Baseball hadn't fielded a dynasty since the Swingin' A's of the early 1970s. But by the 1990 baseball season, one dynastic club had emerged -- and again it was the Oakland Athletics. Oakland, which had made it to the World Series in 1988 and had swept the fall classic in 1989, was storming toward another World Title in 1990.
These A's were loaded -- especially after picking up former All-Stars Harold Baines and Willie McGee in August. By the end of the season, Oakland could field a lineup that contained nine one-time All-Stars. They included Rickey Henderson (.325 average, 28 homers, 65 steals), Jose Canseco (37 homers, 101 RBI), and Mark McGwire (39 homers, 108 RBI). The pitching staff was led by Bob Welch (27-6), Dave Stewart (22-11), and Dennis Eckersley (48 saves, 0.61 ERA). Oakland easily won 103 games.
In the National League, another team was making its mark. The Cincinnati Reds won their first game of the season and never looked back, leading the National League West from wire to wire. Despite no standout starters, the Reds boasted a brilliant bullpen duo known as the "Nasty Boys." Randy Myers saved 31 games, while Rob Dibble whiffed 136 in 98 innings.
However, before the season even started, labor negotiators were stealing the headlines. After failing to sign a new collective bargaining agreement, the owners locked the players out of training camp. The dispute wasn't resolved until late March, and the players were given just two-and-a-half weeks to prepare for a delayed Opening Day.
The labor dispute infuriated fans, who considered both owners and players spoiled and greedy. The owners were sitting pretty after signing a $1 billion TV contract with CBS. Superstars were now earning $3 million a year, and Canseco signed for five years at $23.5 million.
A record nine no-hitters were fired in 1990. The most amazing of all came off the fingers of Ranger Nolan Ryan, who threw his sixth career no-hitter. Ryan won his 300th game in 1990 and, at 43, led the American League in strikeouts with 232. White Sox relief Bobby Thigpen also entered the record books, notching 57 saves.
Thigpen sparked the Sox to 94 wins, though they finished 9 games behind Oakland in the American League West. Boston, led by Roger Clemens (21-6, 1.93 ERA), edged out Toronto by 2 games in the American League East. While the Tigers finished a distant third in the East, their first baseman, Cecil Fielder, led the majors with 51 homers and 132 RBI.
In the National League East, Pittsburgh beat out the Mets by 4 games. The Pirates were powered by Barry Bonds (.301 average, 33 homers, 114 RBI, 52 steals) and Bobby Bonilla (32 homers, 120 RBI). The Reds won their division by 5 games.
Oakland broomed Boston in the ALCS, winning 9-1, 4-1, 4-1, and 3-1. Pittsburgh fell in five games to the Reds, who were led by outfielder Paul O'Neil (.471 average).
Most experts predicted Oakland's Big Green Machine would pulverize the Reds in the 1990 World Series. Instead, Cincinnati swept the A's in the biggest upset since 1969.
Jose Rijo won two of the four games, yielding just one run in both of his starts. The Reds' Billy Hatcher netted seven hits in his first seven at-bats, and hit an all-time record .750 for the Series (9-for-12). Chris Sabo batted .563 and was brilliant defensively at third base. Overall, the Reds out-scored the A's 22-8 and won their first World Title since 1976.
Find headlines and summaries of the big stories from the 1990 baseball season on the next page.
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1990 Baseball Season Headlines
In 1990, outstanding pitching was the rule rather than the exception, giving rise to great performances from Dennis Eckersley, Roger Clemens, Bobby Thigpen, and others. Here are some of the headlines from the 1990 baseball season:
Roger Clemens Wins 21 Games
Roger Clemens appeared headed toward his third Cy Young Award in 1990 when arm trouble sidelined him for much of September. He still ended up with 21 victories -- including back-to-back complete-game shutouts -- as he led the Red Sox to their third division crown in five seasons.
Dennis Eckersley Saves 48 Games
Dennis Eckersley dominated American League hitters in 1990, saving a career-high 48 games. A master of control, the A's reliever averaged nearly a strikeout for each of his 73-1/3 innings pitched and allowed just four walks for the entire season. He ran out of steam in the 1990 World Series, however, allowing three hits in 1-1/3 innings and losing game two in the tenth inning.
Bobby Thigpen Sets Saves Record
No reliever has ever enjoyed the success of Bobby Thigpen in 1990. The White Sox stopper shattered the major league single-season record with 57 saves, obliterating the old mark of 46. Thigpen won four additional games and compiled a 1.83 ERA. With Thigpen in the pen, the White Sox won 94 games -- 25 more than in 1989.
Darryl Strawberry: 37 HR, 108 RBI
After beginning 1990 with a protracted contract squabble, Darryl Strawberry had a banner season. The Met superstar batted .277 with 37 homers and 108 RBI and nearly carried the Mets to the playoffs. Despite off-field problems and numerous squabbles with teammates and management over the years, he reached 26 homers for the eighth straight year. Strawberry signed a five-year, $20-million contract with the Dodgers after the 1990 season.
Jose Canseco: 37 HR, 101 RBI
Despite his recurring back trouble and extended stays on the disabled list, Jose Canseco signed the most lucrative contract in baseball history in 1990 -- $23.5 million over five years. The right fielder proved his worth over and over that season, batting .274 with 37 homers and 101 RBI to spearhead the A's to 103 victories and the 1990 World Series. He fell with the rest of the ballclub in the fall classic, hitting .083 with one homer and two RBI.
Cecil Fielder of Dreams
In 1990, the Tigers plucked Cecil Fielder, former Blue Jay first baseman, from Japan as a free agent and Fielder responded with a career season. The 11th player in major league history to smack 50 homers, he clubbed 51 dingers in 1990, including two round-trippers in the last game of the season. Fielder led the American League in RBI (132), slugging (.592), total bases (339), and strikeouts (182).
Lance Parrish Hits 24 HR
Having been one of the chief victims of the owners' collusion against free agents in 1986, Lance Parrish was granted free agency by the Angels at the end of the 1989 season. The catcher promptly re-signed with the Angels and batted .268 with 24 homers and 70 RBI in 1990.
Ryne Sandberg Hits 40 HR
In 1990, Ryne Sandberg became the first second baseman since Dave Johnson in 1973 to hit 40 or more home runs. Sandberg hit exactly 40, driving in 100 runs and batting .306 for the Cubs. The best second sacker in the major leagues since Joe Morgan, Sandberg posted 344 total bases that year -- the highest mark in the majors (higher than even Cecil Fielder's 339 total).
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More 1990 Baseball Season Headlines
Ken Griffey Jr: .300 BA, 22 HRs
Ken Griffey Jr. continued to show his great talent in 1990, as he batted .300 with 22 home runs and 80 RBI in his sophomore year. In September, he met up with his father, Ken Sr., who joined the Mariners after being released by the Reds. The Griffeys have the distinction of being the first father-son duo to play in the major leagues at the same time.
George Brett Wins Third Title
George Brett won his third career batting title in 1990 as he batted .329 to lead the American League. Brett, who won batting crowns in 1976 and 1980, became the first player to win titles in three different decades. The heroics of their first baseman were the lone bright spot in a dismal season for the Royals, who had spent megabucks for free agents in the off-season.
Chris Sabo: .563 in 1990 Series
Cincinnati's Chris Sabo was tagged out at second by Willie Randolph in game two of the 1990 World Series. Though Sabo didn't like the call, he had little else to complain about in the Series. Not only did his team win every game, he also hit .563. In game three, he clubbed two homers and grabbed everything in sight at third base. Sabo's performance undoubtedly enhanced his status as a cult hero. With his crewcut and goggles, he earned the nickname "Spuds" for his resemblance to a certain beer mascot.
Alan Trammell: .304, 89 RBI
Alan Trammell continued to make his case for Hall of Fame consideration in 1990, batting .304 with 14 home runs and 89 RBI while leading the Tigers to a surprise third-place finish. At age 32, the shortstop completed his 14th season in Detroit with no sign of slowing down. Trammell rebounded from an injury-plagued 1989 season, in which he hit a meager .243 with five home runs.
Cartlon Fisk Sets HR Record
Carlton Fisk rewrote the record books in 1990. He surpassed the career home run mark for catchers previously held by Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, by tallying 18 four-baggers. With a .285 batting average and 65 RBI, Fisk also played an instrumental role in leading a young White Sox team to a 94-victory season and a second-place finish (9 games out) behind the Oakland A's.
Joe Oliver's an Unsung Hero
Little-known catcher Joe Oliver took game two of the 1990 World Series with a game-clinching ground-ball single in the bottom of the tenth inning. His hit came off baseball's toughest pitcher, Dennis Eckersley, who yielded only five earned runs during the regular season. In the Series, Oliver batted .333 with three doubles.
Nolan Ryan Wins No. 300
Ageless wonder Nolan Ryan, the all-time leader in strikeouts and no-hitters, had a milestone year in 1990. The Ranger righty won his 300th game on August 1, against the Brewers, to become both the 20th pitcher ever (and the third hurler age 43 or older) to reach the mark. On June 11, he pitched his sixth career no-hitter, a major league record. Ryan led the American League with 232 strikeouts while winning 13 games that season.
Continue to the next page for highlights of the 1990 baseball season.
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1990 Baseball Season Highlights
The 1990 baseball season was the year of the no-hitter -- a record nine were fired, including Nolan Ryan's sixth. Below are some of the highlights from the 1990 baseball season:
- For the 13th straight season, Detroit fields a keystone combo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
- Oakland cops its third straight flag in the American League.
- Cincinnati takes its first National League pennant since 1976.
- The A's sweep Boston in ALCS, just like they did in 1988.
- Boston manages just one run in each ALCS game.
- Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh in six games in NLCS, thanks to several outstanding defensive plays in the outfield.
- The Reds shock the baseball world by sweeping the mighty A's in the 1990 World Series, as Oakland's offensive stars muster just eight runs.
- Reds pitcher Jose Rijo wins two 1990 World Series games, yielding one run in two starts; Rijo takes the Series MVP Award.
- Cincinnati's Billy Hatcher hits an all-time Series record .750 (9-for-12), as he collects seven hits in his first seven at-bats.
- Cincinnati's Chris Sabo hits .563 with two homers and five RBI in the 1990 Series and is brilliant defensively at third base.
- Spring training doesn't begin until late March, as the owners lock out the players until the two sides reach a collective bargaining agreement.
- Detroit's Cecil Fielder leads the American League in homers (51), RBI (132), slugging (.592), total bases (339), and strikeouts (182).
- Fielder is the first major league player to hit 50 homers since 1977 (George Foster), and the first American Leaguer to do it since 1961 (Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle).
- Rickey Henderson leads the American League in runs (118), stolen bases (65), and OBP (.440).
- Henderson steals his 893rd base, breaking Ty Cobb's American League record.
- George Brett leads the American League in batting (.329) and ties in doubles (45).
- Brett becomes the first player in major league history to win BA titles in three different decades.
- Oakland's Bob Welch tops the American League in wins (27) and win pct (.818).
- Welch's 27 wins are the most in the major league since 1972 and the most in the American League since 1968.
- Roger Clemens goes 21-6 for Boston and leads the American League in ERA (1.93) and shutouts (four).
- Texas's Nolan Ryan, still throwing hard at age 43, leads his loop in Ks (232) for the 11th time.
- Ryan wins his 300th game.
- White Sox Bobby Thigpen breaks the major league save record with 57 saves.
- Dennis Eckersley saves 48 games, posts a 0.61 ERA, and walks four batters in 73-1/3 innings.
- Ryne Sandberg leads the National League in home runs (40), runs (116), and total bases (344).
- Willie McGee, traded from St. Louis to Oakland in August, still wins the National League BA title (.335).
- McGee becomes the first major league player to win a BA title without being in the league at the time he won it.
- Vince Coleman wins his sixth straight steals crown (77).
- Pittsburgh's Doug Drabek leads the National League in wins (22) and win pct. (.786).
- On August 17, Carlton Fisk hits his 329th homer as a catcher -- a new major league record.
- Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds becomes the first player to hit .300 with 30 homers, 100 RBI, and 50 stolen bases.
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More 1990 Baseball Season Highlights
The 1990 baseball season saw the Cincinnati Reds sweep the Oakland A's in the 1990 World Series in the biggest upset since 1969. Find more headlines from the 1990 baseball season below:
- Andre Dawson becomes the second player in major league history to compile 2,000 hits, 300 homers, and 300 steals (Willie Mays was the first).
- Seattle's Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. become first father-son duo to play on the same team in the majors.
- Wade Boggs fails to reach 200 hits for the first time in eight seasons.
- After the league signs huge TV contracts, ballclubs spend their excess millions on free agents.
- Player salaries soar, with several players surpassing the $3 million mark.
- Free agents are tending to pick their new teams based on location; many opt for California-based teams.
- Jose Canseco signs new pact with the A's: $23.5 million for five years.
- A's payroll averages over $1 million per man.
- Pete Rose is sent to prison for cheating on his taxes.
- Fay Vincent orders George Steinbrenner to give up controlling interest of Yankees because of alleged gambling activities.
- On July 17, Twins become the first major league team to make two triple plays in one game.
- Nine no-hitters are thrown during the season -- a new major league record.
- California's Mark Langston and Mike Witt no-hit Seattle on April 11.
- Seattle's Randy Johnson no-hits Tigers on June 2.
- Nolan Ryan fires a major league record sixth no-hitter vs. the A's on June 11.
- Oakland's Dave Stewart no-hits Toronto on June 29.
- LA's Fernando Valenzuela no-hits St. Louis on June 29.
- On July 1, Yankee Andy Hawkins no-hits Chicago in a regulation nine-inning game, but loses 4-0.
- On July 12, White Sox Melido Perez no-hits New York in a rain-shortened six-inning game.
- On August 15, Philadelphia's Terry Mulholland no-hits San Francisco.
- On September 2, Toronto's Dave Stieb no-hits Cleveland.
- American League wins 1990 All-Star Game 2-0 at Wrigley Field.
- The Hall of Fame inducts Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan.
- Ranger Rafael Palmeiro leads American League in hits with 191.
- Mark McGwire tops American League in walks (110).
- Toronto's Tony Fernandez heads American League in triples (17).
- Stewart leads American League in innings (267) and CGs (11).
- Phillie Lenny Dykstra ties for National League lead in hits with Giant Brett Butler (192).
- Dykstra and Met Dave Magadan tie for National League lead in OBP (.418).
- SF's Matt Williams leads National League in RBI (122), the third different Giant in three years to do so.
- Barry Bonds tops the National League in SA (.566).
- San Diego's Jack Clark again paces the National League in walks (104).
- New York's Gregg Jefferies leads National League in doubles (40).
- Cincinnati's Mariano Duncan tops the league in triples (11).
- Houston's Danny Darwin leads the National League in ERA at 2.21.
- New York's David Cone tops National League in Ks with 233.
- Mets' John Franco leads the loop in saves with 33.
- Despite a mere 91-71 record, the Reds stay in first place every day of the season.
- Cincinnati leads the National League in batting (.265) and fewest errors (102), and is second in ERA (3.39).
- Bonds captures 1990 National League MVP Award, while Henderson accepts the American League prize.
- Welch wins the 1990 AL Cy Young Award; Drabek nabs the award in the National League.
- Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. (.290 average) is named 1990 American League Rookie of the Year, while Atlanta's David Justice (28 homers) takes the National League honor.