Welcome to Red Reporter's second hurrah into some old-timey nerdery in the form of a book club. This time we'll be reading Joe Posnanski's The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. As most of you know, Posnanski is a former Cincinnati Post reporter, current Sports Illustrated writer, and a Clevelander at heart. I think he does a great job discussing the personalities and stories of the 1975 Reds, and if you have the means I highly recommend acquiring The Machine and giving it a read. I'll try to post something every week or two covering a chapter of the book so that we finish the book before Opening Day.
Like a great leadoff hitter the Prologue sets the table for the tour de force to follow. Appropriately, the Prologue begins by describing Pete Rose. Plenty of guys play the game hard, but it's hard to imagine any player today who acts as ferociously as Rose on field, in the dugout, and in the clubhouse. With the Reds down three runs in the sixth inning of Game 7, Pete paced the dugout, cursing and getting in the faces of any teammate to tell them how much they (and the Sox) sucked. Of course, Tony Perez would then hit a two-run HR and the Reds would come back to beat Boston by a run, securing not just a champsionship but an escape from the choker label that had dogged the pre-'75 team.
So here are a few questions and observations for discussion.
- How important is it to have a fiery leader like Pete Rose in a game 7? I think it's natural to evaluate a championship team and concoct a story about how the team "gelled" or that so-and-so wouldn't let the team lose. Over the course of a 162-game season, I don't think these intangibles matter all that much. But in the World Series, in game 7? I don't think it's inconceivable that personalities player a larger role and that some players react differently to the pressure than others.
- With the Reds down by 3 in the 6th inning, Tony Perez told Sparky "Don't worry. I hit a home run." And then:
Earlier in the game, [Boston pitcher Bill] Lee had thrown his slow curve, a lollipop of a pitch that peaked at about ten feet off the ground and then dropped gently into the strike zone.... Doggie was mesmerized, and he could not unleash his swing. "Throw it again," he muttered now.... Bill Lee began his windup, and then he unleased it one more time, his slow curveball, and Perez saw it, his eyes widened, and he did something funny in his swing. He buckled, like a car trying to jump into second gear.
I watched the at bat after reading the book, and man, did Perez crush it. Well over the Monster. With Bench on first after Rose had ferociously broken up the DP, the Reds were within one and would win the game, and the championship, on Joe Morgan's bloop RBI single in the 9th.
Perez's reputation as a clutch hitter may well have pushed him into the Hall of Fame. Is that reputation deserved, and if so, does that justify his inclusion into the Hall? If you had to pick between Perez and Rose, who would you put in the Hall?
- It's interesting how the perceptions of each team have evolved since the Seventies. The Reds have gone from dynasty to forgotten man. The Red Sox have done more or less the opposite. Before '75 they weren't known as a "cursed" franchise (I believe that wasn't invented until after 1986, but someone correct me if I'm off). They were simply known as a bad team that had appeared in two WS since 1918 and were the last to integrate.