Their nickname, “Big Red Machine,” was no exaggeration.
After winning the National League pennant in 1939, the World Series in 1940, and remaining competitive from 1941 to 1944, the bottom fell out for the Cincinnati Reds. From 1945 to 1960, the team had only two winning seasons.
That skid ended in 1961 when the Reds, led by NL MVP Frank Robinson won their fourth National League pennant. The team continued to win that decade (only one losing season in 1966), and the Reds were back in the World Series in 1970.
But nobody was prepared for what came next: “The Big Red Machine.”
Building The Big Red Machine
The Reds were stacked with talent and directed by new manager Sparky Anderson. They had catcher and 1970 NL MVP Johnny Bench, outfielder Pete Rose, and infielders Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez. The Reds also had a solid pitching staff led by 20-game winner Jim Merritt and 18-game winner Gary Nolan, not to mention a new stadium, having moved from old Crosley Field to Riverfront Stadium.
The Reds finished first in their division in 1970, 14½ games ahead of the second-place LA Dodgers, as the Reds won 102 games, the most in franchise history. They then faced the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of their division, to see which team would move on to the World Series. The Reds swept the Pirates, holding Pittsburgh to three runs the entire series.
Cincinnati would now face the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Although the Reds lost the series 4-1, it was clear that this team would be back. But surprisingly, that did not happen. The Reds flopped in 1971, shockingly finishing the season with a dismal 79-83 record.
Thankfully for Reds fans, Cincinnati bounced back in ‘72 to win their division with a 95-59 record as catcher Johnny Bench once again won the NL MVP award. Then, in a hard-fought NL Championship Series, the Reds defeated the Pirates 3-2 to advance to the World Series. But disappointment was the outcome, just like it was in 1970. This time the team lost to the Oakland A’s in a seven-game series.
The Machine kept churning out wins and championships. 1973 yielded a 99-63 record, a division crown, and Pete Rose won the NL MVP. But the World Series was not to be that year, thanks to the Mets, who upset the Reda in the five-game NLCS series 3-2.
The Reds did well again in 1974, finishing the season at 98-64, but the LA Dodgers did even better, going 102-60, winning the division race by four games. For the Reds, it was an extremely frustrating end to a great season.
Big Red Machine Enters Greatness Territory
But the Reds were now entering a period of greatness, going an astounding 108-54 in 1975 and sweeping the Pirates in the NLCS. Then, in what many still consider the most competitive World Series ever played, the Reds prevailed over the scrappy Red Sox four games to three.
Sparky Anderson was named NL Manager of the Year, and second baseman Joe Morgan took home the NL MVP award. Morgan, Concepcion, Perez, Rose, and Bench were all voted to the NL All-Star team.
That 1975 team was so dominant that many baseball historians compared it to the legendary 1927 NY Yankees, a team that won 114 games (72% win rate) and then swept the Pirates in the World Series.
1976 Cincinnati Reds
The 1976 Reds picked up where they left off in 1975, winning 100+ games (102-60). Joe Morgan won his second consecutive MVP award –the fifth time in seven years that a Cincinnati Reds player won the MVP award.
Seven Cincinnati players played in the All-Star game–Morgan, Bench, Rose, Perez, Concepcion, Ken Griffey Sr., and 1977 NL MVP George Foster. The Reds swept the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS and did the same to the Yankees in the World Series.
It is no exaggeration to call the 1975-1976 Reds one of the greatest clubs in Major League history.
The Reds’ success continued from 1977 to 1981, as the team won at least 88 games each year until the bottom fell out in 1982 when the team reversed direction and lost 101 games. But the five-year stretch from ’77-’81 is no match for what the team did from 1970 to 1976.
Those were the glory years, which would not be repeated. Yes, the Reds played in another World Series in 1990 and won it all by defeating the heavily favored Oakland A’s. But that was 30+ years ago. The Reds have not appeared in the fall classic since.
Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond. He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area.