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100 Things Reds Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Joel Luckhaupt
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Joel Luckhaupt
All rights reserved.
The Big Red Machine
The Big Red Machine wasn't baseball's first dynasty, and it wasn't its last, either. However, it was the last great dynasty before free agency, an innovation that made dynasty-building both a baseball and business proposition. The team was also a collection of baseball archetypes. If you are a fan of the game, there is someone on this team to whom you likely feel connected. There was the hard-nosed hustler, the phenom, Mr. Clutch, Mr. Everything, the speedster, the masher, and the defensive wizards. And all of them were the best at who they were. There wasn't much that this team didn't have.
Ultimately, though, it was the sheer dominance of the Big Red Machine that will keep them in baseball's consciousness for years to come. From 1970–76, they scored 199 more runs than any other team in baseball and they scored nearly 1,000 more runs than they allowed, outscoring their opponents by 0.88 R/G over those seven years. Their .607 winning percentage during that seven-year span is the highest of any team in Reds history, and through 2012, no other Reds team had matched that number in a single full 162-game season.
The Big Red Machine was built through the combination of a fruitful farm system and a collection of shrewd trades. The first half of that formula was started by Owner/GM Bill DeWitt Sr., who was in charge when the team signed Pete Rose and Tony Perez and drafted Johnny Bench and Gary Nolan. DeWitt also signed Lee May, who would be the key piece in the Joe Morgan trade.
When Bob Howsam took over for DeWitt in 1967, he set about putting his stamp on the team, signing amateur free agents Dave Concepcion and Dan Driessen and drafting Don Gullett, Ken Griffey, Rawly Eastwick, and Will McEnaney. He also made three key trades that would put the finishing touches on the world championship teams of 1975–76. First he traded for George Foster from the San Francisco Giants. Next he got Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, and Cesar Geronimo from the Houston Astros for May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart. Finally, he added Fred Norman in a 1973 trade, solidifying the rotation. He also made the ingenious move of hiring an unknown named Sparky Anderson to manage the squad before the 1970 season — a decision that worked perfectly for this team.
Even with all of the glory that the Big Red Machine receives today, they came dangerously close to being known as a good team that could never get over the top. In 1970 they won a franchise record 102 games, lapping the NL West by 141/2 games. However, they barely made a whimper in the World Series as the Orioles won easily in five games. Two years later it was another double-digit division title, but the Oakland A's staved off an eighth-inning rally in Game 7 to beat the Reds 4–3 in the World Series. In 1973, they won 99 games but lost in the NLCS to a much weaker New York Mets team. A year later they won 98 games but couldn't topple the division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers and failed to make the playoffs.
It was May 1975 when the Big Red Machine truly turned into one of the greatest teams of all time. It was at that point when Sparky Anderson made the decision to move All-Star left fielder Pete Rose to third base so that he could get George Foster into the lineup more regularly, and at that moment the Great Eight was born. From May 21 until the All-Star break, the Reds won 41-of-50 games and turned a five-game deficit into a 121/2-game lead. By the end of the year they tallied 108 victories — it was the highest total in the National League in 66 seasons.
The Reds swept through the Pittsburgh Pirates in three games, but they met their match in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The two teams battled in a fierce seven-game competition that is considered by many to be the greatest World Series of all time. After five innings of Game 7, it once again looked as if the Reds might choke away a chance at a championship, but a sixth-inning two-run home run by Mr. Clutch, Tony Perez, put the Reds on the board, and a run-scoring single in the seventh from Rose tied it up. In the ninth inning, NL MVP Joe Morgan singled home Ken Griffey to give the Reds their first lead of the game. A 1-2-3 ninth inning by Will McEnaney brought home the victory and Cincinnati's first title in 35 years.
With the monkey of missed expectations off their back, the Big Red Machine repeated as champions in 1976, once again winning the NL West by double-digits and sweeping through the NLCS. The World Series versus the New York Yankees was also a sweep as the Reds became the first team in the divisional era to win all seven games of a postseason. At this point there was no question that the Big Red Machine was among the greatest teams that the game had ever seen.
The second championship also marked the beginning of the end for the Big Red Machine. Free agency was here, and the price of doing business was starting to rise. The Reds, fearing that they couldn't afford all of their stars, dealt away Will McEnaney and Tony Perez to the Montreal Expos. The team still remained competitive though, and even traded for superstar Tom Seaver during the 1977 season. Back-to-back second-place finishes in 1977–78 preceded the firing of Sparky Anderson and Pete Rose's departure via free agency. A year later it was Joe Morgan who left, and despite a division title in 1979, it was clear that the Big Red Machine was no more. Just three years later the franchise would be a shell of its former self.
All in all, it's hard to imagine what else the Big Red Machine could have accomplished during the 1970s. Sure, they could have won a couple more championships, but it is in falling short that we learn to appreciate when we ultimately reach our goal. And six division titles during a decade when the Dodgers were very competitive every year is nothing to shake your head about. Add in six league MVPs for a roster that had five legitimate Hall of Fame candidates, and you understand that a team like the Big Red Machine may never be seen again.
The Great Eight
When you ask a Reds fan to name the players on the Big Red Machine, more often than not the first eight names you hear will be Pete Rose, Ken Griffey, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, and Cesar Geronimo. Known collectively as the Great Eight — they were so good that just being called the Big Red Machine wasn't enough — these eight men were nearly unbeatable when they were on the field together.
Of course, manager Sparky Anderson thought highly of them. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the starting eight of the Big Red Machine is the greatest of all time," he said. "But if somebody else has a better one, I want to sit and watch it. If they're better than the starting eight in 1976, oh my goodness."
The funny thing is that these eight men only started a game together 80 times in all the years of the Big Red Machine. They first took the field together on May 9, 1975, shortly after Rose moved from left field to third base, but Anderson didn't stick strictly with that lineup. He regularly mixed in Dan Driessen and Merv Rettenmund in the outfield and Bill Plummer at catcher. By the end of the season, the Great Eight had started only 21 games. But they were the only starters used throughout the playoffs as the Reds took home their first title in 35 years.
In 1976, Anderson used the Great Eight more regularly, but they only saw 42 games as a unit in the regular season. However, with Driessen as the designated hitter they once again were the only starters throughout the playoffs as the team swept the NLCS and World Series.
Overall, the group had an incredible 64–16 record when they started together, outscoring their opponents 489–312 in those games. That .800 winning percentage translated to nearly 130 wins during a 162-game season.CHAPTER 2
During World War II, the draft and war efforts drained Major League Baseball of many of its great stars. Teams often scrambled to fill rosters, leaving no stone unturned while trying to draw fans to the park. Sometimes that meant doing something dramatic like signing a 15-year-old left-handed pitcher and sticking him on the mound. By his own account, Joe Nuxhall was not ready to pitch in the big leagues as a teenager — but in 1944, he gave it a try anyway. "I was pitching against seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old," Nuxhall recalled. "All of a sudden, I look up and there's Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation."
Nuxhall pitched one game that year, getting two outs while walking five batters and surrendering five runs. The one outing put him in the record books as the youngest player ever to appear in a big-league game. It also kicked off a career in baseball that lasted more than 60 years, almost all of those years with the Reds organization. Nuxhall spent 16 seasons in the big leagues, mostly as a slightly above-average pitcher. He was battler, though — someone Pete Rose called the "most competitive SOB" he ever played with. That fighting spirit carried Nuxhall to a career-high 17 wins and a league-leading five shutouts in 1955. It also got him selected for the NL All-Star team in 1955 and 1956.
Nuxhall's career with the Reds spanned three decades, and he went 130–109 with a 3.80 ERA for his hometown team. He pitched in Cincinnati in all but one of his seasons in the majors, and sadly for Nuxy, that one season he missed was 1961, the only year the Reds won the NL pennant during his career. Nuxhall retired in 1966, and two years later he was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame. Yet that was hardly the end of the line for Hamilton Joe.
The year before Nuxhall was put in the Reds' Hall, he took a seat in the Reds' radio booth, and he passionately held on to that seat for the next 37 years. Seven years into his tenure in the booth, he was joined by the man he called "Little Buddy," Marty Brennaman. Marty and Joe became staples on Reds radio for three decades, with Nuxhall's folksy charm and unabashed fandom balancing Brennaman's straight-shooting, no-nonsense style. Fans adored Nuxhall's quirky approach to play-by-play, often letting the crowd tell the story. And many of the greatest calls during the Reds' golden era are punctuated by the sound of Nuxhall cheering passionately in the background.
When it comes to Joe Nuxhall the man, there is simply no way to describe him that does not sell him short in some fashion. He spoke to everyone as if he cared deeply because somehow, he did. A man with a heart as big as the city, Nuxhall treated everyone he met with respect and dignity. After Nuxhall's death in 2007, Dave Armbruster, the long-time engineer for Reds radio broadcasts, summed up Nuxy well when he said, "He's like the best uncle you ever had. I thought of him like that. I thought of him as almost a father figure later. He was the cool uncle who would talk to you the way most grownups wouldn't talk to you."
Many Reds fans felt as though they had lost a family member when Nuxhall passed away, even if they had never met the man. He was the patron saint of the Cincinnati Reds, the man who expressed what most fans were feeling. Nuxhall was their joy when things went well, and he was their agony in times of heartbreak. Nobody loved the Reds more than Nuxhall, and his genuine affection came through in every broadcast.
Nuxhall's legacy lives on still today through his sons, Phil and Kim, and through the multiple charitable organizations that carry his name. For Nuxy, it was always about others first, so it's fitting that his name lives on to serve handicapped children with the Joe Nuxhall Miracle Fields, to build leaders through the Joe Nuxhall Character Education Fund, and to provide scholarships through the Joe Nuxhall Open charity golf outing.
A good ballplayer, a beloved broadcaster, and an outstanding humanitarian there will never be another Joe Nuxhall.CHAPTER 3
If you've never been to the first baseball game of the year in Cincinnati, then you've never truly been to Opening Day. In Cincinnati, Opening Day is spelled with a capital "O" and a capital "D" because it truly is a holiday celebration in the Queen City. For years businesses have closed and schools have looked the other way if a child with a ticket happens to be absent that day. The game regularly sells out months in advance, and while fans of most teams check out where they will open the season when the schedule comes out, Reds fans simply need to check the team they open against. They already know the game will be at home.
Many believe that Cincinnati's standing as the home of the first professional franchise has earned it the honor of being the home for the Reds' opening game every season. There is little historical evidence to defend that belief. It is most likely that the Reds opened at home every year because at one time they were the southernmost city in the league, a theory promoted by John Snyder, author of Redleg Journal. The southern location improved the chances of warmer weather, and in the early twentieth century, the Reds opened nearly every season versus their more northerly neighbors from Pittsburgh or Chicago.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century, business manager Frank Bancroft used some opportunistic marketing and a fortunate string of good weather to transform Opening Day into a citywide event and a huge money maker. So when schedule makers threatened to move the Reds on the road for their opening game in 1935, the team argued that the move would be costly for the franchise given the long tradition that had already been established. The league relented, and the tradition has protected the home opener from the schedule makers ever since.
The Reds were right to defend their home opener. Time has shown that, in the few cases where circumstances required the Reds to open on the road, the luster of Opening Day was lost and the event was much less of a draw for fans. The only two times since the mid-1980s that the Reds have not sold out Opening Day were 1990, when a labor dispute forced the team to open on the road, and 1995, when the 1994 strike delayed the start of the season and left a bitter taste in fans' mouths.
One of the big highlights of Opening Day is the Findlay Market Parade, which winds its way through downtown Cincinnati during the morning before the game. At the turn of the twentieth century, parades of players used to be a standard for opening games around the league, but that tradition was short-lived. In Cincinnati, the player parade was replaced by "rooter parades" where groups of fans dressed in costumes and riding in decorated vehicles paraded through downtown. These rooter parades eventually evolved into the Findlay Market Parade, which dates its initial run back to Opening Day 1920. For many years, the parade finished its route on the field, both at Crosley Field and at Riverfront Stadium, but that tradition was stopped in the early 2000s when the Reds changed the playing surface to grass at Riverfront/Cinergy Field. Many traditionalists feel that the spirit of the parade has been lost because of that move, essentially making the game and the parade two parallel but unconnected events.
It's hard to say that the change has dampened the energy of either event as crowds swarm to downtown every Opening Day to be part of the annual celebration. The team still rolls out the red carpet for the event, too, bringing in local and national VIPs to help celebrate the day. In recent years, the Reds have expanded the celebration to Opening Night, bringing special attention to the first night game each year (usually the second game of the season). The success of Opening Night just goes to show how high enthusiasm is for baseball once the season starts, and also how much Cincinnatians love a good party.
Excerpted from 100 Things Reds Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Joel Luckhaupt. Copyright © 2013 Joel Luckhaupt. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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