OBSERVATIONS: Jose Rijo: a very special kind of guy

By HAL McCOY

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave while listening to all the talking heads ruminate on how good the Cleveland Browns will be this year. What is it they say about winning games on paper?

—There is no better guy in my little world than former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Rijo (Jose Rijo Abreu). My phone rang the other day and it was Rijo, calling to ask how I was doing during this infernal pandemic.

Ah, the memories, especially the 1990 World Series when he bound and gagged the Oakland A’s twice and won the MVP. It was especially satisfying to Rijo because the A’s traded him to the Reds.

Rijo avoided the training room as if it was a dungeon and never used ice on his arm. Instead, he had a bottle of snake oil, complete with a dead snake in the bottom, and he rubbed it on his arm.

Then he went out and threw venom at the opposition.

And who could forget what he did for the fans on hot July and August days. He squirted them with a high-powered squirt gun.

Rijo and I spent many days sharing cigars. One day I ran into him in the parking garage at old Riverfront Stadium. He called me to the trunk of his car. There was a beautiful polished wood cigar humidor, about the size of an end table.

He said it was for me and carried it to my car. It holds about 500 cigars and stands proudly in my home office, a constant reminder of an appreciative baseball player with a heart as big as a catcher’s mitt.

His sense of humor was bar none. If the Reds lost a game he pitched, he’d say, “Blame it on Rijo.”

Without so many injuries, he would reside in the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he populates my personal Hall of Fame.

—While checking baseball’s new rules, I was taken back to Mr. Henson’s seventh grade class at David Hill Elementary in Akron. Mr. Henson was a World War II veteran and a prison-like disciplinarian. He would have loved these rules:

No spitting, no licking fingers, no smokeless tobacco, no sunflower seeds, no high fives, no fist-bumping, no hugs, no fighting.

However, gum is permitted. That would have enraged Mr. Henson. If he caught a student chewing gum he would grab them by the neck, pull them out of their chair and kick the chair across the room. He should have been an umpire.

—QUOTE: From Anonymous: “Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.” (Mr. Henson would have disciplined Anonymous for ending the sentence with a preposition.)

—From good friend Mark Schlemmer: During a game in 1976 the Texas Rangers’ Toby Harrah became the first shortstop in Major League history to go through an entire doubleheader without a fielding chance.

But he replaced his fielding boredom at the plate. He collected six hits, including a grand slam in the opener and another home run in the second game. Texas won the first game, 8-4, but lost the second game 14-9.

He wore out his bat but his glove didn’t absorb a single fleck of dust.

QUOTE: From political columnist George F. Will: “The only thing I remember about my wedding in 1967 was that the Cubs lost a doubleheader.” (In those days, the Cubs lost a lot of doubleheaders.)

—Former Major League infielder and scout Eddie Kasko passed away this week. While he was a great baseball player, a member mostly of the Boston Red Sox, an All-Star shortstop for the 1961 Cincinnati Reds and a highly respected scout for the Red Sox, I remember him for a different reason.

When the Cincinnati Reds trained in Tampa, they stayed at a place call The International Inn. It had an Olympic-sized swimming pool and two lighted tennis courts.

Kasko, scouting for the Red Sox, made the International Inn his spring training headquarters. Nearly every day, Kasko and I would meet on the tennis court early in the morning for a couple of sets.

I was a serve and volley player and against Kasko I might as well have been playing against a practice beat board. Everything I hit came back. He retrieved everything and hit it back.

I could never beat the guy and I got so tired of hearing him say, “Nice try.”

QUOTE: From former tennis pro Vitas Gerulaitis after finally beating Jimmy Connors after losing to him 16 times in a row: “Let that be a lesson to you. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” (Eddie Kasko beat me at least 17 times in a row and a lot of people thought that I looked like Jimmy Connors in my younger days.)

—What do we know about Liverpool? Home to the Beatles. World’s largest seaport. Built the first library in the world to lend books.

Soccer? As far as the English Premier League goes, Liverpool was chopped liver. The team had never won a championship since the league was formed for the 1992-93 season.

Well, this year Liverpool won the title. And what’s their nickname? The Liverpool Reds. A harbinger?

—QUOTE: From former English soccer star Terry Butcher: “The beauty of World Cup soccer is that Jack always has a chance of beating Goliath.” (David must have been cutting down a beanstalk that day.)

—Bet on a horse named Lost Cause. It was.

—QUOTE: From comedian Tim Conway: “I wanted to be a jockey and I rode horses in Cleveland. But I kept falling off and I was afraid of horses, so there wasn’t much of a future in it.”
(Yeah, then why was he riding Lost Cause?)

—They (I always wonder who ‘they’ is) say the Cincinnati Reds never have good starting pitchers. Really? Here are some darn good ones during my 47 years covering the team:

Don Gullett, Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, Fred Norman, Mario Soto, Tom Seaver, Danny Jackson, Jose Rijo, Tom Browning, Ron Robinson, Mark Portugal, Pete Harnisch, Pete Schourek, David Wells, Dave Burba, Tim Belcher, Paul Wilson, Charlie Leibrandt, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Aaaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani, Sonny Gray.

Of course, only one is in the Hall of Fame and Tom Seaver made his bones with the New York Mets.

Never mind.

3 thoughts on “OBSERVATIONS: Jose Rijo: a very special kind of guy

  • June 27, 2020 at 9:16 pm
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    Wow – never heard that one – no fielding chances at shortstop for a entire doubleheader (and then coming thru big at the plate). – I remember Kasko – having been glued to following that ’61 season. Reading his info – Y – he had a great baseball career – including the satisfaction of doing well in that ’61 WS against the Yankees!

    Reply
  • June 28, 2020 at 8:55 am
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    Hal:

    Sorry to read about Eddie Kasko. I have his Reds baseball card somewhere.

    George Will: my vote for baseball commissioner.

    Health rules. My gut tells me this joke of a baseball season gets shut down as soon as players get diagnosed with the virus and certainly as somebody gets hospitalized. Then it’s off to next spring and all the labor bloodletting in advance of the expiring CBA.

    Nolan, Gullett, Billingham, Jackson, Soto, Rijo. I’d take any combination of that group for a starting rotation !

    Reply
  • July 2, 2020 at 6:31 pm
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    Mentioning Harrah and George Will reminded me of a game I attended in Yankee Stadium in which Harrah and Wills (Bump) hit back-to-back inside-the-park home runs. Bet you have never seen that.

    Reply

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