Reed reflects on long career

Jeff Birchfield • Dec 25, 2017 at 8:49 PM

Jeff Reed is part of a distinguished group of Major League Baseball catchers.

The Elizabethton resident is one of the few to have both caught a perfect game and to own a World Series ring. Both achievements came as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. The perfect game came on Sept. 16, 1988, when Reed caught for left-handed pitcher Tom Browning in a 1-0 win over the Dodgers. In 1990, he was the backup catcher for the Reds, who swept the Oakland A’s in four games to win the World Series.

With that, Reed joined a group consisting of such greats as Yogi Berra, Pudge Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.

Others to achieve the feat include Joe Girardi, who was a teammate of Reed’s in Colorado, and A.J. Pierzynski, who Reed coached in the Appalachian League with the Elizabethton Twins.

But, it’s only one part of Reed’s over 20-year professional career which started as a first-round pick for the Minnesota Twins in the 1980 MLB draft. He also played for the Expos, Giants, Rockies and Cubs and sported a .250 career batting average in 1,234 games.

In this second part of a two-part interview, he reflects on his career experiences and tells why he was able to play so long.

While with the Reds, you were able to catch Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988. What do you remember about that experience?

Reed: “We were playing the Dodgers and we had like a 45-minute to hour rain delay. When the rain stopped, they had that big Zamboni which sucked the water off the field. Tom got out there and pitched and before you knew it, he was through five innings. No walks, no errors, no runs, you knew something neat might be taking place. Nobody talked to him after the fifth inning because they didn’t want to jinx him.

“I remember the ninth inning, they had some good batters coming up in that lineup. I was nervous and didn’t want to mess it up by calling the wrong pitch. There wasn’t a great play in the whole game like there usually is in a perfect game. Everything was routine. He didn’t even throw three balls to one batter and we won that game 1-0. Tim Belcher pitched for the Dodgers and we only had three hits against him. We scored off a wild pitch.”

The famous story about that game is that you go up to Tom and tell him that he’s got to slow down. Is it a true story?

Reed: “Tom always wanted to work fast and that can be a plus because it keeps your defense into the game. But, he was working extremely fast and I wanted to slow him down a little bit. He would sometimes work so fast and he would lose command of his pitches. But that night, he just threw a great game and I was fortunate to be a part of it.”

In 1990, you reach the ultimate goal, winning the World Series. First though, you had to get through the NLCS against an extremely talented Pittsburgh Pirates team.

“You don’t realize at the time just how special that is. When you step away from the game, you really cherish those moments. I remember the playoffs we were matched up against (Jim) Leyland’s Pirates. They had (Barry) Bonds, (Bobby) Bonilla, (Andy) Van Slyke, (Doug) Drabek, a very good team. I remember Paul O’Neill threw out someone at the plate and Eric Davis threw out Bobby Bonilla trying to stretch a double into a triple. There were some great plays in that series.”

The Reds go into the World Series as big underdogs, yet you sweep the A’s. How did that happen?

Reed: “Game 1 at Riverfront, (Dave) Stewart was on the mound and he had won 27 games. Eric Davis was up against him and he smoked a home run. That got us going. We got momentum and we swept the A’s when they had a great team. They had traded for Willie McGee at the deadline. He was leading our league in batting and he didn’t even start for them. They were absolutely loaded. Everyone knew about our bullpen, “The Nasty Boys” (Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers). When we got a lead late, we knew the game was over.

“Also, Billy Hatcher, he went off in that series. He had like eight or nine doubles. It seemed like he was getting a double every other time he was up.”

Seventeen years is a long time to play any professional sport. What was the key to playing so long?

Reed: “I was lucky that I wasn’t an everyday catcher. I would play against righties. Lefties, I wouldn’t play against, so I didn’t have the wear of a (Mike) Piazza or a Pudge Rodriguez. So, my body was young and I prided myself on working my tail off in the winter time. I remember for years I would go to the Dome at ETSU. In the mornings, I would stretch, run and do my throwing with Lee Morrow, who was the strength coach at that time. That was a great place to work out, and then Pete Paduch had a batting cage at his business, Hometech, so he would let me come in there and work out. I could just hit, hit, hit and hit.”

The downside of a pro athlete’s life is the time you’re away from the family. How hard is that when they’re here and you’re in another city?

Reed: “It can be extremely tough on the family. When I played for the Giants, my oldest daughter Lindsey would start the school year in San Francisco. When the season was over, they didn’t want to let her in school here because of the perfect attendance rules they had.

“People don’t realize when a player gets traded, he has to be at his new place the next day. They fly me out, so my wife has to take care of the lease of the rental place and pack everything up. We used to have a big Ford Econoline van. My wife would pack that up where you couldn’t put anyone in the driver’s seat. We would have a truck transport it and so many times, the truck driver going up the ramp would ask, ‘Where do you want me to sit?’ There would be no room in the thing. All that was left on my wife to do.

“Then, the months like May, you might not see your family. And those West Coast road trips, you’re gone for two weeks. I would be going out the door for the game, and my son, Lance, was like 4-5 years old with his arms stretched out saying that I’m not leaving. That makes it tough. That’s a reason I retired when I did.

“Lacey, my youngest, was playing basketball and Lance was playing Little League. It’s hard to miss those times. I could have played another year or two, but I wouldn’t have traded those times for anything because it flies by so fast.”

Playing at Colorado, what was that like getting an expansion team up to speed?

Reed: “When I was with the Giants, they were still playing at the Broncos’ Mile-High Stadium and didn’t have their own field yet. When I got there, they had been playing a couple of years. I really enjoyed my time there. You would walk downtown and people would come to you and thank you for baseball. My first two years, we sold out 160 games in a row and that was awesome. We had some great players like Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla and Walt Weiss. A couple years we finished second in the division.

“Then Cincinnati and San Francisco, those are great baseball cities. Cincinnati, everybody is dressed in red on game day. With the Giants, that rivalry with the Dodgers is crazy. You would see people up in the seats fighting. In 1993, we were tied with the Braves with one game to go. We went to the Dodgers and lost the game. We go 103-59 and we miss the playoffs. Nowadays, that’s like an unbelievable record. We were grown men crying in that clubhouse.”

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