Big Red Machine: In Retrospect

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The Big Red Machine put together one of the most dominant runs ever.
The Big Red Machine put together one of the most dominant runs ever.

The Big Red Machine, or the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, was an amazing collection of talent. On July 4th, 1969, Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer, coined the phrase, “The Big Red Machine.” Little did he know how prophetic his words would be.

Big Red Machine: The Manager

The manager of the Reds during the 70s was Sparky Anderson, who managed the club from 1970-1978. John McNamara managed the team in 1979. Anderson, however, will always be the manager associated with the Big Red Machine, as he is the winningest manager in Reds’ history.

Big Red Machine: The Legacy

The prime time for the Big Red Machine were the years from 1970-76. In that seven-year span, the Reds compiled a record that will stand up against anybody of that era. Sparky Anderson‘s teams were simply unbelievable over those seven years.

How good were the Cincinnati Reds from 1970-76? Here are some numbers that will surprise some, perhaps many fans. From 1970 through 1976, the Reds played at a staggering .607 clip. They averaged over 97 wins a season and that includes the 1971 season, where they went 79-83.

In that time, the Reds won five division titles, went to four World Series, winning two World Series. The championships were back-to-back in 1975 and 1976. Amazingly, they missed the playoffs in 1974, despite winning 98 games. The Dodgers won 102 games, and there were no wildcards.

Big Red Machine: The Lineup

The list of players that joined to form the Big Red Machine reads like a Who’s Who of baseball in the 1970s. The lineup featured three future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, not to mention Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader in baseball history.

The lineup also included “others” like George Foster, Davey Concepcion, Ken Griffey, and Cesar Geronimo. While none of these four are enshrined in Cooperstown, they were outstanding players in their own right and helped to make the Big Red Machine the powerhouse it was.

In 1975 and 76, here is what the “others” did. Foster hit .300 each season, and over the two seasons, combined for 52 home runs and 199 RBIs. Concepcion, batting eighth, hit .274, and .281. Griffey hit .305 and .336. Geronimo, batting ninth, hit .257, and .307.

In fact, the “others” were likely the best supporting cast ever seen. Concepcion went to nine All-Star Games and won six Gold Gloves. Griffey played in three All-Star Games. Foster went to five All-Star Games and won the NL MVP in 1977. Geronimo won four Gold Gloves.

Big Red Machine: The Pitchers

The Big Red Machine, while known for its outstanding lineup, had some decent pitching, as well. Jack Billingham, Don Gullett, Fred Norman, and Gary Nolan were reliable starters. The Reds also featured a steady relief corp of Rawly Eastwick, Pedro Borbon, Will McEnaney, and Clay Carroll.

In 1975 and 76, Sparky Anderson relied on both his starters and his relievers to win ballgames. Billingham, Norman, and Nolan were reliable to take the ball whenever called upon. Gullett, the most talented of the group, dealt with nagging injuries for most of his career.

The bullpen also was a major contributor to the success of the Big Red Machine. Eastwick was the main closer, while the others made a good number of appearances. In 1975, the bullpen was stellar, compiling a composite ERA of 2.68. They gave Anderson a wide variety of options in close games.

In 1975, the Reds’ staff combined for a 3.37 ERA, while in 1976, they posted a 3.51 ERA. Interestingly, their K/9 innings ratios were low at 4.1 and 4.8 respectively. Perhaps, this fact best sums up the Reds’ pitching. In 1976, they became the only team to ever have seven 10-game winners.

Big Red Machine: Team Effort

The world championships by the Cincinnati Reds of 1975 and 76 were truly a team effort. All three components of the game were managed well by Sparky Anderson. The fact that the team ERA was as low as it was, considering the low strikeout rate, is a testament to the Reds’ team defense. Bench, Morgan, Concepcion, and Geronimo each won Gold Gloves both seasons.

The offense was outstanding, as evidenced by these stats: in 1975, the Reds ranked 1st in runs, 2nd in hits, 3rd in home runs, 1st in steals, and 1st in OPS. In 1976, they ranked 1st in every category. This is a dominance that has rarely, if ever, been witnessed since the Yankees of the 1920s.

The pitchers demonstrated a true team effort in winning back-to-back championships. They did not have a single dominant pitcher, except a healthy Gullett. Yet, they worked together to form a very solid pitching staff. They complimented a lineup that was, for two years, comparable to the greatest lineups of all time.

Big Red Machine: A Historic Run

Even though the Reds only managed to win two championships in the 70s, they were, and are a historic team. They should be remembered as one of the greatest teams of the twentieth century. Their 1975 championship win is iconic, to this day, and they destroyed the Yankees in a four-game sweep in 1976.

It has been almost a half-century since Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose and company terrorized opponents. Yet, their accomplishments will continue to be recognized by true baseball fans everywhere. They deserve nothing less because they truly earned the title of The Big Red Machine.

Big Red Machine: Footnote

It must be noted here that, on October 11th, 2020, “Little Joe” Joe Morgan passed away at the age of 77. To many, he was the leader of the Big Red Machine, the driving force on the field. RIP Little Joe.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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