Reds put the kibosh on Martin's chutzpah

Sweep of Yankees was crowning moment

Big Red Machine BY JOHN ERARDI

From "The Big Red Dynasty"
c. 1997, Road West Publishing

Billy Martin, the New York Yankees manager, was never accused of lacking chutzpah. On the eve of the 1976 World Series, the writers asked Martin to compare his team to the Reds.

''We've got better pitching,'' he said. ''And I'll take Thurman Munson over Johnny Bench (at catcher), Roy White over George Foster (in left field), Chris Chambliss over Tony Perez (at first base) and Willie Randolph over Joe Morgan (at second base).''

The last field general with that much bravado attacked an encampment of 3,000 Sioux with 215 soldiers exactly 100 years earlier. Most observers felt Custer had better odds.

''If we lose more than one game in the World Series,'' Reds superscout Ray Shore announced publicly, ''I'd be disappointed.''

Martin had just picked Munson over the best catcher to ever play the game; Randolph over the defending National League Most Valuable Player; and White over the left fielder who would finish second to Morgan in the 1976 MVP balloting.

And all that Perez had done in 1976 was drive in 90 runs for the 10th year in a row. He was regarded by his teammates as the best clutch hitter on a team full of them.

How could Martin possibly pick Randolph over Morgan?

''My guy has more range and is a better fielder,'' said Martin, with a straight face.

And what did Morgan think of Martin's comments?

''We don't care what the Yankees do,'' he said. ''If we play our game, we can beat anyone, anytime.''

Reds manager Sparky Anderson, who had already upset the Yankees by saying his team could run on Munson, decided not to stir things up further.

''I believe we'll win in seven,'' he told reporters.

His eyes were twinkling. He was talking about the seven games it would take to sweep the playoffs and the World Series. The Reds had beaten the Phillies three straight in the NLCS, overcoming a 6-4, ninth-inning deficit in Game 3 at Riverfront Stadium, on back-to-back homers by Foster and Bench and an RBI chop-single by Ken Griffey.

The Yankees arrived in Cincinnati riding the momentum of Chambliss' dramatic ninth-inning blast in Game 5 of the American League League Championship Series.

''I felt we would score runs off of the Yankees pitchers, even though they had led the American League in ERA,'' said Ray Shore, the Reds advance scout. ''(Catfish) Hunter was the only guy Johhny Benchthat scared me a little. But even with Hunter, I thought we had a good enough hitting club. I felt the key was keeping (leadoff man) Mickey Rivers off base and keeping Munson in the ball park.''

Rivers had been a catalyst for the Yankees all year.

On Oct.16, the World Series opened in Cincinnati. It was a cool Saturday afternoon. Riverfront Stadium was gaily festooned with bunting and red balloons. Don Gullett was pitching for the Reds, Doyle Alexander for the Yankees. Hunter had pitched three days earlier in the ALCS.

As Rivers was settling into the batter's box and Gullett was getting the sign from Bench, Pete Rose began to creep in from his third-base position. By the time he stopped and the ball was on the way to the plate, Rose was almost 25 feet down the line from the third-base bag - only 65 feet away from Rivers.

''I had told Pete to play in,'' said Shore, ''but when I looked up, I didn't expect Pete to be shaking hands with him.''

Shore's strategy was to take the bunt away from Rivers and make him try to slap a hit past Rose. It was Rose's idea to turn it into a strategy of intimidation.

Rivers struck out.

The Reds led 2-1 going into the sixth, snuffing out a Yankees rally when Gullett pounced on Rivers' sacrifice bunt and threw out the runner at second, and Bench threw out Rivers on a steal attempt.

The Reds chased good defense with smart offense. Ken Griffey, who had reached first on a fielder's choice, stole second and Perez singled him home. The Reds added two more in the eighth to win 5-1.

Sunday night brought a 40-degree chill and commissioner Bowie Kuhn in a suitcoat to the ballpark. Kuhn was trying to make the point that he hadn't sold out to TV by going for ratings in prime time while allowing the NFL to hog the warm afternoon weather.

It was the first weekend World Series game ever played at night.

Reds general manager Bob Howsam was livid.

He lambasted the decision to play at night, and spoke up in favor of the fans who had paid money to come to the ballpark. When a reporter asked Howsam about Kuhn's suggestion of possibly moving the World Series to a permanent warm-weather site in the future, Howsam spit out a vulgarity. It was totally out of character for him.

''He'd damn well better not try that,'' said Howsam.

''Maybe the commissioner knows best,'' suggested a writer.

''I fill ballparks,'' Howsam snapped.

During the game, Howsam uncomfortably shared a field box with Kuhn. Howsam's overcoat was pulled up around his neck.

In the second inning, the Reds scored three runs off Hunter, with the last of them the most telling. With Cesar Geronimo at third base, Griffey lofted a fly to shallow center.

''Tag and go!'' yelled third-base coach George Scherger.

''Run on Rivers every chance you get,'' Shore had told him.

Geronimo barely slid under Munson's tag, and the fans roared. In the Reds dugout, Anderson clapped his hands.

Hunter retired 14 of the next 16 hitters, while the Yankees were scoring once in the fourth and two in the seventh to tie it at 3.

In the bottom of the ninth, Concepcion and Rose flied out. Griffey stepped into the batter's box.

The count went to two strikes.

''Keep it in play! Keep it in play!'' Anderson shouted.

Ever since Griffey had joined the Reds at age 23 in 1973, Anderson had been playing this vibraphone. He wanted the speedy Griffey to put the bat on the ball and leg out a lot of hits.

The Reds players were so accustomed to hearing Sparky yell, ''Keep it in play! Keep it in play!'' to the young right fielder, they began calling Griffey, ''Kip.''

Griffey knew his job against Hunter in the ninth. He had to get on base so that Morgan could come to the plate. Maybe Perez would get a shot, too.

Griffey nubbed a soft bouncer to shortstop, where Fred Stanley charged hard and made a hurried, off-balance throw. The throw sailed past first baseman Chambliss and into the Reds dugout, and Griffey went to second.

In the Yankees dugout, Martin scratched his 9 o'clock shadow. Should he pitch to Morgan, the second-best second baseman in this game, or walk Morgan and pitch to Perez, the second-best first baseman in this game?

''Man, I hope somebody drives me home,'' said Griffey to himself, shivering at second base. ''It's freezing out here!''

Martin signalled for the intentional walk.

Morgan took ball four. Before he pivoted out of the box and headed for first, he had two quick words to say to Munson.

''Big mistake!''

Nine years had passed since Perez and Hunter were in a confrontation this dramatic. In the 1967 All-Star Game, in the top of the 15th inning, Perez had homered off Hunter to give the National League a 2-1 victory. But Morgan wasn't thinking of that when he said ''Big mistake!'' to Munson. What Morgan was thinking is this:

''With a man on second base and two outs, there is no better hitter in all of baseball than Tony Perez.''

Before Perez headed for the plate, he turned to the on-deck hitter, Danny Driessen, and said, ''All you got to do is tell Griffey to slide when he comes around third. You won't be hitting no more tonight. I'm going to win theees one.'''

Perez settled in to the batter's box, his hands flexing and un-flexing on the bat in his customary style.

Right away, he got the pitch he was looking for - a fastball. It was out over the plate more than Hunter wanted. Perez ripped it on a hard line to left. Griffey scurried around third, beating the throw home.

The Yankees didn't know it, but the World Series was over.

''I remember that night,'' Perez recalled. ''It was a big hit. It was very, very cold that night.''

Colder, really, than anybody knew.

The Reds didn't know it, but in two more games, the dynasty would be over. Even as Perez was singling home the winning run, Howsam knew that the popular Cuban would probably never again play in a Reds uniform before the home folks.

What Howsam didn't know was that he was about to trade away any hope of a possible third straight World Championship. 1976 World Series Epilogue: The Reds became the first - and are still the only - team to sweep every game of postseason play since the League Championship Series began in 1969.

They won Game 3, 6-2. Driessen was the hitting star (single, double, HR). Driessen hit .357 as the Reds designated hitter and took over as the Reds regular first baseman in 1977 when Perez was traded to Montreal.

The Reds won Game 4, 7-2. Bench drove in five runs with two home runs for a .533 World Series average that won him the MVP award.

Rivers hit just .167 and scored only one run in the Series. For the second year in a row, reliever Will McEnaney got the final outs of the Series. The second-to-last out of the game came on a line smash to Rose at third base off the bat of Rivers. ''Take that Mickey!'' Rose yelled defiantly from his perch at third.

Rose started the ball around the horn. At the conclusion of the ball going around the infield, Rose made his trademark flip to the pitcher: a pronounced, soft, underhanded delivery with a follow- through that left his arm extended for a extra second; a motion that said, ''It's your ball. Take care of it.''

Rose then said to McEnaney, ''Here, get one more!''

''I loved the man,'' recalled McEnaney, 20 years later. ''Pete was the guy who broke me into the big leagues. On my first day in the clubhouse (in 1974), he opened his locker to me and said, 'Here Will, need any (baseball) shoes?' I took what I needed. He wore my size.''

The final out of the 1976 World Series was a high fly ball on a 2-0 pitch to Foster in left-center field by White.

The Reds were the first NL team to repeat since 1922. Big Red Machine Epilogue: After the 1976 World Championship, Howsam called in Perez, who wanted to stay with the Reds, but only if he was going to be the regular first baseman.

''If I'm not going to play every day,'' Perez said, ''trade me to a contender.''

''You'll make any team a contender,'' Howsam said.

''Then how come you want to trade me?'' Perez asked.

Howsam chose to keep Driessen instead of Perez, because of age. Driessen was 25; Perez, 34.

''You have to turn the club over enough so you don't get caught with a lot of older players,'' Howsam explained years later. ''I liked Perez and his family so much, I just couldn't put Tony on the bench. (But) you should never take a player to heart. It should be strictly business. If I had been strictly business, I'd have said, 'You two guys (Perez and Driessen) are going to have to fight it out, and whoever wins, the other guy is going to sit on the bench.'''

Howsam calls his trading of Perez the worst mistake of his stewardship of the Reds.

''I think we hurt the chemistry very badly. And we didn't do well with the trades (with Montreal, from whom the Reds acquired starting pitcher Woody Fryman and reliever Dale Murray).'' Tony Perez Epilogue: Could Perez have accepted fighting it out with Driessen for the first base job?

''No,'' Perez said. ''I had battled it out my first two years in Cincinnati, when I wasn't playing full- time. I don't understand why Bob would say, 'I should have let them battle it out.' Why should I have to battle when other teams want me?

''I had 10 straight years of driving in 90 or more runs. I'd been in the starting lineup for nine years, and then my playing time started being reduced in '76. I didn't want to go through a another year of that.''

No.24 can't understand why Howsam ''sacrificed'' him.

''To this day,'' Perez said, ''I still ask myself this question: 'Why would anybody want to break up that starting eight?'''

''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.