Labor negotiations delayed the opening of the 1990 baseball season, as the failure to sign a new collective bargaining agreement prompted team owners to lock the players out of training camp. The two parties didn’t resolve their dispute until late March, giving the players just two-and-a-half weeks to prepare for a delayed Opening Day, which arrived a week later than originally anticipated.
Once the season got underway, it soon became apparent that the Oakland Athletics were likely to experience few problems capturing their third consecutive A.L. West title. Blessed with outstanding pitching and a powerful lineup, the A’s quickly established themselves as the class of the American League, finishing the campaign first in their division with a record of 103-59, nine games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox.
With much of their power being supplied by the “Bash Brothers” combination of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the A’s placed third in the junior circuit with 733 runs scored and 164 home runs. Although McGwire batted only .235, he knocked in 108 runs, finished second in the league with 39 home runs, and led the loop with 110 walks. Canseco batted .274, hit 37 homers, and drove in 101 runs. Nevertheless, Rickey Henderson proved to be Oakland’s top offensive weapon, earning A.L. MVP honors by hitting 28 home runs, batting .325, and leading the league with 119 runs scored, 65 stolen bases, and a .439 on-base percentage.
In spite of their outstanding offense, the A’s greatest strength lay in their pitching staff, which led the league with a team ERA of 3.18. Bob Welch posted a record of 27-6, compiling in the process the most victories by any pitcher since Denny McLain won 31 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1968. Welch also ended the campaign with an impressive 2.95 ERA, en route to earning A.L. Cy Young honors. Yet, Welch may not have been the A’s best pitcher, since teammate Dave Stewart also had a superb year. Stewart finished 22-11, with a 2.56 ERA and a league-leading 267 innings pitched, 11 complete games, and four shutouts. Even though Chicago’s Bobby Thigpen established a new major league record by saving 57 games, Oakland also had baseball’s premier reliever in Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley saved 42 games, won four others, compiled a miniscule 0.61 ERA, and struck out 73 batters in 73 innings of work, while allowing opposing batters only 41 hits.
While the A’s coasted to the Western Division title, the Boston Red Sox had a far more difficult time separating themselves from the Toronto Blue Jays in the A.L. East. Boston finished the regular season with a record of 88-74, just two games ahead of the second-place Blue Jays. The Detroit Tigers came in third, nine games off the pace.
The Tigers likely would have made a three-team race out of it in the East had they had better pitching. While the Tigers finished second in the league with 750 runs scored, they also posted a team ERA of 4.39 that placed them 14th in the league rankings. Led by slugging first baseman
Cecil Fielder, who returned to American baseball after spending a year in Japan honing his offensive skills, Detroit topped the circuit with 172 home runs. Fielder led the league with 51 homers and 132 runs batted in, becoming in the process just the 11th player in major league history to surpass 50 home runs in a season. He also led the loop with 339 total bases and a .592 slugging average.
The second-place Blue Jays also featured two of the circuit’s top sluggers in Fred McGriff and Kelly Gruber. McGriff batted .300 and finished among the league leaders with 35 home runs. Gruber had a career year, hitting 31 homers and finishing second in the A.L. with 118 runs batted in.
However, the Red Sox were the division’s most well-balanced team, featuring both a solid lineup and one of the league’s best pitching staffs. Wade Boggs, Ellis Burks, and Mike Greenwell paced the Red Sox on offense. Boggs batted .302, scored 89 runs, and placed second in the league with 187 hits. Burks hit 21 home runs, knocked in 89 runs, scored 89 others, and batted .296. Greenwell batted .297 and finished fourth in the league with 181 hits.
Meanwhile, the tandem of Roger Clemens and Mike Boddicker anchored Boston’s pitching staff. Boddicker won 17 games and compiled a 3.36 ERA. Clemens had one of his finest seasons, going 21-6, with 209 strikeouts and a league-leading 1.93 ERA.
The Red Sox again proved to be no match for the A’s in the ALCS, putting up little resistance against their Western Division opponents for the second time in three years. Oakland swept the Series in four games, posting victories of 9-1, 4-1, 4-1, and 3-1.
The A’s appeared poised to capture their second consecutive world championship, entering the World Series as heavy favorites to defeat the Cincinnati Reds. However, Cincinnati pulled off arguably baseball’s biggest upset since 1969, sweeping the A’s in four straight games and outscoring them in the process by a combined margin of 22-8.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• February 15 - A 32 day lockout began as Major League Baseball owners refused to open spring training camp without reaching a new Basic Agreement with the players. The regular season was subsequently delayed one week due to the lock-out.
• April 20 - Pete Rose pleaded guilty to two charges of filing false income tax returns that failed to show income he received from selling autographs and memorabilia, and from horse racing winnings.
• June 11 - Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers pitched the sixth no-hitter of his career by defeating the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, 5-0.
• July 19 - Pete Rose was sentenced to five months in the medium security Prison Camp at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois and fined $50,000.
• July 31 - Nolan Ryan defeated the Milwaukee Brewers to earn his 300th career win.
• August 17 - Carlton Fisk established a new major league record by hitting his 329th homer as a catcher.
• August 25 – During a 14-4 Tiger victory over the Oakland Athletics, Cecil Fielder became just the third player to hit a home run over the left-field roof at Tiger Stadium. He joined Harmon Killebrew (1962) and Frank Howard (1968) on an extremely exclusive list.
• August 31 - Ken Griffey and his son Ken Griffey, Jr. started for the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Kansas City Royals. It marked the first time a father and son ever played in the same major league game.
• September 14 - Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr. hit back-to-back home runs in a 7-5 loss to the California Angels.
• December 5 - In a blockbuster deal, the Toronto Blue Jays sent Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.
• Rickey Henderson stole his 893rd base, breaking Ty Cobb's American League record.
• George Brett led the American League with a .329 batting average and 45 doubles. By topping the circuit in hitting, Brett became the first player in major league history to win batting titles in three different decades.
• Nolan Ryan struck out 232 batters, to lead his league in Ks for the 11th time.
• Wade Boggs failed to reach 200 hits for the first time in eight seasons.
• Commissioner Fay Vincent ordered George Steinbrenner to give up his controlling interest of the Yankees because of his involvement with known gambler Howard Spira.
• On July 17, the Twins became the first major league team to make two triple plays in one game.
• Pitchers threw a record nine no-hitters during the season.
• California's Mark Langston and Mike Witt no-hit Seattle on April 11.
• Seattle's Randy Johnson threw a no-hitter against Detroit on June 2.
• Oakland's Dave Stewart tossed a no-hitter against Toronto on June 29.
• Toronto’s Dave Stieb threw a no-hitter against Cleveland on September 2.
• The American League won the All-Star Game 2-0 at Wrigley Field.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan.
• Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. (.290 average) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
- 1990 ALCS, 1990 World Series, American League, Bob Welch, Bobby Thigpen, Boston Red Sox, Carlton Fisk, Carney Lansford, Cecil Fielder, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb, Dennis Eckersley, Ellis Burks, Fay Vincent, Fred McGriff, George Brett, George Steinbrenner, Joe Carter, Jose Canseco, Kelly Gruber, Kirby Puckett, Mark Langston, Mark McGwire, Mike Boddicker, Mike Greenwell, Nolan Ryan, Oakland Athletics, Pete Rose, Randy Johnson, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Alomar, Roger Clemens, Sandy Alomar, Tony Fernandez, Wade Boggs