Even by lofty World Series standards, the 1990 World Series was singularly unforgettable. The bold, brash 103-win Oakland A’s — the reigning World Series champions — were the heavy favorites, but the upstart 91-win Cincinnati Reds beat them in four consecutive games, a stunning Series sweep.
Heroes were abundant for the 1990 Reds. Eric Davis set the tone with a first-inning Game 1 home run and looked very much like a future Hall of Famer. Billy Hatcher played like a man possessed, batting .750. Jose Rijo channeled his Hall of Fame father-in-law, Juan Marichal, in his two starts. Cincinnati’s bullpen combined to throw 16 2/3 scoreless innings.
Today, though, we’re going to talk one of the most incredible, jaw-dropping moments of that World Series. We’re talking about one swing on Oct. 20, 1990.
A swing-and-a-miss, actually. And it’s a swing-and-a-miss that not only didn’t end the game or an inning, it didn’t even end the at-bat; it happened on a 1-1 count. Sounds silly, right? What could have possibly happened on one solitary swing-and-a-miss that was so memorable that here we are, on the 30th anniversary of that mighty whiff, still talking about one strike?
On that swing and miss, Glenn Braggs broke his bat.
MORE: 10 single-season MLB feats we’ll never see again
This muscle-bound behemoth — he stood 6-3 and weighed 220 — swung so hard, with so much force, that the Louisville Slugger in his hands snapped like a twig when it made contact with his left shoulder, right near the ‘B’ of his last name.
Tim McCarver, the color man on the CBS broadcast, damn near lost his mind. “What is going on here?” he cried, more than once.
Even Jack Buck, the Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer, was stunned: “I have never seen that before. He swung and missed and broke the bat.”
Now, 30 years later, those who were there and those who were watching still speak of that moment with equal parts awe and amusement.
Braggs lives in California with his wife, Cindy Herron-Braggs — they’ve been married since 1992; she’s a founding member of En Vogue — and their four children. He’s a personal trainer who still looks like he did during his playing days. He’s embraced various fitness challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic; for a month, his challenge was to walk at least 20,000 steps every day. Now, it’s doing 40 push-ups for every mile he walks (his knees don’t really allow for running).
A second-round pick by the Brewers in 1983, Braggs made his MLB debut in 1986 and played seven years in the majors, hitting 70 homers. He was traded from Milwaukee to Cincinnati on June 9, 1990, and he made an instant impact at the plate, batting .299 with a .385 on-base percentage in 72 games as the Reds won the NL West by five games. He played the final four years of his career in Japan, as a slugging star for the Yokohama Bay Stars, blasting 91 homers and batting .300 in 404 games.
MORE: 14 MLB postseason oddities you might not know about
So, now, we’re here to tell the story of that one World Series moment and the legend of the man who famously failed to hit the baseball on one impossible swing.
‘I still remember the sound’
It seems silly to say a team with a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven setup was in danger, but that’s exactly what it felt like heading into the top of the second inning for the Reds. The A’s owned a 1-0 lead in the game, and the Reds were down two star players. In the top of the first, Billy Hatcher — who was 9-for-12 with five extra-base hits in the first three games — was hit in the left hand by a pitch, and he would soon exit the game, replaced by Herm Winningham. Then in the bottom of the first, Eric Davis dove for a line drive off Willie McGee’s bat and landed awkwardly. He finished the inning defensively, then had to leave the game. We’d find out later that he had a lacerated kidney.
BRAGGS: McGee hits that sinking liner to Eric, and Eric, being the amazing athlete that he is, somehow gets to the ball and when he did the slide, his elbow got tucked underneath him and he injured himself, so I’m in the game at that point.
MINNIE LEE OGLES (Reds superfan, writing in her scorebook): I hope Davis and Hatcher are not hurt seriously.
SAM PERLOZZO (Reds third base coach from 1990-92): We had the lead, but Oakland was such a good team. I was just standing there at third base going, ‘Oh my God. We’ve got to win this game because they can come back and beat us without Eric and Billy.’ That’s how good I thought they were. They were like monsters.
BRAGGS: Eric was our main guy, and Hatch was just lighting, freaking lighting the place up. So we knew we had to win that game. That was the one we had to win. It’s a completely different series if the A’s pull that game out. After we lose those two key guys, Herm and I said to ourselves, ‘We’ve got to pick up the pieces for them, make sure we contributed to the team.’
Davis was supposed to lead off the top of the second inning for the Reds, but he was gone. So Braggs was unexpectedly inserted into the field to replace Cincinnati’s superstar; not known for his fielding ability, Braggs had hauled in the biggest catch of the NLCS, a home run-robbing grab off the bat of Carmelo Martinez with one out and a runner on in the ninth inning of Game 6 to preserve a 2-1 victory. And then he suddenly had to come to the plate against Dave Stewart, the intimidating, dominating right-hander who had just recorded his best season in the bigs, with a 2.56 ERA in 36 starts while winning at least 20 games for the fourth consecutive year. Braggs owned just a .185 average in 27 at-bats against Stewart, all from his time with the Brewers in the AL.
Braggs took the first two pitches, first a ball and then a strike.
BRAGGS: I had faced Dave Stewart a lot when I was in the American League. I knew he was going to try and challenge me with something inside, and I was looking for it.
JERRY CRASNICK (Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Post, 1988-1993): He was the quintessential ‘you don’t want this guy to extend his hands,’ kind of guy. Pitchers wanted to stay on the inside part of the plate, tie him up.
JAMIE QUIRK (A’s catcher in Game 4): You always had to watch his backswing. He was long and lean and he swung hard. I was worried about getting too close to his follow-through and getting hit in the glove or the mask. That was the thing I remembered about Glenn Braggs, just give him a little more space, but it was never because I thought he’d break a bat over his back.
BRAGGS: I was already pretty amped up, because I had just been put into the game because of the injury to Eric. I was the first batter that inning and I have a ton of adrenaline going through my body. So my first swing, I probably tried to put a little extra on it than normal. If I would have made contact on that one on the sweet spot, when I just basically let it fly, it would have been gone. Probably would have been one of my farthest home runs. But the thing is, as a hitter — and most hitters would probably tell you this — when I overswung like that, I almost never made good contact. You’d either miss or foul it off. But when you have a fast, controlled swing, that’s when you’re going to do the most damage.
QUIRK: I still remember the sound of the bat hitting his back.
BRAGGS: The first thing that came to my mind was that I was really upset with myself for missing the pitch. That’s the first thing. When I missed, when I swung through it, you can see on the video I swung just under the ball a little bit and dipped my shoulder. The momentum that I had with my swing on my follow-through, then I’m kind of whipping it back toward the pitcher, that’s about the time when the bat snapped and it went from this top-heavy thing in my hand to just being nothing but a stub. At that point, I knew what had happened because I’d done it before.
QUIRK: Ted Hendry was the umpire. Teddy and I go way, way back for many, many years. We both said, ‘What just happened?’ And we look and see Glenn just casually pick it up and go get another bat. Like, no big deal. Of course, during the game I didn’t say anything to him, just watched him go back. But Ted and I did have a little conversation, like, ‘Have you ever seen that before?’ And we both agreed, no.
BRAGGS: Because I had done it before, I just picked up the bat and I tossed it back toward the dugout. There are a couple great pictures out there. One was painted by Chris Felix, an artist, and I’m just looking down at the stub of the bat. And the other one someone sent me recently. You can see the bat’s broken, but it’s flying through the air almost attached perfectly.
CHRIS FELIX (Cincinnati-based artist): I am a passionate baseball guy. I’ve played all my life and coached many years, which included winning a couple national championships. Watching Glenn on TV snap that bat over his back, even though he missed the ball, was a positive moment for the Reds and Cincinnati fans. The strength of Mr. Braggs doing that was jaw dropping! He stood there looking at the handle of the bat like he didn’t know what happened. I felt compelled to capture the moment on canvas and felt Glenn’s strength was a significant part of the overall greatness of the 1990 Cincinnati team.
QUIRK: It never entered my mind that it could happen. I never expected it.
PERLOZZO: I’ve seen him do it several times. I’ve also seen him break bats when he’d check his swing; he’d stop so fast that he’d break the barrel right off, in front of him. I’m in front of the third-base visitor’s dugout on those occasions, and I’ve been in the game for quite a while, so I know a lot of the players and coaches. They’d run down to the end of the dugout where I was and say, ‘Sam, did you see that?’ I’m trying to coach a game and they’re running down, saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ The whole bench would be just blistering me, and I’ve got to try not to laugh. I didn’t know those guys (on the A’s) very well, but I’m the closest guy, and I can hear a lot of stuff they were saying in the dugout, and I can see their reaction. And I’m thinking, ‘I’ve seen this before.’
TIM McCARVER (World Series broadcaster): Watching it, you just realize how much strength it takes to do that.
BRAGGS: The way Jack Buck and Tim McCarver were talking about me was kind of like they were setting it up. It sounded like a setup. Then I break the bat and they go nuts. It all tied in, so smooth. You have to give those guys credit. They foretold it.
CRASNICK: McCarver and Jack Buck were pretty funny, talking about it.
BRAGGS: Tim and I actually appeared in an episode of “Arliss,” the HBO show. That was pretty cool. I was playing a pitcher, and Tim was commenting on my “cheating” or I had found something on my pitch, so he was commenting on that to Arliss.
QUIRK: I’d seen (Jose) Canseco check-swing and snap his bat before. He used a real, real thin-handled bat. But I’ve never seen a follow-through break a bat on his back. It didn’t surprise me because of his strength and size and how violently he swung.
BRAGGS: I think the one I was using in the World Series, I believe that was a C-243. At that time, I was using a 34 1/2-inch, 32 1/2-ounce bat.
HAL MORRIS (Reds teammate): The thing about that is, there are some bats that have really, really thin handles and have the mass of the bat in the head of the bat. But Glenn swung a thicker-handled bat, that’s the thing about it. That was not a thin handle. When he did that, it was shocking. Trust me, it was not thin. That’s a thicker-handle bat.
PERLOZZO: The first one or two times I saw him do that, I’ve gotta tell you, it was pretty impressive. Of course, if you see him without a shirt it’s not so hard to believe.
A call to Louisville Slugger confirmed that the C-243 — which is still a current model — is a “standard” size handle thickness.
It definitely happened more than once
Braggs says he snapped the bat in a similar fashion with the Brewers a few times, and there’s video proof of at least one other occurrence. On July 13, 1991, the Reds hosted the Pirates at Riverfront Stadium, and Braggs was in the sixth spot in the Cincinnati lineup, between Chris Sabo and Paul O’Neill. Eric Davis led off the second with a single and stole second base, then Sabo struck out. John Smiley, the left-handed Pittsburgh starter, threw a first-pitch fastball to Braggs and the right-handed slugger took a mighty swing, but his bat was bit too low. The bat snapped again, but this time it snapped moments after hitting his back, as it bounced off Braggs’ back, so the barrel went flying toward the visitor’s dugout. Don Slaught, the Pirates’ catcher, and umpire Eric Gregg, both turned and watched it fly. Braggs would later single and drive home Davis.
BRAGGS: (laughing) It’s not something that I would go up to the plate and try to do. Let’s put that on the record. I wasn’t trying to do that, but occasionally it would do that on my follow-through.
DON SLAUGHT (Pirates catcher): There are four people who, when they would swing, you could just hear the bat go through the strike zone: Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis and Glenn Braggs. When you’re catching, you could just hear this audible swish of the bat. It’s just like, ‘Holy cow.’
BRAGGS: This one against John Smiley was just a regular-season game. Those games matter, but they’re not as big as one in the World Series. I was again frustrated that I missed the pitch.
SLAUGHT: Just think of the mobility you have to have in your shoulders to swing that hard and hit yourself in the back. I mean, how do you do that? Think of the momentum and the energy needed to swing through and hit yourself in the back, and to know it’s coming. Most people can’t do that unless they artificially do it with just their wrists. My company, On-Base University, looks at the mobility and the strength and power of hitters and pitchers, and to be able to do that? The bat’s got to be at least an inch thick, and hitting it against your body to break? If you look at Glenn … let me put it this way: I think there’s a million ways to swing, but I think there’s one efficient way everybody can swing, based on what his body can do. Glenn is one in a million.
BRAGGS: Eric has this look on his face like he couldn’t believe it.
SLAUGHT: (to SN) Did you ask him if he had a bruise on his back or anything?
BRAGGS: (laughing) Ha. No, I never did from that. But before I made some adjustments to my swing in the big leagues, the head of my bat would hit my left shoulder, so I would bruise myself from that and I had to make a change. Tony Muser was one of my hitting instructors, and Don Baylor was for a while, too. They were both trying to get me to adjust my swing, because I would cut my swing off and the bat head would hit me in the shoulder sometimes. I would come through and my arms would stay extended out in front, but when the bat came around it would slap me on the shoulder, so I would bruise myself. They got me to start following through all the way, and that’s when I started getting it all the way around to my back and whipping it back, and that’s when I would get the bat breaking.
One night in New York
Talk with anyone who spent time with Braggs on the baseball field or in the clubhouse, and you’re bound to get stories of his legendary strength and physique, stories still told with ample amounts of awe in their voice. One particular night in New York stands alone, though.
The Reds were in Queens for a special Sunday night game on ESPN, on Aug. 20, 1992. Both teams wore throwback uniform, in honor of the Mets’ 30th year as a big league franchise. The Reds went with the uniform they wore through most of the 1950s and ’60s, which featured a sleeveless top, with players typically wearing a red undershirt. Ted Kluszewski, a slugging star for the Reds in the 1950s, was famous for eschewing the undershirt part, leaving his biceps glowing in the sun. It was a perfect opportunity, his teammates thought, to showcase Braggs.
MORRIS: When Glenn took his shirt off and you saw his build, you’d actually stop and do a double-take. I don’t know what his body fat was at the time, but it’s not much higher right now, at the age we are now.
BRAGGS: When I played with the Reds, I was sub-10, and I’m pretty close to that right now.
MORRIS: He was shredded.
BRAGGS: I wasn’t going to do it, but the freaking guys were like, ‘You’ve gotta do it! You’ve gotta do it!’ So they cut my sleeves off. They made me go out there with my guns out. I didn’t want to do it, but they made me do it.
CRASNICK: With the Reds’ old-style uniforms with no sleeves, the Ted Kluszewski thing, Braggs was the talk of the clubhouse. His arms were so huge. Everybody in the clubhouse, those guys were in awe of him, too.
MORRIS: He’s unlike anyone I played with in my career. Our entire team was always in awe of his strength and his physical presence. To a man, we were all like, ‘Wow,’ on a daily basis. There were some big dudes on that team, but nothing like Glenn.
The Glenn Braggs gun show wasn’t the primary memory most Reds players left Shea Stadium with that night. Braggs had driven home all three of Cincinnati’s runs — a two-run double in the fourth and an RBI single in the sixth — and the Reds owned a 3-1 lead heading into the ninth, thanks to a dominating performance by starter Tim Belcher, who retired the final 23 batters he faced. But Rob Dibble alternated strikeouts and walks through the first four batters of the ninth inning, and then Bobby Bonilla sent everyone home with a three-run line-drive home run over Braggs’ head in right field.
BRAGGS: It was a freaking laser.
MORRIS: Guys can get a little animated in those situations.
BRAGGS: OK, so I’ve had a few moments in my career where I had a situation like that, where I was just so pissed off that I grabbed something and ripped it off.
MORRIS: As I recall, there was a sequence of events as we were walking back upstairs to our clubhouse at Shea. First, Lou Piniella rips the water fountain off the wall.
BRAGGS: Lou was, he was crazy. He did not like to lose.
MORRIS: Then we go upstairs and Rob throws a five-pound weight at this big Snapple cooler, right through the Snapple cooler. But the thing I remember about that particular day?
BRAGGS: Whenever we go back to the reunions, the guys always remind me of this.
MORRIS: As Glenn is walking into the clubhouse, they have the door to the clubhouse bolted into the concrete, and he rips it off its hinges. Just pulled it off.
BRAGGS: It was kinda like a one-two-three punch, with Lou and Rob and me. I came in and just ripped the door off, and I think everybody kind of stopped and paused and looked, like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I just went back to my locker and that was the end of it.
MORRIS: My jaw just dropped, like, ‘How did he do that?’
BRAGGS: I offered to pay for it, though. They didn’t accept, but I offered to pay for it.
So, yeah. The tales and legends of Glenn Braggs abound, and every single person you talk with will go out of their way to mention what a genuinely wonderful person he is, too. “He was a giant nice guy,” Perlozzo said. “I was amazed at him all the time. I loved when he did well.”
But every Braggs story comes back to that World Series moment. How could it not? So I asked everyone I spoke with this question: Have you ever seen anyone else break their bat on a swing-and-miss?
QUIRK: No, never. Never.
McCARVER: Never. Never seen that, before or since. It is crazy.
SLAUGHT: No, not missing the ball.
MORRIS: No way.
PERLOZZO: No. I always thought it was a major feat when guys broke it over their knees. But to check-swing it or break it on your back, that’s two different things.
CRASNICK: No. The only ones you remember were the ones who busted them over their knees, like Bo Jackson. But not that kind of thing. I don’t recall it. I did it for an awful long time, and I don’t remember a guy who could generate that kind of torque and bat speed.
BRAGGS: I have done the Bo Jackson-over-the-knee thing a few times from being upset. Never snapped it on top of my helmet like Bo Jackson did, though. That guy was superhuman.