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Our Rich History: The Big Red Machine and Cincinnati’s winning decade; remember ‘Great Eight’

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

When Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer coined the phrase; “The Big Red Machine” in his July 4, 1969 article, he would define a decade of Cincinnati baseball that is the stuff of legends. Baseball in Cincinnati during the seventies was a time of unbridled success and joy.

The Reds played in four World Series, winning two. They also won six National League Division Titles to go with their four National League Championships. Although the Cincinnati Reds won World Series Championships before and after this time in history, the Big Red Machine and especially the “Great Eight,” have transcended time and become Cincinnati royalty.

Thousands of Reds’ fans crowded Cincinnati’s Fountain Square to celebrate the 1975 World Series championship. (Courtesy of Paul A. Tenkotte.)

Sparky Anderson, the legendary coach of the Big Red Machine from its inception, had never managed in the big leagues until the Reds hired him for the 1970 season.

The perpetually white-haired skipper would go from “Sparky Who?” to Cooperstown by the end of his career. Anderson arguably invented modern pitching strategy by quickly going to the bullpen for a reliever at the first signs of trouble by the starting pitcher. Aside from revolutionizing pitcher use, it also gave him a nickname that stuck, “Captain Hook,” due to his quickness of changing pitchers.

Anderson would not be the only representative of this era of Reds to enter “The Hall.” No less than four members of the Big Red Machine would join him. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Tom Seaver all would become enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bench, Morgan, and Perez also made up the famous “Great Eight,” also consisting of outfielders Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, shortstop Dave Concepcion, and hit king third baseman Pete Rose. This group would be the core of the team throughout the seventies.

From its inception, the Big Red Machine wasted no time. The first season with Anderson as manager they posted 102 wins on their way to their first World Series of the decade. They would lose this series to the Baltimore Orioles in five games. It would be one of only four times in the 1970s that the Reds would finish out of first in the division, finishing fourth in 1971.

The year 1972 saw the Reds bounce back, winning the division and returning to the World Series to face the Oakland A’s. Again, the season would end in disappointment as Oakland would prevail in seven games. It wouldn’t be until 1975 that the Big Red Machine would return to the World Series. 1973 had them losing to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, and 1974 would see them finishing second in the division.

The back of the 1976 Straight-A student Reds’ tickets featured this tribute to the Big Red Machine. (Courtesy of Paul A. Tenkotte.)

But 1975 . . . it was one of the most memorable World Series in baseball history, with moments that are still talked about and replayed. Who can forget Carlton Fisk wishing his ball fair for a homerun to win the epic 12-inning game six? Although to many, especially in Boston, this is the defining image: Cincinnati fans remember a soft hit to the outfield. Joe Morgan’s “dying quail” scored Ken Griffey Sr. for the go-ahead run, and with Reds pitcher Will McEnaney retiring all three batters he faced, the game-winning RBI. The Big Red Machine had given Cincinnati a 108-win season and their first series championship since 1940.

The following year, 1976, the Reds came roaring back to defend their title, sweeping all National League challengers in the postseason. Their World Series would be more of the same as the Big Red Machine crushed the New York Yankees in a four-game sweep. Joe Morgan set the tone with a lead-off homerun in game one. It was all Cincinnati from then on. It was also a World Series of firsts. New York’s use of a designated hitter at Riverfront Stadium was a first in a National League park. It was also the first time a National League team had repeated as champs since 1922.

The years 1975 and 1976 would prove to be high water marks for the Big Red Machine. In 1977 the “Great Eight” would be broken up with Tony Perez being traded to the Montreal Expos. In 1978, the dismantling would continue. Sparky Anderson would be fired, and Pete Rose traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds would summon some of the remaining greatness in 1979 by getting to the National League Championship Series. The magic didn’t last, and the Pittsburgh Pirates would defeat the Reds in a 3-game sweep.

By the close of the decade, the Big Red Machine had many miles on it. Some of her main parts, Sparky Anderson, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, had been replaced. Time and trades took their toll on the rest of the Machine. Johnny Bench would retire after the 1983 season, and Joe Morgan the following year. With the hall of fame pieces all gone, the Big Red Machine ceased to be. After 953 wins, two World Series Championships, six division titles and four pennants, the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s are legendary.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

Johnny Bench, 1971. (Courtesy of Paul A. Tenkotte.)

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One Comment

  1. John C Carey says:

    Very good, with one glaring error: Pete Rose was NOT traded to the Philadelphia Phillies – He signed with Philly as a Free Agent for what was then the most lucrative contract – $3.2 million over 4 years. Rose left the Reds, and Sparky Anderson was fired – both occurred AFTER the 1978 season. Thanks!

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