All the reasons why 1990s baseball ruled, Pt. 1
An ode to some of my favorite things about 1990s baseball, including "the Wizard of Oz," mullets, and a timeless bat heist.
1990s baseball was awesome.
There were no automatic runners or openers or focus on exit velo. Players mashed the ball and starting pitchers still often went the distance, but if they couldn’t, the bullpen was ready. The superstars were super. The game was more fun and more innocent.
I came to love baseball during the 1990s, drawn to the game largely through baseball cards and SportsCenter highlights. And it was a joy to look back on that era for my new book Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever.
Here’s an ode to some of my favorite things about 1990s baseball.
The fielding wiz dubbed “the Wizard of Oz” sometimes did backflips before games. But he was so much more -- a team leader, a clutch player, a 15-time All-Star and in 2002, a Hall of Famer.
The Nasty Boys
The Reds bullpen of the early 1990s was nasty. They threw hard -- both in the strike zone and at opposing players. The triumvirate of Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers helped carry Cincinnati to the championship over Oakland.
The McGwire-Sosa home run chase
Before the explosion of social media and streaming video, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s epic battle for baseball immortality in 1998 was appointment TV. They were taking aim at the record books, and we’d never seen anything like it before. The final count: McGwire 70, Sosa 66.
Hideo Nomo transfixed the baseball world in 1995 -- his unorthodox tornado windup saw him turn his back to the hitter. MLB’s first Japanese-born star went 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA and a league-leading 236 strikeouts on his way to Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, and his success paved the way for players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Hideki Matsui.
From 1977 through 1992, MLB had 26 teams. The league expanded twice during the decade, with the Marlins and Rockies joining in 1993 and the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks entering the league in 1998.
This Jose Canseco card
What was Jose doing with this shovel? Was he digging a hole? Burying something? Getting ready to attack someone? I have lots of questions.
Jim Abbott’s no-hitter
Jim Abbott’s success as a major league pitcher was so inspirational -- he was born without a right hand, and would slide his glove onto his left hand after each pitch. His greatest MLB game came on Sept. 4, 1993, when he tossed a no-hitter for the Yankees.
It was business in the front and a party in the back for lots of major league players during the 1990s. Rod “Shooter” Beck, the All-Star closer, had one of the best mullets in the game, but John Kruk and Mitch Williams weren’t far behind with their flowing manes.
The smile. The swing. The backwards cap. The rookie card. The kid. Ken Griffey, Jr. was the son of a really good baseball player, and father and son wound up becoming teammates for the Mariners. And then Junior came into his own, finishing his career with 630 home runs.
One of Cleveland slugger Albert Belle's bats was confiscated by the ump during a 1994 game against the White Sox over concerns that it had been corked (it was). His teammate, pitcher Jason Grimsley, was one of two people who crawled through the Comiskey Park ceiling, sneaking from the clubhouse to the umpires' dressing room to replace the corked bat with an uncorked Paul Sorrento model. The switch was quickly caught, and Belle was suspended, but the legendary moment lives on.