I had writer’s cramp from writing Chris Sabo‘s name in on All-Star ballots in 1988. Back in the day of printed ballots, teams had to submit their players to the league far in advance. Buddy Bell was expected to be the Reds’ starting third baseman, but his spring injury and Sabo’s unexpected success changed things.
The fans at the All-Star game in Cincinnati began chanting Sabo’s name, and National League manager Whitey Herzog wisely inserted the rookie third baseman as a pinch runner in the seventh inning. He promptly stole second base off Jeff Russell and Tim Laudner.
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.
A stack of random Reds arrived in my mailbox today from the Night Owl…a perfect way to start the season. Well, a win plus baseball cards would be the perfect way. Night Owl and the Reds just worked together and made my day today.
Opening Day is a holiday in Cincinnati. I didn’t have to work today, but didn’t feel like going down to the park for the game. I’ve been watching a few innings here and there of some out-of-market games, and have listened to some of the Reds-Phillies broadcast, and I’m enjoying it all in my comfortable recliner.
I also enjoyed going through some of the cards that Greg sent. In addition to the Brandon Phillips, Mariano Duncan, Ted Power, and Chris Sabo cards above, Greg delivered Joey Votto, Zack Cozart, Jay Bruce, Rob Dibble, and more.
Thank you for the cards Greg! And now, if I could just find some time to update my wantlists…
Todd Frazier might be my favorite active third baseman, but he has quite a bit of catching up to do if he wants to replace Chris Sabo at the top of my favorites list. In 1988, when I was in sixth grade, I interviewed Sabo (via telephone) for a school homework assignment. Mrs. Gracey wanted us to write about someone we admired, and most of the other kids chose their dads or grandpas. And it’s not that I don’t love my dad, I do! He instilled in me a love for baseball that, though it has waned from time to time, I still cherish. But I wanted to be different from the other kids, so I called the Reds’ general offices after school and asked to speak to the rookie third baseman.
The operator was very kind, took my name and number and the reason for my call. I hung up the phone and headed out back to shoot some hoops. Not much later, my mom started rapping on the kitchen window, motioning for me to come inside for a telephone call. I came in, and Chris Sabo was on the other end.
I asked him about his favorite team growing up (the Tigers), his favorite player (Al Kaline), and what kind of car he drove (Ford Escort). He was extremely polite, very humble, and even left two tickets for a game a couple of weeks out for my dad and I. We got to sit in the “blue seats” (the good seats back then) with other players’ wives and girlfriends. That was pretty cool.
So, Mr. Frazier, though I will vote for you every year for the All-Star Game, and I will call you my favorite current third baseman, unless you come over for dinner and drop a couple of All-Star tickets off, Mr. Sabo will remain at the top of my list.
I received an e-mail from Bo of Baseball Cards Come to Life a couple of months ago proposing a trade. He had a stack of Reds cards that he didn’t need anymore, and he wanted oddballs in return. I was happy to oblige and purge a good number of 1988 Donruss Baseball’s Best, minor league cards, and department store issues from my collection. I also sent along some duplicate stadium giveaways Reds sets that I had, and we exchanged 300ish cards with each other. Below is some of the loot I received…
Bo hit several needs, filling in a bunch of 1990s cards that I had never seen before. I haven’t had time to update the want lists yet, but I know I’ll be crossing off several entries thanks to this blind trade.
You’ll notice at the bottom a few non-Reds. In addition to my hometown Cincinnatians, I also collect cards of Doug Dascenzo and Shawon Dunston, as well as non-Reds cards of Eric Davis, Buddy Bell, Chris Sabo, Dave Parker and Kurt Stillwell. And if I ever get organized (ha!), I’ll probably add more names to that list. But Bo was kind enough to throw in some cards of these players that I had not yet obtained.
I love doing blind trades, though I don’t do it as often as I used to. It wasn’t very long ago that I gifted thousands of cards to a friend in the area, so I don’t have much in the way of non-Reds cards to trade anymore. Luckily, Bo was looking for some items that I just happened to still have and was more than happy to send away.
Thanks for the trade Bo!
I picked up a nine-pocket page of baseball cards at the Antique Mall yesterday. At least six of those cards (pictured above) I did not already have in my collection. Two of them (the Pete Rose cards) I have never even seen before. The Johnny Bench card comes from the 1976 SSPC set, while the Redsfest cards are variations on cards I already owned. In 2008, baseball cards were given away at Redsfest at various booths, but they did not have the sponosrs’ logos on the cards like these do. I’m not sure if there are variations for all nine cards, or just Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Joey Votto. In any case, I was happy to add the cards to my collection.
My wife also spied a couple of Starting Lineup figures for me—one of my favorite players, Chris Sabo, and Nasty Boy Rob Dibble—and the price was right to add them to my collection as well. I will be breaking them free of their packaging as soon as I get my mancave cleaned up a little bit, and put them on display with the rest of my SLU collection.
Antique Malls are awesome for finding deals on baseball cards and memorabilia.
A few days ago, I posted a picture of one of my most prized baseball cards, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey rookie card. But that’s not the only thing I purchased with my Christmas money…
In those stacks, I have:
- 13 non-Reds Chris Sabo cards
- 64 Shawon Dunston cards
- 92 Cincinnati Reds cards
- 7 Doug Dascenzo cards
- 2 Kurt Stillwell cards
- 3 Dick Perez art cards (2 Canadian Greats and 1 Diamond King)
The Sabo, Dunston, Dascenzo, and Stillwell cards will all be displayed at some point on All-American Baseball Cards, which has not been updated since June (but that will change!). The Reds cards will be tucked away in my binders.
On June 30, 1970, Riverfront Stadium opened in Cincinnati. It was the first major league stadium I ever visited, and I visited many times over the years.
I have three very fond memories of Riverfront Stadium. The first is from either 1987, when the team allowed fans to come onto the field before the game and greet players. I never got close enough to the rope line to shake hands with anyone, but I knew that it was a privilege to be able to walk on the Astroturf.
The second special memory was the All-Star game in 1988…or more specifically, the workout the day before. My brother-in-law secured tickets and took me to the park, but it started raining and the players did not get to participate in the Home Run Derby or other activities they had planned. We sneaked passed the security guards to the “blue seats,” and got to go down near the dugouts. I didn’t have a pen with me or anything to get signed, but I did get to shake Astros pitcher Bob Knepper‘s hand.
My final special memory of Riverfront Stadium also occurred in 1988. I had spoken to rookie Chris Sabo on the telephone for a sixth grade project (that’s a whole ‘nother story!), and he was such a down-to-earth guy. He told me that he still drove his Ford Escort and his favorite team growing up was the Detroit Tigers. He especially liked watching Al Kaline play. And then he offered me tickets to a game as his guest. So for one game in 1988, I got to sit with the players’ wives in the blue seats…no sneaking past security guards!
So happy birthday, Riverfront Stadium. You provided some pretty fantastic memories for me as a young Reds fan in the 1980s. Great American Ballpark is pretty fantastic, but I really miss old Riverfront.
Nicknamed “Spuds” by manager Pete Rose, Chris Sabo was a hugely popular player in his rookie campaign of 1988. After Buddy Bell went down with an injury, Sabo won the starting job at third base in spring training and was named a reserve for the All-Star game, which was held in the Queen City that summer. Imagine the frenzy when he was called to pinch run for Gary Carter in the 7th inning and promptly stole second base. Sabes’ hustle was so impressive that he beat out Mark Grace to capture the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1988.