January 19, 1954
Rich Gale‘s 1978 rookie year showed a great deal of promise: 14 victories, a 3.09 ERA, and a 4th place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting (behind Lou Whitaker, Paul Molitor, and Carney Lansford). By 1983, Gale was with the Reds, his big league team. Two years later, he was the winning pitcher in the Japan Series for the Hanshin Tigers. After spending some time with the Fort Myers Sun Sox in the Senior Professional Baseball Association, Gale served as a pitching coach and even appeared in a couple of games in the Red Sox system, playing for New Britain in 1989 and Pawtucket in 1991. After retiring, the Red Sox brought him on as pitching coach in 1992. Most recently, he worked with pitchers for the Nashville Sounds until 2011.
January 19, 1962
1988 Rookie of the Year. 1990 World Champion. Three-time All-Star. Protective eyewear fashion trendsetter. Buzzcut aficionado. Spuds MacKenzie doppelgänger. Chris Sabo was all of these things, but so much more to a certain sixth-grade boy in 1988.
Mrs. Gracey’s assignment was to interview someone they really admired. Most of the kids selected a parent or grandparent, and while I loved my parents and grandparents very much, I was absolutely obsessed with baseball at the time. When I arrived home, I wrote down a handful of questions that I wanted to ask my favorite baseball player, Chris Sabo. I called the Reds’ general offices phone number and left my name, number, and reason for my call. The receptionist sweetly took my information and said she would deliver my message. I think my mom doubted the receptionist, and while she was not condescending at all, she encouraged me to develop a backup plan because Sabo was a professional baseball player and he certainly had more important things to do than talk to a sixth-grade kid on the phone. I shrugged it off, grabbed my basketball, and headed outside to shoot some hoops.
About a half hour later, my mother started tapping on the kitchen window to get my attention. I had a phone call. I came inside, sweaty and out of breath, and she whispered, “It’s Chris Sabo.” I smiled, grabbed my pen and paper, and answered the phone. I told him I was nervous; I had never spoken to an actual baseball player before! There was a part of my brain that told me there was no way this could actually happen, but here I was…talking to the rookie third baseman for the Reds! He told me that I shouldn’t be nervous; he was just a regular guy like me. And he was…he drove a Ford Escort instead of a Lamborghini (which is what I would have driven if I was a pro athlete in the 1980s), and he grew up rooting for his hometown team, the Detroit Tigers. His favorite player as a kid was Al Kaline.
I don’t remember the rest of the interview now, but I remember the feeling. Sabo even arranged for tickets to be left at will call for me a few weeks after the phone call. My dad and I sat in the blue seats (which were the really goods seats in Riverfront Stadium), behind home plate with the players’ wives. I even snapped a photograph of my favorite player in the on-deck circle.
I met Sabo in person later that year at a drug store (possibly Rink’s) in Bellevue, Kentucky, as he signed autographs for hundreds (maybe thousands) of fans; the line was out the door. He smiled, shook my hand, and signed a baseball and baseball card, but didn’t really have time for conversation. I have seen him a few times since then, and he claims to remember speaking to me when I was in sixth grade. Whether he actually does or not, it was nice to hear, and allowed me to relive that moment of pure joy that I experienced in 1988 again.
January 19, 1973
The city of Cincinnati has a love affair with players who demonstrate hustle on the diamond, like Pete Rose, Chris Sabo, Ryan Freel, and Chris Stynes. Stynes was a versatile player who played every position but pitcher, catcher, and first base during his career. He spent four seasons with the Reds, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 109 runs in 364 games. He also played for the Royals, Red Sox, Cubs, Rockies, and Pirates. In 1996, while playing for Kansas City, Stynes stole three consecutive bases in one inning.
January 18, 1938
Everyone knows Curt Flood as the man who challenged baseball’s reserve clause, eventually ushering in the age of free agency. Before he became such a rabble rouser, though, he was actually a very good ballplayer, winning seven Gold Glove awards and appearing on the All-Star roster thrice. Early in his career, Flood played eight games over two seasons for the Reds before a trade sent him to St. Louis. In addition to his skills on the field, he also possessed a talent for the canvas. Just look at this painting of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson.
January 17, 1931
Don Zimmer‘s playing career spanned twelve seasons and 1095 games; only 63 of those games came as a Red. While Topps recognized him as a member of the Reds in their 1962 issue, he wore a Mets cap; his 1963 Topps card called him a Dodger, though the photo is still from his Mets days. The Cards That Never Were blog rectified this a few years ago with a custom 1963 Fleer card, finally picturing Zim in his Reds uniform.
January 16, 1984
The Phillies made Matt Maloney their third round draft pick in 2005; in 2007 the Reds acquired him in exchange for Kyle Lohse. His first two years in Cincinnati were promising, but the wheels fell off in 2011, prompting the club to place him on waivers. The Twins picked him up, but he only spent one season in Minnesota. He next signed with the Red Sox, pitching in their minor league system in 2013, and then returned to the Reds organization in 2014, but he was unable to make it back to The Show. He last played for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League in 2015.
January 15, 1956
Jerry Narron managed the Cincinnati Reds from 2005 through 2007; the team was 157-179 under his tenure. He previously managed the Texas Rangers followed his playing career with the Yankees, Mariners, and Angels. As a rookie, he was the backup to Thurman Munson in 1979, and was the starting catcher the day after Munson’s passing. During pregame ceremonies, Narron remained in the dugout, leaving the position behind the plate empty.
January 14, 1974
The Reds took Mike Frank in the 7th round of the 1997 draft, and he was with the big club the next year. But that would be his only year in the big leagues. In 2000, Frank was shipped to the Yankees with Denny Neagle in exchange for Jackson Melian, Drew Henson, Brian Reith and Ed Yarnall.
January 13, 1962
I first became aware of Kevin Mitchell as a slugging outfielder for the San Francisco Giants in 1989; prior to that he played for the Mets and Padres. He came to the Reds in 1993 via Seattle in exchange for Norm Charlton, and hit 55 dingers in Cincinnati in ’93, ’94, and ’96. The Reds sent him to Boston at the trade deadline in 1996, acquiring Brad Tweedlie and Roberto Mejia from the Red Sox. He later played for the Indians and A’s.
January 13, 1971
Elmer Dessens‘ best WAR values came in two losing seasons for the Reds. In 2001 (10-14) and 2002 (7-8), Dessens posted 4.2 and 4.1 wins above replacement, respectively. After three years with the Pirates, Dessens came to the Reds for three years, then hopped around from the Diamondbacks to the Dodgers to the Royals to the Brewers to the Rockies to the Braves and finally to the Mets. He was 52-64 for his career and his overall WAR was 11.3.