Whether it was on the diamond, on the ice or even on the links, Chris Sabo has always embodied the blue collar and workmanlike approach of his hometown of Detroit.
As a high school senior, Sabo had to make the decision to pursue a future in baseball or hockey. He chose to attend the University of Michigan on a baseball scholarship. While in Ann Arbor, the third baseman led the Wolverines deep in the College World Series tournament and earned All American honors in 1983.
The scrappy infielder was selected in the second round of the 1983 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds. After spending multiple season in the minors, he got the call to the Big Leagues in 1988. He took the opportunity and never looked back, earning the National League Rookie of the Year honors. Over the course of six seasons in Cincy, Sabo was a 3 time All-Star and a World Series champion with the 1990 squad that swept the favored Oakland Athletics. With his signature flat-top, Rec Specs and Charlie Hustle-like attitude, he was eventually inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.
After his time in Cincinnati, Sabo spent parts of three seasons in Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis before returning to retire with the Reds.
“Spuds” is currently the baseball coach at the University of Akron.
In a recent chat, he remembered practicing his signature, spending time in the bleachers of Tiger Stadium as a kid, seeing his rookie card for the first time and enjoying the music of Eminem.
Tony Reid–Being a Cincinnati Reds legend, you’ve signed your autograph countless times for fans over the years. How special of an experience is the autograph experience for you?
Chris Sabo– I remember practicing my autograph as a young man. It’s kind of funny, because it looks almost exactly like my autograph does today. I remember in elementary school practicing it all the time. My younger sister used to make fun of me. I’m from Detroit. I told her I needed to learn how to do this because I was going to play for the Detroit Tigers someday. I wanted to learn how to sign my autograph like my favorite player, Al Kaline.
TR–You have that nice, looping signature. How much pride do you take in it even after signing for all these years?
CS-Well, at least you can read it. I get on kids all the time. Sign it so they know who it is. Some of these autographs, you don’t even know who they are. To me, its laziness. Sign your autograph so people can read it.
TR–Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
CS-It showed me from the waist up with my back showing, with my jersey on. I can’t remember the brand but I remember that card (1988 Donruss The Rookies). I get them all the time. Supposedly that was the first one. It’s kind of cool. You know, you are so into the game and trying to play. You see it and think it’s cool but baseball is so hard to do that you have to get back to practicing and make sure I keep my job and stay up here.
TR–How influential was the sport of baseball and the Tigers specifically, to you as a young fan?
CS-Oh yeah, hockey, too. I loved all of the Detroit sports. I was a big hockey player growing up. The Red Wings were big for me. I loved both the Tigers and the Lions. I was a big University of Michigan fan. I ended up going to Michigan. It was all Detroit area for me. Back then, the games weren’t on TV as much as they are now. I went to a lot more Tiger games when I was a kid. I didn’t live that far away from Tiger Stadium. It was more inexpensive than Red Wing games. I went to quite a few Tigers games growing up. I sat in the bleachers in center field at Tiger Stadium. Once a year, I got to go to old Olympia and watch the Red Wings play. I just loved it. I still like watching the Red Wings and Tigers. I am still a fan. I am almost 60 years old but I still follow all that stuff.
TR–Your 1989 Diamond Kings card stated that you are a throwback to old time gritty ball players from generations past and that you play with the intensity of Ty Cobb, much like your manager Pete Rose. Thoughts on that statement?
CS-I never met Ty Cobb. I played with Pete Rose and he was my manager. To be compared to Pete Rose, there are worse comparisons than that. 4,000 hits. I liked him. I thought he was a great manager. I really enjoyed playing for him. It’s unfortunate what happened to him but I really enjoyed him. I talk to him every once in a while, so it’s still going good.
TR–Your 1989 Score card shared that an unnamed scout said ‘He looks unorthodox but he will run through a wall for you and kill someone to score a run.’ I don’t know if you ever killed anyone to score a run but what are your thoughts when you hear that quote?
CS-I wasn’t that big. I broke my left collarbone three times running into catchers, so I don’t know if I could run through anybody. I tried but most of the time I wasn’t successful. It wasn’t for a lack of effort that’s for sure.
TR–In 1989 there was a card that was produced called Little Big Leaguers. The front of the card is a picture of you as a Littler Leaguer. There was an interesting fact on the back of the card that said that when you weren’t playing games as a Little Leaguer, you were one of the umpires but you got insults and jeers, so you stopped umping. Is there any truth to that statement?
CS-Yeah. I went to umpire school. We didn’t have any money when I was growing up. I did it to get some extra money. I was probably a teenager, maybe 15 or 16. The parents at the games were brutal. Even back then, I didn’t have time for that. It was ridiculous. Nothing has changed. I’ve seen parents of kids that are playing now and it’s the same. That is just a natural trait of parents blaming everyone but their kid about what’s going on.
TR– The Studio cards are great for these facts, as your 1992 card said that Paul O’Neill is your best friend in baseball. True or false?
CS– Yeah that’s probably true. I just played golf with Paul a few weeks ago in Florida. We both have houses down there. We were down there over the holidays. We were roommates for a long time in the Minor Leagues and in the Major Leagues. I have a lot of friends and Paul is definitely a close friend. We grew up together in the Minor Leagues. We were sad when he got traded to the Yankees but it was the best thing that could have happened to him. He won a lot more World Series.
TR–The 1992 Studio card shared that your favorite singer is Frank Sinatra. Is that true?
CS-Yeah that’s true. I love Frank. I like the standards. I like Dean Martin and all of that. I like Led Zeppelin, too. To me, good music is good music. I even like some rap. Eminem is from Detroit. I like some of his songs. I could listen to that all the time.