The Herald Bulletin

September 14, 2013

Jim Bailey: Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine made baseball history


The Herald Bulletin

---- — A week ago the eight position players from the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds reunited for the first time, celebrating Joe Morgan weekend.

Although time has done its thing as always in the ensuing four decades, the “Great Eight” appeared hale and hearty as they took the field in a televised ceremony following the Reds’ 3-2 victory over the Dodgers. It may even be remarkable that all eight starters from the 1975-76 two-time World Champions are all still alive in their 60s and 70s; only manager Sparky Anderson is gone from this realm.

The media labeled the Reds of that era as the Big Red Machine, making its way into the World Series four times during the 1970s. Ironically, the eight starters from the 1975-76 years played together as a unit only those two seasons.

The occasion was the Reds’ honoring of Morgan with a statue commemorating his Hall of Fame performance as a member of the Reds for eight prime-time years of his 22-year career.

It marked the first time all eight players have reunited officially. The occasion was obviously an emotional one for Pete Rose, the first time he has stepped onto a major-league diamond since being banned from baseball in 1989 for allegedly betting on the game, including games in which he was managing the Reds. Special permission was obtained from the commissioner’s office for the occasion.

Rose is the only one of the eight who has not been named to the Reds Hall of Fame, not to mention the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite his unmatched 4,256 career hits.

Morgan was the second baseman and Rose the third baseman in the 1975-76 seasons. Others included catcher Johnny bench, first-baseman Tony Perez, shortstop Dave Concepcion, left-fielder George Foster, center-fielder Cesar Geronimo and right-fielder Ken Griffey Sr. (Ken Jr., who surpassed his father’s stats, was still growing up in Cincinnati).

Notably absent were the pitchers from that era, including starters Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, Don Gullett and Freddie Norman and the incredible bullpen of Pedro Borbon, Clay Carroll, Will McEnaney and Rawly Eastwick. I had thought Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver was in that group, but my memory was faulty as he didn’t join the Reds until 1977.

As a young sportswriter I had the privilege of covering the Reds from time to time, including a couple of World Series games against the Boston Red Sox in 1975 and the New York Yankees in 1976. I recall seeing Rose barrel into catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star game at Riverfront Stadium, as well as the press conference when he tied the National League hitting-streak record of 44 in 1978.

Morgan now holds a position with the Reds front office. Interestingly, his name also is on an auto dealership about two miles from my daughter Rachel’s home in Monroe, Ohio.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.