Could it be that Chris Sabo was chosen to live every little boy's dream last week precisely because he is every little boy? The third baseman with the buzz cut was playing astronaut in his bedroom on Saturday night, or so it seemed as the World Series hero stood in the visitors' clubhouse in Oakland, space goggles on his face and an American flag patch sewn to the front of his jammies-cum-uniform. Fourth-grade phraseology tumbled from his mouth. "We beat the world champions fair and square," Sabo said. "If they say anything different, they're a bunch of sore losers."
Fair and square? Sore losers? Somewhere in Cincinnati last week, a babysitter sat bound and gagged for five days, long enough for Sabo to hit two home runs against the A's, miss a third dinger by inches, hit safely in eight of his last 11 at bats and set a World Series record for defensive play at his position. His performance, and the world championship that came with it, left Sabo, in his own words, "just pleased as punch."
Pleased as punch? Sabo's world is a wood-paneled rec room, circa 1949. He actually listens to Benny Goodman records. He has baseball preview magazines stacked like cord-wood at home. He has said that his greatest passion in life is fielding ground balls. "Nobody knows too much about him," says Reds first baseman Todd Benzinger. "I don't want to figure him out. It might not be too pretty."
But then, beauty is in the nearsighted eyes of the beholder. Sabo drove an '82 Ford Escort until it broke down last month with more than 80,000 miles on it. Five years ago in Tampa, he took a job in a McDonald's while playing in the Instructional League. You can call the three-year major league veteran a throwback, but you'll have to throw him further back than 20 years. "He doesn't remind me of anyone I played with," says Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, he of the Big Red Machine of the '70s.
Sabo suffered through a Q-and-A session after Game 3 on Friday, necessitated by one of the great all-around individual performances in World Series history: He handled 10 chances in the field without an error that night, a Series record for third basemen, and also became the sixth player to hit homers in consecutive innings of a World Series game. In both the second and third, Sabo launched bombs against A's starter Mike Moore, and both times he hurried around the bases with his head down.
Demonstrative, he's not. When, thanks to a Dodger loss elsewhere, the Reds clinched the National League West in September during a rain delay in Riverfront Stadium, Sabo refused to join his teammates in a collective curtain call. "There's no use for any of that as far as I'm concerned," he says.
"He's a tough dude," says Walter Sabo, a plumber in the Detroit water-treatment department who has a vocabulary hipper than his son's.
Sabo, who hit .270 with a career-high 25 home runs this season, made the All-Star team for the second time this July. His first All-Star Game was in 1988, when he was named the National League Rookie of the Year. But he played in only 82 games last season after suffering a knee injury in June.
"A number of publications put me down before this season," Sabo said after Cincinnati swept in the title on Saturday night. He had just gone 3 for 4 with a double that landed a baseball's width below the top of the leftfield wall. "One publication said I wouldn't make the Reds' club this year," Sabo continued. "Well, all those publications can...."
The 28-year-old paused.