Saturday, October 02, 1999

Time to celebrate Reds is now

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MILWAUKEE — All champagnes are not created equal. Some are for sipping. Some are for spraying.

        The Cincinnati Reds had some of each on ice Friday night: seven cases of Korbel Brut for the traditional pagan dousing ritual; two cases of imported Taittinger for those inclined to savor the moment.

        Not a very discriminating bunch, these Reds.

        “The only time I ever ordered champagne was the night I asked Mandi to marry me,” said Sean Casey, the first baseman. “It was $12 or $13 a glass. I'd rather have Bud Light.”

        “Whichever one I get first, I'm spraying,” catcher Eddie Taubensee said. “Whatever is left over, I'll drink.”

        The Reds' post-clinching conduct remained a hypothetical question and became a slightly less probable proposition Friday night. Milwaukee's 4-3, 10-inning, bullpen-bruising victory over the Reds, coupled with the New York Mets' victory over Pittsburgh, reduced the wild-card gap to a single game with two to play. Houston's loss to Los Angeles left the Reds tied for the lead in the National League Central.

        It is an agonizing time for all concerned, none of whom would miss it for a moment.

        “I don't care how many times you do it, you're still nervous out there at times like this,” Hal Morris said. “And it's great.”

        Morris was a member of the 1990 World Champion Reds, and recalled leaving the locker room a little wobbly after a clubhouse celebration with Tom Browning. Aaron Boone, the third-generation third baseman, recalled pouring beer on Greg Luzinski as a 7-year-old when his father's Phillies won the World Series in 1980.

        “We poured champagne on each other when we won the Cape Cod League in '93,” Boone said. “But I want to do it in the big leagues.”

Unfinished business
        The job was still unfinished, but the Reds fairly reeked of satisfaction before the game. With batting practice rained out, they sat quietly in the cramped visitors clubhouse at County Stadium, playing cards, watching golf, killing time with no obvious sign of tension.

        No surprise there. Whatever pressure existed in the National League playoff picture Friday night was most tightly focused on the Mets. Mike Cameron, the Reds' center fielder, was actually surprised that the champagne was on ice, having lost track of the playoff-clinching formula.

        “I just know we've got to win ballgames,” he said.

        The Reds were so comfort able with themselves and their season that Taubensee said he would still be inclined to drink the champagne if the weekend were to end in elimination.

        “I'd still want to celebrate,” he said. “And I think our team would want to do that.”

One-shot deal
        Whether they wind up in the World Series or as postseason wannabes, the Reds should recognize that this is a season they may never replicate. Baseball economics dictate that the young players who blossomed will get pricier and some of the key veterans (read: Greg Vaughn and Juan Guzman) may become prohibitive. General Manager Jim Bowden, asked to estimate the cost of keeping his $35 million roster intact, pegged the price at $55 million.

        “You would have to go to the World Series, have it go seven games and have the fans of Cincinnati come out and raise our season ticket sales dramatically,” Bowden said.

        The Reds formally changed hands Friday — Carl Lindner's group acquiring control from Marge Schott — but they have not changed fiscal policy. Payroll will continue to be determined by revenue, Bowden said, which means that these Reds may well be a one-year wonder.

        “What we've done is an aberration,” Bowden said. “It doesn't take a genius to see that.”

        The Reds' startling success does not indicate an increase in parity between baseball's vastly disparate payrolls. It proves that it's possible for a low-revenue club to experience a brief competitive cycle between rebuilding periods. Hard as it has been for Bowden to build a winner in baseball's bargain basement, it will be that much more difficult to duplicate.

        Reds fans are advised to follow the lead of Reds players: Enjoy this while it lasts.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at