Sabo came out of nowhere to win the Reds’ third base job when Buddy Bell began the 1988 season on the DL, endearing himself to the fans and manager Pete Rose with his hustling style. He received his nickname, Spuds, for always wearing protective goggles that made him look like a bull terrier. Sabo led NL third basemen in fielding and double plays his rookie year. On April 7, 1988, he tied the ML record with 11 assists at third base in a nine-inning game. He went on to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors and pinch run in the All-Star Game in his home park, stealing a base. He finished third in the NL in doubles (40) and tied for fourth in steals (46).
Sabo started slower in 1989, and went on the DL on June 25 with a hyperextended left knee suffered in a collision with Mike Scioscia, just as his bat was starting to heat up. He returned September 1, but pain in the knee forced him to undergo arthriscopic surgery on September 23. He rebounded strongly in 1990, making his second All-Star Team and hitting .563 in the World Series to help the Reds sweep the Oakland Athletics in four games. He followed that up with another All-Star appearance in 1991, hitting a career high .301.
Sabo battled injury in 1992, playing in only 96 games, and struggled at the plate, batting just .254. Sabo bounced back with a decent 1993 season, mashing 21 home runs, but signs of major slippage were evident. He struck out a career high 105 times, batted just .259, and perhaps most alarmingly, stole only six bases. Not surprisingly, 1993 was his last season as a regular player.