THE STORY OF ‘THE BIG RED MACHINE’ – Part 1 – 1970-74 – The Development

THE STORY OF ‘THE BIG RED MACHINE’ – Part 1 – 1970-74 – The Development

In the city of Cincinnati on the morning of October 22, 1976, there was nothing but jubilation in the air. The night before, the city’s baseball team completed a sweep of the New York Yankees to give the club and the Queen City their second consecutive World Series championship. That team was almost dynastic in their success in the 1970s. From 1970 to 1976, the team had made it to four World Series (winning two) and lost in the National League Championship Series to the New York Mets in 1973.

The Cincinnati Reds were unofficially dubbed ‘The Big Red Machine’. And over that span of time, they were indeed a machine. How did they reach such a lofty height? Who were the people who lifted them? How did their story end?

Their lone season of mediocrity during that window had been 1971. They finished in a tie for fourth place in the NL West with a record of 79-83 with the Houston Astros. The Reds and Astros were looking up at the Braves, Dodgers and the first place San Francisco Giants. The Giants concluded their season a game ahead of Los Angeles, eight games above the Braves and eleven over Cincy and Houston.

That 1971 Reds’ team finished well back of the Giants, but they did contain a nucleus of players that would form the leadership group for the next five years of Cincinnati baseball. Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Davey Concepcion, Johnny Bench and George Foster were the offensive cogs in the Machine’s engine, while Gary Nolan and Don Gullett were the arms that remained on the ship that would sail through the National League for that five-year window that culminated with those back-to-back titles.

With Sparky Anderson as the Reds’ manager, the team lost the 1970 World Series to Brooks Robinson and the Baltimore Orioles, but they made a jump from fourth place in 1971 back to the top of the West Division table in 1972. In that year’s League Championship Series, the Reds’ opponents were the 1971 World Series winners, the Pittsburgh Pirates. That Bucs’ crew featured such players as Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, Steve Blass and Nelson Briles.

The best-of-five series went to the limit and the Reds went into the bottom of the ninth inning of the final game down by a score of 3-2. Dave Giusti was on the mound for Pittsburgh and the first batter he faced was the catcher, Johnny Bench. Bench deposited a Giusti pitch into the seats to tie the game at 3-3. Then Tony Perez singled to centre field to put the pressure on the Bucs’ reliever.

Following the game, Bench sat with reporters all around his locker and he told them what unfolded before he stepped into the box and hit that shot. “I saw Mom as I was walking from the dugout to the plate, and she just nodded to me as if to say, ‘You can do it’. Then she said, ‘Hit a homer’. I always mind my mother.”

Anderson sent George Foster out to run for the 30-year-old Perez. Next up for the Reds was Denis Menke. Menke singled to left, moving Foster to second. That was the end of the day for Giusti. Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh brought Bob Moose to try to get out of the inning and extend the game and the series. The first Cincinnati batter that Moose faced was Cesar Geronimo. He hit a fly ball to right that Clemente was able to flag down. The out moved Foster to third. 

The series-winning run was on third with one out. Moose induced Darrel Chaney to pop up to shortstop Gene Alley for the second out. The Reds’ pitcher spot was up next. Sparky Anderson sent Hal McRae to the plate to bat. Moose uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Foster to score and Cincinnati to win the game and the berth in the World Series.

But before the big show could start and after they had just defeated the Pirates, the Reds found some time to relax and celebrate a little. Tony Perez had absconded with some poor policeman’s hat, and he was pouring champagne on the heads of every teammate he could see. When asked which American League team he wanted to face in the Series, he loudly pronounced, “We don’t care who we play! We’re ready for anybody!”

Pete Rose was at his stall in the club house as his two-year-old son Petey sat on his shoulders. Rose was more serious than his first baseman teammate. “This year, we can go to the Series and play our kind of game. We have speed, power, and pitching. In 1970, we had problems. The power was there but our pitchers were lame. This team has the pitching and the defense to go with the power.”

The Reds would face Charlie Finley’s Oakland Athletics.

In the World Series, the Athletics took a stranglehold on the championship by winning the first two games of the series in Cincinnati with the series moving back to the Bay Area for Game Three. During the first two games in Oakland, fans in the left field bleachers greeted Pete Rose with a flurry of eggs and oranges. A sign at city hall in Oakland proclaimed, “Where’s Cincinnati?”

But, in the third contest, Reds’ starter Jack Billingham allowed only three A’s hits over eight innings and Tony Perez scored the game’s only run in the seventh inning as Cincinnati came away with a 1-0 win to get a heartbeat in the series.

The fourth game of the series was a tight pitching affair. A Gene Tenace solo shot off Don Gullett put Oakland ahead 1-0 in the fifth. But in the top of the eighth, Dave Concepcion singled off A’s starter, Ken Holtzman. A couple of outs later, Concepcion stood on third and Vida Blue was summoned to get his home side out of the inning. He promptly allowed Joe Morgan to reach base by way of a walk. That brought Bobby Tolan to the plate. He doubled down the right field line, scoring both Reds’ runners. That was how the inning ended.

Pedro Borbon got the Athletics in the bottom of the eighth, and Rollie Fingers managed to retire the Cincinnati hitters in the top of the ninth. Borbon came back out to face Oakland in their half of the ninth. The first man he saw was catcher Mike Hegan. Hegan hit a ground ball to third baseman Denis Menke. There was one out. Centre fielder George Hendrick was scheduled to bat next for the A’s. Dick Williams sent Gonzalo Marquez in to hit for Hendrick.

Marquez singled to centre field. Borbon’s day was over. Clay Carroll was coming in from the bullpen to try to nail this one down and get the Reds even in the series. Gene Tenace strode to the batters’ box. Tenace’s hot bat stayed that way as he singled and advanced Marquez to second. Oakland’s second baseman, Dick Green, was supposed to be the next man up, but Williams sent hard-hitting Don Mincher up in his place.

Mincher knocked a Carroll pitch into right-centre scoring Marquez and sending Tenace to third. It was Rollie Fingers’ turn to hit. Williams decided to send Angel Mangual in Fingers’ place. Mangual’s brother Pepe, and his cousin Coco Laboy, both spent some time up in Montreal in 1972. Anyway, Mangual singled to right scoring Tenace and ending the game, sending the Reds to the brink of elimination.

These games were great theatre, and it didn’t stop there. 

The fifth game of the series was in Oakland as well. The A’s had the opportunity to wrap everything up at home in front of their own fans. If they didn’t win in this game, they would have to do it in Ohio because Games Six and Seven were scheduled for Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.

In that fifth game, the Reds got on the board first with a run off of Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter. But the Athletics scored three in the second as Jim McGlothlin struggled. Cincinnati got to within a run with one in the top of the fourth, but Oakland added another run in the bottom of the inning to restore their two-run lead. The Reds got another run in the top of the fifth and by this point, both starters were gone, and this game was in the hands of the respective bullpens.

The score stayed at 4-3 for the home team through the sixth and seventh innings. In the top of the eighth, though, Joe Morgan led off the inning by earning a base on balls off Rollie Fingers. With Bobby Tolan up, he then stole second base. Tolan singled to bring Morgan home to tie the game at 4-4. Fingers then got the Reds out, but the damage was done.

In the bottom of the eighth, the A’s put a couple of runners on with two out but were unable to push a run across. Fingers was still on the mound for Oakland and the first Reds’ batter was Cesar Geronimo. He singled. Reds’ pitcher Ross Grimsley was the next hitter. Anderson wanted Grimsley to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, so he kept him in to bunt Geronimo over to second. The Reds’ pitcher was successful.

Dave Concepcion was up next. He hit a grounder to third that Sal Bando misplayed. Geronimo remained at second, but Concepcion was aboard at first. There was just one out. That brought Pete Rose up. Rose singled to centre. Geronimo scored, Concepcion rounded second and headed to third. The throw from Angel Mangual went to third. Concepcion slid in safely and Rose went to second on the throw. Joe Morgan then flew out to right and when Matty Alou caught the ball, Concepcion tagged up and tried to score, but Alou gunned the ball home and got Concepcion at the plate. 

That kept the A’s deficit at a single run.

Grimsley and Jack Billingham got through the bottom of the ninth unscathed and the Reds won the game 5-4. Oakland led the series 3-2 and the teams would now head to Riverfront Stadium for Game Six and, if it was necessary, a seventh game. It would eventually be necessary because the Reds hammered the Athletics 8-1 in the sixth game after a five-run outburst in the seventh blew it wide open.

It was now down to a single contest for all the marbles. 

The starting pitchers were Jack Billingham for the Reds and Blue Moon Odom for the A’s. In the top of the first, Oakland scored a run to grab the early lead. Cincinnati tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. In that Reds’ half of the fifth, Sparky Anderson pinch hit Hal McRae for Jack Billingham. That brought Pedro Borbon out to pitch to the Athletics in the top of the sixth. He struggled.

The first man Borbon faced, Bert Campaneris, singled to centre. Angel Mangual bunted, moving Campaneris up to second. Joe Rudi then grounded out to second, allowing Campy to move to third. That brought Gene Tenace to the plate. Tenace had held the scalding hot bat in this series and that continued here. He pounded the ball deep down the left field line for a double easily scoring the go-ahead run. Allan Lewis came in to run for Tenace. Sal Bando then doubled to the gap, and it was 3-1 for Oakland. Borbon was finished….and so were the Reds.

The final score was 3-2 for the visitors and the World Series was theirs.

When asked what he thought of the sentence, ‘Oakland A’s, World Champions’, Athletics manager Dick Williams said, “It has a nice ring to it! The trophy belongs right here! It’s a beautiful thing.” As he said that he was hugging the Series award that signified a ‘world championship’. Finley, in his deep green suit jacket pushed his way through the celebrating club house and made his way to where Williams was. In the process, champagne was flying everywhere. Finley kissed his manager on the cheek!

Thus endeth the 1972 season.

In 1973, the Reds were, once again, the best team in the National League West. Their opponents in the League Championship Series would be the New York Mets. It would be a best-of-five set with the first two games in Cincinnati and the remaining matches at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens, New York. In the first game, the pitchers would be Tom Seaver, whose 2.08 earned run average led the National League, for the Mets, and Jack Billingham, who won nineteen games and started more games than any other NL pitcher, for the Reds.

It would be the visitors who would get on the scoreboard first. In the second inning, Billingham got Mets’ catcher Jerry Grote to fly out to Cesar Geronimo in centre and then retired centre fielder Don Hahn on strikes. But he then walked the eighth-place hitter, shortstop Bud Harrelson. That brought Seaver up. The Mets hurler hammered a Billingham delivery into the gap in left-centre, scoring Harrelson. Wayne Garrett was the next hitter and he grounded out to Tony Perez at first to end the inning.

After this, both pitchers cruised through the game, inning after inning, with neither team able to get a runner past second base. But in the bottom of the eighth, things got dramatic. Billingham was scheduled to lead the inning off for Cincinnati. Sparky Anderson decided to send pinch hitter Hal King up in his place. Seaver got King to swing at strike three. It was Seaver’s twelfth strikeout of the game. 

Next up was the leadoff hitter, Pete Rose. Earlier in the game, Rose had a two ball, two strike count against Tom Terrific. Seaver fired a fastball that caught the outside corner. But the home plate umpire, Ed Sudol, called it a ball. He came back with the same pitch right after. Same corner. This time, Sudol called it a strike and Rose was out. 

In the eighth inning, Rose worked the count to two balls and two strikes once again. Would he expect the same pitch, the fastball on the outside part of the plate? Seaver figured that. He may have figured wrong. “I’m not a guess hitter,” Rose said after the game. “I just try to see the ball. There’s no set way you can pitch me. I mean, you can’t keep pitching me curve ball, curve ball, curve ball or fastball, fastball, fastball. I don’t mean to be cocky, but it’s true. The only way you can get me is throw a fastball up here, out of the strike zone. When I chase that, I’m not successful.”

Seaver didn’t throw a fastball on the outside corner. Nor did he throw one high and out of the zone. He did throw a fastball, but it was inside and thigh-high. Rose wasn’t leaning out over the plate. If he had been, he probably would have been out. But he stayed back on the pitch. He swung and got the barrel of his bat on the ball. It flew out toward right. It carried. Mets’ right fielder Rusty Staub chased it, but he was not going to catch this one. 

The ball landed beyond the right field wall and, just like that, the game was tied. Rose had hit just five home runs in 1973. But neither he, nor any of his teammates cared about statistics like that. They were back in a game that they figured they were out of. 

“The thing about me,” Rose told reporters after the game, “I CAN hit home runs. I’m big enough. I’m 200 pounds. I could probably hit 20, 25 a year if I batted that way. I hit the home run. It was like when Bench hit the home run last year (against Pittsburgh to win the NLCS in 1972).”

That Rose homer gave the Reds a huge lift. 

Tom Hall and Pedro Borbon blanked the Mets in the top of the ninth. That set the stage for the Reds in the bottom of the inning. Seaver was still on the hill for the Mets and the first batter he faced was Tony Perez. He hit a ground ball to Harrelson, who easily made the throw to John Milner at first to get the Reds’ first baseman. That brought Cincinnati’s all-star catcher, Johnny Bench, to the plate.

On deck was Ken Griffey. Griffey never got the opportunity to bat. On the second toss from Seaver, Bench got around on it. He drove it on a line to deep left. The only question was ‘Would it be deep enough?’ That was answered quickly. The ball cleared the fence. The game was over. The Reds had completed the comeback and defeated Tom Seaver and the Reds 2-1. They held a one-game lead in the LCS.

Rose and Bench felt that as the game went on, Seaver began to lose some of the zip that he had early in the game on his fastball. “Seaver lost a little bit in the late innings,” Bench told the assembled press. “He was throwing exceptional stuff early.” Rose was thrilled about the home run he hit in the eighth but explained how he saw Seaver’s day. “I saw most of Seaver’s early pitches, but there were a couple I only heard. I’ve got to call it the biggest homer of my career.”

Bench had three hits off the great Mets’ pitcher, including the home run in the ninth. That was a pleasant surprise to him. “Three hits off Seaver is like an entire season. For one game, that’s really too much to expect.” On his homer, Bench said, “I knew I hit it on a line, but I didn’t know if it was high enough. Just as I got to first base, I saw Seaver start to walk off the mound and then some Met player came whizzing by me and I realized it must have been out.”

Indeed, it was Johnny. You won Game One. Now prepare for the second game.

In Game Two, left-hander Jon Matlack went all the way for the Mets in a 5-0 win to even the series. After that one, the teams headed back to Shea Stadium and played the third game. The Mets took that one by a 9-2 score in the best-of-five series. But even though it was a romp for New York, it did have a few moments of, shall we say, excitement. 

In the fifth inning, with the Metropolitans leading 9-2, Pete Rose slid hard into Bud Harrelson to try to break up a double play. Within seconds of Harrelson’s throw to first, Rose and the Mets’ shortstop were on the ground exchanging punches. Third baseman Wayne Garrett tried to break them up and that was the signal for the dugouts and bullpens to empty. Eventually, Rose and Harrelson were separated, but then, Mets’ reliever Buzz Capra and Reds’ pitcher Pedro Borbon were going at it. The ill will would persist for the rest of the series.

In the bottom of the fifth, Rose, who was playing left field, called time to get away from a whisky bottle that was thrown at him by someone in the bleachers. That prompted Sparky Anderson to pull his team off the field. National League president Chub Feeney then implored Yogi Berra to talk to the fans in the left field stands. He, Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones, Willie Mays, and Tom Seaver went out and spoke to the patrons.

Yogi spoke to the press after the game. “Feeney suggested we go out and talk to them. We told them we would have to forfeit the game if they continued throwing things.” The fans apparently relented, and the Mets won the game. Emotions were still somewhat heated following the game. More importantly, the Reds were a loss away from elimination in the 1973 postseason. The fourth game was must-win for them.

In June of 1973, the Reds acquired pitcher Fred Norman in a trade from the San Diego Padres. He would bear the responsibility of keeping his team in this series. Trying to wrap it up for the Mets would be George Stone. Each pitcher notched a dozen victories for their respective teams over the season. This game would provide more drama as the innings unfolded. This drama, however, would be more baseball related.

First though, before the game, Mets’ chairman Donald Grant thought it might be a good idea if Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson shook hands behind home plate before the game as a sign to the fans of goodwill between the two men and the two teams. Harrelson had reluctantly agreed to the gesture, but Rose quietly, but firmly, said no. One would like to think that was that. 

According to esteemed baseball writer Milton Richman, who was covering this series for United Press International, Rose held no hard feelings toward Harrelson. Rose told Richman that at the conclusion of the series, Rose planned to approach Harrelson privately, whether that be under the stands between the clubhouses or wherever, and either congratulate the opposing shortstop or apologize for what happened in the third game regardless of which team emerged victorious. But there would be no handshake before the game.

Anyway, back to baseball.

Through the first two innings of Game Four, neither team was allowed a base runner. The Reds came up in the top of the third inning. Their 7-8-9 hitters strode to the plate. George Stone retired them all. Strikeout, a comebacker ground out and a strikeout. In the bottom of the inning, it was the Mets’ bottom third of the order that was coming up. Fred Norman had been good so far, but Stone had matched him pitch for pitch, batter for batter.

In this inning though, Norman seemed to have lost something. Maybe it was having to come to the plate to bat in the previous frame. But he walked centre fielder Don Hahn. Shortstop Bud Harrelson grounded out to Denis Menke at third, allowing Hahn to move to second. Then it was pitcher against pitcher, Norman pitching to Stone. Norman allowed Stone to reach on ball four. There were now runners on first and second.

Mets’ third baseman Wayne Garrett stepped in. He lofted a fly ball to Cesar Geronimo in centre. Geronimo caught the ball, but it was deep enough to move Hahn to third. Now Felix Millan, the New York second baseman stepped in against Norman. Millan singled to left and drove Hahn home with the game’s first run. Norman retired Rusty Staub to end the inning, but it was all uphill for the Reds from this point forward.

Stone got Rose, Morgan and Perez in the Reds’ fourth inning. Norman retired Cleon Jones, John Milner and Jerry Grote in order to keep the game at 1-0 in favour of the team from Flushing. In the Reds’ fifth, catcher Johnny Bench got the team’s first hit of the game by singling to left. But right fielder Andy Kosco grounded into a double play. Norman came out and got the Mets in order in their half of the fifth inning.

In the Reds’ sixth, Stone got them 1-2-3. But Larry Stahl had come in to pinch hit for Norman. That would, of course, end his day. He would be replaced by Don Gullett, who had pitched five innings in the second game of the series in a starting role. Gullett came in and threw some gas at the Mets and got Garrett, Millan and Staub all in order. After six innings, the Mets were holding on with their narrow 1-0 lead.

In the top of the seventh inning, Stone kept Joe Morgan in the infield, grounding out 3-1. That brought the veteran first baseman Tony Perez to the plate. He saw a Stone delivery that he liked, and he pounded it over the wall to tie the game at 1-1. Stone got Bench to pop up to Millan, but he then walked Kosco. That was all for Stone. Tug McGraw came in to replace him. He induced Menke to pop out to Millan to end the inning.

It was the Don Gullett and Tug McGraw show after the Perez homer. The two men traded zeroes as this game went into extra innings. Gullett lasted until the end of the ninth inning for Cincinnati. McGraw pitched until the end of the eleventh. Clay Carroll took over from Gullett and he was dealing donuts as well. After eleven innings, the score was still tied 1-1.

In the top of the twelfth, Carroll’s spot in the batting order was coming up to lead off the inning for the Reds. Ken Griffey batted in his place. He hit a fly ball to left that was caught by Cleon Jones. That brought the top of the order up, in Pete Rose. Rose, as he had the entire game, faced a cascade of boos (and other words) from the Mets’ faithful. An apple landed near him in the batters’ box. He swept it aside with his bat. He had hit the home run that tied Game One. Did he have any magic left in his bat against Mets’ reliever Harry Parker?

Evidently, he did. He crushed a Parker pitch into oblivion (which, by the way, is situated somewhere beyond the right field fence) to give his Reds a 2-1 lead. Joe Morgan and Tony Perez both popped out to end the inning. It was now up to Pedro Borbon to nail this game down for the visitors and try to send it to a fifth and deciding contest.

For the Mets in their half of the twelfth, it would be Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones and John Milner. Borbon got Staub to fly out to left. Jones then flew out to right. Milner pounded a ball into the infield soil that Morgan played and fired over to Perez. It wasn’t easy, but the Reds had survived to tie the series. Sparky Anderson told reporters after this one was over that he had never seen Rose as pumped up before a game as he was for this one. 

For his part, Rose was quite matter of fact when it was all over. “Nobody likes to be booed. It didn’t bother me because I know that there were a half-million people cheering for me 500 miles away.” During the game, Ken Rappoport of the Associated Press reported that the left field fans were still throwing things at Rose. Apples, eggs, tennis balls. 

In that twelfth inning, he had wanted to give back something to those fans. “I wasn’t thinking about a home run, I must confess. But I wanted to hit that ball all the way to the airport.” Then he expressed what everyone thought he must have been thinking. “Sure, I heard them booing at me every time I showed my face. They kept throwing things at me too. But that only makes me play harder.”

It was now down to a single contest for the right to go to the World Series. Who would come out victorious? The starting pitchers for this elimination game were the same men who started the first game of the series: Tom Seaver and Jack Billingham. Neither pitcher was particularly impressive early.

Seaver did get Pete Rose to ground out to Felix Millan for the first out. But then he walked Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen singled to move Morgan to third. A wild pitch allowed Driessen to get into scoring position at second. Seaver got Tony Perez on strikes bringing the great Johnny Bench to the plate with two men out. Seaver intentionally walked the Reds’ catcher to create a force play at every base. He then induced Ken Griffey to fly out to Don Hahn in centre for the final out of that long first inning.

The first Mets’ hitter to face Billingham was Wayne Garrett. He grounded out to Morgan at second. But then Felix Millan singled, as did Cleon Jones. There were runners on first and second for John Milner. Milner worked the Reds’ starter for a walk to load the bases with just one out. That brought the left fielder Ed Kranepool up. He singled Millan and Jones home and Milner was standing on second now. The Mets were leading 2-0 early. Jerry Grote struck out and Hahn grounded out to end the first inning, but the damage was done.

Neither team managed to get a runner or a run in the second. Seaver got Rose on a comebacker to lead off the third. Then Joe Morgan doubled to right. Cleon Jones then bobbled the ball allowing Morgan to reach third. He would then score on a Driessen sacrifice fly to make it a one-run game. It would stay that way for a while.

In the Reds’ half of the fifth, Pete Rose led things off with a double to left off Seaver. Morgan hit a groundball to Milner at first and that moved Rose over to third with just one out. Driessen hit a grounder to the right side, but Rose held at third. There were now two outs. Tony Perez came up next and he drove a base hit through the right side, scoring Rose to tie the game at 2-2. But the bottom of the inning would prove the end for Billingham and the Reds.

Wayne Garrett led the inning off with a double to right. Millan then squared to bunt. He laid it down successfully, but the Reds tried to get Garrett as he went to third. Garrett arrived safely and there were now Mets’ runners on the corners with no one out. Cleon Jones was the next batter, and he hammered a ball that landed in left and it went for a double. Garrett scored. Millan was standing at third. That was it for Billingham.

Don Gullett, who had pitched four innings in the fourth game of the series, was brought in to face Milner. He issued him a base on balls to load the bases. Sparky Anderson then called upon Clay Carroll to face the 42-year-old Willie Mays who was pinch hitting for left fielder Ed Kranepool. Mays reached on an infield hit. His nubber scored Millan. Jones moved to third and Milner advanced to second.

With nobody out yet, the Reds were playing their infield in and Mets’ catcher Jerry Grote hit a ground ball right at Morgan. He threw home to get the force on Jones. The Reds gambled by moving their infield back to get a double play and get out of the inning. Carroll got Hahn to hit a roller to Concepcion. He tossed over to Morgan at second for the force on Grote, but Hahn hustled down the line to beat Morgan’s throw and keep the inning alive. Milner scored and Mays moved up to third with Hahn standing on first.

Bud Harrelson was the next man up for New York. He singled to left. Mays scored the sixth Mets’ run of the game. Hahn was a little too adventurous on the basepaths. He tried to go from first to third, but he was gunned out by Pete Rose. That ended the fifth inning. It was now 6-2 in favour of the home team. There were still four innings left in the game but, for all intents and purposes, the game and the series were done. 

The Mets scored another run in the sixth to make it 7-2 and that was how the fifth game of the series ended. The victors went on to face Dick Williams’ Oakland Athletics in the World Series. The Mets took a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven set. But the A’s took both the sixth and seventh games to win their second consecutive baseball championship. 

In the following season, the Mets would slip back to fifth place in the National League East. They finished twenty games under .500 while the Reds won 98 games in 1974. The only problem for Cincinnati was that the Dodgers were four games better in winning the NL West with 102 victories. They displaced the Pittsburgh Pirates to represent the Senior Circuit in the ’74 World Series. Their opponents were the green and gold from Oakland. The A’s won their third straight title, this time, in five games.

This period of time – 1970 to 1974 – had been almost like an incubation period for the Reds. The development of the ‘Machine’ that Cincinnati would become. Yes, they had experienced some success over these five years, but they had never been able to achieve that ultimate goal. They had never won a World Series. They certainly had put a strong team together, but, as they looked ahead, it would be hard to envision just how good this team would become. In their case, the best was most certainly still to come. 

*     *     *

Howie’s new book MORE Crazy Days & Wild Nights, eleven new stories of outlandish and wild events that occurred in sports over the last fifty years, is available on Amazon. It’s the follow-up to his first book of 2023, Crazy Days & Wild Nights! If you love sports and sports history, you need these books!

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