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Throwback Madness: Round 2 / Game 4

1956 vs. 1976

Cleveland Indians v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Team: 1956

Seed: 7

Record: 91-63, finished 3rd in 8-team National League.

Did this team matter?: The Redlegs finished third in a 3 team race, finishing just two games back of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Two weeks prior to the end of the season, Cincinnati dropped both games of a 2-game series in Brooklyn, losing each contest by one run. The team ripped off eight wins in its final nine games, but ultimately couldn’t recover from the head-to-head matchups with the Dodgers. This team mattered in one of the most painful ways possible.

Performances to remember: As noted above, the Reds were in a close race in 1956 and anytime you fall just short of a goal, it’s human nature to look for “what if?” moments that could have turned the story from failure to success.

Ed Bailey had a banner and breakout season in 1956. .300/.385/.551 (143 OPS+) over 448 PA and while providing better than solid defense behind the plate. This was a breakout season in that Bailey only appeared in 21 games the year before as Smoky Burgess competently held the role on a full-time basis.

There’s a couple of weird items here:

1) Burgess was still around in 1956 and he was still good (258 PA, 114 OPS+). The Reds made the right call in keeping Burgess around and giving him a good deal of playing time.

2) Both players were left-handed hitters, so there wasn’t a natural platoon available. And each player’s splits reveal that neither player was given a particular preference against right-handed or left-handed pitchers. About 2/3 of Bailey’s plate appearances were vs. RHP, and a tad more of Burgess’s PA were as well. The weird part was that Bailey was really bad against lefties (542 OPS) while Burgess was really damn competent (915 OPS).

Bailey had a great career with the Reds and both players combined to give Cincinnati the best catcher profile in the league in 1956. But if the team had been a bit more extreme in how they platooned the players, maybe (maybe!) that might have been enough to make the team a pennant winner.

Wikipedia says: “On Sunday, June 24, following a doubleheader sweep of the Brooklyn Dodgers, eleven Redlegs players appeared on the panel quiz show What’s My Line?.”

Uniform notes: 1956 kicked off an eleven year run of sleeveless jerseys, with the 1956 version being the only uniform in team history to feature the Mr. Redleg depiction on the front of the uniform.

My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “Ew. What’s up with the sleeves? It has a picture and a number on the front, but it also has a number on the back. Weirdo.”

Team: 1976

Seed: 2

Record: 102-60, finished 1st in 6-team National League West. Swept the Phillies in the NLCS and the Yankees in the World Series.

Did this team matter?: On the short list for the greatest team in MLB history. This team mattered. I think my favorite stat about this team is that although the full year record was really good, when the 8 regulars were all in the starting lineup the team went 69-19, which would have been a pace for 127 wins over 162 games.

Performances to remember: 1976 was Pete Rose’s age-35 season (cf. Joey Votto, 2019). How do you become a larger-than-life figure? Were you to take the Rose model, you would play in all 162 games, despite winning the division by 90 games or so, lead the league in plate appearances, hits, runs, and doubles, post excellent rate numbers (141 OPS+), and play better-than-average defense at a virtually new posision (3b).

That’s a good start. But how you cement it is this:

I used to work with a guy who is a full generation older than myself. Yankees fan. When he discovered that I am a Reds fan, all he could talk about was how Pete Rose changed the face of the ’76 World Series by playing so far in every time Yankees’ leadoff hitter Mickey Rivers was up, that he took away the possibility of a bunt, changed Rivers’s swing, took up space in Mickey’s brain rent-free, and set the tone for the sweep of a series. There is a factual element to this. You can find videos and stories today dedicated to how Rose played defense against Rivers. Rose, by the way, put up a pedestrian 3-for-16 batting line in the series. But he was all a defeated Yankees fan wanted to talk about some 35 years later.

Wikipedia says: “As of 2018, the Reds are the only team in baseball history to sweep through an entire postseason since the addition of divisions.”

Uniform notes: Pullover double-knit polyester jerseys with elastic banded pants!

My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “Oooh, I like the belt thingy. There aren’t any buttons like all the others.”


Who wore it better?

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