Welcome to Part 3 of our not-at-all-offseason-fumbling,  totally historically relevant series discussing each Reds appearance on the cover of the now-defunct Sports Illustrated. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

It’s not exactly efficient to divide each discussion into decades, as the 70s would scroll on past Fiji and the majority of the 2010’s would generate exactly seven words, which isn’t exactly algorithm-friendly  (“This was a baseball team that existed.”)

But this provides for us an opportunity to celebrate what we had while we had it. For example, this now-bittersweet Eric Davis story appeared on May 25, 1987:

This cover was conflated by some commenters as the World Series cover (and SI might well have included alternate covers of that issue, but I recall only the Sabo one below, and this Eric Davis one… not at all.)

I should have. It was well-earned. In 1987, Davis was the first player to accumulate three grand slams in a single month. He also joined the rarified 30/50 club.

Eric Davis is tied for 4th amongst all MLB players who have amassed the most seasons with at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. He managed this 7 times. (However, Barry Bonds occupies the #1 spot in that category, and we all know how to adjust accordingly.)

Davis was quite properly inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame with his teammate, Jose Rijo, in 2005. I hear he still bounces around the organization as a hitting coach.

This cover is connected to the next; Davis, of course, was never quite the same after the terrifying kidney injury he sustained in Game 4 of the 1990 World Series.

For all the flash-bang qualities of the 1990 team, it’s surprising that it generated exactly one SI cover, and that cover had nary a Nasty Boy or a Paul O’Neill in sight. It did, however, offer a Spuds:

This, presumably, was because Chris Sabo was one of the most immediately recognizable members of the team for those not occupying the 275 loop. This cover is notable in that it offers one of the most tepid forms of sub-heading congratulations to ever greet a morning-after World Champion team: “Chris Sabo and his Cincinnati comrades sweep the A’s.”

Considering what this team pulled off… I think I am well within my rights to assume a haughty stare over this.  They went with a Communism theme? I do not recall feeling underwhelmed and borderline insulted at the time, but in the moment there was a lot of cream soda and two whole out-of-uniform days at school, so I wasn’t exactly concerned with the looming amount of shade issuing from Time Inc.

Now, though? Now that I’m a big girl who can wear whatever she wants to work (it’s a big day when I actually leave the house and a bra is necessary) I see a bit more clearly. I’m also older and much, much more easily offended.

The 1990 Reds team appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated exactly once throughout the year — after they won the Series. This was it (Joe Montana was featured twice, and yes, Doctor, that childhood wound has yet to heal.)

During the playoffs, the SI curse was benevolently distributed to the Pirates, for which I suppose I should be grateful. But given that the A’s showed up the week prior over a triumphant “THEY’RE BACK!” header, this is the most backhanded congratulations in the history of utter thumpings.

Look, I’m fond of Sabes and all, but when you go from worst to first, lead the division wire to wire, and sweep of the reigning champs, I don’t think it’s out of line to expect at least an exclamation point.

We suffer much here in Flyover Country, the perpetual middle children of the media landscape.


21 Responses

  1. David

    I have some odd memories of the 1990 World Series.
    The final game was during my wedding reception for my first marriage. We were divorced in 2017. A bunch of us trooped downstairs from the FOE hall where the reception was, to the bar where the TV was on.
    Some people left early to go back to the hotel and watch the game.

    Who was really the “face” of the 1990 “wire to wire” pennant team, and the winning team in the World Series?
    Eric Davis? Paul O’Neill? Barry Larkin? Rob Dibble? I saw Rob once close up in Spring Training, and he was a pretty crazy guy. Lou Pinella (maybe)? Chris Sabo?
    Todd Benzinger? I think he recorded the last out of the Series. Tom Browning? Jose Rijo? Billy Hatcher? Kind of the World Series hero, kind of.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s one of the best aspects of that team– it was so many different players, with no real standouts. Everybody pitched in!

      • LWBlogger

        “Everybody pitched in!”
        I see what you did there.

  2. LDS

    The seven words may still be too generous.

  3. Mark Moore

    It was a magical season to say the least. Snubbed by SI all season until the improbable sweep to end all sweeps. Sounds about right given that fly-over status. Fluke or not, you can’t take it away from us. I have a full set of baseball cards from 1990 (got it on the cheap). I was hoping 2020 brought some 30th anniversary magic. But we all know what it brought instead.

    It’s February. Time to ramp it up!!! 😀

  4. Rednat

    MBE. I have enjoyed this series and your writings this off season. You have documented beautifully THE WHAT. That the reds stink and have been terrible for a long time but this has not always been the case. Many years ago,the reds were actually very relevant to the baseball world!

    I hope next you dive into THE WHY?What happened since 1999 to make the Reds the laughing stock of the league. This is the most anticipated season in a long time for us Reds fan and we ate still projected to finish in 4TH PLACE!

    I think it goes beyond ownership not spending enough money or Bell putting the wrong lineup in there. THERE IS SOMETHING VERY WRONG WITH MLB! Maybe you can explore this for your next series.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh thank you for thinking I’d have anything intelligent at all to say about that! I wish I had the answer… Josh The Pilot would have his own fleet of jets if I did.

    • LWBlogger

      I’d have to go with “a laughing stock” versus “the laughing stock”, because since 1999, I’m going with the Pirates as “the laughing stock”.

      One of the reasons that I am so detached from MLB these days is that I believe you are right. There is something fundamentally wrong with MLB. The season was already stopped when the last CBA happened and they might of been able to fix it then. They didn’t, and that is a sad thing.

      Having a small revenue/budget doesn’t necessarily mean a team can’t compete. Having a large revenue/budget doesn’t necessarily mean a team can compete. The thing is though, having a larger revenue/budget sure does help.

  5. Oldtimer

    A possible reason why the Reds may not have been SI cover worthy is because they started 33-12 then were 58-59 the rest of the season. They got hot in the playoffs but were just so-so most of the year. The NL West was not string in 1990.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks for providing that context. I remember anxiously checking the standings in the paper every morning to ensure the wire to wire run was still intact. I think it got within half a game at one point, but they held on!

  6. Oldtimer

    The Reds were NL Central division champions in 2010 and 2012 and earned Wild Card in 2013. So they were in the playoffs for three seasons that decade (2010s). One might think Reds fans would know that.

    Those three teams were better than any Reds team in the 2000s or 2020s (so far).

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Indeed; I was more referring to the middle/end of the decade– and overall it just *felt* like a woebegone time.

    • TR

      The teams of the early 2010’s did have it together plus fan dissatisfaction, that included myself, that Dusty Baker was not winning the ultimate prize with a good team. Ten years later the field managerial situation, for many fans, is still unsettled with a young loaded team.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I think the fan frustration was a big part of the bad vibes around that decade. We were SO close, and then… Dusty’d refuse to hit the bullpen again.

  7. Old Big Ed

    The Reds have a 9-game World Series win streak. Their last loss was in 12 innings in Game Six to the Red Sox in 1976.

    The Yankees won 14 in a row from 1996 to 2001. The Yankees won 12 in a row (3 sweeps) from 1927-1932, and 10 in a row from 1937-1941. The Red Sox won 9 in a row from 2004-2013.

    The Reds have the NL record.

    • Dan

      1975, but yes, you’re right… the Carlton Fisk game!

      That’s an impressive record, the 9 World Series game wins in a row… didn’t realize it’s the NL record – thanks!

      I can’t believe the Reds now have the longest streak without advancing in the playoffs in the 4 major sports!!! So we’re talking 120-plus teams? (Is it 126 teams?) That is STUNNING. (And the Bengals were WAY up that list too, until Joe Cool came to town…)

    • Mark Moore

      +50,000 for this very encouraging stat

  8. Dave

    I loved your writing style on this. Kinda sarirobit (sarcasm, irony, and bitterness)