Record: 96-44, finished 1st out of 8 team National League. Won World Series over White Sox in 8 games.
Did this team matter?: Spawned a movie starring Charlie Sheen and John Cusack, so obviously yes. First championship winning team in franchise history. Also, this team forces you to grapple with the power of narrative. The 1919 White Sox were the heavy favorites, so explains the famous movie. And this was perhaps, even probably, true: Gamblers looking to make a crooked buck are going to target the underdogs as a way to maximize winnings. I don’t know how many times out of 100 the Reds would have beaten a straight-up Sox team, but the Reds won eight more regular season games than did Chicago and had a per-game run differential that was quite a bit better. And the White Sox got to inflate their record with 20 games against a historically bad Philadelphia A’s team (17-3 against). Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Performances to remember: Edd Roush was at the pinnacle of his career. In 1919, he led the league in batting average with a .321 mark, his second batting crown in three years. The year before, he had led the league in slugging percentage. An all-around good hitter and one of the leaders of the National League’s best team. Surely well known around the country by partisans of the sport. And the ability to showcase his talents in the World Series, the preeminent sporting event of the year! And then they won! Perhaps Roush didn’t even mind telling folks that he only hit .214 in the World Series. After all, it was a team game and he now held the title of champion.
And then the news comes out that the opponents weren’t on the level? That they were possibly trying to let you succeed and you played pretty poorly? And even those below-standard stats were goosed up by three hits you achieved in the final game of the series? Can you imagine the embarrassment? God, I would just die.
Wikipedia says: “The team’s accomplishments were overshadowed by the subsequent Black Sox scandal, when it was discovered that their American League opponents, the Chicago White Sox had conspired to throw the series.”
Uniform notes: Appears to be the first time that pinstripes appeared on a Reds uniform.
My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “The stripes are kind of weird. The rest is just normal.”
Record: 89-79, finished 3rd out of 6 team National League West division
Did this team matter?: Yeah, I think so, but in ways that had little to do with the team itself. First, 1969 was the last full season in Crosley Field, and was the 100th anniversary of the first pro team, and was the last season before the magical run of the 1970s. And it was the first season of divisional play, complete with expanded playoff opportunities, which a promising roster combined with deft roster construction by Bob Howsam (who would trade his starting left fielder, first baseman, and second baseman in the coming seasons to spectacular result), would soon take ample advantage of. I like to think of 1969 as the grainy prelude to the technicolor Big Red Machine.
Performances to remember: In 1969, Johnny Bench hit 26 home runs and successfully threw out 57% of all base stealing attempts against him. At that time, I believe the only other catchers in baseball history who had hit at least 25 homers and had cut down at least half of opposing runners were: Roy Campanella (multiple times), Yogi Berra (multiple times), Del Crandall (one time), and Gus Triandos (one time). Two of those guys were all time greats and two of those guys were somewhere well short of immortality. So the fact that Bench accomplished this relatively arbitrary combination wasn’t necessarily meaningful in establishing his level of greatness.
However, no one but Bench had hit this dual mark at such a young age. Bench didn’t turn 22 until after the 1969 season was over. He had won the Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove awards as a 20-year-old rookie in 1968. And then he got markedly better in 1969. The excitement and anticipation for how good Bench could become must have been one of the two or three most important news stories across the entire country in 1969.
Wikipedia says: “(The season) consisted of the Reds finishing in third place in the newly established National League West, four games behind the NL West champion Atlanta Braves. The Reds were managed by Dave Bristol, and played their home games at Crosley Field, which was in its final full season of operation, before moving into their new facility in the middle of the following season.”
Uniform notes: The 1969 uniforms essentially matched the 1968 version, only with a centennial patch added. And this style would last through the 1971 season. After which would come a 20-year run of pullover-style jerseys. Akin to the comment earlier, this was the last link to the old world before Astroturf, polyester, and multi-purpose stadia.
My fashion-conscious, non-baseball-fan tween of a daughter says: “It’s plain and keeps repeating the same stuff.”
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