Hunt for Red October replaces dog days in Cincinnati

October 15, 1990|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

CINCINNATI -- The dog did it.

The Cincinnati Reds are so draped in history that it's hard to believe the credibility of the entire organization could be cast into doubt by one silly looking St. Bernard.

But there it was, right in the 1986 media guide, a half page (with photo) devoted to Schottzie, right there in front of the club vice presidents and everything. The owner's dog had a front-office job. Had the Cincinnati Reds -- one of the charter members of the National League way back in 1876 -- really come to this? They had.

Don't blame the pooch. Schottzie is just an extension of eccentric owner Marge Schott, who once gave her dog an air-conditioned office and then made headlines for trying to sell employees and advance-ticket customers the day-old doughnuts from a club promotional party.

But the early exploits of the owner and her dog were a public relations dream compared to the nightmare that would follow. While Schott was handing out petting tips, former manager Pete Rose was piling up betting slips. The gambling scandal that rocked baseball in 1989 left the Reds with a serious image problem.

The team, which had to underachieve to finish second in each of the previous four seasons, fell to fifth place. One of Cincinnati's favorite sons was banned from baseball for life, and later would be sent to prison for tax evasion. Needless to say, it was not very good to be a Reds fan in the late 1980s, particularly if you were partial to fresh doughnuts.

Now the dog days are over, though you can still get official Schottzie souvenirs at the Reds Gift Shop downtown, and -- if you were lucky enough to be at Riverfront Stadium on Sept. 30 -- you could have watched Schottzie soil the AstroTurf during the Reds division-clinching celebration. You still can drive down Pete Rose Way to get to Riverfront Stadium, but these are all minor annoyances now that the Reds are back in the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

This is the calm after the storm. New manager Lou Piniella took the Reds wire to wire in 1990, a development that proves either that the Rose gambling inquiry was a major distraction in '89 or that the Reds needed a new manager. It is largely the same team.

"I told Mrs. Schott, I didn't come here to manage, I came here to win," Piniella said after the club's pennant-deciding victory Friday night. "This organization gave me the opportunity."

The Reds already had a solid talent base, much of it home-grown, but the off-season did bring some important refinements. Reliever Randy Myers was acquired from the New York Mets, and first baseman Hal Morris came in trade from the New York Yankees.

The New York connection began at the management level, where Piniella and general manager Bob Quinn both are escapees from the Bronx Zoo. Piniella kept the Yankees well above .500 in his two full seasons managing for George Steinbrenner, but eventually tired of the Boss' managerial merry-go-round and asked out of the organization to take over the Reds. Quinn had joined the Reds a month earlier after three years in the Yankees front office.

Quinn moved quickly to acquire Myers from the Mets for stopper John Franco, then went after Morris, who came to the Reds along with Rodney Imes for pitcher Tim Leary and minor-league outfielder Van Snider.

Still, the Reds continue to rely heavily on player development, even if Schott tried to do some serious cost-cutting in the scouting department a few years ago because she thought scouts were an overrated expense. Nearly half of the players on the roster have spent their entire careers in the Reds organization. Four recent No. 1 draft choices -- Barry Larkin, Norm Charlton, Scott Scudder and Rob Dibble -- are playing important roles on the club.

For Piniella, the job at hand was not so much rebuilding the team as it was rebuilding its self-esteem. There was no talent gap in Cincinnati. That much was obvious when he took the job in November. His motivational skills never were in question either, but they will be tested sorely during the next week or so.

The Reds seem to suffer from a talent gap when compared to the defending world-champion Oakland Athletics, who dispensed quickly with a Boston Red Sox team that would have matched up pretty well against Cincinnati. They also appear to suffer from a front-office gap, but Piniella isn't ready to concede the series.

"They're the best team in baseball," he said, "but I don't expect to be dominated. I'm proud of what we have done. We feel we can compete."

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