1975: The Year the Lineup was SetThe Big Red Machine had been years in the making. But in early May 1975, manager Sparky Anderson made two moves that solidified the lineup of Rose, Griffey, Morgan, Bench, Perez, Foster, Concepcion and Geronimo. It began the run to back-to-back World Championships.
Perez homer 1st sign of victory
BY JOHN ERARDI
Ask any Reds fan to name the outfield of the 1975-76 Reds, and the names roll off the tongue like the ABC's: George Foster in left, Cesar Geronimo in center, Ken Griffey in right.
But on Opening Day1975, all that Reds manager Sparky Anderson knew for sure about his outfield was that Pete Rose was in left.
Third base was an even bigger mystery.
John Vukovich, the slick-fielding, weak-hitting veteran acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers during the offseason, had won the third base job in spring training. But Anderson said he expected to play "several people" there before the season was over.
Anderson also had to figure out how to use Danny Driessen. Sparky anticipated using him at first base to give Perez an occasional rest -- and maybe playing him some in the outfield.
But Anderson had four legitimate outfield candidates -- Cesar Geronimo, George Foster, Ken Griffey and Merv Rettenmund -- and only two open outfield positions.
"I'm going to platoon Geronimo and Foster in center and Rettenmund and Griffey in right," announced Sparky.
The Reds could not afford another sluggish start in 1975. Six of their first 10 games were against the Dodgers. When the Reds swept LA in three one-run games in the opening series in Cincinnati, exhilaration was in the air.
But on a West Coast swing, the Reds lost two of three to San Diego and four straight to LA. In two of the Dodger losses, the Reds had Rose on third with the go-ahead run late in the game with nobody out.
Both times Morgan, Bench, and Perez failed to deliver.
"A half-million dollars worth of talent," said Rose, "and they don't get me in." In the third game of the LA series, with the bases loaded in the second inning and Vukovich due up, Anderson pinch-hit Driessen.
Vukovich, whose parents were in the stands, exploded. All the way from the dugout runway to the clubhouse, his rage carried him from lightbulb to lightbulb like a giant firefly in a horror flick. He burst every bulb -- and wanted more. Pop! . . . pop! . . . pop! . . . pop! If Vuke could only hit a baseball as square.
After the game, Anderson made his case.
"Simple," said Sparky. "Who's my better hitter -- Vukovich or Driessen?" Anderson had said in spring training that his priority for third base was defense. But when it came time to practice what he preached, Anderson got no father than an evolutionist with the Book of Genesis.
Sparky needed something that worked.
The Reds were already four games behind LA, the defending National League Champions.
"If we don't win this year," thought Sparky, "I don't know if I have a long-term future here. It could be lights out. The party's going to be over if we don't get going." Over the next two weeks, Anderson started utility men Darrel Chaney and Doug Flynn at third base. Then, on Friday night, May 2, Anderson had an idea. He was watching Rose take groundballs at first base. Pete was breaking in a new softball glove for his daughter, Fawn.
"Peter Edward!" yelled Anderson, leaning on the short fence separating the dugout from the field. "I wish you were playing over there." "Over where?" "Third base." "You serious?" "Yup." "Well, if you don't think it'll hurt the team, I'll try it," said Rose.
"Tomorrow too soon?" asked Anderson.
"That's OK," said Rose. "But how about having 'Sugar Bear' (coach George Scherger) out here by 10 o'clock tomorrow morning hitting me ground balls from home plate, so I can see them coming off the bat?" "You got it," said Anderson.
Anderson didn't have to secure anybody's permission to move Rose to third -- not even that of Reds general manager Bob Howsam. But Chief Bender, the Reds player personnel director, was around before Saturday's game, so Anderson told him of the move.
"Bob's in Arizona," Bender said.
"Chief, I'm gonna tell you something," responded Sparky. "It doesn't matter where Bob is. You know we haven't won yet -- '70, '72, '73 -- and we're starting off slow now. I look at it this way: it's me or nothing right now. I'm gonna play Pete at third." Anderson told Reds play-by-play broadcaster Marty Brennaman the same thing. Brennaman didn't believe Rose was going to play third -- until Sparky showed him the lineup card.
Brennaman will never forget Rose's first chance.
"The first batter up -- Ralph Garr -- hit an absolute screamer to Pete's glove side. Pete breaks to his left, stumbles, fields the ball, recovers and gets up and throws him out. He looked like a monkey playing with a football. It was incredible." The next day, Bender's phone rang. It was Howsam.
"I looked at paper this morning," began Howsam, "and the boxscore said 'Pete Rose -- third base.' That's a mistake, right?" "No, Bob. Sparky put him at third base." "Oh my god," said Howsam.
Meanwhile, Rose's teammates were all over him.
"You need a bulletproof vest!" Perez chirped.
"You can't run, you can't throw and you can't catch," Morgan cackled.
"I'll be an All-Star at third base!" Rose shot back.
Moving Rose to third served a dual purpose for Anderson. It allowed him to give more playing time to George Foster and Danny Driessen, both promising young hitters.
Foster was philosophical about his time on the bench.
"I've seen more major league games than anyone else alive," he told the beat writers. "Why, I even know some of the players personally." On the night Pete opened at third, Anderson started an outfield of Driessen in left, Geronimo in center, and Foster in right. But Driessen stumbled in May and June, hitting just .232, while Foster had a productive two months, hitting 10 home runs and driving in 24 runs. By late May, he was the regular starting left fielder.
The other significant lineup shuffle in early May involved the batting order. Anderson had opened the season with Morgan batting second, a postion he had occupied since coming to the Reds in 1972. But on April 18, Sparky dropped Morgan to third and began batting Concepcion second.
Then, a week after Rose started at third base, Anderson moved Griffey into the second slot.
"Griffey is the key to our lineup," said Sparky. "If he hits .285, we can keep Joe at third." The move with Griffey to get Morgan into the three hole was lost in the uproar over Rose's switch to third base. But Griffey quickly began to flourish in the two hole; he had great speed and could handle the bat.
Sparky couldn't figure out why the engine wouldn't fire. The Reds had a new third baseman, a left fielder with pop, a happy second baseman with RBI opportunities in the three hole and a fleet-footed outfielder in the two hole.
But the Reds kept losing.
They were in the midst of a 6-7 stretch and continued to drop in the standings. When they lost three in a row on an East Coast trip, Sparky called a clubhouse meeting in Philadelphia.
He had always made sparing use of such sessions.
"I'd nail them (the players) just to keep the social atmosphere right," recalled Sparky. "Pete would always have a saying. He'd say, 'Skip, we might need a meeting; why don't you just start yelling at me.' And I'd say, 'That's a good idea!' " "Relax!" Sparky told the team in Philly. "Quit swinging for the fences. And Pete . . . knock off all the needling! That goes for the rest of you guys, too. When guys are struggling, lay off them!" The club lost four more to fall to 18-19.
When Morgan got spiked in the shin in Montreal, and Bench caught the flu, it looked like the bottom might fall out.
But Morgan had other ideas.
The next day, with 14 fresh stitches in his leg, he burst through the clubhouse door.
"I'm playing!" he yelled, dead serious. "So, screw you Perez! Screw you Bench! And screw you, too, Rose!" Morgan saw Anderson watching.
"And that goes for you, too!" Morgan yelled at Anderson.
There was dead silence in the clubhouse for a moment . . . and Anderson burst out laughing. The players all joined in.
"We need to rip," Morgan would later explain. "I don't know. Maybe it makes us play harder or maybe it just makes us forget. We're not like the other teams. We can rip each other when we are going bad. We needed to get loose, to forget." But it took an additional clubhouse incident that same day to really loosen things up. Bench, complaining of the flu, was in the trainer's room. He had taken himself out of the starting lineup.
In fact, Bench and Reds' play-by-play announcer Marty Brennaman had been out the night before, inspecting the Montreal entertainment establishments.
Bench had a bad case of the "day-after." Brennaman was fine.
"I woke up feeling like a million dollars," he recalled. "I'm not hung over. So I get to the ballpark, and I couldn't wait to tell Sparky what I had done and who I had done it with. Before we start the pregame show I say to Sparky, 'I went out with Bench last night and we had the damndest time.' "
"Is that right?" responded Anderson.
Brennaman was green, but not from being hungover. He was only in his second year as a major league broadcaster. He didn't realize he had violated Bench's confidence. He didn't know that Bench was sleeping off "the flu" in the trainer's room.
Which is where Anderson headed with a temperature of his own.
"I don't give a damn if your fever is 201 -- you're gonna catch!" Anderson fired at Bench. "If we play 30 innings you're gonna catch 'em all!" Sparky then went on a general tirade, touring the clubhouse, yelling at every one . . . and at no one.
He had his lightning rod now.
"We got too many guys that don't want part of the action!" hollered Anderson. "If Cinderella's slippers fit, you put them on! If they don't, get the the hell out of our way, because we are gonna win and we will go right over the top of you guys that don't wanna play!" That night, the Reds team ended their losing streak, beating the Expos 5-3 in extra innings -- on a Bench home run.
They went on a 41-9 streak, roaring from 5 1/2 games back of the Dodgers to 12 1/2 games in front. By the All-Star break, the Western Division race was over.
Epilogue: Griffey hit .305. Morgan became the No. 1 offensive player in baseball and was named MVP. George Foster hit .300 with 23 HR and 78 RBI in only 463 at-bats. Rose hit .317 and played well at third. Despite all the razzing, he made only 13 errors.
The Reds won 108 games, the third highest in National League history; 28 of those games were in the last at-bat. They won the division by 20 games, the largest in the major leagues since 1906. The Reds beat the Pirates in the NLCS and the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. It was the franchise's first World Championship in 35 years.
"Big Red Dynasty," by Enquirer reporter John Erardi and historian Greg Rhodes, with statistical analysis by Greg Gajus, is due out in March. For further information, please send your name and address to Road West Publishing, 1908 Dexter Ave., Cincinnati 45206.