All the reasons why 1990s baseball ruled, Pt. 2
An ode to some of my favorite things about 1990s baseball, including “the Big Hurt,” Bobby Valentine’s dugout disguise, and a pitch-perfect Nike commercial.
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 (check out Part 1 here).
The Big Hurt
Frank Thomas was imposing -- 6’5” and 240 pounds of brutality to pitchers.
He had the perfect nickname, “the Big Hurt,” and he put a big hurt on 521 baseballs during his 19-year career.
The White Sox first baseman played football at Auburn, was a star for Chicago by age 23, and won back-to-back MVP awards in 1993 and 1994 on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Bobby Valentine’s disguise
After Mets manager Bobby Valentine was booted from a 1999 game, he donned sunglasses and a fake mustache and returned to the dugout in disguise.
Valentine came up with the disguise with the help of players Robin Ventura and Orel Hershiser, and the mustache was actually black stickers used to reduce glare.
"I took a couple of them and put one on the right side and one on the left side under my nose, where a mustache would grow," he wrote in “Valentine's Day,” his book with Peter Golenbock.
He was later fined and suspended, but the moment lives on.
The 1990s marked an aesthetic shift in the game.
Drab multipurpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s were starting to be phased out for picturesque ballparks that harkened back to baseball’s earlier days.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards ushered in the new era when it opened in 1992.
Subsequent parks included the Ballpark at Arlington (Rangers), Jacobs Field (Cleveland), Coors Field (Rockies), Bank One Ballpark (Diamondbacks) and Safeco Field (Mariners).
This Carlton Fisk-Cecil Fielder baseball card
A freight train is bearing down, and a collision is imminent.
The image on this Topps card, taken during a May 19, 1990 Tigers-White Sox game, captures so much energy -- Cecil Fielder approaching the plate, Carlton Fisk awaiting the throw, and Dave Bergman giving instruction to his teammate to slide.
Fielder was safe. But what a photo.
Oh, what might have been.
The Expos were stacked in 1994. A lineup led by Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker. A rotation anchored by Ken Hill and Pedro Martinez. John Wetteland as the closer. And a steady, solid manager in Moises’ father, Felipe Alou.
Montreal had only reached the postseason one time in franchise history, and now they had a team built to last. The Expos had a six-game lead over Atlanta and the best record in baseball at 74-40 when the player strike went into effect on Aug. 12, wiping out the rest of the season and postseason.
The team never recovered. Stars left in free agency and trades in the following seasons, and fan support cratered. After the 2004 season, the franchise relocated to Washington to become the Nationals.
Chicks Dig the Long Ball
Is there a better commercial than the 1999 Nike classic “Chicks dig the long ball?”
Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are jealous of all of the attention slugger Mark McGwire is getting.
“Hey! We got Cy Young Award winners here!” Maddux yells, perturbed at being ignored.
The aces devote themselves to getting ripped -- lifting, running stadium stairs, hitting the sauna, and perfecting their swings.
In the end, everyone still wants to watch Mark. The pitcher-focused spot pretty perfectly summed up an entire era of baseball.