The second chapter of The Machine - "A show like they never seen before" - sets the stage for the 1975 season by describing the hiring of Sparky Anderson and the preceding offseason. In spring training Sparky Anderson famously gave his "turds" speech:
"He announced that the Machine was made up of two different kinds of players. First, there were the superstars. To be more specific, Sparky said, there were four superstars - Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. Those four made their own rules.... Those four were royalty.
"The rest of you," Sparky said, "are turds."
It's arguable that the handling of egos and personalities on a baseball team is at least as important, if not more so, than the more strategic or technical aspects like lineup construction or bullpen use. Sparky did not have failings in the latter categories - known as "Captain Hook," he was an early leader in modern bullpen usage, and of course there was no bad way to construct a lineup with those players. But his deft handling of the superstar egos on the BRM might have been his most valuable trait. What say you? Would a manager who insisted on equality have failed to deliver the same success, or was the talent so overwhelming that it didn't matter who managed? And how do you think Dusty compares to Sparky in this respect? As much as I like to bag on Dusty, it seems as if he handled a delicate situation with Votto well this year. And he also stuck with Bruce through some ugly slumps. If these guys put up MVP caliber seasons in the near future, some of their success may very well be attributable to the toothpick chewin' fossil.
Sparky also told the club that "this team is like my television set. Nobody messes with it." Relief pitcher Will McEnaney's 30-year reflection on Spark's speech is priceless: "None of us ever knew what the fuck Sparky was talking about."
There's plenty else discussed in the chapter, including the origin of the team nickname, the story of Sparky's hiring, the pre-1975 playoff failings (it's forgotten by many fans now, but without '75 the BRM would be perceived like the '90s Braves), Gary Nolan's improbable return from surgery, and delightfully gratuitous potshots at Steve Garvey. But two vignettes stuck out in my mind:
- The Pete Rose contract negotiations are interesting because of both Pete and the era. This was immediately prior to free agency, which Rose himself would test after the '78 season. So while the players were beginning to assert themselves more thanks to stronger union leadership, the teams still had all the leverage and may have wanted to make that point to its players. The Reds sought to dock Rose's pay for what they perceived as a down year in 1974. When Pete brought up his high walk total in the negotiations, the team scoffed: "Pete," [Ass't GM Dick] Wagner said quietly, "this is not about your walks. This is about your batting average.... you hit .284, which is of course, well below your usual standard.... we pay you to hit .300...."
While Rose seems like a guy that a team would want to compensate well - a hometown guy, a passionate player with a large following, and he was really, really good at baseball - the team had their concerns. Ultimately they settled on a salary cut of $5,000. I just find it fascinating that a team bickered with a superstar over $5,000. Marge Schott would carry on the petty tradition nicely.
- The other vignette is timely (for us) because it concerns George Foster. Riverfront76 correctly pointed out that Foster really exploded onto stardom in '75. Before then Foster was blocked by great players but he also didn't make a great case for more time, carrying a sub .400 SLG as a corner outfielder. What was the "something" that happened? Nobody can say for sure, but in '74 Wendell Deyo became the first team chaplain in Reds history. Having a team chaplain was not a popular idea with many of the players, Sparky, and Dick Wagner (Wagner resented the chaplain because he'd come from work environments where bosses diddled their secretaries on their desk). But Foster sought out Deyo's counsel and the two eventually became friends. According to Deyo, Foster longed for peace and reason.
So what happened that propelled Foster to stardom? Physical maturation (the age 26 season is often the year a player makes a significant leap), more consistent playing time, something from above, or all of the above?