May takes spot in Reds#8217; Hall of Fame
CINCINNATI — The Big Bopper of the Big Red Machine is having a big day.
Christened the “Big Bopper from Birmingham” by teammate Pete Rose, Lee May was one of the original sluggers for the Big Red Machine of the 1970s era.
May is one of the big names being honored this weekend as a member of the newest class in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
May joined pitchers Tom Seaver and Tom Browning as the newest inductees. The trio will be honored with on-field ceremonies at 1:15 p.m. today prior to the Reds-Rockies game.
May was selected by the Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America that serves as the veterans voting committee for the Reds Hall of Fame. Browning and Seaver were enshrined into the HOF by the fans in voting held last December.
The former first baseman was humbled by his selection.
“To be mentioned in the elite, the great ball players who have gone through this organization is a tremendous honor,” May said.
In six-plus seasons with Cincinnati, May belted 147 home runs — 14th on the Reds all-time list — and drove in 449 runs despite hitting behind Johnny Bench and Tony Perez.
He led the teams in home runs three times and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1971 when he hit 39 HRs and had 98 RBIs. His eight runs batted in during the 1970 World Series set a five-game record for the Fall Classic.
“It had to be the biggest thrill because I know a lot of guys who played a lot of years and never went to a World Series,” May said.
“Every day was like Christmas to me to be in the World Series. Although we lost to Baltimore, I still felt it was a privilege to be in the World Series and playing on national TV and the whole world looking at us.”
During his 18-year career, May belted 354 homers and knocked in 1,244 runs as he compiled a .267 batting average.
The Birmingham, Ala., native was a favorite with Reds fans, but all that changed after the 1971 season when he, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart were part of a blockbuster trade with Houston that brought Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Denis Menke, Ed Armbrister and Cesar Geronimo to the Reds.
The trade helped produce a string of three National League pennants in five seasons including back-to-back World Championships in 1975-76.
Despite missing out on the glory years, May said he disappointed but not bitter about the trade.
“I had a lot of friends and I just fell in love with the city. To get traded was like a kid getting kicked out of the house,” May said.
“It all worked out. (The Reds) just moved into Riverfront and it had Astroturf and the ball club needed speed and they got that by trading me for Morgan. All those guys panned out to be good ballplayers.”
The current Cincinnati team is comprised of some offensive prowess. May sees some similarities, but he wants fans to be a little patient.
“We gelled. It just didn’t happen overnight,” May said.
“(Johnny) Bench came in ’67. Tony (Perez) and I and Pete Rose were already there and then we got Bobby Tolan. We had a lot of confidence in each other because there was no one guy depended on carrying the team.”
May said the Big Red Machine had the right chemistry and this year’s version should strive find its own identity.
“If I didn’t do it, Tony did it. If Tony didn’t do it, Bench did it or Rose did something spectacular on the bases. We pulled for each other,” May said.
Now 63, May said he does a few autograph signing shows but spends most of his time helping to raise his grandchildren.
“I wasn’t around a lot for my kids. My wife raised my kids,” May said. “Now I’m raising my grand kids. Every day I’ve got to run somebody to school or pick somebody up from school.”