The Red Wave not ready to challenge The Big Red Machine

Published 2:43 am Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Arguably the greatest baseball team ever assembled were the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds. The starting eight were: front catcher Johnny Bench; second row from left to right, third baseman Pete Rose, shortstop Dave Concepcion, second baseman Joe Morgan and first baseman Tony Perez; third row left to right, left fielder George Foster, center fielder Cesar Geronimo and right fielder Ken Griffey Sr. (Courtesy of The Cincinnati


They’re good. They’re young. They’re energetic. They’re exciting. They’re relentless.

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Yes, this 2023 Cincinnati Reds team is all of the above. Fans are enjoying some excitement and fun after years of disappointment including 100 losses last season.

This team has tried to call themselves America’s Team or reviving the name of The Big Red Machine from the 1970s teams.

Please, don’t call them America’s team. The Dallas Cowboys do that and I don’t want to be linked to the Cowboys in any way, shape or form. The Atlanta Braves of the 1980s called themselves America’s team but that was because all their games were televised on TBS during a time when no one except the Chicago Cubs on WGN were televised every day.

It’s easy to like this team, maybe even fall in love with them. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The team did just go 8-1 on their recent road trip and shocked all the critics by taking over first place in the National League Central and three games over .500 with their 9th straight win on Monday.

Think about that last item. Let that sink in. Three games over .500. That’s good compared to last year, but it isn’t the kind of thing that puts you in the World Series.

Now, their ceiling is high and this team could really take off from this point in the season, but the dog days of summer are coming in July and August and that will be a test for the young upstarts.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m having fun following this team. There are a lot of good players. But I grew up during the Big Red Machine era. I went to hundreds of games. At the tender age of 22, I stood in the locker room in 1976 interviewing players after they won the National League pennant. It wasn’t a wild celebration. This team was on a mission. There was a bigger prize ahead.

Yes, I saw this team often and up close. The 2023 Reds have a long way to go if they want to earn the nickname Big Red Machine 2.0.

The name Big Red Machine was introduced on July4, 1969 and took hold in 1970 when the Reds won 70 of their first 100 games and went on to win the National League pennant only to lose the World Series to former Red Frank Robinson and the Baltimore Orioles.

Under the guidance of rookie manager George “Sparky” Anderson and led by such stars as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion and Lee May, the Reds were dominating.

But the Reds fell off to a 79-83 record the next season which led to a blockbuster trade before the 1972 season with the Houston Astros — then a member of the National League — saw the Reds trade Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart for pitcher Jack Billingham, third baseman Denis Menke, outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister and some second baseman named Joe Morgan.

While the baseball world believe the Astros easily got the better of the deal, the Reds proved to be the big winners as they won the NL Western Division  with the Astros finishing second.

Billingham became the ace of the staff, Geronimo went from seldom used to one of the best centerfielders in baseball with a great glove, good speed and an unbelievable arm.

And all Morgan did was become one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game winning MVP honors in the team’s World Championship seasons of 1975-76.

The Reds are the last National League team to win back-to-back World Championships.

The Reds won the pennant in 1972, were upset by the eventual World Champion New York Mets in 1973, dropped off in 1974 due to injuries, and followed with two the greatest teams the next two years. The 1976 team has been part of an argument with the 1927 New York Yankees as the best team in baseball history.

During the decade, the Reds won or finished second nine times in the NL Western Division.

The Big Red Machine featured The Great Eight which was Pete Rose at third base, Dave Concepcion at shortstop, Joe Morgan at second base, Tony Perez at first base, George Foster left field, Cesar Geronimo in centerfield, Ken Griffey Sr. in right field, and baseball’s greatest catcher ever in Johnny Bench.

The lineup saw Bench, Morgan and Perez voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose would be a member if not for his gambling scandal.

Concepcion should be in the Hall of Fame. A much better hitter than Hall of Fame Ozzie Smith, Concepcion was one of the greatest defensive shortstops the game has seen.

The Big Red Machine included some very good pitchers but they were overshadowed by the powerful and explosive offensive lineup.

Besides Billingham, the starting rotation included left-hander Don Gullett who grew up at nearby Lynn, Ky., and played for the old McKell High School.

Gary Nolan was 15-9, Billingham 15-10, Fred Norman 12-4, Gullett 15-4, Pat Darcy 11-5 and Clay Kirby 10-6. That’s six pitchers with double digit wins.

The bullpen was strong with right-hander Rawley Eastwick and left-hander Will McEnaney who had 22 and 15 saves, respectively.

Two right-handers Clay Carroll and Pedro Borbon were very good as well. The quartet combined for 49 saves and a 26-15 record.

The Big Red Machine had pitching depth both as starter and relievers, great team defense and team speed. They could hit for average or power and there was plenty of power.

This team had great confidence and didn’t just believe they would win every game, the other teams believe the Reds would win even if they trailed in the late innings.

This group of Reds has that same mentality they can win every game. They fight every inning and every at-bat.

If this group of Reds can enjoy just some of the success of the Big Red Machine, they’ll earn themselves a nickname.

This team is creating its own legacy so let’s give them an original name like The Red Wave to reflect their team because they aren’t the Big Red Machine.

But then, nobody is.


Jim Walker is sports editor emeritus of The Ironton Tribune.