Remembering Glory Days In Cincinnati

by Kevin Burton

   Just saw a marketing campaign for Cincinnati Reds baseball 2020 under the title “The New Machine.”

   Hmmm…..

   Well, I hope so.

   The Reds are the team of my youth. “The New Machine” harkens back to the “Big Red Machine.”  That was the name for the 1970s Reds teams that won two World Series, four pennants and six NL West divisions.  They had very, very good teams every year that decade except for 1971. 

   That group featured Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench, generally regarded as the best catcher ever.  Pete Rose, the MLB all-time hit leader, was a hall-of-fame-caliber player who was not enshrined because he bet on baseball.

   Shortstop Dave Concepcion (who should be in the Hall) and outfielders Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Geronimo and George Foster were the other starters on the strongest of the Reds teams, the 75 and 76 world champions.

   The pitchers on those teams were overshadowed but underrated. They did not have to be great when that offense was scoring so many runs. But they often were great.

   My favorite pitcher from that era was Freddie Norman.  Pitching for San Diego in 1972, Norman beat the Reds three times with complete games including a shutout with 15 strikeouts on Sept. 15. The Reds couldn’t beat Norman, so they traded for him the next year.

   More prominent starting pitchers were Don Gullett, Gary Nolan and Jack Billingham.

   Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson was called “Captain Hook” because he made so many pitching changes.  In that, he was ahead of his time. In 1975 for example, the Reds led the National League in saves with 50. Rawly Eastwick had 22, Will McEnaney 15. 

   What kid growing up in Ohio wouldn’t love the Big Red Machine?

   Those Reds were perhaps the best National League team ever assembled. Somehow it failed to register with me that my team would not always have five all-time greats on the field every day. The group got old. Free agency became a thing.  The 80s brought a dose of reality. 

   With few exceptions, harsh reality is where the Reds have lived since then.

   Best place to catch Reds baseball these days? ESPN Classic.

   At first I was a little chagrined that team marketing has invoked the name of the Machine. Shouldn’t they win something first? Shouldn’t they have a .500 season first?

   In my skepticism I went casting about for someone who is high on the Reds for this year. That somebody is Sports Illustrated’s Michael Shapiro. 

   He writes, “The Reds are looking increasingly formidable after six straight losing seasons, creating a lineup that could be the division’s best with Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos now in the fold.”

   “Trevor Bauer remains a viable ace, and the Sonny Gray breakout was no fluke. The Cubs are re-tooling. The Cardinals and Brewers are solid, not dominant. Don’t be surprised if we see an NL Central title in Cincinnati for the first time since 2012.”

   The longtime radio voice of the Reds, Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman, retired after the 2019 season. He was the last link to the Big Red Machine era. Maybe that is why Reds marketing reached back to its glory days for a new slogan.

   The 2020 Reds can never be the Big Red Machine, but maybe they can be The New Machine, something different but also good, like the 1990 world champion Reds led by Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Eric Davis.

   Hope springs eternal in March. The Reds are currently tied for first, just like everybody else.

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