Monday, July 11, 2022

Are We The Big Red Machine of the 21st Century?


Riffing off some stats the invaluable ZacharyA provided today, it occurs to me that your 2022 New York Yankees just might be The Big Red Machine of the 21st century—particularly the original, 1970 version of that Cincinnati juggernaut.

That's not as good as it sounds.

To be sure, the Reds from 1970-1979 won 6 division championships, 4 pennants, and 2 World Series titles. (Another potential pennant was lost to the 1981 strike, a year in which Cincinnati ended up with the best overall record in the NL but did not even get the chance to play in October. Don't ask.)

To be sure, the Redlegs in this period had a manager, front office, and day-to-day starters who were usually light years ahead of the Bonnie Lads of the Bronx. And that's no knock on our boys.  

Combining hitting, power-hitting, speed, and glove work, the Reds' starters—particularly around their peak in 1975-76—maybe well have boasted the greatest all-around, day-to-day lineup, EVER. 

Of today's starting Yankees, it's possible to conceive only of Aaron Judge starting for that club, which was just the third (and last) National League team to win back-to-back, belly-to-belly championships.

But those Reds missed out on repeated opportunities for more. They narrowly lost out on division races in 1974 and 1978 and were "upset" by what were considered lesser Orioles, A's, and even Mets teams in 1970, 1972, and 1973 World Series.  

For that matter, they only got by the Pirates on a wild pitch in the ninth inning of Game Five, in the 1972 NLCS, and avoided losing to—and even getting swept by—Boston in the 1975 World Series, only thanks to Jim Rice's broken wrist, a critical rain delay, and one of the all-time worst umpiring gaffes in the history of the Fall Classic.

So why DIDN'T the 1970s Reds win more rings?

Well, the answer as it so often is, in baseball and in life, is...not enough pitching. And specifically, STARTING pitching.

The Big Red Machine first won that sobriquet when it burst out of the gate in 1970. By this date that year, at the start of the All-Star break, Cincy was 61-26.

Hmm.  Sound familiar?

The Reds went on to reach 63-26...then plunged back to earth, finishing the season 39-34. Hey, it didn't much matter. The NL West Division they played in—for some mysterious reason—was so weak that Cincinnati actually GAINED 4 1/2 games the rest of the way, to finish 14 1/2 up.  

What followed was an easy enough walkover against a young Pirates team for the NL pennant—then a five-game sandbagging at the hands of Baltimore.

What went wrong?  What's about to go wrong now for the Yankees, as most of their starters move beyond any work levels they have known before—as Zach so sagely noted.

Consider.  Here were the first and second half records of the Reds' 1970 starters:

Gary Nolan: 

11-4, 3.72

  7-3, 2.78

Jim Merritt:

14-7, 3.46

  6-5, 5.24

Jim McGlothlin:

11-4, 2.79

  3-6, 4.85

Wayne Simpson:

13-1, 2.69

  1-2, 4.71

Tony Cloninger:

2-2, 5.54

7-5, 3.25

There you have it. 51-18 became 24-21.

Save for the staff ace, Gary Nolan, and veteran Tony Cloninger at the back of the rotation, the Reds' starters all ran out of gas at the midway point. Rookie sensation Wayne Simpson wrecked his arm and was never the same pitcher again.

Only by calling up rookie and future Yankee, Don Gullett—seen here doing his best Rick Moranis imitation—did the Reds avoid even bigger problems on the mound.

So it would go for most of the rest of the decade. 

Starting staffs would show flashes of brilliance, only to succumb to injuries or mediocrity. Again and again—until, too late, when they pulled Tom Seaver away from the crumbling Mets—the Reds were unable to produce the stud hoss starter that would make them a sure thing in the playoffs against what were actually better balanced clubs. Teams such as Baltimore and Oakland...or even the worst division champ ever, the 1973 Metsies.

Fortunately for the Reds, they could often compensate with the incredible hitters and fielders in their lineups. Or their manager, Sparky Anderson, "Captain Hook," who managed to get the most out of his staffs with his brilliant manipulation of his team's deep bullpen.

But then, why worry?

We have all those things, too. 

Don't we?






Doug K. said...

"Don Gullett—seen here doing his best Rick Moranis imitation—"

Yes! Great call.

That said I'd take the Reds 1970-76 results anytime.

Is Stanton our George Foster?

Rufus T. Firefly said...


Thanks for that Monday uplifting story.

Unfortunately for us, Boonie is no Sparky.

HoraceClarke66 said...

I wonder what the equivalent of Foster's 52 in 1977 would be today, Doug. 75? 80??

I also wonder if Stanton can get to 40...

HoraceClarke66 said...

Max Scherzer today in Atlanta, defending the Mets' ever-shrinking lead against the Braves:

7 innings, 9 Ks, 3 hits. After 6 shutout innings in his first start back from the DL.

This is how a man pitches (and, incidentally, a man who our front office never had the slightest interest in, in his repeated availabilities).

(Somehow, when he did give up a home run, he didn't visibly crumple on the mound, or look like he was going to cry.)

HoraceClarke66 said...

Incidentally, Hammer: Contrary to what Ma and Pa said, Whitey Ford DID start games in Fenway.

11 of them, all told. He was often hit harder than he was elsewhere...but the Chairman of the Board did gut it out to go 7-4 in those games. He also pitched several times in relief.

Boy, you can't trust anyone anymore!

AboveAverage said...

But we trust you, HoraceClarke66.

And Rufus, although KaBoone is no SPARKY - he sure is BUBBLY, huh?


Bazooka Boone

Joe Formerlyof Brooklyn said...

Two of the worst nights of my life were the 1976 World Series games in the Bronx, in which the Reds won games 3 and 4 -- sweeping the Yankees. I was in the stands. Someone I knew had really good tickets.

First, this tells you I've had a pretty good life. If devastating baseball losses by your team are the worst things get, you are pretty f-ing lucky.

Second, I remember distinctly two things:

a. It was freaking cold. Couldn't get warm no matter what. I'm almost sure this had to do with what was happening on the field. Games were played Oct 19 and 21. At night.

b. What was happening on the field looked like Babe Ruth's Yankees (in Red outfits) clobbering the Little Sisters of the Poor. The talent level, enthusiasm, and skill levels seemed not even close.

- - -

After the Series, someone somewhere (a Gammonite?) compared Munson to Bench, and Sparky came out with this (I found it online) --

" . . . don’t ever embarrass anybody by comparing him to Johnny Bench."

My memory is that Munson, who was from Ohio, really did not like that.

Doug K. said...


"What was happening on the field looked like Babe Ruth's Yankees (in Red outfits) clobbering the Little Sisters of the Poor. The talent level, enthusiasm, and skill levels seemed not even close."

Yeah, it was totally one sided. (Except for Munson actually.) and yet, they were never heard from again. How does that happen?

That series went by so fast I barely remember it. The only thing I can vaguely recall is something about Thai Sticks... But Chambliss' HR vs. KC is a light that still shines brightly.

Carl J. Weitz said...

@ JFB...I was at those WS games and had the same feeling about the talent difference. It was easy to see.
Unfortunately, I missed the first 2 innings of game 4. I was young but learned a valuable lesson: With certain people, make sure you get paid up front for tickets. After game 3, everyone knew the Yanks were doomed. 2 people who had begged me to front them tickets suddenly fell ill. So, I tried selling them before the game in front of the stadium. I was loudly advertising them and after 15 minutes of waving my hand with the tickets, my arm was suddenly pulled back from behind by a cop with cuffs and I was hauled off to a police trailer. However, since the tickets were real and I got desperate enough to sell them under ticket face value as first pitch grew nearer, they had to let me go. LOL, I gave them away to a couple of teenagers as nobody wanted to buy them. And they were right behind home plate.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Great stories, guy. And yeah, I never thought we had a chance, either, so it didn't really bother me.

As for Munson, though, I remember that quote, and it was totally uncalled for. All Anderson had to say was, "Well, Munson's a great catcher, but there's nobody like my guy."

Which was true. Thurman had just gone 9-17 in the Series, .529, and 19-40 on the postseason as a whole. He was one of the all-time great postseason players, one of the best hitters of his era, and a Gold Glove catcher until his arm went.

Sure, Bench is generally rated one of the two best catchers in major-league ball, ever, along with Yogi. But his main advantage was over Munson was power—and I wonder how much less of that he would have had, playing in Yankee Stadium?

Carl J. Weitz said...

A lot less!