 stolen bases and his second Gold Glove which were good enough for him to take home the National League MVP award that season. Only five other times in his career would Larkin finish in the top-25 for the NL MVP. What’s even more interesting is that in 1996 Larkin finished 12th for the award despite hitting .298 and becoming the first shortstop to ever hit 30 or more home runs (33) and steal 30 or more bases (36) in a season.

After his retirement in 2004, Larkin was hired as a special assistant to the general manager in the Washington Nationals organization. In 2008, he signed with the MLB Network as a studio analyst. In 2011 he moved to ESPN to serve as a Baseball Tonight analyst. Larkin received great applause from Reds fans when he helped host Baseball Tonight's on-the-road coverage of Sunday Night Baseball at GABP on July 24, 2011. Crowd chants of "Barry Larkin" and "Hall of Fame" often caused the anchors to have to talk very loud to be heard. Larkin was coincidentally in Cincinnati for Baseball Tonight on the day of the 2011 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He was the bench coach for the United States at the 2009 World Baseball Classic and managed the United States' second-round game against Puerto Rico when U.S. manager Davey Johnson left to attend his stepson's wedding. On July 20, 2008, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum inducted Larkin, César Gerónimo, August "Garry" Herrmann, and Joey Jay. In 2012, he was invited by the Brazilian Baseball Federation to manage their national team in the qualifiers for the World Baseball classic. Surprisingly Brazil beat the home country Panama qualifying for the first time ever for the event and played in Japan. They were originally scheduled to play in Puerto Rico, but because of the huge Japanese baseball influence in Brazil they made the switch and the team played Cuba and China besides the home country. The team went winless in its WBC debut and was eliminated after the first round. One thing to be noted is that Larkin speaks Spanish and Portuguese. Yes, the man is a legend.

In 2010, his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, Larkin was not elected, garnering 51.6 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed for election). In 2011, he received 62.1 percent of the vote, the highest of non-inducted players and third overall. In 2012, his third year of eligibility, Larkin was voted into the Hall of Fame with 86.4 percent of the vote along with Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. He was the eighth Reds player and 24th shortstop inducted to the Hall of Fame. On August 25, 2012 his number 11 was retired in an official ceremony at Great American Ball Park.

#17- I can’t remember where I heard this story or from whom, but somebody I know once asked former Reds pitcher and “Nasty Boy” Rob Dibble who the craziest person from the early 1990s Reds team was. The person who asked had originally assumed the answer was going to be Dibble or fellow “Nasty Boy” Tom Browning. Nope! “Chris Sabo was the craziest motherf---er I’ve ever met” was the quote I was told via hearsay from Dibble. Either way, growing up he was my brother Adam’s favorite player.

Sabo brew up in Detroit and attended Detroit Central Catholic High School. In 1980 Sabo was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 30th round of the amateur draft, but elected to go to college as opposed to signing out of high school. His college, the University of Michigan. From 1980-1983 Sabo played baseball for the Wolverines, two of those years alongside his future Reds teammate from above. When his college career came to an end the Reds came calling, selecting him with their second round pick in 1983.

Sabo’s minor league journey started in Class-A with the Cedar Rapids Reds before he spent his next two season with the AA Vermont Reds as he corrected his swing mechanics. Sabo spent 1986 in Denver with the AAA Zephyrs before moving to Nashville with the Sounds in 1987 as the Reds switched their AAA affiliate. That season Sabo was batting .292 with seven home runs, 53 RBI and 23 stolen bases and more than likely would have still been stuck in the minors had it not been for an injury to Reds’ starting third baseman Buddy Bell before the 1988 season started. As a result Sabo was named the starting third baseman for the Reds that season.

Spuds, as he was called by manager Pete Rose because of the Bud Light Spuds MacKenzie advertisements, played in 137 games his first season and hit .271 with 11 home runs, 44 RBI, 146 total hits and 46 stolen bases. His campaign was good enough to land him his first of three trips to the All-Star Game and he even edged out Chicago Cubs legend Mark Grace for the NL Rookie of the Year award that season. Not too shabby of a first year, especially for a guy who looks like the MLB version of Kurt Rambis.

1989 proved to be a pretty rough year for Sabo, but he bounced back in 1990 and 1991 where he made the All-Star team his final two times and cracked the top-20 for the NL MVP each of those years. His best season coming in 1991 where he hit career highs in average (.301), triples (3), hits (175), home runs (26), RBI (88) and OPS (.859). Unfortunately for Sabo, he only managed to produce one more solid year in 1993 before he bounced around to the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cardinals and back to the Reds where he retired in 1996 amidst to a bit of controversy. In July of that season, Sabo shattered his bat which was filled with cork. As a result of the incident, Sabo received a seven-game suspension. Sabo maintains that he had never corked a bat in his life. He claimed that the bat in question belonged to another player (whom he would not name). He argued that his performance that season (3 home runs in 52 games) was hardly "an endorsement of the cork industry."

Sabo was inducted in the Cincinnati Reds Hall Of Fame, along with Pedro Borbón and Tony Mullane on July 17, 2010. The Cincinnati Reds gave away Chris Sabo bobblehead dolls to fans in attendance that evening.

Now, you’re probably all wondering why or how I could forget to mention the fact that both Larkin and Sabo were members of the 1990 World Series team. Well, as I mentioned earlier, 1990 was kind of a dark time for me being on the Reds for T-ball and being an A’s fan all-around. Like 1988 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, I tend to just gloss over the fact that those two World Series actually took place. I mean, c’mon!!! The A’s should have won easily like in 1989, but instead got smoked by two of the most rag-tag teams ever assembled. It was hell to watch, even at ages five and seven.

What’s truly remarkable about the 1990 World Series team is that Larkin and Sabo hardly get mentioned for their performances. Most of the talk always comes back around to MVP Jose Rijo, Dibble and Browning; however, even though Rijo did pitch and amazing series with two wins, a 0.913 WHIP and 0.59 ERA, Larkin played in all four games and had the third-best batting average of the Series (.353) along with six hits, a double, a triple, two walks and one RBI. Billy Hatcher and Eric Davis put up great offensive numbers as well, but no one mashed as well as Sabo did with his two home runs in Game 3 along with his .563 average and five RBI for the series. You don’t get pawned off as the star player for the Series only to not get named MVP for coming up huge. Right? 

To make matters worse the Reds sweep ended in Oakland which marked the second time I’ve ever cried at the end of a baseball game. The first time I’ll get to later. You know, after reliving these dark times I’m glad I screwed up on marking up this cap. :P

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