View Full Version : Nice piece by Erardi on Posnanski's book about the Big Red Machine

05-03-2009, 02:50 AM
'The machine' wasn't, until ...
New book documents Rose move that launched dynasty
By John Erardi jerardi@enquirer.com May 2, 2009

The cover of Joe Posnanski's upcoming book about the Big Red Machine makes it clear that Pete Rose is one of the stars of the narrative.

Despite all of Rose's warts - especially the gambling rap that got him banned from Baseball in 1989 (he's still on the outside looking in, 20 years later) - Rose was the captain, face and force of this famous team, and unquestionably its best storyteller.

"He was the driving force behind the book," Posnanski says. "An utterly unique player. That's gotten lost ... But I didn't want to do a book on Pete Rose, and so I didn't. I wanted to write a story about the greatest team ever."

So why another book on the Big Red Machine?

"In 1975, I was 8 and growing up in Cleveland," Posnanski explains. "I loved the time period and that team. And Pete's the biggest reason of all why I did the book."

The title of the book, published by William Morrow, is a mouthful, but promises a lot: "The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season and a Heart-stopping World Series - The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds."

Exactly 34 years ago today - May 3, 1975 - then-Reds manager Sparky Anderson moved Rose to third base from the outfield and, in effect, created the lineup that every baseball fan over 45 years old knows by heart.

"It was typical Sparky - not something spur of the moment, but something he'd thought about," Posnanski says. "He was just waiting for the right opportunity. He saw Pete with his glove in the infield and asked what he thought of the idea."

The myth is that Anderson did it to get George Foster's bat in the lineup (that is the way the move ultimately proved most helpful), but really it was to get Danny Driessen (who was stuck behind Tony Perez at first base) some at-bats, Posnanski says.

The other myth, Poz notes, is that the Reds immediately took off on a long winning streak. In reality, it wasn't until three weeks later that the team got hot, a date more connected to Joe Morgan refusing to sit out a game despite being spiked the day before and getting 14 stitches in his leg.

Posnanski: "They'd just lost six in a row, Sparky was freaking out, they'd had a team meeting a few days earlier and the whole thing was falling apart. Johnny Bench was in the trainer's room and saying he couldn't play because he had a fever. (In actuality, he'd been out the night before with second-year Reds announcer Marty Brennaman, Poznanski writes.) Morgan came into the clubhouse and said, 'Screw you guys. I'm playing.' And Sparky followed it up with, 'You're all playing! Let's go - we're going to follow the little man!' "

The Reds peeled off 40 wins in the next 50 games (.800) and went from 5 games behind the Dodgers to 12 in front. By the All-Star Game, the "race" was over.

Only a few weeks ago, author and numbers guru Bill James was on WLW-AM (700) "Sunday Morning Sports Talk" with host Ken Broo and declared that the 1923-28 New York Yankees (1927 was their greatest team) and the mid-1970s Reds were the two greatest teams of all time. James said the in-depth statistical analysis known as sabermetrics leaves no doubt.

For Posnanski, there is only one greatest team.

His book focuses on the 1975 season because of the drama involved. The Big Red Machine had just come off four of five exceptional regular seasons with no World Series championship to show for it.

"Coming into the '75 season, they weren't even picked to win it," Posnanski says. "There was this sense that the Big Red Machine was a bust. The Dodgers were the young, hot team."

The '74 Reds won 98 games and finished four games behind the Dodgers. In '73, the Reds won 99 games and lost to the 82-79 New York Mets in the playoffs. The '72 Reds lost a seven-game World Series to the Oakland A's; the 1970 Reds lost a five-game World Series to the Baltimore Orioles after the Reds' starting pitching had been depleted by injuries.

"And then the '75 team got off to this dreadful start, Sparky was panicking and he could see himself losing his job," Posnanski says. "It was a team on the brink."

Former pitcher Jack Billingham - he of the sharp, dry wit - would sit in a crowd listening to his old manager, Sparky Anderson, regale the audience with stories of the "Great Eight" position players. At the end of it, Billingham would deadpan: "And what's amazing, Sparky, is you could win all those games without a single pitcher on your team!"

But the deepest gold mine, says Posnanski, was Rose because of his near-total recall, natural gregariousness and full-bore immersion in the game.

Rose's nickname of "Charlie Hustle" means one thing to Reds fans who saw him play, and quite another to young fans who know firsthand only the stories about Rose the gambler and the web he wove with his many years of denial.

Posnanski went out to Las Vegas to visit Rose, where he was signing autographs, "because that is what you do - you put yourself in front of him. It's the only way you are going to get him."

Rose never tires of the questions, not when they're baseball-related. Rose can talk baseball until the cows come home - and he'll wake up with the roosters to talk it some more. One of the great losses to Baseball - the one with a capital "B" - is that Rose's banishment from the sport precludes him from being the modern-day Casey Stengel, walking embodiment of "The Game."

That is who Rose was destined to be until he undermined himself.

"I hope this book resurrects him a little bit," Posnanski says. "When I was talking to him, I hoped he would understand that the reason behind this book was (in part) to resurrect who he was and what he meant to people. That is a very real thing. I didn't want people to only remember what happened to him later in his career (with the gambling)."

The 1975 Big Red Machine wasn't a young team, Poz notes.

"Pete and Tony (Perez) were there first in the early to mid-'60s ... Bench came along in '67, '68 ... Morgan came over in '72 but had been playing since the mid-'60s ... Griffey was young ... George Foster was only (26 but had been traded to the Reds four years earlier) ... and (Davey) Concepcion and (Cesar) Geronimo had been around," Posnanski says.

Most of them had scaled the heights of many great regular seasons only to endure near-misses in the postseason.

"They went into '75 thinking, 'We have to win to show that this is who we are,' " Posnanski says. "And then, there they were, down 3-0 in the sixth inning of the seventh game of the '75 World Series. They were on the brink again."

Perez's two-run homer in the sixth inning to cut the run deficit to 3-2 is the most important hit in Reds history because of the circumstances, Posnanski says.

It can be a "razor-thin line" between a legacy of greatness and didn't-quite-do-it, Poz concludes.

So what are we left with, Joe?

Poz answered with an anecdote. At the funeral last year of Big Red Machine general manager Bob Howsam, Morgan told the story of witnessing Howsam crying after the Reds had won their second consecutive world title in 1976.

"I asked him why was he crying," Morgan said, "and he responded, 'Because we'll never ever again see a team like this.' "

There have been other very good teams - even teams that were more successful, such as the 1996-2000 New York Yankees, who won four world championships in five years - but none with nearly the star power of the Big Red Machine, which was also known for its good-natured verbal ripping of one another, and its pungent blend of three African-American stars, three Latin stars and three Caucasian stars, including the starting pitcher.

It was a melting-pot team, with skills that could melt the stove itself in any Hot Stove conversation.

"There's no way anybody could afford to keep talent like that together" in the free-agency era, Posnanski says.

"Not even the Yankees."


05-03-2009, 03:25 AM
My memories of the 75-76 Reds are that of an amazing team. It's probbly not appropriate to comment on an article like this, but I can remember (like most people) the successes rather than the failures. My recollection is of a team that didn't miss an opportuntiy. Those teams had it all--power, underrated pitching, and fielding, but not leaving runners on in scoring position was their forte.

I'm sure someone with the stats to prove I'm wrong will come along, but memory tells me that if a runner got to second, he was going to score, something we haven't seen these last 10 years. It will never happen again, and I wish I had paid more attention during those years when I was so young.

Johnny Footstool
05-03-2009, 03:44 AM
"pungent blend?"

05-03-2009, 06:38 AM
Robert Harris "Pub" Walker's book "Cincinnati and the Big Red Machine" is also a solid read.

05-03-2009, 08:59 AM
John Erardi and Greg Rhodes's "Big Red Dynasty" is an excellent book that gives the story of the builiding of the Big Red Machine on through its peak seasons and its dismantling.

05-03-2009, 09:54 AM
The greatness of the Reds hitters in 1975-76 has been somewhat understated because offenses in that era were actually scoring runs at somewhat less than the historical average of 716 runs per team. For example, the 1976 Reds scored 857 runs, leading the majors by a huge margin. The Phillies, with 770 runs, and the Pirates, with 708 runs, were the only other NL teams to score even 700 runs in 1976.
Had playing conditions in 1976 allowed offenses to score at the historical rate of 716 runs per team, the Reds would have scored 937 runs, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
This adjustment gives the following seasonal numbers to the 1976 "Great Eight":
Rose: .339 ave. 11 HR 69 RBI 142 runs .421 OBP .471 SLG 10 SB
Griffey: .359 7 81 121 .426 .483 38
Morgan: .354 31 121 123 .428 .636 70
Foster: .321 31 132 94 .379 .556 18
Perez: .271 20 100 84 .340 .469 11
Bench: .254 18 81 68 .372 .478 14
Concepcion: .290 9 75 80 .345 .410 22
Geronimo: .329 2 53 64 .406 .442 24

I haven't computed all of the numbers had the 1976 Reds played under the conditions of the 2000 Rockies, but some of those adjusted numbers are eye-popping. Rose would hit .391 and score 201 runs. Morgan would hit .411 with 39 HR, 171 RBI, a .542 OBP and a .738 SLG. Foster would hit .369 with 38 HR and 187 RBI. Griffey would bat .411 and score 171 runs.

Of course, with runs per team being somewhat depressed from the historical averages, this helped the stats of Reds pitchers, even if Jack Billingham would not like to hear that. ;)

Red in Chicago
05-03-2009, 10:03 AM
Thanks for the reminder on this book. WOY brought it up sometime last month. I'm going to pre-order this afternoon.

Roy Tucker
05-03-2009, 12:00 PM
I remember that early season of 1975 and things weren't going right. It may sound odd now, but the Reds had been a team of unfulfilled promise. Lots of close calls, but never winning the whole enchilada. Brooks Robinson, Gene Tenace, the Mets pitching, etc. all seemed to get in the way. There was a typical Cincinnati fan (including me) "here we go again" feeling.

Looked at Retrosheet for 1975. On May 20, the Reds were 20-20. By July 13, they were 61-29. Smokin'

That team also had a stretch of one month where they didn't make an error (according to Wikipedia).

05-03-2009, 12:05 PM
Poor John Vukovich. A decent career in the majors, but his subtraction led to one of the greatest teams ever.

05-03-2009, 12:53 PM
Robert Harris "Pub" Walker's book "Cincinnati and the Big Red Machine" is also a solid read.

That would be "Hub" not "Pub"

That book focuses on the city and the social aspects of the stadium being built, plus the team. Also written when "playing nice" in baseball books was preferred it's somewhat clinical and non revealing (especially when compared to the books written by some of the BRM members)

Tony Cloninger
05-03-2009, 12:53 PM
Looking back at it.....it ended so quickly.....I mean...you had 1970...then 1972-1976....then, without knowing it was over..it all of a sudden was.

What is sad for me is that i have more memories of 1977-78 then ...72-76 beacuse i turned 10 in 1977. They say you memory starts retaining more at about 9-12 then prior to that. Well i read that somewhere and for baseball and football it rings true.

How could it only last that short of a period of time? They undervalued that pitching staff. They thought they could do what the Reds did when Gullett was the pitching coach later on.....just piece it together and hope for the best beacuse the offense was going to outscore everyone.

The voiding of the Vida Blue deal cost the Reds in 1978....that i am most certain. If a saber type man was in charge during the off season of 1976.....they probably would have still traded Perez but they also would have thought about trading Cesar Geronimo too.

Those really bad drafts of 72-74....bit them hard. Too much reliance on tools and pitchers who threw hard and nothing else. Avoiding college players for the most part.

05-03-2009, 01:49 PM
"How could it only last that short of a period of time?"

Free agency and Dick Wagner come to mind.

Also, as pointed out in an earlier post, the BRM wasn't exactly youngsters when they finally put it all together. Sure, they lost the '70 and '72 WS and the playoff series to the Mets but their 'run' really was about 7-8 years which, actually is a pretty long time.

That's the way I remember it.


05-03-2009, 01:55 PM
Free agency and Dick Wagner come to mind.
And about 8 years of bad drafts and weak pitching prospects.

05-03-2009, 02:03 PM
And about 8 years of bad drafts and weak pitching prospects.

True. I'm not denying that. But, to me, the BRM was a certain group of players just as the '27 Yankees were a certain group of players. Once those players were replaced, irrespective of the replacement players' ability, it just wasn't the same team to me.

Maybe the OP that I quoted feels differently, maybe you feel differently but that's my individual perspective. Rose, Morgan and Perez went on to have some decent years with other teams and once they were gone, to me, the BRM had been locked into a time capsule.


05-03-2009, 02:10 PM
Six first-place finishes in 10 years, three second-place finishes and two world champions is an excellent decade. I remember when there were a lot of stories about "the end of the dynasties" and how we'd never see teams like that again.

Johnny Footstool
05-03-2009, 02:44 PM
The '78 and '79 Reds were no slouches, thanks mostly to Tom Seaver. They just weren't deep enough in terms of pitching, and they were overshadowed by two excellent teams in the '78 Dodgers and the '79 Pirates.

Tony Cloninger
05-03-2009, 03:11 PM
They also..in 1978...blew it when the Dodgers picked up Joe Ferguson to backup Yeager at C.

The Reds could have had him first on waivers but botched it...and they needed someone real badly to backup Bench. Correll and Werner combined where like pitchers hitting...I mean they were terrible.

Ken Henderson was worse than Reggie Taylor hitting.....they must have thought he was the 1970-74 version when they got him.

Their lack of bench strength was also a big key....mainly in 1978.