CINCINNATI REDS HISTORY: THE BIG RED MACHINE ERA

September 27, 2020 37 Comments

CINCINNATI REDS HISTORY: THE BIG RED MACHINE ERA

It is generally agreed upon by baseball historians that the Big Red Machine era of the Cincinnati Reds started in 1970 with the hiring of former minor league coach and manager George “Sparky” Anderson. However, it could be argued that the roots of that team stretch back to the early 1960s and several key events that would reshape the organization.

Change in ownership

Long-time owner Powell Crosley passed away early in 1961, missing the team’s World Series appearance later that year. The following spring, Bill DeWitt bought the team. On the field, things were great. Though the Reds lost the 1961 Fall Classic to the New York Yankees, the team remained competitive throughout the decade, thanks to an exceptional farm system.

It was this minor league system that produced future Machine parts Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, home-grown Pete Rose, and Dave Concepcion. The team’s winning direction was further aided by the hiring of Bob Howsman as general manager in 1967. Howsman had previously guided the St. Louis Cardinals in the same role. Previous to that, he owned the Denver Broncos of the American Football League (AFL). His family also owned the Denver Bears minor league baseball team. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place with the proposed construction of a stadium on the city’s riverfront. 

Stadium issues

The Reds for years had been unhappy with Crosley Field largely due to the limited availability of parking exacerbated by an increasing number of automobiles in the area after World War II. Crosley Field was also becoming outdated. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the Reds threatened to leave for New York.  The Big Apple had been abandoned by the Dodgers and Giants in 1957 and wanted a new team. Improvements around the ballpark, and the threat of the Continental League, put a stop to that idea, but it was merely a bandage. A few years later, the goings-on in professional football would come to impact the Reds. 

Paul Brown, deposed as the head coach of the team he helped create, the Cleveland Browns, was looking to get back into pro football as an owner after two years away from the game. With the help of then-Ohio governor James Rhodes, Brown settled on Cincinnati as the location for his new franchise.

As UC’s Nippert Stadium was inadequate to permanently host a team, efforts began to have a new, multi-purpose stadium built downtown on the riverfront. The new facility would become the home of the Reds as well as the city’s pro football team. Without that stadium, Cincinnati would not have been awarded a franchise in the AFL (which had just announced a merger with the National Football League).

It all comes together

By 1970, the pieces were in place: talented, experienced players, a savvy GM, and a brand new ballpark. The Reds clinched the NL West crown that year and hosted the League Championship Series (LCS) in their new ballpark. They dispatched the Pirates three games to none but lost the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles in five games.

The Reds fell below .500 in 1971 and finished fourth in the West. The next year, though, they bounced back, won the division, and again knocked off the rival Pirates to win the pennant. However, the Reds fell to the A’s in seven in the World Series. The Reds won their division the following year as well but couldn’t get past the Mets in the LCS. 

Back-to-back World Series

In 1974, the Reds finished second before storming back in 1975 to win 108 games, the division, the pennant, and finally, the World Series, with one of the most powerful teams in baseball history.

What’s interesting about the 1975 World Series is that it contained what many consider to be the greatest baseball game ever played, that being Game Six played in Boston. Leading the series three games to two, the Reds found themselves in an extra-innings battle that ended with a bottom of the 12th, game-winning home run by Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk. For years, Boston fans hailed it as the best moment in team history, even though they lost the next game and the series. Boston won four World Series titles in the 21st century, likely pushing Fisk’s homer down the list of best moments in franchise history.

The Reds, meanwhile, still had something to prove, despite capturing their first world championship since 1940. In 1976, they marched right back to the World Series, where they swept the powerful New York Yankees.

The team remained competitive through the end of the decade, making it to the LCS in 1979, where they bowed to Wille Stargell and the Pirates “Family.” In the ‘80s, the realities of baseball, mostly age and free agency, caught up with the team. The team fell to last place in 1982 and once again began the slow process of building a World Series winner.




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