The Red Stockings brought back manager Gus Schmelz for a third season in 1889, as he led the team to two straight seasons of 80 or more victories. Cincinnati would have a new shortstop, signing local area player Ollie Beard to his first contract. Cincinnati also signed rookie Bug Holliday, who would play in the outfield. On the mound, another rookie, Jesse Duryea, would join the Red Stockings.
Bug Holliday had an excellent rookie season, hitting .321 with a league high nineteen home runs and a franchise record 104 RBI. George Tebeau hit .252 with seven homers and 70 RBI, while scoring a team high 110 runs. Hugh Nicol once again led Cincinnati in stolen bases, however, he failed to crack 100 for the first time since joining the team, as he stole 80 bases.
Jesse Duryea was the ace of the Red Stockings staff, going 32–19 with a 2.56 ERA in 53 games. Lee Viau had a 22–20 record with a 3.79 ERA, while Tony Mullane was 11–9 with a 2.99 ERA.
Cincinnati began the season badly, as they lost their first four games, and were 5–10 in their first fifteen games. The Red Stockings responded by going 16–6 in their next 22 games to climb into third place, however, the team lost their next seven games to fall under .500 once again and into sixth place. Cincinnati would never be a factor in the pennant race, finishing in fourth place with a 76–63 record, eighteen games behind the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.