THE STORY OF ‘THE BIG RED MACHINE’ – Part 2 – 1975 – The ‘Machine’ Takes Shape

THE STORY OF ‘THE BIG RED MACHINE’ – Part 2 – 1975 – The ‘Machine’ Takes Shape 

When you look at the core of players that the Cincinnati Reds brought into the 1975 season, the one word that comes to mind in describing it is ‘consistent’. Going back to their 1970 World Series appearance, the Reds had Sparky Anderson as their manager. They had Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Davey Concepcion, Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, Pedro Borbon and Clay Carroll as regulars in the lineup. In 1971, they added George Foster and Darrel Chaney. In 1972, Joe Morgan, Bobby Tolan, Cesar Geronimo and Jack Billingham joined the team. The following season, Dan Driessen and Ken Griffey came on board. 

The team had been very good for a long time. From 1970-74, they had made the postseason three out of five seasons. And that was when making the playoffs was still a real accomplishment. In 1974, they won 98 games but had the misfortune of playing in the same division of the dreaded Dodgers. 1975 would be the year this group put everything together. And it would come to a climax in one of the greatest World Series of all time.

The Reds didn’t start 1975 terribly quickly though. It took them a bit of time to get themselves going. By the end of April, after playing 23 games, Cincinnati was 12-11, three games behind Los Angeles. Their last game of April was a 4-1 win over the San Francisco Giants. Joe Morgan was 3-for-5 in the game with a couple of stolen bases. But if you ask his pitcher, Jack Billingham, he appreciated something else that Morgan gave him.

“To me, Joe is the best all-around player in baseball. He can field, hit for average, hit for power and steal bases. We have the best infield in baseball. I’m a sinker ball pitcher, so I like batters to hit the ball on the ground with those guys behind me.” Morgan’s three hits raised his National League leading batting average to .405 and his stolen bases were his 14th and 15th of the still young season.

Manager Sparky Anderson was certainly glad to have Morgan in his lineup. “I won’t say Joe is the best in baseball – I don’t want to make enemies. But he sure belongs in the top five. He was the best offensive player in baseball in 1973 and 1974. Joe’s base stealing ability gives him a big edge over other guys. In the field, his arm is criticized. If he had a real good arm, he just might be the all-time great second baseman.”

A month later, on May 31, the Reds were in second place, a game-and-a-half behind the Dodgers with a record of 28-21. They went 16-10 in May and finished the month off with a 6-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. One of the reasons for Cincinnati’s success was the play of their 33-year-old first baseman, Tony Perez. He had collected 31 runs batted in and was among the league leaders in that category.

As May came to an end though, the world learned of another battle Perez was fighting. Perez had come from Ciego de Avila in Cuba as a 20-year-old to play baseball. His now-79-year-old father had never seen Tony play professionally. Back when Tony had to make a choice about staying in Cuba or leaving to play with the Reds’ minor league organization, his father was the one who encouraged his young son to leave Cuba to play in America. 

“Baseball has always been my life. I love the game. I played over here on 1961, 1962 and 1963. But with the situation between the two countries getting worse and worse, I wondered whether I should go back to the U.S. and the Reds’ minor league system. My mother was against me leaving. But my father knew how much baseball meant to me. He said, ‘You go. It is what you want.’ It was all I needed.”

“I was only 20, 21 then and it never occurred to me that I would go ten years without seeing my family again.” Perez had seen his parents just one time since he left in 1963. After the 1972 World Series, Tony got permission to return to Cuba for twenty days. At this point in 1975, his father was now sick and Perez wanted very badly for his father to be able to see him play with the Reds.

“It’s been very tough. My wife has never met my parents. And they (his parents) have never seen my three children.” When Tony was a teenager, he worked alongside his father at the Camaguey sugar factory. Jose Manuel Perez died in 1979. Tony’s wish of having his father see him play was never granted. Tony said that his parents used to listen intently to the Voice of America, which would update Cubans with information on ball players who had come from Cuba regularly.

In 2000, when he was selected to enter the Hall of Fame, he called his mother with the news. He was able to return to Cuba with his two sons, Victor and Eduardo, in 2002 and visit his mother. In 2000, his sisters had been able to acquire visas to leave Cuba and move to the United States. His mother passed away in 2008. 

*     *

As May flipped to June, the team began to take off.

In the month of June, the Reds won 21 of their 28 matches. As the month came to a close, they had moved into first place and led the rest of the West by seven games. In July, Cincy went 20-9 and led the division by 14 ½ games over the second place Dodgers. The month of August saw the Reds go 21-8. They extended their lead to 18 ½ games. 

As the month of August came to a close, Tony Perez found himself in the news once again. This time, it was because of his fine play, after he batted .400 in the month of August. He had started the season off slowly and broke his thumb in May. Despite those two negatives, he was still a consistent run producer. There were rumours prior to the 1975 campaign that the Reds were shopping Perez around in order to acquire a regular third baseman. 

But Perez was steadfast in his assertion that he didn’t want to play for another team. “I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. I love it here. I wouldn’t want to play on a team like Oakland where they don’t get along with each other. Normally, I start fast and finish slow. Right now, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.” The team had designated Sunday, September 7 as ‘Tony Perez Poster Day’ and a crowd of 50,000 was expected. That would push attendance at Riverfront Stadium to more than 2 million for the second straight season.

His teammates appreciated having ‘The Big Dog’ in the lineup everyday. Pete Rose said what everyone else on the team and in the city felt about Perez. “He’s the best RBI man in the National League. Anybody who hits behind Johnny Bench and gets 100 runs batted in every year has to be doing something.” Perez had knocked in 90 or more runs for nine consecutive years.

Bob Howsam was the owner of the Reds. He had admitted to putting Perez on the trade block over the winter of 1974-75. “The thing about Tony that impressed me most and that he showed me what I thought I already knew was when he came to training camp like he had never heard a word about the trade rumours. He had a tremendous spring, then got off to that bad start. Never once did he alibi. He just stayed in there and battled. That is Tony’s way.”

Tony Perez would finish 1975 with 20 home runs, 109 runs batted in, a batting average of ..282 and an on base plus slugging percentage of .816. Not too shabby.

At the end of the regular season, on September 28, Cincinnati sat at 108-54, a full twenty games above their rival Los Angeles. The last National League team to win by twenty games was the 1906 Chicago Cubs and they had recorded 116 victories that season. The Reds’ 108 wins were the third-highest total in NL history to that point. They clinched the West Division on September 7, which was the earliest that had ever been done.

Over the course of the last four months of the 1975 campaign, the Reds won 80 games and lost just 33! That’s a .708 winning percentage. That equates to a 115-win season over the course of 162 games. To say that they ‘put it all together’ would be an understatement. But they knew that this tremendous season would mean nothing if they didn’t defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series. 

Sparky Anderson knew though that this Reds team was special. “This is the best Reds team I’ve ever managed. It’s the best in every department – speed, defense, power, everything. We’re going to keep trying to win. Not at all costs, of course, but we need to keep good habits.” When asked about getting to the big enchilada, Anderson was cautious. “World Series? I’ll think about that if we get there.”

The Pirates won the National League East with 92 wins to finish 6 ½ games ahead of Philadelphia and 10.5 games over the Mets and Cardinals. Offensively, Pittsburgh hit more home runs than any other NL team. They were led by Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Richie Zisk who had totals of 22, 25 and 20 respectively. Parker was the only Pirate who topped the century mark in runs batted in, he totalled 101. Rennie Stennett led the team in hits with 176. Al Oliver had 39 doubles to lead the club.

On the mound, Jerry Reuss led all Pirate pitchers with 18 wins. His earned run average of 2.54 was nothing to shake a stick at either. Their team ERA of 3.01 was second-best in the National League. Dave Giusti was their closer. A 28-year-old Kent Tekulve had not yet found his place in the bullpen hierarchy. That would be a little up the road still.

The Reds didn’t really have a single bomber at the plate, but Johnny Bench did crank out 28 homers in 1975. George Foster hit 23 and Tony Perez had 20 for the Reds. Pete Rose was a machine as he always seemed to be. He had 210 base hits to lead the team. His 47 doubles were also tops for Cincinnati in 1975. Joe Morgan piled up 132 walks and had an on-base percentage of .466 and his .327 batting average led the team as well. He also stole 67 bases! When you add his walks to his hits, he reached base almost 300 times that season. It’s no wonder he earned Most Valuable Player honours in the National League.

The Reds had three 15-game winners on their pitching staff. Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham and Don Gullett each reached that mark. 24-year-old Rawly Eastwick was their closer. He and Will McEnaney combined for 37 saves. Pedro Borbon and Clay Carroll rounded out the bullpen. Cincinnati’s team ERA of 3.37 was third in the league. The Dodgers led the league in that department with a mark of 2.82.

Tom McEwen covered the NLCS for the Tampa Tribune. He chased down a man who had faced both teams enough to have an opinion on who might come out on top. The Dodgers’ Steve Garvey wasn’t really emphatic either way. “Cincinnati has the better overall defense. Pittsburgh has better starting pitchers. Offensively, at the plate, flip a coin.” Garvey was concerned about the fact that the Reds had clinched three weeks before the end of the season. Would they still have their competitive juices flowing? “It depends on the attitude of the Reds. If they are up and ready to play again.”

The series would be a best-of-five set with the first two games being played at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The remaining three games, if they were all necessary, would take place at Three Rivers in Pittsburgh. Oh, and what was Garvey’s final prediction? “Let me put it this way. I say the team that wins the first game will win the series. How’s that?” Uh……great, Steve. Thanks.

The starting pitchers for the first game of the series would be Don Gullett and Jerry Reuss. It was a Saturday afternoon. October 4. Over the previous five seasons, Gullett had played in eleven postseason matches with his Reds. He had never picked up a win. He started off Game One well though, getting Stennett, Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver in order to retire the Pirates in the first inning. 

Reuss issued only a walk to Morgan, who stole second while Bench was up. But around all that, Reuss was able to get Rose, Bench and Perez without giving up anything. In the second inning, the big guns were due up for the Pirates. Gullett got Stargell to ground out and he retired Zisk on strikes. Dave Parker was the third man at the plate for Pittsburgh. Gullett got too far in on the big man, and he hit him with the pitch. 

Richie Hebner was next to step in against the Reds’ lefthander. The man who dug graves in the offseason hammered a ball into the right-centre field gap for a double. That scored Parker with the game’s first run. Frank Taveras was the next batter and he singled to score Hebner. It was suddenly 2-0 for the visitors with the Pirates pitcher coming up. Reuss hit a ball to left field. George Foster was able to track it down to end the inning. 

The Reds were now looking uphill early.

Foster would lead things off for Cincinnati in the bottom of the second. He promptly delivered a single to left field. Concepcion was next up. Reuss fired a ball past his catcher, Sanguillen, that went to the backstop. Foster moved up ninety feet. Reuss issued a base on balls to the Reds’ shortstop. That brought Ken Griffey to the plate. Griffey walked back to his dugout after going down on strikes. Cesar Geronimo then lofted a fly ball to left that was caught by Zisk.

That brought Gullett up. The Reds’ pitcher calmly came through in the clutch with a single that scored Foster. That got Cincy on the board and into the game. Gullett had nine runs batted in, all season, for the Reds. The climb didn’t seem like it was so steep after this.

Buffeted by his RBI-single, Gullett came out and got the top of the Pirates’ order out without allowing them to get a ball out of the infield. Three consecutive ground balls to bring his teammates back to the plate. It would be Morgan, Bench and Perez for Cincinnati in the bottom of the third.

Morgan would work Reuss for a walk. With Bench up, Morgan went to work stealing second base and then stealing third. The Reds’ second baseman’s speed proved to be a distraction for Reuss. He allowed Bench to reach base on ball four. There were runners on the corners for the “Big Dog”, Tony Perez. Perez came through with a single that cashed Morgan in and moved Bench up to second. Reuss still had yet to retire a Reds’ hitter in the third.

Finally, Reuss induced George Foster to hit a fly ball that was caught by Parker. It wasn’t deep enough to allow Bench to move to third though. Concepcion then hit a Reuss pitch to right that forced Parker to move to catch it. That one allowed Bench to tag up and advance ninety feet. Again, there were Reds on the corners for Ken Griffey. 

Reuss had pitched enough against Cincinnati in 1975 that he had defeated them three times while losing once. By the time Griffey’s at-bat was done, Reuss’ day was over. Griffey blasted one of his pitches to the centre field wall for a double. Bench scored and Perez followed him home. As Griffey stood on second, manager Danny Murtaugh took the ball from Reuss and had called in Ken Brett. Brett got Geronimo to ground out to end the rally. 

Cincinnati had stared down an 0-2 deficit and was now leading 4-2 after three innings.

Neither team scored in the fourth despite each team getting a man on base. In the top of the fifth, Gullett pitched around a Frank Taveras walk and a Manny Sanguillen single to escape without allowing a Pittsburgh score. Bill Robinson had pinch hit for Brett. In the bottom of the fifth, Larry Demery would come in to pitch for the Pirates. The Reds would put this game away.

The first man to face Demery was Tony Perez. Demery walked him. George Foster then singled to move Perez to second. Concepcion then hit a soft single to load the bases. Ken Griffey was the next man up. The Pirates were situated at double play depth. Griffey hit a ground ball to Taveras. He tossed to Stennett to record the out at second but that was all they could get. Perez scored and Foster moved to third. 

Cesar Geronimo, the eighth-place hitter, came up next. He hit a ball to centre field. Al Oliver caught it, but it was deep enough to score Foster. It was now 6-2 for the home team. There were now two outs. Don Gullett was the next hitter. Demery tried to throw a curve ball past his opposing pitcher. It didn’t curve. Gullett got all of it. He watched the ball as it soared toward left field. As it flew over the wall, he jumped into the air.

“I got a little carried away, I guess. I hit a curve ball that hung up there in the strike zone. I hacked at it and knew I hit it good. When I saw it go out, I gave that little leap and George Scharger (the Reds’ first base coach) thought I sprained an ankle.” Gullett admitted afterward that hitting that home run was the“most exciting moment” of his career.

That home run made the score 8-2. The Pirates scored a run in the top of the ninth and the game ended 8-3 and the Reds got the very important first game of the series. Gullett went the whole way for the victory. 

Sparky Anderson couldn’t say enough about Gullett, the man, not just the pitcher. “He’s the greatest individual I have ever known. He taught me more about being a person than anyone. He hasn’t changed in the six years he has been in the big leagues. I just wish we could say that about others – myself included.” At a table, post-game, with Danny Murtaugh, Anderson wasn’t gloating even an iota. “All this means is we’re one game closer to three. Until you have three, you have nothing.”

Well, if Steve Garvey is to be believed, the Reds got a big leg up in this series by winning that first game.

In the second game, the men on the mound would be Fred Norman for Cincinnati and Jim Rooker for Pittsburgh. In the Pirates half of the first inning, Norman pitched around a pair of walks to Oliver and Stargell to retire the side without any damage. Rooker was not so lucky in the bottom of the frame. Rose got aboard on an infield single to lead things off.

Joe Morgan then popped up to Taveras and Johnny Bench was caught looking at a third strike. That brought Tony Perez to the plate. Perez hammered a Rooker pitch over the left field wall to give the Reds an early 2-0 lead. It was also a lead that would hold up as the winning run. The Reds would steal seven bases in the game on their way to a 6-1 victory and a stranglehold on the series as it went back to The Steel City for Game Three.

Perez would add another RBI in the seventh inning. Norman went six innings to earn the win. Rawly Eastwick pitched the last three innings for the save. Oh, and about those seven stolen bases, if you thought that Joe Morgan had the bulk of them, you would be wrong. He did have one, but Ken Griffey had three, Dave Concepcion had two and George Foster had the other one.

All that traffic on the bases was viewed in different ways in the two clubhouses. Over in the Pirates’ room, their catcher Manny Sanguillen was placing the blame on himself. But others from both clubs were saying that was just so much hogwash. Both the Bucs’ Murtaugh and the Reds’ Anderson suggested that what was happening was simply the way Cincinnati had played all season long.

“During the season, we were successful stealing at a percentage of .832, a major league record,” Anderson told reporters after Game Two. “I think that speaks for itself. It is no reflection on the Pirates. It reflects on the entire National League.”

Danny Murtaugh had a similar opinion. “They’ve played all year this way. In the past, we got some runs early and stopped all that. I think you have to praise their base-running, but also praise their pitching for keeping us away from the plate.” Willie Stargell tried to look at the bright side. “We have our work cut out for us. But if we are successful, we’ll have a lot to be proud of.”

The Pirates would have that opportunity as the series shifted to the confluence of the Ohio, the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers……the three rivers……that flow past the Stadium. If Pittsburgh fans were hoping to see a better performance from their Bucs in the third game of this series, well, they did. And it was almost good enough.

The starting pitchers for this one were 21-year-old John Candelaria for the Pirates and 27-year-old Gary Nolan for Cincinnati. The 1975 season was the third time Nolan had reached the 15-win plateau, but the first year since 1972. Nolan was an all-star that year and posted an earned run average of 1.99. In 1975, he was considered the ace of the staff. Candelaria was a rookie in 1975 and had a record of 8-6 with an ERA of 2.76 in 18 starts.

The first-year player looked down the barrel of the Reds’ order of Rose, Morgan and Bench right away and struck out the side in order. Nolan pitched around a single by Richie Hebner to keep the game scoreless after one inning. Candelaria struck out Tony Perez to start the second inning and Ken Griffey to end it. But with two out, he allowed Dave Concepcion to pound a pitch over the wall to give the Reds a 1-0 lead. After that second inning, it became a pitcher’s duel for a while.

Nolan got the Pirates in order in the bottom of the second. But then the two hurlers matched each other zero for zero, 1-2-3 inning for 1-2-3 inning right through the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the fifth, it appeared that the mighty Pittsburgh bats might come to life on Nolan. 

After a Dave Parker fly ball to George Foster in left for the first out, Richie Zisk managed a single that landed in front of Foster for their second base hit of the game. That brought Manny Sanguillen up. He singled to right and moved Zisk up ninety feet. But Nolan regrouped and he got pinch hitter Ed Kirkpatrick to pop up to Bench. He then got Candelaria on strikes. 

But Candelaria had been dealing before coming to bat in the fifth and he continued to pitch efficiently and effectively. He added a couple more strikeouts in the top of the sixth to get Geronimo, Nolan, and Rose three-up, three-down. In the bottom of the inning, his Pittsburgh mates’ bats finally gave him a little support.

Rennie Stennett was the first man up for the home side. Nolan got him to ground out to Concepcion. But then Hebner singled, and Al Oliver took the Reds’ pitcher over the wall to bring the Three Rivers crowd to its feet. The Pirates held a 2-1 advantage after six innings. And with the way Candelaria was pitching, the Pittsburgh faithful had some reason to feel a tiny bit confident.

The first Reds’ hitter the 21-year-old faced in the seventh was Joe Morgan. Morgan skied a ball down the right field line, but Stennett made a nice play in tracking the ball into foul territory and snagging it for the first out. Johnny Bench was next. He hit a sharp grounder to Craig Reynolds at short. Reynolds had replaced Frank Taveras after the fifth. He misplayed the ball and Bench was aboard. 

With Tony Perez up, Bench took off for second. Sanguillen’s throw went awry allowing the Reds’ catcher to advance to third. But then, Candelaria struck out Perez. With two out now and Bench on third base, George Foster walked. Concepcion hit a ground ball to Stennett at second. Stennett stepped on the bag to force Foster out to end the inning.

Nolan was replaced on the mound by Clay Carroll to pitch for Cincinnati in the bottom of the seventh, but the Pirates were unable to get anything off him despite Zisk drawing a lead off walk. Sanguillen, Reynolds and Candelaria were then retired by the Reds’ reliever.

In the eighth, Candelaria looked great to start it off. Ken Griffey and Cesar Geronimo both looked at a called strike three against the young Pirates’ pitcher. Carroll’s spot in the order was up next and Sparky Anderson sent Merv Rettenmund to the plate to bat for him. Four pitches later, Rettenmund was standing on first. The young pitcher was a little flummoxed by the at-bat.

“I just went wild,” he said after the game. “I can’t explain it. I tried to throw it easy on 3-0 and still couldn’t find the plate. Maybe my inexperience killed me. After I walked Rettenmund, I slowed up on my fastball. I just threw it down the middle.”

The man who batted after Rettenmund was Pete Rose. When Rose saw Candelaria’s pitch coming down the middle of the plate, he let the bat go. The ball soared and carried. “I wasn’t trying for a home run. When I start trying for home runs, I’ll be carrying a lunch-pail.” Rose indeed hit the ball out of the park for a homer. The lead was now back in the hands of the visitors and, after an ensuing double by Joe Morgan, the night was over for the young Candelaria.

Dave Giusti came in for the Bucs and got the Reds out to quell the rally. Left-hander Will McEnaney took over for Carroll and got Stennett, Hebner and Al Oliver to keep the score 3-2 going into the ninth. Giusti was just as effective. He got Perez, Foster and Concepcion to give his Pirates their last chance to stay in the game and the series.

McEnaney was back out on the hill for Cincinnati in the bottom of the ninth. He was scheduled to face Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Richie Zisk. Stargell singled. Danny Murtaugh sent in 21-year-old Willie Randolph to pinch run for the big first baseman. Parker had been hitless in his ten at-bats in the series, and he promptly struck out. Sparky Anderson then brought right-hander Rawly Eastwick in to nail this one down for the Reds.

The first batter Eastwick faced was Zisk. He singled and moved Randolph to second. There was still just one out. Manny Sanguillen strode to the plate. Eastwick managed to get the Pittsburgh catcher to pop the ball up to the left side. Rose got underneath it and caught it for the second out. The Pirates were down to possibly their last batter. Craig Reynolds was the next man scheduled to hit. But Murtaugh sent Bob Robertson up in his place. He walked. The bases were now full.

It was now time for Dave Giusti to bat. Murtaugh sent backup catcher Duffy Dyer in to bat for him. Dyer worked the count full. Eastwick couldn’t close the deal and walked Dyer, bringing home the tying run. The Pirates were still alive. But Stennett hit a fly ball that Geronimo put away in centre to end the inning and send it to extras.

As Pittsburgh ran back out to the field and took up their defensive positions, Robertson had taken Stargell’s place at first base, Randolph was now in at second base and Stennett had moved into the shortstop spot. Ramon Hernandez was now on the mound for the home team, and he would face Griffey, Geronimo, and Eastwick’s spot in the order. But Griffey singled. And as Geronimo stood in the box waiting for a pitch, Hernandez committed a balk and Griffey moved to second.

Geronimo hit a ground ball to Randolph at second and was retired, but Griffey was able to move over to third. In Eastwick’s place, Anderson sent Ed Armbrister to bat. Armbrister lofted a fly ball to centre. Al Oliver was able to track it down for the second out, but it was deep enough to score Griffey. Rose then followed with a single and when Joe Morgan then doubled to right-centre, he scored to pad the Reds’ lead. 

That was it for Hernandez. Murtaugh brought Kent Tekulve in to try to get out of this inning. Tekulve got Bench to fly out to left and the Pirates were again down to their last hope. Hebner, Oliver and Randolph were due up in the bottom of the tenth. Anderson was relying on Pedro Borbon to get the Reds into the World Series. 

Hebner struck out. Oliver and Randolph both hit ground balls to Morgan at second. Cincinnati was moving on. Pittsburgh was going home.

Coming into the series, so many onlookers, including the players on the Pirates, figured that no matter what happened, their offense could bail them out of any trouble. But, alas, that didn’t turn out to happen. “What did we score in the whole series? Seven runs,” Murtaugh told reporters when it was all over. “That’s one game for our team, not three.”

“We knew about their hitting and speed and defense. But we didn’t think their pitching would be strong enough to hold us. They just stopped our bats.” Indeed, the Pirates’ team batting average in the three games was .196. They managed just 20 hits 101 at-bats. The Reds’ hitters, on the other hand, were everything they needed them to be. As a team, they hit .284 over the three games.

Candelaria set a National League playoff record in striking out fourteen Reds’ hitters. Pete Rose gave him credit. “It was the best performance by a lefthander against us this year.” Sparky Anderson was full of praise in his comments on Pittsburgh’s rookie pitcher. “It was quite a performance by the young kid. It was a shame he didn’t win.”

Anderson discussed the Reds’ slim 1-0 lead and was concerned about his team’s ability to pull this game out. “I didn’t know if we could win the way Candelaria was pitching. I told Shep (his pitching coach Larry Shepherd) this was the best pitching performance against us this season.”

But it was Rose who ended his night with that home run. The young pitcher was pragmatic about how it all ended. “Give Rose some credit. The ball can be there nine times out of ten but that still doesn’t mean he has to take it out. A lot of times, you throw it down the middle and the guy will make an out. He just hit it.”

As far as the series and their season ending, Candelaria sounded kind of detached and lucid about it. “I gave them 100 percent and that’s all I can do. Everybody is disappointed that we lost but we’re proud of our year. We won when we weren’t supposed to.” Al Oliver was on the same page as his young pitcher. “They outplayed us and deserved to go to the World Series. I’m not disappointed because they outplayed us. They outhit us and outpitched us – except for Candy.”

Not every Pirate was all sweetness and light about how their season just ended. Richie Zisk was unhappy. “You bet I’m disappointed. I was optimistic that we were going to win. But we were beaten by a possibly better team. They played well all year and kept it up in the playoffs. They can beat you in so many ways. Make a mistake and they capitalize on it.”

Willie Stargell was the guy who seemed to put everything into perspective. “I’ll tell you one thing. I’ll take my chances with these 25 guys again next year.” It would take a few years though before Stargell, and his Pittsburgh team, would make it to the postseason again. In 1979, the ‘We Are Family’ Pirates won 98 games and finished two games ahead of the Montreal Expos. They swept the Reds to move on to the World Series against Baltimore. It took seven games for the Pirates to get past the Orioles and finally hold the trophy aloft.

In 1975, The Cincinnati Reds were playing in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The Reds last World Series victory had come in 1940. Their only other title to that point had come in 1919 against the Chicago White Sox. (Yes, THOSE White Sox….) As far as the Red Sox were concerned, they had not won a World Series since 1918. 

The face and the leader of those 1975 Boston Red Sox was Carl Yastrzemski. He had long been the guardian of the Green Monster for the BoSox. In 1967, he won the American League triple crown by leading the circuit in home runs, runs batted in and batting average. That was when the triple crown meant something and before the analyticists gained the influence they have today. He was 36 years old by the time they defeated the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS, and he spent most of his season playing first base.

But by the end of that championship series, Yaz was back out in left field again and his great play helped save the deciding game and help the Sox advance to the World Series against the Reds. He threw Reggie Jackson out when the A’s superstar tried to stretch a single into a double in that final game. He also fired a ball to third to nail Bert Campaneris as the Oakland shortstop tried to go from first to third on a hit in the second game. 

Tom Yawkey was still the owner of the Red Sox. He had purchased the team back in 1933. Yawkey had been a first-hand witness to so many great Boston players over the years. Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Dominic DiMaggio. Who did he think was the best of them all? He said it was Yaz. “Yes, I would say so. Certainly, he is.” 

Someone asked the venerable owner of the team if he was better than Williams. “I know he was such a great hitter, and Joe DiMaggio told me he was the greatest hitter he ever saw. And Ted could field better than a lot of people think. But Carl does more than the rest ever did. I’m sure of that.” There are doubtless plenty of people who might disagree with Mr. Yawkey on that point, but what mattered was that Yaz and the Red Sox were in a position to win the franchise’s first World Series in almost six decades.

He may have been the leader of the team, but a couple of super rookies carried Boston to success in 1975 as well. As the regular season came to an end, Left fielder Jim Rice was just 22 years old. Fred Lynn was 23. But a look at the statistics for the Red Sox that season shows that only these two men were able to each drive in 100 runs. With Rice’s 22 homers and Lynn’s 21, they were the only members of the team to mash twenty. And Lynn was the only Boston player to score 100 runs. He crossed the plate 103 times.

The Red Sox also had a healthy Carlton Fisk as their catcher. In June of 1974, the 26-year-old Fisk and Leron Lee of the Cleveland Indians collided at the plate. Fisk tore knee ligaments. At the time, he was told he would never play baseball again. He returned to the Red Sox a year later. He was able to play in 79 games in 1975. But the fact that he was playing again was a victory for him. He posted a .331 batting average and hit ten home runs over what was a little more than the second half of the season.

The Red Sox scored more runs than any other American League team in 1975 and that contributed to their winning 95 games in the regular season. But their team ERA of 3.98 was ninth in the league, indicating that they hit their way out of a lot of problems. Starting pitchers Rick Wise, Luis Tiant and Bill Lee won 19, 18, and 17 games respectively. But their earned run averages were 3.95, 4.02 and 3.95. Dick Drago was the team’s ‘closer’, but there were five relievers who notched saves in the bullpen.

The last time the Red Sox won the American League was 1967. Dick Williams was their manager. The only members of the 1975 Sox from that 1967 team were Yastrzemski and third baseman Rico Petrocelli. The two men would be in the projected starting lineup for Boston in the opening game of the series. Yastrzemski would start the series in left field. Jim Rice was nursing a sore shoulder. Cecil Cooper would start the series playing first base.

There seemed to be some consternation among beat writers about how the Reds would be able to play with or focus on the Green Monster, the massive wall in left field at Fenway Park. Pete Rose bristled at questions about it. “The wall? What wall? The Berlin Wall?” He came back by mentioning something the Red Sox hadn’t experienced before. “We haven’t seen their wall, and those guys haven’t seen something like Don Gullett in a long time.”

Tony Perez suggested that the secret to playing well in Boston was to ignore the Monster. “I talked to Lee May, a former Red now with the Baltimore Orioles and he said, ‘Don’t ever think about the wall.’ Otherwise, you end up hitting everything to shortstop.” Pete Rose kind of concurred with his all-star first baseman and teammate. “We can’t worry about that. Besides, we’re going to bunt and steal ‘em to death,” Rose told reporters sarcastically.

The starting pitchers for the opening game of the series would be Gullett for the Reds and Luis Tiant for Boston. Each of the starters had won their games in their respective league championship series. Sparky Anderson had perhaps attempted to plant some psychological seeds in opining to the press that Luis Tiant balked on every pitch. There was considerable sniping back and forth over that issue and Tiant eventually said that he didn’t care and that he wasn’t going to change his motion or his delivery.

The series would eventually begin on the afternoon of October 11 – a Saturday. 

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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