I miss baseball. A lot.
In the past few weeks, I’ve watched a boatload lot of classic Cincinnati Reds telecasts.
I enjoyed re-viewing the 1976 World Series, as the Big Red Machine made it two world titles in a row by dispatching the New York Yankees in four games. I was so happy to see my favorite Red, Johnny Bench, shine in the ‘76 series. He had struggled mightily all season with a shoulder injury, but peaked at the right time — he hit over .500 against the Yankees with four homers and was the MVP.
Game 7 of the 1975 World Series brought back tremendous memories. I remember being on the edge of my seat as Reds ace Don Gullett struggled with wildness and spotted the Boston Red Sox a 3-0 lead. Then Tony Perez hit Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s blooper pitch over the green monster at Fenway Park to begin a spark that led Cincinnati back from the abyss. A Joe Morgan single in the top of the ninth gave the Reds their first lead and they held on to win, 4-3. It was Cincy’s first world championship since 1940.
I remember thinking the Reds had little chance in the 1990 Fall Classic against the powerful Oakland A’s, led by Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. But the Reds dominated, sweeping the A’s to claim its last world title. That Reds club, led by fiery Lou Piniella, led the NL West from wire to wire and then upended the Pirates and the A’s in a thrilling postseason dash. It was great to see all four of those World Series games again. There was a big lull between the Big Red Machine and this ‘90 team. And we’ve had an even bigger dry spell since 1990.
With all of this nostalgia — and MLB squabbling over whether or not we’ll have actual baseball in pandemic-plagued 2020 — I’ve been thinking a lot about a Cincinnati Reds All-Time Team.
It’s not as easy as you might think. The Reds have had some great players throughout the decades.
Now, I warn you that I am incredibly biased toward the Big Red Machine era. Those were my teams in my time. Growing up as a Reds fan, I didn’t have to worry about “big market” teams stealing my favorite players in free agency — the whole concept of a free agent market was in its infancy during the mid to late 70s. Those Reds teams were built the old-fashioned way — with a hearty farm system, wily trades engineered by General Manager Bow Howsam and the hiring of an unknown 39-year-old skipper named Sparky Anderson in 1970.
The result was NL pennants in 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976 and 1979, and two world titles. Not a bad decade.
So here goes — the much debatable All-Time Cincinnati Reds Team:
• Manager — Sparky Anderson is a no-brainer. I’m still bitter he was fired in 1978. In my book, his stint as the Reds skipper is one of the greatest runs in baseball history.
• Catcher — The Reds boast the greatest catcher ever in hall of famer Johnny Bench. Not only was he a defensive genius, he was an RBI machine. Bench slugged 389 home runs, which was at one time the most ever for the position, won 10 Gold Gloves and was a 14-time All-Star. Along the way, he won two home run titles, four RBI crowns and was the National League MVP in 1970 and 1972. As a backup, I’ll take another hall of famer, Ernie Lombardi, the NL MVP in 1938 and a key cog in the Reds’ world championship team of 1940. Lombardi also caught Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters in ‘38.
• First Base — OK, my Big Red Machine era bias takes hold here. I’m going with the great Tony Perez, a huge component of the Reds’ success in the 70s. How important was “Doggie” to the organization? When Cincinnati opted to go with younger Dan Driessen and dealt Perez to the Expos in 1977, it was the beginning of the end of the Big Red Machine era. Joey Votto is also very much in the discussion with an on-base percentage that is tops in franchise history and in the top 15 all time. Other honorable mentions go to 50s slugger Ted Kluszewski and the “Big Bopper” Lee May.
• Second Base — When Howsam traded the aforementioned Lee May and Tommy Helms to the Houston Astros in exchange for Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Jack Billingham, Sparky Anderson told the GM, “You’ve just brought a world title to this organization.” The key was Morgan, a gem defensively and an offensive sparkplug who could hit for average, hit for power and steal bases. Morgan was the NL MVP in 1975 and ‘76 as the Reds won back to back championships. As for a backup, the Reds have three-time NL All-Star Brandon Phillips.
• Third Base — Pete Rose played second base, first base and every outfield position during his storied career, but it was his move to third base in 1975 that secured the Reds’ world title run. By moving Rose to third, it opened up left field for George Foster, who would become one of the franchise’s greatest sluggers. Rose, of course, is baseball’s all-time leader in hits and worked his tail off to become a very good defensive third baseman. For a backup, I’ll give current Red Eugenio Suarez (83 homers in 2018 and 2019, second only to Mike Trout in all of baseball) over 90s favorite Chris Sabo.
• Shortstop — This one is tough. My heart says Davey Concepcion but in reality, I have to give hall of famer Barry Larkin an ever-so-slight edge. Larkin was a 12-time All-Star and the NL MVP in 1995. He was nearly as good defensively as Concepcion and was one of the top offensive shortstops who ever played. Davey was a master at playing the position on astroturf with his patented bounce throws to first from the hole. Concepcion was a nine-time All-Star and won five Gold Glove Awards. You couldn’t go wrong with either one of these guys.
• Left Field — You have two great sluggers vying for this position in George Foster and Adam Dunn. I give the edge to Foster, who was the 1977 NL MVP when he slammed 52 home runs. Foster went to five All-Star games as a Red and you could’ve easily made a case for him being the league’s MVP in both 1976 and 1978. Dunn, who once hit a 535-foot homer at GAB, had a .520 slugging percentage, but failed to hit for average during his career.
• Center Field — There are all kinds of possibilities here, but my vote goes to Eric Davis. Had the gazelle-like Davis not been hobbled with so many injuries, he might’ve been another Willie Mays. Ken Griffey Jr., was the Michael Jordan of baseball when he was dealt to his hometown club from Seattle in 2000, but injuries crippled his potential run at the all-time home run mark. As a Red, he was a three-time All-Star. Vada Pinson was a two-time All-Star and racked up over 2,700 hits, but the hall of fame has eluded him. Cesar Geronimo had an insane arm in center field and was one of the “Great Eight” in the 70s.
• Right Field — Frank Robinson was one of the greatest players in the sport when the Reds traded him, at the age of 30, to the Baltimore Orioles. Robinson, the NL MVP in 1961, put up great numbers for the Reds — and then came back to haunt his old team by helping lead the Orioles to victory over Cincinnati in the 1970 World Series. Ken Griffey, Sr., is a solid No. 2 pick, while Dave Parker, who narrowly missed winning the NL MVP Award in 1986 with the Reds, is in the mix as well.
• The Starting Rotation — For a five-man rotation, I’ll start with the great Tom Seaver, who was acquired by the Reds in 1977. While his best years were in New York with the Mets, Seaver had a fantastic run with the Reds, too. My No. 2 starter would be Jose Rijo, who led the Reds to the 1990 World Series title. The rest of the staff would include lefty Don Gullett, flame-throwing 60s star Jim Maloney and Mario Soto, who toiled for some very bad Reds teams in the early 80s.
• Relief Pitchers — We have a good group to choose from. Right-handers Rob Dibble, Pedro Borbon and Danny Graves would make my list with a pair of left-handers, Aroldis Chapman and John Franco.
That’s my take on an All-Time Reds team. I know — a lot of great players were omitted. But this group is not bad at all, if I say so myself.
Then again, you might disagree. Hey, I’m no Sparky Anderson.
JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.