OBSERVATIONS: Jose Rijo’s memories of 1990

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, singing to myself, low and off key, the best baseball song ever. . .”Put me in coach, I’m ready to play. . .today. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play. . .today. Look at me, I can be. . .center field.” Thank you, John Fogarty.

~The 1990 wire-to-wire Cincinnati Reds were on an extended losing streak when they hit San Francisco and manager Lou Piniella was snarling mad, as only Sweet Lou could snarl. The Giants had just called up a rookie pitcher, “And he is throwing about 85 miles an hour and shutting us out,” said Jose Rijo, who was pitching that day. “I was yelling in the dugout, ‘C’mon, guys. We’re better than this. The kid’s only throwing 80 to 85. Let’s go, let’s go.’”

Third baseman Chris Sabo made an error that let in two runs. After the inning, the frustrated Sabo was slinging things around the dugout, Rijo said something, Sabo swore back at him, and soon Sabo and Rijo were swinging at each other.

The Reds lost that game, but then started a winning streak. Piniella wanted the streak to continue and whispered to Rijo, “Start another fight.”

The Reds held on and made it to the World Series to face the famed Bash Brothers (Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco) of the Oakland A’s.

“I was the Game 1 starter,” said Rijo. I picked up the USA Today that morning and it had six pictures — five Oakland A’s and me. And it said, ‘Oakland in four straight.’”

Said Rijo, who won two games and was the World Series MVP, “Yeah, they got the four straight right, but not the right team.”

In 15 1/3 innings, Rijo gave up one run and nine hits. Afterward, some of the A’s said they thought they saw Rijo sleeping in manger.

~Speaking of baseball music, ever wonder how the walk-up songs evolved?

Supposedly, the first to do it was Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust in 1971. When Richie (Dick) Allen walked to the plate, she would play, “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” from the Broadway musical of the same name.

It always drew a smile from me in Shea Stadium when Johnny Bench came to the plate and the organist played, ‘Catch a Falling Star,” and when Pete Rose came to the plate he played, ‘Second-Hand Rose.”

~My dad was a huge baseball fan. And I know he was proud of me. As I gave my Hall of Fame acceptance speed in Cooperstown, I glanced down to the front row, where my dad was seated. He was crying. . .and I didn’t think my speech was that bad.

Dad was a devout Cleveland Indians fan (They were the Indians then, not the – – – – dians). He followed the Tribe in the Akron Beacon Journal and baseball writer Terry Pluto.

Dad was battling some illness when I covered a Tribe-Reds game in Cleveland. I told Pluto how much my dad admired him, that he was sick and I was going to pop down to Akron the next day for a visit.

“What time are we going?” said Pluto. So he accompanied me to dad’s house and when we walked in the door, he was seated in his lounge chair.

I said, “Dad, do you know who this is?” Without a pause, he said, “Yeah, that’s Terry Pluto, the best baseball writer in America.”

Gee, thanks, dad.

~No athlete in any sport is as important or dynamic as Tiger Woods is to pro golf. The closest might be what Muhammad Ali was to boxing.

I watched hours of coverage in the first two days of the Masters and it was ‘All Tiger, All the Time.’ He received more face time than the white tigers at the Cincinnati Zoo once received and more air time than a Boeing-737.

When Tiger plays, the tournament is Tiger & the Other Guys. And the gallery follows him, the Pied Piper of Golfdom, whooping and screaming.

It is, indeed, an amazing story that a guy who couldn’t get out of bed for three months less than a year ago is not only playing in the Masters, but made the cut. And when he made the cut, the TV folks were dancing on top of their desks.

~From Mike Downey, on of the best sports journalists: “There is no safer place in the world to be than at a baseball game in Anaheim for a Guardian-Angel game.”

Also from Downey: “There are good players Cincinnati still hasn’t given away, so hurry up, it’s not too late, call 1-800-Reds to order yours.”

—The New York Yankees are paying Gerrit Cole $36 million this year to pitch every fifth day, about $1 million for every start, if he makes every start this season.

So what did they get for his first start and $1 million? He opened the game against the Boston Red Sox with a walk, home run, single, double. It was 3-0 before he recorded his first out of the season.

When the fifth batter grounded out, the Yankee Stadium patrons gave Cole a rousing and facetious cheer.

Later it was reported that Cole was upset that Billy Crystal took too long throwing the ceremonial first pitch, delaying the game’s scheduled start.

Well, it was crystal-clear that something was amiss.

~From comedian Don Rickles to former shortstop/manager Leo Durocher on The Johnny Carson Snow: “Leo was the only player in major league history who owed points on his batting average when he retired.”

~You can’t make this stuff up. The makers of Cracker Jack are packaging Cracker Jill, in honor of women in sports, and will be sold at MLB parks this season. Presumably, Cracker Jill will still contain nuts.

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