On July 31, 1995, Dmitri Young, then an outfielder for the
Double A Arkansas Travelers of the St. Louis Cardinals' farm
system, was walking off the field after his team's win over the
Wichita Wranglers when he heard a handful of hecklers in the
stands calling out to him.
"Hey, pork chop!" yelled a man.
Young, simmering, kept walking.
"Hey, nigger! Hey, nigger!" Young says someone then shouted.
Throughout the game, Young, a congenial, soft-spoken type, had
ignored the insults, many of which he says were racial epithets.
But this was too much. "It was beyond what anyone should have to
take," Young recalls. "So I went into the stands. I said, 'What
did you say?' Then I socked him--hard."
The Texas League suspended Young for 30 days. It was, he says,
the worst moment of the worst year of his life. When the
Cardinals made the switch-hitting Young their No. 1 pick in the
1991 draft, they envisioned him becoming the organization's next
great slugger--Jack Clark with a higher average. And now...this?
"When all of that happened, I didn't know which way my career
was going," says Young, who, after falling short of St. Louis's
high expectations, was traded to the Reds in November 1997 for
reliever Jeff Brantley. "But situations like that make you focus
and grow up. It was miserable, but I'm a little tougher than I
used to be. I can take anything."
This is good news for Cincinnati. In 1998, his first full year
in the bigs, Young showed plenty of, uh, punch, batting .310
with 14 home runs, 83 RBIs and 48 doubles (three shy of Pete
Rose's major league record for a switch-hitter). Following that
breakout campaign, the expectations for the 25-year-old, 6'2",
235-pound rightfielder are once again huge. "Dmitri has that
experience now, and experience is essential," says Reds manager
Young also has 50-home-run man Greg Vaughn hitting in front of
him now, and that is essential to the suddenly revived Reds'
postseason hopes. The addition of the 33-year-old Vaughn, who
was obtained in the blockbuster off-season trade that sent
injury-prone outfielder Reggie Sanders and two minor leaguers to
San Diego, gives Cincinnati some much-needed sock. Last year,
Reds cleanup hitters had a major league-worst 14 homers, and no
Cincinnati player has driven in 100 runs since Eric Davis
knocked in 101 in 1989. "If the bats in the middle of our lineup
come through," says McKeon, "we'll be something."
Along with Vaughn and Young, those bats include always
dependable shortstop Barry Larkin (.340 after the All-Star break
last year), catcher Eddie Taubensee (.307 with runners in
scoring position over the last five seasons) and 24-year-old
first baseman Sean Casey (52 RBIs in only 302 at bats in '98).
It isn't the world's greatest lineup, but it should be better
than last year's group, especially if newcomer Michael Tucker
continues to display the stroke he did in last year's postseason
with Atlanta (two game-winning homers) and if Jeffrey Hammonds
avoids the injuries that have dogged him in each of his six big
The pitching staff is similarly improved. For the last few
seasons the Reds' front office has relied largely on retreads
and washouts to patch together a rotation. This season
Cincinnati has assembled what could be one of the National
League's deadliest collections of arms. Denny Neagle, a 20-game
winner in 1997 who was picked up from Atlanta (along with
Tucker) in exchange for second baseman Bret Boone, may have been
the fourth starter on the Braves, but with the Reds he's the
ace. After missing most of 1997 while battling depression, Pete
Harnisch came back to win a team-high 14 games last year. Number
3 starter Brett Tomko, who turns 26 on April 7, appears on the
brink of becoming a consistent 15-to-18-game winner.
The most intriguing part of the rotation involves starters 4 and
5, Jason Bere and Steve Avery. Both pitchers have won big in
other cities (Chicago and Atlanta, respectively). Both are still
young (27 and 28). And both have stunk in recent years. Bere,
the victim of chronic elbow injuries, has not been the same
since a 12-2 finish with the White Sox in '94. Avery went 18-6
in 1993, then started losing velocity--and games. "I'm what they
call a reclamation project," says Avery, who is 30-37 and hasn't
had an ERA under 4.47 since the start of '95. "At least that's
what everyone thinks."
Don Gullett, the Reds' respected pitching coach, has a history
of helping resuscitate seemingly dead careers. He worked wonders
with Harnisch and former Reds hurler Pete Schourek. During
spring training, Gullett had Avery scrap the sidearm motion he
developed last season in Boston in favor of his old overhand
delivery. He told Bere, who says he feels healthy for the first
time in four years, to simply let it rip. The pair's strong
spring performances were the talk of the Reds' camp. "I don't
see why they can't make it all the way back," says Gullett.
"Both guys know how to win at this level. They've done it
before, they can do it again."
Who knows? Maybe the Reds can too.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO The Reds put a scare into their division rivals, as well as extra fans in the Cincinnati seats, when, surprisingly, they traded for the vaunted Vaughn.
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA
By the Numbers
1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 77-85 (fourth in NL Central)
BATTING AVERAGE .262 (7)
RUNS SCORED 750 (7)
HOME RUNS 138 (12)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .256 (5)
ERA 4.44 (10)
FIELDING PCT. .980 (11)
Power Sent Packing
This winter Greg Vaughn became the first player in major league
history to change teams immediately following a 50-home-run
season. But Vaughn is one of five players (along with Albert
Belle, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Mo Vaughn) who moved to
a new club this past off-season after hitting 40 or more homers
in 1998. Before this year only four players had changed teams on
the heels of a 40-homer season, and only one increased his power
production with his new club.
Next Year's How
Year Player, Team HR Team Acquired HR
Vaughn, Padres 50 Reds Trade
(Reggie Sanders) ?
Belle, White Sox 49 Orioles Free agent ?
Belle, Indians 48 White Sox Free agent 30
Canseco, Blue Jays 46 Devil Rays Free agent ?
Greenberg, Tigers 44 Pirates Sold ($75,000) 25
Palmeiro, Orioles 43 Rangers Free agent ?
Colavito, Indians 42 Tigers Trade (Harvey Kuenn) 35
Galarraga, Rockies 41 Braves Free agent 44
Vaughn, Red Sox 40 Angels Free agent ?
Whereas Bret Boone gave the Reds decent power, little speed and
an excellent glove, his replacement at second base, Pokey Reese,
boasts no power, Vince Coleman speed and an excellent glove.
"The question is Pokey's bat," says manager Jack McKeon.
Alternating between third base and shortstop, Reese was hitting
.256 with the Reds last July when he tore a ligament in his
right thumb, forcing him to spend the rest of '98 on the
disabled list. "My goal is to be around .300," says Reese. "I'm
tired of people just knowing who Pokey Reese is because the name
Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics
Manager: Jack McKeon (third season with Cincinnati)
BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
CF Mike Cameron R 158 .210 8 43 27
SS Barry Larkin R 42 .309 17 72 26
1B Sean Casey L-R 122 .272 7 52 1
LF Greg Vaughn R 38 .272 50 119 11
RF Dmitri Young S-R 97 .310 14 83 2
C Eddie Taubensee L-R 106 .278 11 72 1
3B Aaron Boone R 218 .282 2 28 6
2B Pokey Reese R 233 .256 1 16 3
OF Michael Tucker L-R 260 .244 13 46 8
C Brian Johnson R 264 .239 13 34 0
OF Mark Sweeney L 310 .234 2 15 1
OF Jeffrey Hammonds* R 329 .280 6 39 8
IF Mark Lewis R 378 .249 9 54 3
STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
LH Denny Neagle 45 16 11 6.7 1.22 3.55
RH Pete Harnisch 39 14 7 6.5 1.15 3.14
RH Brett Tomko 82 13 12 6.2 1.24 4.44
RH Jason Bere* 140 6 9 5.3 1.69 5.65
LH Steve Avery 147 10 7 5.1 1.55 5.02
BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Danny Graves 73 2 1 8 1.28 3.32
LH Gabe White 134 5 5 9 1.15 4.01
RH Scott Sullivan 268 5 5 1 1.31 5.21
RH John Hudek 289 5 6 0 1.52 3.09
RH Stan Belinda 316 4 8 1 1.21 3.23
LH Dennys Reyes 240 3 5 0 1.62 4.54
New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats