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As late as June 10, the Reds were in first place, but they lost 31 of their next 41 games and finished fifth. Tommy Helms, who replaced Rose on an interim basis on August 24, and general manager Murray Cook were fired at the end of the season. After 27 years in baseball, Cook is an insurance agent in Cincinnati. Helms is managing the Cubs' Double A team, in Charlotte, N.C., and admits that he's "jealous of Lou." Cook, who claims that he isn't bitter about being fired, says the Reds were probably overrated in recent seasons, a feeling echoed by others. Says Davis, "People said we should win it every year, but those predictions were misleading. Look, you don't have potential until you do it. Then you have the potential to do it again."
The Reds are a better team now than in any of the Rose years. Leftfielder Billy Hatcher, who was hitting .333 at week's end, was an excellent off-season acquisition and gives Cincinnati its sixth player capable of stealing at least 25 bases. But what's perhaps most unnerving for Cincinnati's opponents is that the Reds got off to a hot start despite a starting pitching staff that, beyond ace Tom Browning, is shaky. Cincinnati is being cautious with starters Danny Jackson, who had leftshoulder surgery last year, and Jose Rijo, whose right shoulder has been tender.
But the rotation has been given a lift by 25-year-old righthander Jack Armstrong, who before this season was 6-10 with a 5.33 ERA in two partial seasons with the Reds; as of Sunday he was 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA. Armstrong says his success so far can be attributed to an off-season gamble. In February, frustrated by the lockout and with only $200 in the bank, he took out a $5,000 loan, left his wife and two-month-old son at home in Neptune, N.J., and headed for Florida. He traveled from one high school field to the next, looking for people to play some serious catch with him. "I'd beat up one catcher at a high school, then go to another and beat up on him," says Armstrong. "But they loved it." When the lockout ended, he had $100 left. He also had a strong and ready arm.
And now he and the rest of the Cincinnati starters have the Nasty Boys behind them: Charlton in middle relief and Myers and Dibble as the dual closers. "Randy and I know what our job is," says Dibble. "We're like two dogs fighting over a piece of meat. We both want to be the biggest, baddest dog in town." Dibble, who struck out 12.8 batters per nine innings last year, is keeping a chart of the bull-pen's K's; he's also busy marketing Nasty Boys T-shirts and posters. "I have another nickname for them," says Jackson. "The Looney Tunes."
They are a strange threesome. Myers, 27, wears battle fatigues under his uniform jersey, and keeps a little plastic soldier and two deactivated hand grenades in his locker. Dibble, 26, was suspended three times last year—once for throwing a bat hallway up the screen behind home plate, once for playing a major part in a brawl with the Mets and once for ignoring the take sign on a 2-and-0 count. "They say there's someone in the world who resembles you," says Dibble. "With me, it's Randy. He's my twin. They broke the mold after they made us two."
Both claim, though, that Charlton is crazier. "The quietest guy is always the scariest guy," says Dibble. "Norm will walk by you and you can't even see him. He's so white, he looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost. I call him Al, for Albino." Dibble and Myers also call Charlton the Genius, because he had a triple major at Rice in political science, physical education and religion. "I was an athlete, so there's the P.E.," says Charlton, 27. "I was going to law school if I didn't play baseball, so there's the political science. I don't know where the religion came from." As to the genius tag, he says, "Dibble and Myers—they've killed more brain cells than I've ever had."
Before the Nasty Boys took over, most of the wackiness in the Cincinnati clubhouse came from Schott, who bought the team in 1985 with money that her late husband, Charlie, had made from his car dealerships. Her draconian frugality has become legendary, and she has been blamed for running off some of the top scouts in the system ("Why do scouts have to see so many games?" she is said to have asked once).
Says Helms, who was a Cincinnati coach for seven years before he took over as manager, "She runs a team like a used-car dealership. She didn't treat us right. She didn't pay us decent salaries. She doesn't know baseball, and she doesn't know how to handle people. The players don't respect her. When she does creep down to the field, she should talk to someone before she talks to the press, because she will say the wrong thing."
To that and other complaints, Schott says, "It's something about working for a woman—people have a way of bitching. That's the nice part about having a woman around—you can blame her for everything. As they say, women get beat up on because they're easier to pick on."
Schott says that she has few friends in the game, and one of them, Padres owner Joan Kroc, who's in the process of selling her team, has advised Schott to get out of baseball. "Everything Charlie left me is male-dominated," Schott says. "Baseball is male-dominated, and I admit that a lot of it goes over my head."