The Big Red Machine Revisited


The 1975 World Series was the first Fall Classic that I ever watched on TV, almost in it’s entirety.  The Cincinnati Reds played the Boston Red Sox in a series made famous by Carlton Fisk waving his fly ball to left field, fair, for a Game Six winning home run.  I didn’t get to watch that by the way.  The Reds went on to win Game Seven, to capture their first title in like forty years.

In 1976, for the first time, I finally did watch a World Series in it’s entirety.  On the heals of attending Game Five of the American League Championship Series, and being part of a lunatic celebration over the Yankees winning the pennant on Chris Chambliss’ home run, I then watched the Cincinnati Reds systematically destroy the pre Reggie Jackson New York Yankees in four straight games, to capture their second consecutive title.

The lone Yankee player to have a good series was Thurman Munson, who in fact, had a great series.  But Johnny Bench and the Big Red Machine were too much.  They pummelled the Bombers.  And I was cool with that.  I was already a Mets fan, and a National League loyalist by then.  Back then, League allegiances still mattered.  But for me personally, this is what happens when your Pop is a Yankees fan; you live it too.

Being a Mets fan, I knew I had an entirely different view of the Reds than Pop did.  His Yankees were A.L. Champs, and soon to be back-to-back World Series champs.  So the Reds didn’t matter much to him outside of that 1976 blow-out.  The Dodgers would help wipe out any memory of 1976 for him.

For me, the Reds remained business as usual.  My baptism into into baseball came at the height of the Big Red Machine; excuse me; the Mighty Big Red Machine.  By the time I became in control of my full baseball faculties, the Swingin’ A’s had been effectively broken up, opening up the door for Cincinnati.

Back then, there were twelve teams in the National League.  You played your division eighteen times, and the other division twelve times.  The Reds played in the West, but with twelve games, we still knew them well.

That Reds team had crafty, but questionable pitching.  Manager Sparky Anderson was doing the “Tony LaRussa” way before LaRussa did it himself.  But that line-up, I tell you now, is still the most fearsome line-up ever assembled in the National League, during my cognitive lifetime.

As I remember them:

3B – Pete Rose

2B-  Joe Morgan

C – Johnny Bench

LF- George Foster

1B – Tony Perez

RF – Ken Griffey

SS – Dave Concepcion

CF- Cesar Geronimo

During the mid-70’s, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench, were three of the best players I ever saw play – period!  Joe Morgan was winning back-to-back MVP’s as a second baseman.  Johnny Bench was already an MVP, not to mention one of the most imposing looking players you’d never want to get caught staring at.

For me, Pete Rose is the modern day version of the – Who was better, Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth? – debate.  Charlie Hustle only hit 160 home runs in his career.  Yet, he is truly one of the greatest players I ever saw take the field.  Since Charlie Hustle, the only other player I’ve seen affect a game to Pete Rose’s magnitude as a lead-off hitter was Ricky Henderson.  Pete Rose’s team mate, George Foster, hit fifty-two home runs in 1977, yet Pete Rose’s pedestrian .311 batting average that year cast shadows upon Foster through his sheer presence alone.

And then, as if Rose, Morgan, Bench, and Foster weren’t enough, Tony Perez batted next and delivered knock-out blows.  That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame.  The other guys would beat you senseless.  But Tony Perez knocked you out, flat.  He was the batter’s version of a Closer.  Rose and Morgan were players possessed.  Johnny Bench was a punisher.  But Tony Perez ended games.  Tony Perez was the wrecker of bullpens.

This was the team which dominated baseball during my initial era of being a young fan.  But even then, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman could take them, and even make that line-up look bad.  And like I said, the Reds starting pitching was suspect, but their bullpen was under-rated.  So the games at Shea Stadium between the two were always electric.

On June 16, 1977, the New York Mets traded “The Franchise” – George Thomas Seaver, to the Cincinnati Reds.  I was devastated.  The previous trades of Tug McGraw and Rusty Staub dug really deep.  But for me, my age of innocence ended with the Seaver trade.  Just before hitting my teens, I was forced to accept the Mets as I once knew them, the only way I knew them, was ending, and that life, sometimes, forces change upon you; and not always for the better.  And it absolutely killed me when Tom Seaver pitched in his first game back at Shea, and defeated Jerry Koosman.

When I was growing up, the Big Red Machine ruled.  And then the uprising in the Bronx began with the arrival of Reggie.  That was the climate.  But that was a long time ago.  Right?  Problem is, I never really got over it.  How badly did that trade affect me?  Back when the Mets initially offered, my wife purchased me a brick at Citi Field.  She asked what I would like for it to say.  Mind you, as a fully grown adult, I answered with little hesitation.  At first I spoke in jest.  But I ultimately made the decision to let my decision ride.  And now I believe, I might have the only brick with a negative inscription in the whole plaza.

My brick at Citi Field reads – “1977 Still Hurts!”   No lie.  It’s there on the third base side with my name on it.  Walk on it if you like.

Let’s Go Mets.

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