“Michigan Men” helped 1990 Cincinnati Reds win it all

Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, and Hal Morris played together on the 1983 Michigan Wolverines team that advanced to the semi-finals of the College World Series.

Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, and Hal Morris played together on the 1983 Michigan Wolverines team that advanced to the semi-finals of the College World Series.

There’s no evidence that “Hail To The Victors” was playing in the clubhouse after the Cincinnati Reds won the 1990 World Series, but it would have been appropriate.

Three key members of that championship club from 25 years ago were alumni of the University of Michigan.

Former Wolverines Barry Larkin, Hal Morris, and Chris Sabo were infield teammates for the Reds in 1990 a quarter century ago when Cincinnati stunned the favored Oakland A’s by sweeping them in the Fall Classic. But Larkin and Sabo almost never made it to the big leagues.

Larkin was a multi-sport star at Moeller High School in Cincinnati but he was recruited most heavily as a defensive back in football. He agreed to go to Ann Arbor to play for Bo Schembechler in 1982, but when he was redshirted as a freshman he asked his football coach for permission to play baseball the following spring. Bo said fine, and Larkin went on to be named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and 1983 Big Ten Tournament MVP. As a freshman shortstop, Barry helped the Wolverines to the College World Series where they advanced to the semi-finals before losing to Texas.

In both 1984 and 1985, Larkin got even better and he was an All-American both years. In 1984 he helped the Wolverines to the College World Series once again, though the team was eliminated after only two games. Larkin displayed his combination of speed, power, and defensive ability in his second and third seasons with Michigan, and he never entertained football again. Like Sabo, Larkin left for professional baseball after his junior year, being nabbed by the Reds with fourth pick in the first round of the 1985 amateur draft. He was in the big leagues a little over a year later, was an All-Star by 1988, and was in his fifth season when the Reds won the ’90 Series. Overall, Larkin played 19 years in the major leagues, earning 12 All-Star nods, nine Silver Slugger awards, three Gold Gloves at short, and in 1995 he was named National League Most Valuable Player. Combined with his laurels at the college level and his appearance on the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team, Larkin was one of the most decorated players of his era. In 2012 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s also been inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame and his number has been retired by the Michigan Wolverines. Not bad for a guy who was going to play the secondary for Bo Schembechler.

Also on that 1983 Michigan team was Sabo, a Detroit native out of Detroit Catholic Central High School. Sabo was a hard-hitting, scrappy third baseman and a junior when Larkin arrived for the 1983 season. Sabo was a somewhat reluctant baseball player too — he had originally thought he’d pursue a hockey career, but decided to play baseball when U of M offered a full scholarship to play the sport. Sabo was an All-American at third base in 1983. He exited after that junior season when he was selected by the Reds in the second round of the MLB draft. Sabo was nicknamed “Spuds” because he bore a resemblance to the dog pitchman in popular Bud Light beer commercials. He was Rookie of the Year in the NL in 1988 and had fine success in the first few years of his career, but injuries and ineffectiveness slowed him after the age of 30, and after nine seasons he retired in 1996 with 116 homers and a .268 career average.

The third Wolverine on the 1990 Reds was Hal Morris, who was also a Midwestern boy, having grown up in Munster, Indiana, a bedroom community located just 30 miles east of Chicago in the northern part of Indiana. Unlike Larkin and Sabo, Morris had already decided to focus on baseball as a high school athlete. A tall, lanky left-handed batter, Morris had a sweet swing and loads of potential. Michigan baseball coach Bud Middaugh recruited Morris heavily and convinced the 17-year old to come to Ann Arbor in 1982 after his high school graduation, making him a freshman in ’83. That team started the season 33-0 with freshmen Morris and Larkin in Middaugh’s infield. Morris played four full seasons at Michigan and was selected in the eighth round of the 1986 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees. But as a first baseman, Morris was hopelessly stuck in the Yanks’ minor league system behind Don Mattingly. Even though he hit .317 in his three full seasons at Double-A and Triple-A for the Yankee farm teams, he was never going to get a chance to sniff the big leagues. At baseball’s 1989 winter meetings the Reds swiped him in a deal that sent journeyman pitcher Tim Leary to the Yankees. The following year Morris started the season in Triple-A for the Reds but he was called up after two weeks and went on to hit .340 as a rookie to help fuel the Reds’ run to a division title. After he got a ring in his first season, Morris ended up playing a decade in Cincy and posted a cool .304 career batting average. He played his final year with the Tigers in 2000, hitting .311 for the Tigers. He was known for his leg kick from the left side of the batters’ box and for spraying the ball all over the field with his pretty swing.

The three former Wolverines played four seasons together in Cincinnati, combining for seven All-Star appearances and eight .300 seasons. A good showing for a trio from the campus of the University of Michigan.