With or without the manager's full attention, the Reds' season gradually unraveled. They were 35-24 and in first place on June 10, before they encountered an almost comical run of injuries and weird occurrences. On two occasions that summer, I woke up in hotel rooms in California to see the lamps rattling because of earthquakes. Perhaps it was a harbinger of the big one that wreaked havoc on the Bay Area during the 1989 World Series.
On July 5 in Philadelphia, O'Neill grew so frustrated with his inability to corral a base hit to right field that he kicked the ball back to first baseman Todd Benzinger. A few days later, Larkin, the team's best all-around player, blew out his right elbow while making a throw in the All-Star Game skills competition. Then pitcher Danny Jackson, who had challenged Orel Hershier for the 1988 Cy Young Award with 23 wins, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in late July. Benzinger and Eric Davis were the only players to appear in more than 120 games, and the Reds dropped 63 of their final 103 games and finished in fifth place.
Tekulve, who had signed with the Reds in spring training for the purpose of tutoring young relievers Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton, packed up his things and retired shortly after the All-Star break.
"I always joke with Barry Larkin that he's the guy who caused me to retire," Tekulve says. "I told him, 'Here I am, a 42-year-old sinkerball pitcher, and I'm out there one day, and I turn around, and Whitey Richardson is my shortstop. It's time for me to go home.'"
The rest of us were forced to endure. As the summer dragged on, Rose's attorneys pursued remedies through the legal system. A Cincinnati judge named Norbert Nadel gave Rose a temporary reprieve when he blocked a hearing at which Giamatti could have banned Rose from the game. But the escape hatches eventually closed for good, and Rose was finally forced to come to grips with reality. He accepted a lifetime ban on Aug. 23, and his lawyers and MLB drew up the paperwork.
Forever oblivious to appearances, Rose flew to Minneapolis that night to hawk memorabilia on the Cable Value Network. The next morning, he appeared at a news conference, apologized to fans and steadfastly denied he had bet on baseball. The interview room at Riverfront Stadium was so packed with reporters I had to watch the announcement from outside the front door. And still the wave of heat washed over me like a blast furnace.
Tommy Helms, Rose's close friend, bench coach and perpetual good soldier, took over as manager, and the Reds prepared to play out the string and recede from view. We were in the visiting clubhouse at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh when the word came down that Giamatti, 51, had died of a heart attack a mere eight days after rendering his decision on Rose. That became another blot on Rose's legacy, of course. No one ever flat-out accused him of killing Giamatti, but it was easy to suspect the Rose-induced stress from the summer of 1989 gave Giamatti a push.
Rose, true to form, has responded to that implication with a flair for self-preservation that far outweighs diplomacy. He was angered in 1989 when Giamatti publicly expressed the belief he had bet on baseball. But no one expected Giamatti would die -- a stunning twist that heaped more pathos on a summer already chock-full of it.