Debuting with the Yankees when he was only 19 years old, Rijo was one of the most talented pitchers of the 1980s. Unfortunately he had a series of arm problems that landed him on the disabled list six times in that decade. Nevertheless, the righthander from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic eventually got squared away as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, enjoying five straight pain-free seasons from 1990 to 1994.
Rijo was the ace of the Reds in 1990 when that team spent the entire season in first place, won the pennant, and then stunned the favored Oakland A’s to win the World Series. Rijo was named MVP of the World Series, starting and winning Game One and Game Four, allowing only nine hits and one run in 15 1/3 innings, while striking out 14 Oakland batters.
In 1993 Rijo was in his tenth big league season but still only 28 years old. He led the NL with 227 strikeouts that season and for the sixth straight year he posted an ERA below 3.00. But two years later in a start in San Diego against the Padres in July, Rijo felt a twinge in his shoulder and left the game in the third inning. He underwent surgery later that year and had another surgery a year after that. After failing to come back from the injuries, he officially retired. In January of 2001 he received one vote on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. But by then he had already determined that he would try to make a comeback with the Reds. Still only 36 years old after five years out of the game, Rijo had magic left in his arm. He made an emotional return to the Reds in a game in Cincinnati onA ugust 17, 2001, tossing two shutout innings in relief. The next spring he was back with the Reds and on April 21, 2002, he made his first MLB start in seven years, beating the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The veteran won his next game at home against the Giants and stayed in the Reds rotation for more than a month.
Rijo was one of the best pitchers in September/October in baseball history. In 61 career regular season games (44 starts) in those months, Rijo was 24-12 with a 2.48 ERA.
Rijo was traded to Oakland by the Yankees after the 1984 season in the big deal that brought Rickey Henderson to New York. At that time, the 18-year old Rijo was being compared to Mets’ young phenom Dwight Gooden.