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Record: 85-59, finished 1st in 5-team National League Central. Beat the Dodgers in a 3-game sweep in the inaugural NL Division Series. Swept by the Braves in the ensuing NLCS.
Did this team matter?: Yes, but not for what happened on the field. The Reds only played 144 regular season games in 1995, as the player’s union strike that canceled the 1994 postseason lasted into early April, thereby necessitating a truncated season. The Reds were leading the NL Central division when the strike struck and they followed up in big fashion, winning the division by nine games. The good baseball being played masked the sea change in economics that 1995 marked the starting point of:
Year Reds payroll rank Reds payroll as % of MLB leader
1995 6th 85%
2000 21st 50%
2005 18th 30%
2010 19th 36%
2015 17th 42%
2019 19th 48%
I’m assuming this is what the plot of the Left Behind series was about.
Jim Bowden was the GM 1992 to 2003, so his tenure covers the transition from upper class to lower-middle class. It’s a complicated legacy; the Reds were a damn fine team in 1999 and generally got good marks for winning a respectable number of games with a lower than average payroll. But I’d love to see the alternate timeline where the Reds had a more…disciplined GM during the most turbulent economic turnover in MLB history.
Performances to remember: There are just eight players in MLB history with at least 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in their career (Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, Reggie Sanders, Steve Finley, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran). Small list. Weird list, too, in that not only are not all eight hall of famers, some of them aren’t even close, which strikes me as a bit odd for such an exclusive list that highlights a rare combination of two of the most important baseball skills: power and speed. The one guy on that list who played for the Reds (Sanders) barely eked out the feat, finishing his career with 305 homers and 304 steals.
Anyway, a guy with those kind of raw skills will run into an elite season every so often, and for Sanders, that year was 1995. Previously just kind of a pretty good player, Sanders went .306/.397/.579 in 1995 (155 OPS+) with 36 doubles, 28 dingers, and 36 steals. Imagine prime Joey Votto with enough speed to be a huge threat on the bases and to play a killer right field. Great season.
Here was Sanders’s line in the postseason: 4-for-29, 1 double, 1 HR, 3 walks, NINETEEN strikeouts. He also hit into a game ending double play, representing the winning run in the 11th inning of Game 1 against the Braves. I can’t imagine a bigger disparity between regular and post season value.
Wikipedia says: “The Cincinnati Reds’ 1995 season was a season in American baseball.”
Uniform notes: A callback to the uniforms of 1958-1960, with pinstripes (both on the jersey and on the cap) and sleeveless vests over red undershirts. On a personal note, the 1995 style coincided with my high school years, which means that I can see old photos of an awkward scrawny me wearing a sweat-stained pinstriped Reds hat. Not a fan of that, Bubba.
My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “
Record: 70-70, finished 4th in 8-team National League.
Did this team matter?: Nope. They were the very definition of mediocrity, finishing 33 games behind the pennant winner. It may interest you that the team employed three separate managers in 1902, but that’s not to say the team mattered.
Performances to remember: From 1899 to 1904, Noodles Hahn accumulated over 45 WAR. How does a pitcher rack up seven and a half wins over replacement per season? Well, in 1902, Hahn dropped a 1.77 ERA (169 ERA+) over 321 innings. 35 of his 36 starts were complete games, which makes one hope that he got a severe tongue lashing for that one start that he didn’t go the distance. It’s odd to me that a pitcher could throw 35 complete games and have a sub-2.00 ERA and only register six shutouts, but it doesn’t look like game log info is available. Let’s get an intern on this, stat. Of course, the obvious probable cause is that Hahn gave up roughly one full unearned run per start. One of the beautiful things about baseball is that there’s a common thread linking today the way off distant past, even though the game has changed so dramatically over that last 120 years or so. The current game, and whatever its idiosyncrasies that get your blood boiling, will also evolve.
Wikipedia says: “Cincinnati got off to a rough start, going only 4–12 in their opening sixteen games to quickly find themselves in seventh place, 10.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
Uniform notes: Solid white home uniforms with a simple “Cincinnati” in block letters, complete with a collar, front chest pocket, and buttons that go three quarters of the way down the jersey. The road jersey was similar, but in navy blue. Uniforms in the early days changed almost every single year. Probably to maximize merchandise revenues.
My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “I don’t like how the pocket is down, it would be better if it were higher on the chest. I like the collar.”