Jack McKeon’s bullpen didn’t have The Nasty Boys, but they were close.
The Nasty Boys—Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble—will forever be one of the Reds greatest bullpens for Reds fans. If Cincinnati had the lead after six innings during the 1990 season, you could pretty much count on Marty Brennamen saying his trademark words after the Reds won.
They were indeed nasty. And also tough, resilient and all three had an aggressive mindset.
McKeon’s bullpen was led by a three-headed monster. That monster was Scott Sullivan, Scott Williamson and Danny Graves. Each had diverse strengths and came to the Reds in different ways. Each had their big moments during the 1999 baseball season. And each contributed in a significant way to the Reds success that season.
Graves was the closer while Willliamson and Sullivan were primarily set up guys. The only thing they really had in common is that they were all righthanded.
Graves– or ‘Gravy”– was born in Saigon, South Vietnam (now Hanoi City) in 1975. His father was American, his mother Vietnamese. Graves was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1994 and traded to Cincinnati in 1997. During the ’99 season, he pitched 111 innings, saved 27 games and had an 8-7 record.
Sullivan was a sidearmer or submariner, if you will. The Reds had a couple similar pitchers before that in Ted Abernathy and Wayne Granger. A 6’3”, 210 pounder drafted by the Reds in 1993 in the second round, Sully’s unorthodox motion proved effective against hitters that saw him during the game just once or twice. He pitched 113 innings in ’99 during 79 games and posted 3.01 earned run average.
Williamson was the unique pitcher. He came out of nowhere. Drafted by the Reds, he had very limited experience in Triple A and made the team out of spring training. He was more of a power pitcher and he got off to fast start. Williamson not only made the All-Star team in 1999 but he was Rookie of the Year. He posted a 12-7 record, an ERA of 2.41 and fanned 107 hitters.
It was both an unusual and effective set of relief pitchers. McKeon used them long and hard for two reasons: (1) they were effective and (2) his starters were not the best in the National League, by far.
The bullpen and hitters like Barry Larkin, Sean Casey, Greg Vaughn and Dimitri Young powered the offense and the Reds went on a summer roll and into contention after a slow start.
The 1999 season would be the last that the Reds played pivotal, late season games at Riverfront Stadium. A venue that used to do that every season except for the dismal era of 1982-1984. Riverfront was abuzz again despite it’s advancing age and deteriorating features. (Sorry– I still refuse to call it Cinergy Field)
The 1999 Reds captured the baseball fans of the Reds Country. They were, as Dusty Baker would say later about his 2010 team, an “eclectic group of guys.” Larkin was pure Cincinnati. Casey became Cincinnati. Vaughn was the best one year rental player the Reds have ever had (although Puig could have been close if he stayed). Second baseman Pokey Reese made fans forget the shortstop named Pokey Reese and the disastrous Opening Day of 1998 (four errors). McKeon’s cigars became a symbol of the new Reds reign of terror.
In the middle of all that were McKeon’s bullpen. Gravy, Sully and Willie.
And in the background was Riverfront Stadium. Old time fans will remember it by the seats– blue were awesome, yellow were great, green were good and the red seats were mediocre. Some will remember it by the voice of Paul Sommerkamp, the PA announcer. Others will remember the Big Red Zamboni machine that soaked up water off the AstroTurf and jettisoned it over the wall.
Riverfront had a few good moments left; a couple of Opening Days, the debut of Ken Griffey Junior. As far as pennant race thrills, 1999 was the last, great moment for a stadium that not only hosted an All-Star game in its first year of existence but also the World Series.
Photo of Riverfront Stadium by Rick Dikeman. The license for the photo can be found here.
I never knew that Graves was born in Saigon and was part of the evacuation when the South fell in 1975. P.S. he was born in 1973.
My favorite Reds team! It seemed like every night they were rallying to win late.
Scott Sullivan was a standout from that era. Multiple 2 WAR seasons as a reliever—that’s not easy!!!
I broke my leg early in 1980, and was still in a cast when my friends and I decided to go to a Red’s game one night on spring break. The day had been cool and rainy, but the night was supposed to be clear and cold, and for once, the forecasters got it dead right. There was some work to be done by the Zamboni before the game could start, but it was doing its job nicely and we were amused to see it jettison huge glurts of water over the outfield fence. We were sitting along the first base line watching this and out in left center two guys had taken seats in the first row. The Zamboni stopped and unloaded, soaking them both. We always wondered if the whole thing was orchestrated. The process wasn’t one that was so lightning fast that they couldn’t have gotten out of the way.
Great stuff John! I greatly enjoy your pieces like this.