Five years ago, the Cincinnati Reds seemed to juggle their future with buttery fingers in the early ownership days of cheapskate, silly, mutt-worshiping baseball amateur Marge Schott. Then, in 1989, came painful complications from the Pete Rose tax evasion/gambling case, which led to federal prison for the game's career hits leader, erstwhile Reds manager, buddy of many of today's Cincinnati players and all-time Riverfront Stadium hero.
Hardly a prescription for 1990s brilliance, and I'm still not sure how Schott did it, but the "Little Red Machine" has humbled and hacked the Oakland A's to astonishingly become baseball's new dominator.
Schottzie is top dog.
"Since we left Plant City, after spring training, our ballclub knew it had the stuff to win," said Barry Larkin, an extraordinary young Reds shortstop. "We became wire-to-wire winners, from opening day through the World Series, but it took a long, long time to convince the doubters."
He's right. I kept thinking Cincinnati might crack, if not in the National League West, probably against Pittsburgh in the National League Championship Series, or surely against the Oakland beasts.
It was Hubert hogwash.
But now I'm convinced, along with those battered, confused A's. Anybody who watched was won over. Cincinnati dazzled as much as Oakland disintegrated. Even Schottzie, the St. Bernard in Marge's life, could see the A's were dogging it.
On a Saturday when George Steinbrenner guest-hosted Saturday Night Live on NBC television, Oakland's mightily favored hardballers played the fourth, final and fatal act in a 2-1 game that left them "Saturday Night Dead" on CBS.
Statistics can be boring, but the bottom-line numbers from this World Series are clear, fascinating evidence that Cincinnati burned Oakland to a crisp.
In team batting average, the Reds were a smashing .317 to the A's anemic .207. Cincinnati pitchers had a world-class 1.70 earned run average to a fat 4.33 for the enemy. Oakland was outscored 22-8.
Never, since my boyish eyes watched the dynastic 1950s New York Yankees on TV, have I seen a World Series winner with 1-2-3 MVP candidates to match Jose Rijo, Chris Sabo and Billy Hatcher.
For the bronze medal, it's Blazing Billy, a .265 lifetime hitter who was 9-for-12 (.750) before A's pitcher Dave Stewart bruised Hatcher's hand with a Game 4 fastball.
It gets better.
For the silver medal, it is Sabo, a new-era Pete Rose (as a ballplayer, not a citizen). A crew-cut third baseman in the funny goggles who raked Oakland for nine hits in 16 chances (.563), two homers and five runs batted in.
But above all, it's Rijo, the ex-A's right-hander who returned to haunt and humiliate Oakland. Branded a gifted airhead by Athletics pitching coach Dave Duncan, the slidermaster from the Dominican Republic was 2-0 in the World Series, allowing the alleged green monsters one earned run in 15 innings (0.59 ERA).
Oakland's numbers were as con as Cincinnati's were pro. Jose Canseco must've been hurt. He looked downright lame, going 1-for-12 and playing rightfield like a matador dodging baseballs instead of bulls.
Mark McGwire must spend summers beefing up homer and RBI totals against lousy American League pitching. Facing the Reds, the hulking first baseman was inept, with a .214 average, zero home runs and zero runs knocked in.
Like everything else, the Series matchup of managers was as one-sided as a movie set. It was two guys from one Tampa neighborhood, Lou Piniella of Cincinnati matching wits with the A's Tony La Russa.
Lou had a Midas touch, but Tony kept making strange and unsuccessful moves, like leaving starting pitchers Mike Moore and Bob Welch on the mound for extended anguish.
Oh, about Marge . . .
Maybe she just got lucky. I've watched, and listened, throughout baseball's October. I detect a personal toughness, but neither sporting nor business wizardry. But the Reds owner must be doing something right.
Schott had the good sense, or fortune, to hire two Steinbrenner/Yanks castaways, Piniella and general manager Bob Quinn. Between them, there have been a wealth of player personnel moves.
It'll be interesting, now that Cincinnati is a power again, to see how smoothly Marge Schott's administration perseveres.