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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
October 11, 1999
Economy DriveThe Reds' near-miss season was no blueprint for low-revenue success
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October 11, 1999

Baseball

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TOP 10 HRPR PERFORMANCES SINCE 1950

PLAYER, TEAM

YEAR

HR

HRPR

1. Mike Schmidt, Phillies

1980

48

4.82

2. Dave Kingman, Mets

1976

37*

4.74

3. Hank Aaron, Braves

1971

47*

4.66

4. Willie Stargell, Pirates

1971

48

4.61

5. Mark McGwire, Cardinals

1998

70

4.59

6. Willie McCovey, Giants

1968

36

4.38

7. Dave Kingman, Cubs

1979

48

4.29

8. Kevin Mitchell, Giants

1989

47

4.29

9. Willie McCovey, Giants

1969

45

4.20

10. Willie Mays, Giants

1965

52

4.04

*Did not lead league in home runs.

Economy Drive
The Reds' near-miss season was no blueprint for low-revenue success

At last year's winter meetings, Reds general manager Jim Bowden took time out from building a team with a paltry $33 million payroll to lobby baseball officials with an off-the-wall solution to the game's economic inequities: realignment along fiscal lines. High-revenue clubs like the Braves and the Astros would compete against one another, with separate, lower-rent divisions for Cincinnati and its shallow-pocketed brethren.

Did the Reds' improbable run—which ended Monday night in a 5-0 loss to the Mets in a one-game playoff for the National League wild card—cause Bowden to rethink his proposal? Has Cincinnati, whose 96 wins were its most since 1976, provided a model for other low-payroll teams to follow? "Absolutely not," Bowden said last Saturday. "We're an aberration."

Still, Cincinnati was a deserving presence in a three-team race that in the end took a hard left turn from the norm. How to explain the Astros' and Mets' reaching mid-September on near-100-win paces, only to trip all over themselves in the homestretch? How to explain the Reds, baseball's best road team, with a 51-30 record, dropping two of three to the lowly Brewers in Milwaukee on the season's final weekend? How to explain Cincinnati's bullpen, which had been tied with Atlanta's for the major league lead with 33 wins and led the bigs with a 3.29 ERA, collapsing in the two losses?

In the end, how to explain the Reds' presence in the race at all? After a Sept. 19 loss to the Pirates, Cincinnati was 3½ games behind the Central Division-leading Astros and four behind the wildcard-leading Mets. It seemed that the little-engine Reds had finally run out of steam. But Cincinnati won seven of its next nine games to tie Houston and build a two-game lead over bumbling New York with three to play.

The Reds climbed back into the race the same way they had won all season: by riding their few high-priced veterans and getting key contributions from a cast of young stars-in-the-making. Greg Vaughn, whose $5.6 million salary makes him the highest-paid Cincinnati player, hammered three homers and drove in 10 runs in that nine-game stretch. Veteran starters Juan Guzman, Pete Harnisch and Denny Neagle went a combined 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA Cincinnati's less experienced performers also came up big down the stretch. Second baseman Pokey Reese, 26, continued his surprisingly strong offensive season by hitting .302 in September and clubbing a 12th-inning, three run homer to beat the Cardinals on Sept. 26 and give the Reds a one-game wild-card lead. First baseman Sean Casey awoke from a second-half slumber and hit .313 with 16 RBIs for the month.

"If you have a lot of young players who come together at the same time, and you don't have too many free agents, and everything is timed just right, it can be done," says Bowden of trying to win without a megabucks roster. "But you can't plan on eight guys without significant experience having the success they're having now."

Bowden isn't optimistic that the Reds' giddy run can be repeated in 2000. With Vaughn a free agent and young stars such as Reese and outfielders Dmitri Young and Mike Cameron eligible for arbitration this off-season, Bowden estimates it would cost at least $50 million to keep the team intact. "Revenue will determine how much of this team we bring back," says Bowden. "But don't expect anyone to win next year with a $30 million payroll."

Top of the Atlanta lineup
The Braves' One-two Punch

Ask about the Braves' MVP poster boy, Chipper Jones, and Atlanta manager Bobby Cox nods, smiles and says all the right things. Mention leftfielder Gerald Williams and second baseman Bret Boone, and Cox really gets excited. "Fantastic," he says. "If anyone realized how important those two have been...."

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