1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds: the Greatest Baseball Team of All Time?
Were the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds the greatest major league baseball team of all time?
by Michael R. Burch
The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time,
Is Mike Trout the GOAT?,
Best Baseball Nicknames,
Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia,
Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates,
Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame,
Big Red Machine Timeline/Chronology,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Plate Appearance,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7,
Weird Sports Trivia,
The Big Red Machine dominated the National League from 1970-1976, with a dynasty that won five division titles and four pennants. During this impressive run the Reds appeared in four World Series, winning the last two
consecutively while going an astonishing 14-3 (82.4%) in postseason play against the world's best teams. For five seasons, 1972-1976, the Reds averaged a .626 winning percentage and 100 victories per year. For nearly
a decade, 1970-1976, they averaged 98 wins per season. The 1975 Reds won 108 games, one of the best records in the modern era, against very stiff competition (the Schmidt-Luzinski-Carlton Phillies, the
Stargell-Parker-Oliver Pirates, the Simmons-Brock-McBride-Hernandez Cardinals, and the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey-Buckner Dodgers). The Reds went 64–17 at home in 1975, which remains the best home record ever by a National
League team. The 1975 Reds clinched a playoff appearance on September 7, the earliest for any MLB team in a 162-game season. The 1976 Reds won 102 games despite injuries that often kept the starters from playing together,
and they remain the only major league baseball team to go undefeated in the postseason since divisional playoffs began. As the only NL team in nearly 100 years to win consecutive World Series, they definitely qualify
as the greatest senior league team of the modern era. But what about the AL? Were the 1975-1976 Reds the greatest baseball team of modern times? Were they the greatest baseball team of all time? I claim the answer
to both questions is "yes," especially when the focus is on starting eights, and will proceed to provide the "whys" and "wherefores" ...
The 1976 Reds had a star-studded starting lineup called the "Great Eight" that was the best of all time when offense, defense, baserunning and intangibles like hustle, versatility, clutch play and intimidation
are considered. Members of the Great Eight collected six MVP awards, four home run titles, six RBI titles, seven hits titles, six runs titles, three batting titles, 26 Gold Gloves and a staggering 65 All-Star selections.
That's an average of eight All-Star appearances per starter! Incredibly, seven of the Great Eight made the 1976 NL all-star team. The only Reds starter who didn't make the All-Star team that year, center fielder
Cesar Gerónimo, hit .307, won a Gold Glove, and finished 25th in the MVP voting despite batting eighth! Furthermore, as I will document, the 1976 Reds were one of the best defensive and base-stealing teams of all time. Up
the middle, at the four most important defensive positions, they had 24 Gold Gloves. As a team they stole bases at a higher percentage than some of the all-time great base thieves. One cannot make such claims about teams
like the 1927, 1939 and 1961 Yankees.
But here's the most surprising stat of all: the Great Eight played only 87 games together as a starting lineup and went 69-18 for an otherworldly .793 winning percentage. Multiply .793 by 162 games, and you get 128 wins
for a full season. Were they really that good? "We didn't think we could get beat," said Joe Morgan, "because we almost never did get beat." Then suddenly it was over, when Tony Pérez was traded to
Montreal. But those 87 games were enough to stamp the signature of the Great Eight on baseball forever.
How good was the Big Red Machine, really? Joe West, who has been umpiring for 43 years and recently set the all-time record with his 5,376th game, said: "The best hitting team I ended up seeing was the Big Red
Machine, just as they were dismantling." West became a full-time NL umpire in 1978, so apparently he didn't see the Reds at their peak, but they were still the best he saw "up close and personal" over
four decades. And the Reds in 1978 were a mere shadow of the 1975-1976 teams!
How good were the 1976 Reds offensively? They were the only MLB team to lead their league in every major hitting category. And they not only led the NL, they also led every team in the AL as well, despite the
tremendous advantage of the designated hitter. The Red led all MLB in plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS,
OPS+, total bases and stolen base efficiency. No other team has led all these categories in one league, much less both. Hell, the Reds were so loaded offensively that during the 1976 World Series, MLB RBI leader George
Foster was hitting sixth with Johnny Bench seventh!
How did the Reds do it? After the bios I will explain a simple Fangraphs screen you can use to confirm that for a twenty year period of time (1965-1984) the Reds had three of the four best players in both
leagues. Can you guess the only non-Red? Betcha can't!
I will begin with quick capsule bios that give the main recommendations for each player. I will then give expanded bios that are still relatively brief, for anyone interested enough to keep reading. My premise is
that the 1975 Reds were undeniably great, but the 1976 Reds were the greatest team of all time, due to career-best seasons by Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Gerónimo and George Foster (although Foster would have an
even better year in 1977, when he hit 52 homers, drove in 149 runs, and was the NL MVP). Because it's very difficult to compare pitching between eras, I'm going to focus on the position players, but in due course I will
explain why the fireballing Reds pitchers would have become Bob Fellers and Dazzy Vances if they were transported back to the era of Ruth, Gehrig, et al. (Hint: the simple truth lies in the strikeout statistics.)
The "slash lines" below are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/OPS. An asterisk means the player is a superstar in the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF), or should be. A plus sign
means the player was well above average for his position. A minus sign would designate a below-average player, but you won't find any weak spots in this stellar lineup.
• C Johnny Bench (*) was the #1 catcher of all time according to most rankings; he was a slugging two-time MVP who won ten consecutive Gold Gloves
• 1B Tony Pérez (*) had 1,652 RBI (more than Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle and other immortal sluggers)
• 2B Joe Morgan (*) was the #1 second baseman of all time according to Bill James; in 1976 the NL MVP led all MLB in WAR, slugging, OBP, OPS and OPS+
• SS Dave Concepción (*) compares favorably with a number of HOF shortstops including Reese and Rizzuto; he won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers
• 3B Pete Rose (*) is the all-time leader in games, wins, hits and times on base; in 1976 he led all MLB with 215 hits, 307 times on base, 130 runs and 42 doubles
• LF George Foster (*) was baseball's most feared slugger in his prime and compares favorably with many HOF outfielders; in 1976 he led all MLB with 121 RBI
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. (+) missed the 1976 batting title by an eyelash and slashed .336/.401/.450/.851 with 189 hits, 253 total bases, 111 runs and 34 steals
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) won one of four consecutive Gold Gloves in 1976 while slashing .307/.382/.414/.795 with 201 total bases, 22 steals and 11 triples
If we consider the stats of the Reds' bottom three players, the excellence of the overall lineup becomes apparent. The infield is undoubtedly the best ever, as punctuated by Bill James with the word
"WOW!" (And he wasn't including Bench at the time.) Bench and Morgan were first-ballot hall-of-famers in 1989 and 1990, a rare double honor for any team. They both have legitimate claims
to be the all-time best at their positions. Rose would have been a sure first-ballot HOFer if not for gambling issues. Pérez, one of the great RBI men, is also in the HOF. Concepción compares favorably
with half the shortstops in the HOF. There has never been an infield to rival it.
So what about the outfield? Foster played at an HOF level for a decade, but is handicapped by not having become a full-timer until age 26 because the loaded Reds lineup was so hard to crack. (Rose had to
move from left to third in order for Foster to play regularly.) And yet Foster still has better numbers than a slew of HOF outfielders, as I confirm in his expanded bio. Ken Griffey Sr. also played at an
HOF level for a decade but got a late start for the same reason. In any case, Foster and Griffey certainly played at HOF levels in 1976, and that is the focus of this discussion. Cesar Gerónimo is the
only member of the Great Eight who is not a candidate for the HOF, but in 1976 he too was playing at an exalted level, especially considering his gold glove, cannon arm, speed and athleticism. So my
"bottom line" is that the 1976 Reds had the only MLB team in history with four HOFers playing together in their primes and four other superstars all having HOF-caliber seasons. When your number
eight hitter has stats like Gerónimo's, there is "magic in the air." And there definitely was magic in the air for the Big Red Machine in 1976, when they swept through the playoffs and World
Series without losing a game, something no other modern era team has managed. Also, I believe the 1972-1978 Reds had the lineup with the most MVP awards with six: Johnny Bench (1970, 1972), Pete Rose
(1973), Joe Morgan (1975, 1976), and George Foster (1977). Also Tony Perez finished in the top ten in the MVP voting four times, finishing as high as third, and giving the Reds five MVP-level players.
I found the following player comparisons on the Baseball Egg Top 100 web resource. And it's a great resource, with the top 100 players at each position, including pictures, capsule bios, and informed
discussions. This is how Baseball Egg rates the Elite Eight:
• C Johnny Bench (*) was the #1 catcher of all time, ahead of Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, and every other catcher who ever played
• 1B Tony Pérez (*) was the #22 first baseman of all time, ahead of David Ortiz, Orlando Cepeda, Rafael Palmeiro, Don Mattingly and Steve Garvey
• 2B Joe Morgan (*) was the #1 second baseman of all time, ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Jackie Robinson, Rod Carew and Nap Lajoie
• SS Dave Concepción (*) was the #39 shortstop, ahead of Vern Stephens, Dick Groat, Omar Vizquel, Mark Belanger, Miguel Tejeda and Garry Templeton
• 3B Pete Rose (*) would rank #8 if moved to third base, in a virtual tie with Brooks Robinson and ahead of Paul Molitor and Frank "Home Run" Baker
• LF George Foster (*) was the #25 left fielder of all time, comparable to Manny Ramirez and ahead of Jim Rice, Albert Belle, Lou Brock and Moises Alou
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. (+) was the #65 right fielder of all time, comparable to Juan Gonzalez, Carl Furillo, Harold Baines, Vic Wertz and Bryce Harper
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) was not rated by Baseball Egg, but players with similar career WAR include Gary Matthews, Don Demeter and Albie Pearson
So theoretically I could trade the Elite Eight for a team of Mike Piazza, David Ortiz, Rogers Hornsby, Vern Stephens, Paul Molitor, Jim Rice, Juan Gonzalez and Garry Matthews. That's very
impressive and shows how deep and talented the Big Red Machine was. If I took the 42.5 fWAR of the Elite Eight in 1976 and "spent" it on other 1976 players, I could assemble a team of Thurman
Munson or Carlton Fisk, Steve Garvey, Rod Carew, Bert Campaneris, Mike Schmidt or George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn and Dave Winfield. I will do similar "virtual trades" later on this page
using measures like WAR, JAWS, win shares, etc.
Expanded Bios of the Big Red Machine
• C Johnny Bench (*) aka the "Binger Banger" was the greatest offensive/defensive catcher ever, in his prime years. And despite major lung surgery and many injuries due to the rigors of
his position, he remains the Reds' all-time leader in homers, RBI and Gold Gloves. Bench was MVP twice, an All-Star 14 times, and he leads all catchers in career WAR and JAWS. How good was Johnny
Bench? Here's what David Schoenfield said in his article about the best players of all time, age 25 and under: Bench, the only catcher to make the list, at age 22 was the youngest-ever NL
MVP "after leading the league in home runs  and RBI  while possessing the strongest arm many had ever seen―he started 130 games at catcher and allowed only 32 steals while
throwing out 30. You did not run on Johnny Bench." As an ESPN writer explained while naming him the best catcher of all time: "Bench was the perfect archetype for his position, catching's
answer to Willie Mays, the guy whose game was all power. Power to the fences, a cannon behind the plate." In an interview, Pete Rose said Bench was the best catcher of all time and he
couldn't think of a "close second." Or as Reds manager Sparky Anderson advised other managers, please don't embarrass your catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench! According to Baseball
Egg no other catcher "was as great as Bench at his peak and no one was as great for as long as he was. He has the best three-year peak, the best five-year peak, and the second best seven-year
peak ... If you want a winner, he was behind the plate for four pennant-winning teams and two World Champions. His [MVP] performance in the 1976 World Series, when he terrorized Yankee pitching and
silenced their running game, was his signature moment." Bench won a gold glove as a rookie and went on to earn ten in a row, while averaging 29 homers and 100 RBI for a decade. According to the
Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Johnny Bench is the #40 player of all time, comparable to Mel Ott, Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett and Joe Medwick. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Bench is
the #34 player of all time, comparable to Ott and Cal Ripken Jr. According to FanGraphs fWAR, Bench is the #43 player of all time, comparable to Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Waner and Reggie Jackson. But I think
WAR clearly undervalues catchers, and I believe Bench was as good a catcher as Mike Schmidt was a third baseman, so I have him in my top eight position players. And while I'm sorry to disappoint Mike
Piazza fans, he never won a Gold Glove and only threw out 23% of base stealers. Bench won ten consecutive Gold Gloves and shut down other teams' running games. [Bench#8]
• 1B Tony Pérez (*) aka "Mr. Clutch" was one of the greatest run producers ever, with 1,652 RBI.
That's more than legendary sluggers like Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey,
Jeff Bagwell, Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell. Only Cap
Anson, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx had more RBI among HOF first basemen who
didn't spent much of their careers DH-ing. Pérez rivaled Johnny Bench as a
power hitter and RBI man, averaging 28 homers and
103 RBI for a decade. Few baseball fans probably realize it, but Pérez was the
MLB leader in RBI for a staggering 17 years, from 1967 to 1983,
during which he drove in more runs than Bench, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski,
McCovey, Stargell and Steve Garvey. Pérez was
called "Mr. Clutch" for a reason. As Stargell noted: "With men in scoring
position and the game on the line, Tony's the last guy an opponent wanted to
see." Pérez also ranks in the top 50 for total
bases, ahead of Mantle, Schmidt and his first base
peers previously mentioned. And
with 379 homers he's up there with some very impressive sluggers:
Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, Albert Belle, Jim Rice, Norm Cash, Cepeda and Bench. If you want your
first baseman to consistently produce lots of total bases and RBI, year after
year, then Pérez is in the upper tier. Even if you devalue total
bases and RBI, he still ranks in the top 20. Bill James has ranked Pérez around 12-13 over the years, above Eddie
Murray, Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley, Greenberg, Cash and Cepeda. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Tony Pérez is
the #247 player of all time, comparable to Home Run Baker, Roger Maris, Max Carey, Larry
Doby, Joe Gordon, Ron Santo and Bob Meusel. According to Baseball
Prospectus BWARP, Pérez is the #137 player of all time, comparable to Belle and
Rice. According to FanGraphs fWAR, Pérez is the #128 player of all time,
comparable to Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield. But for an RBI
position, Pérez has been vastly undervalued, in my opinion. I would rank him
closer to the players he most resembles: Killebrew, McCovey and Cepeda, with an
average HOFM player rating of 98. [Pérez#98]
• 2B Joe Morgan (*) aka "Little Joe" may have been the greatest all-round second baseman ever; the 1976 NL MVP hit .320/.444/.576/1.020
with 27 homers, 111 RBI, 113 runs, 114 walks and 62 stolen bases; he also won five Gold
Gloves. Morgan has the highest career WAR among modern second baseman and ranks behind only Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins
and Nap Lajoie at his position; however, he may have been the best when we consider defense, getting on base, base-stealing
efficiency and power. In the
worst case, he's in the all-time top four. He's also one of only 20 position
players with 100 career bWAR. As examples of his excellence,
Morgan is first among all MLB players in the number of years in the top ten for
stolen base percentage (15) and bases on balls (18). As a result his secondary
average (SEC) is higher than that of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Stan
Musial and a host of other immortal hitters. How rare was Morgan's 1976 season? Well, it would be 40 years before another second baseman
would lead either league in OPS. How good was Morgan for his peak five years of 1972-1976? Morgan's peak WAR
bested that of Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams ... and every other
HOF player not named Ruth, Mays or Mantle!
As Larry Granillo pointed out in his article on the greatest players by era: "Joe Morgan takes over as the best player in baseball in 1973.
His four-year run ends after two great years in '75 and '76 that find him
as far above the second best player as anyone else in history. "
That opinion was seconded by The Sporting News, which made Morgan its
player of the year in 1975 and 1976. The only two-time winners prior to Morgan
were Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Sandy Koufax.
That's heady company! Morgan revolutionized the second base position with his
unique skills, averaging 100
runs, 109 walks, 40 steals and 18 homers for a decade. He is also 14th in
assists, regardless of position, one spot below his double-play partner Dave
Concepcion. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Joe Morgan is the #64
player of all time, comparable to Johnny Mize, Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks, Mark
McGwire and Paul Molitor. But Morgan's peak was higher and we are talking
specifically about 1976. In his Historical Baseball
Abstract, Bill James named Morgan the best second baseman ever, ahead of Collins and Hornsby. James also named Morgan the "greatest
percentages player in baseball history" because of his superior fielding
percentage, stolen base percentage, walk-to-strikeout ratio, and
walks-per-plate-appearance. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Morgan
is the #13 player of all time, comparable to Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio.
According to FanGraphs fWAR, Morgan is the #21 player of all time, comparable to
Jimmie Foxx and Nap Lajoie. [Morgan#20]
• SS Dave Concepción (*) aka "El Rey" (the King) was the most complete shortstop of his era,
defense, athleticism and a potent bat for his position (slugging .401, 25th in
the NL in 1976). A nine-time all-star, he won five Gold Gloves and
two Silver Sluggers. As Johnny Bench pointed out, if not for the arrival of
Ozzie Smith, Concepción would probably have won ten Gold Gloves.
If elected, Concepción would rank eighth among HOF shortstops in games; ninth in home runs, stolen bases and
defensive WAR; tenth in assists, and eleventh in hits and RBI. So he belongs in the HOF or at least deserves strong consideration.
Ryan Pollack of Beyond the Box Score agrees, ranking
Concepción only slightly behind Derek Jeter as a HOF candidate and calling him a
"pretty bad snub." Concepción had a ten-year streak in which he either made the all-star team,
won a gold glove, or was an MVP candidate; he also slugged .397 or better
six times and drove in 60 or more runs seven times despite hitting lower down in
the Reds' loaded lineup. According to Andrew Robeson,
Concepción is the sixth best defensive shortstop of all time. He is 13th in
assists regardless of position, one spot above his teammate Joe Morgan. With 21.4 dWAR,
Concepción is a top 40 defensive player of all time, regardless of position, and
is tied with the great defensive third baseman Graig Nettles. Concepción ranks higher defensively than Honus Wagner, Bert Campaneris,
Nellie Fox, Willie Mays, Rey
Sanchez, Ed Brinkman, Bill Russell, Larry Bowa, Luke Appling, Dick Groat, Lou
Whitaker and Dal Maxvill. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Dave Concepción is the
#154 player of all time, comparable to Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hack Wilson, Willie
Stargell, Earle Combs, Pie Traynor and Pee Wee Reese. According to Bill
James' list of greatest shortstops by career value, Concepción is #15 and ranks above 12 HOF
shortstops, including Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Ernie Banks, Joe Sewell and Lou
Boudreau. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Concepción is the
#194 player of all time, comparable to Boudreau, Gil Hodges, Pie Traynor and
Curt Flood. [Concepción#154]
• 3B Pete Rose (*) aka "Charlie Hustle" is the all-time leader in games, wins, plate appearances, at-bats, hits and times-on-base.
He also has the most top ten seasons for hits (17), times-on-base
(18) and plate appearances (19).
In 1976 he had a banner year, batting .323/.404/.450/.854 with 215 hits, 130 runs, 42 doubles, 86 walks and
299 total bases while leading off. Rose was an all-star at five
different positions: 1B, 2B, 3B, LF and RF. According to JAWS, Rose ranks
#5 among HOF left fielders, #6 among HOF third basemen, #7 among HOF second
basemen, and #8 among HOF right fielders. If we give him credit for his
staggering lifetime achievements, Rose ranks even higher. For instance, his 79.7
career WAR puts Rose #5 among HOF third basemen behind only
Schmidt, Mathews, Boggs and Brett. According to Beyond the Box Score,
Rose ranks #5 in wWAR for left field, if Stan Musial is considered a first
baseman. Naysayers often claim Rose was "just a singles hitter" and "not dynamic."
But that can easily
be refuted with WAR7, which measures a player's seven best years. Rose has a higher WAR7 than Kiner, Goslin,
Raines, Medwick, Stargell, Molitor, Gwynn,
Jeter, Anson, McGwire, Sosa and Piazza. Surely no one would claim those superstars were "not dynamic."
So obviously Rose was. Here's another measure of Rose's dynamism: over
a 24-year career that obviously involved some slowing down at the end, he
averaged 98 runs, 194 hits and 262 total bases per 162 games. Again, that's
for a 24-year career. Those would be great numbers for most stars
in their primes! As for Rose being "just a singles hitter," he ended up with
only 41 fewer total bases than Babe Ruth.
Furthermore, Rose was a winner; when the Phillies were trying desperately to claim their
first World Series title, they made the 38-year-old Rose the highest-paid player in
baseball and he responded by hitting .331 and leading the NL with a .418 OBP.
Next year the Phillies finally won it all. (A poll of 30 reporters named Rose the Phillies' greatest free agent acquisition.
Did I mention that he was freakin' 38 years old?) Rose went on to lead the NL
in hits at age 40 and games played at 41. Hell, he had a .395 OBP and was on base nearly 200
times at age 44. Not dynamic, my ass!
Rose was "clutch" too: in 67 postseason
games he hit .321 and slugged .440, well above his career averages. He was the
1975 World Series MVP with 10 hits and 5 walks for a .485 OBP. Rose remains
fourth all-time in postseason WPA (Win Probability Added). Newarena.com ranks
Rose the #13
hitter of all time. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Pete Rose is the #15 player of all time, comparable to Foxx, Wagner, Mantle,
Gehringer, DiMaggio and Speaker. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP,
Rose is the #29 player of all time, comparable to Foxx, Gehrig and Ott.
Pete Rose is #33 all-time in WPA (Win Probability Added), just behind baseball
immortals Joe DiMaggio and Mike Schmidt and ahead of Tris Speaker, Roberto
Clemente, Al Simmons, Paul Waner, Reggie Jackson and George Brett. According to FanGraphs fWAR, Rose is the #37 player of all time, comparable to
Roberto Clemente and DiMaggio. Despite
all his position changes, Rose won two Gold Gloves and would have won
several more except that in those days many voters opted for three
centerfielders, or two centerfielders and Roberto Clemente. Furthermore, a
study of Rose's dWAR suggests that his career WAR could have been 10 to 20
points higher if had been able to play his best defensive position, left field,
That would put him in the top 20 position players. According to JJ Keller, left
field was "by far" Rose's best position, where he put up +51 TZ in 5,841
innings, or +11 per season "which would put him pretty close to Gold Glove left
fielder Alex Gordon." According to James Gentile,
Rose had one of the highest defensive peaks of all time at left field from
1972-1974, with 52.7 defensive runs saved. His dWAR of 3.6 for those three years
is also historically high for the position. For three consecutive years, Rose led
all NL left fielders in putouts, assists, range factor and zone runs.
But Rose unselfishly switched positions
for the good of his team and as a result he's been undervalued. In any case, keeping Rose out of the HOF is a crime, when notorious gamblers, racists, drug users and wife abusers
are enshrined, including some of baseball's most luminous names: Cobb, Speaker, Hornsby,
Anson, et al. According to the Not in the Hall
of Fame Committee, Pete Rose is number 1A on the list of players who should be
in the HOF, followed by Shoeless Joe Jackson. For
more information on this subject, please click
Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
• LF George Foster (*) aka "the Destroyer" was the most feared slugger of his era; in 1976 he hit .306/.364/.530/.894
with 29 homers and led all MLB with 121 RBI; he was second only to Morgan in slugging percentage.
Foster is the only NL hitter to win three consecutive RBI titles (1976-1978) since Joe
Medwick in 1938. For those three years he averaged 40 homers and
130 RBI during a down time for hitters. Foster was the 1977 NL MVP and finished
1-2-3-6-12 in the MVP voting. He also led NL
left fielders in fielding percentage four times. If elected, Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348) and eleventh in RBI (1,239) and slugging percentage (.480). Foster compares favorably with HOF outfielders Medwick, Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner,
Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Enos Slaughter, Earle Combs, Kiki Cuyler, Zack Wheat,
Sam Thompson and Larry Doby. Foster's WAR7 puts him squarely
between Stargell and Rice (a very high peak indeed). His AB/RBI ratio beats
Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson and Eddie Matthews. The last time I
counted, there were 32 HOF outfielders who didn't strike me as better than
Foster; the majority of them seemed less good. The only slugging RBI types among the left
fielders markedly better than Foster, in my opinion, were Ted Williams, Carl
Yastrzemski, Al Simmons, Goose Goslin, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams and Ed
Delahanty. Medwick and Rice may be a notch above Foster, but it's getting close.
I would put speed merchants Rickey Henderson and Tim
Raines above Foster. That still leaves a sizeable list of HOF left fielders with fewer homers and RBI
than Foster, and below him in WAR7. Foster's OPS+ is around the HOF average at a
126. If we give him credit for the fact that he did more in fewer at-bats than
most of his peers―like Kiner, Wilson, Combs and Doby―he looks even better. Why
is Foster a notch below Rice in homers and RBI? Well it was hard for him to play left field when it was being manned by 17-time all-star Pete
Rose! The Big Red Machine was blessed with a two-decade unbroken string of excellent outfielders:
Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Rose, Tommy Harper, Deron Johnson, Alex Johnson, Bobby Tolan, Bernie Carbo,
Hal McRae, Griffey, Geronimo and Foster. When Rose moved to third, Foster was 26 and
he only played full-time for ten years. But his
162-game average was 29 homers and 102 RBI. Not many outfielders
can say that. Billy Williams averaged 28/96, Carl Yastrzemski 22/90 and Reggie Jackson 32/98.
They were great players, and Foster was in the same class for a decade. That
should be good enough for HOF enshrinement, since ten stellar years (or fewer)
were good enough for other members. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, George
Foster is the #193 player of all time, comparable to Jackie Robinson, George Kell, Enos
Slaughter, Roger Maris, Tony Lazzeri, Home Run Baker and Tim Raines. According
to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Foster is the #166 player of all time,
comparable to Ernie Lombardi, Thurman Munson, Charlie Gehringer and Vada Pinson.
According to FanGraphs fWAR, Foster is the #221 player of all time, comparable
to Ralph Kiner, Moises Alou and Charlie Keller. [Foster#175]
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. (+) combined speed (34 stolen bases) with
pop (.851 OPS); in 1976 he missed the NL
batting title by an eyelash and his .336/.401/.450/.851 slash line was nearly identical to Rose's. For his career, Griffey hit
.296 with a .431 slugging percentage, 2,143 hits, 152 homers, 200 steals and 1,129 runs.
Perhaps his most impressive stat is that he averaged 87 runs per 162 games for a
19-year career. Griffey compares favorably with HOF outfielders Earle Combs,
Kirby Puckett, Earl Averill, Richie Ashburn, Harry Hooper, Edd Roush, Kiki Cuyler,
Larry Doby, Enos Slaughter, Lloyd Waner, Chick Hafey, Ross Youngs, King Kelly,
Elmer Flick, Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Sam Thompson, Monte Irvin and Hugh Duffy.
Griffey's case for the HOF is not as strong as Concepción's and Foster's, but he
belongs in the conversation and that makes him a star.
Griffey made three all-star teams and was the 1980 MVP, hit .300 or
better nine times, slugged .400 or better seventeen times, stole ten or more
bases ten times, and hit ten or more homers nine times. According to the
Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Ken Griffey Sr. is the #493 player of all time,
comparable to Carl Furillo, Cesar Cedeno, Amos Otis, Kevin Mitchell, Brady
Anderson and Harry Hooper. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Griffey
is the #445 player of all time, comparable to Chuck Klein, Heinie Manush and
"Little Poison" Lloyd Waner. According to FanGraphs fWAR, Griffey is
the #481 player of all time, comparable to Furillo and
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) aka "The Chief" was a great defensive player with a cannon-like arm and outstanding speed
and athleticism; in 1976 he hit .307/.382/.414/.795
with 201 total bases and 22 steals. He also won
four consecutive Gold Gloves while competing against great glove men like Roberto Clemente, Garry Maddox, Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Cesar Cedeno, Bobby Bonds,
Dave Parker and Willie Davis. While Gerónimo is the only one of the Great
Eight who, in my opinion, is not a candidate for the HOF, if he had
played the way he played in 1976 for an extended period of time, he would have been.
Gerónimo had great range and speed, as evidenced by his leading all MLB outfielders in triples in 1976 while stealing
22 bases. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Cesar Gerónimo is the
#857 player of all time, comparable to Kirk Gibson, Gary Matthews, Monte Irvin, Roy White, Lou Pinella, Bobby Tolan and Cesar Tovar.
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Gerónimo is the #978 player of all time,
comparable to Matty Alou and Ralph Garr. And
that is hellaciously good territory for any team's number eight hitter!
What I learned while using Fangraphs WAR screens:
I like to use WAR per 162 games to compare players from different eras who
played unequal numbers of games. In such cases counting stats don't tell the
whole story. For instance, Ted Williams missed all or most of five seasons while
serving his country as a fighter pilot in two wars. Baseball WAR lost to real
war should not be held against him, please pardon the pun! In such cases WAR/162
reveals that players like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were vastly superior to
other players who didn't lose seasons to military service and racked up more
hits, homers, RBI, etc. But there are cases in which WAR/162 can require further
analysis. For instance players with extremely long careers like Pete Rose and
Albert Pujols can look less impressive than they
actually were. I often hear would-be baseball experts opine that Rose was "not
dynamic" and was "not really that good." But if we look at Rose's prime, a
12-year period from 1965 to 1976, he averaged 5.6 bWAR per season and was third
in fWAR with 65.7, behind only teammate Joe Morgan and Red Sox star Carl
Yastrzemski. Furthermore, both Yaz and Morgan had insane two-year peaks, so the
case can be made that for a 12-year period of time, Rose was MLB's most
consistent superstar. Also, Rose was a great defensive left-fielder who won two
Gold Gloves and had some of the best defensive metrics of all time for left
fielders, but he often played out of position to help his teams, and that cost
him substantial WAR. Even so, Rose was well ahead of every other player who
played extensively during the same time period. And while everyone lagged
Morgan, Rose was nearly tied with Yaz and in future screens they would flip-flop
between second and third.
Pete Rose was 35 in 1976 and even Mr. Indestructible
started to show the effects of time and slow down in 1977, but he remained in
the top two to four players for fWAR in every screen that starts in 1965,
through 1984. In some screens the top three players were Rose and his teammates
Morgan and Bench. In other screens Yaz pops up either ahead of Rose, or tied
with him, or one notch below. As I played with the Fangraphs screens, something
became obvious to me: For a 20-year period of time starting in 1965 and ending
in 1984, the most dominant player was always Joe Morgan, followed by Rose, Yaz
and Bench as they jockeyed for order. Only Mike Schmidt would really challenge
the ruling hierarchy. Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew and the vastly underrated Reggie
Smith were other notable contenders. (In a side note:
if Morgan or Carew played short, with these eight superstars we have a
pretty damn good team for that era.)
But in any case, I advise considering WAR7 along with WAR/162 to get a more
complete picture. Rose's 44.9 WAR7 puts him seventh all-time at left field,
comparable to Al Simmons and ahead of legends like Goose Goslin, Ralph Kiner,
Joe Medwick, Miguel Cabrera, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Ichiro Suzuki and Manny
Ramirez. If they were dynamic players, as they obviously were, then obviously so
was Pete Rose. A 35 WAR7 is an aggregate equivalent of 7 all-star seasons, so
Rose's 44.9 WAR7 is "beyond all-star." One can also easily compute a player's
WAR/162 for his prime years using a Fangraphs screen. Just take the total fWAR
for the seasons in question, divide by the number of games played, then multiply
by 162. Anything over 5 is all-star level, while 7-8 is MVP level and anything
higher for an extended period of time is reserved for the
elite of the elite.
I decided to keep going with the Fangraphs screens, to see how long the three
Reds stayed in the top five and the top ten. When I did this, something ironic
and amusing happened, as I will explain if you keep reading. All three Reds
stayed in the top 25 for a quarter century, until the great George Brett bumped
Bench from the top five in 1988. But the Reds still had three of the top six,
which is quite impressive. I kept going, and all three Reds remained in the top
ten for 36 years. This is when something amusing happened. In 2001, a young
upstart finally dropped Bench from the top ten. Who was the upstart? None other
than Ken Griffey Jr., the son of the Reds' teammate Ken Griffey! The younger
Griffey had grown up visiting the Cincinatti locker room! If was if the
baseballs gods had ordained that such great Reds could only be replaced by one
of their own! But it gets even curiouser. Griffey Jr. suffered from serious
injuries and had negative WAR, so he slipped a bit. But in 2005 he had positive
WAR and returned to also drop Rose from the top ten. What the baseball gods have
ordained, let no man contradict! So Rose had remained in the top ten for 40
years and was also replaced by one of his own. I find this incredibly amusing.
But what about Little Joe Morgan? At the 50 year mark, in 2014, Little Joe was
still a solid number five, and there in a row (the baseball gods again!) were
Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Rose and Johnny Bench at positions 13, 14 and 15.
What does it all mean? First, that the gods are obviously baseball fans and,
like me, fans of the Big Red Machine. And, more seriously, that for a half
century, the Big Red Machine had three of the top 15 players, who all ranked
ahead of Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Frank Thomas and Eddie Murray
in the top 20. And, finally, it means that any baseball expert who says Pete
Rose "wasn't dynamic" or "wasn't really that good" is clueless and not really an
expert. For nearly 20 years he was a top two or three player. For a quarter
century he was a top five player. For 40 years he was a top ten player. And for
50 years he has been a top 15 player.
Also, there is the question of postseason hitting. Rose has the fourth-highest
postseason WPA (Win Probability Added) and the fourth-highest cWPA (Championship
Win Probability Added). In both categories Rose ranks well ahead of Mr. October
Reggie Jackson, in a comparable number of plate appearances. Of the players with
80 or more postseason hits, Rose has the second-highest batting average: Albert
Pujols (.325, 92 hits), Pete Rose (.321, 86 hits), Derek Jeter (.308, 200 hits),
David Ortiz (.289, 88 hits), Chipper Jones (.287, 97 hits), Bernie Williams
(.285, 128 hits), Manny Ramirez (.285, 117 hits), Paul O'Neil (.284, 85 hits),
Yadier Molina (.277, 101 hits), Jorge Posada (.248, 103 hits), Kenny Lofton
(.247, 97 hits), Tino Martinez (.233, 83 hits), David Justice (.224, 89 hits).
In 301 post-season plate appearances, Rose bettered his regular-season stats,
slashing .321/.388/.440/.828 with 118 total bases and 28 walks. At age 40 he hit
.300 in the NLDS, and at age 42 he hit .375 in the NLDS and .313 in the World
Series. In 1974 at age 34 he was the World Series MVP with 10 hits and five
walks, slashing .370/.485/.481/.966. In 1975 at age 35 he slashed
.429/.467/.714/1.181 and would have been the World Series MVP again, except for
Johnny Bench's series for the ages. In the 1973 NLCS Rose hit .381 and hit an
eighth-inning home run to tie the first game and a 12th-inning home run to win
the fourth game. Few modern players have starred more brightly more often than
Rose in the postseason.
Trade Thought Experiments #1
According to Bill James player evaluations, the 1976 Reds could be traded for a team of Roy Campanella (C), Jimmie Foxx (1B), Jackie Robinson (2B), Ernie Banks (SS), Home
Run Baker (3B), Mel Ott (OF), Carl Furillo (OF) and Kirk Gibson (OF). This
demonstrates how great the "Elite Eight" really were. The "trades" are
Concepción for Campanella, Rose for Foxx, Foster for Robinson, Morgan for Banks,
Pérez for Baker, Bench for Ott, Griffey for Furillo, Gerónimo for Gibson.
Excellence on the Basepaths
The 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals at an ultra-impressive .79 success rate.
By way of comparison, the list of players with more than 200 career steals
and a success rate of .79 or higher is very short and contains names like Tim
Raines, Davey Lopes, Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson. (To demonstrate how
rare this is, Joe
Morgan was the first player in MLB history to retire with more than 600 steals
and a success rate higher than .79!)
The Reds had a higher stolen base success rate than superstar base-stealers like
Lou Brock (.75), Mickey Rivers (.75) and Maury Wills (.74). So as a team the Reds were elite, Hall-of-Fame-caliber base stealers! On the other hand, Johnny Bench allowed only 32 stolen bases
by opposing baserunners, while throwing out 46% of attempting stealers. So the Reds
had a huge advantage on the basepaths.
BRR: Base-Running Runs
According to the Baseball Prospectus BRR stat (BaseRunning Runs) the Big Red
Machine had three of the top 250 baserunners of all time, and four of the top
• Joe Morgan (#25) ahead of Otis Nixon, Frankie Frisch (the Fordham Flash) and
the notoriously speedy Richie Ashburn
• Pete Rose (#222) ahead of Ralph "the Roadrunner" Garr, George Sisler, George
Brett and Carlos Beltran
• Ken Griffey Sr. (#235) also ahead of Ralph Garr, George Sisler, George Brett
and Carlos Beltran
• Dave Concepcion (#616) ahead of Tony Gwynn, Cookie Rojas, Felix Milan and Enos
Here's an indication of just how good the Reds were defensively: Bench and
Morgan were selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team, while Concepción
was a finalist whose career defensive WAR puts him in the top 40 defenders of
all time, regardless of position. Cesar Gerónimo was good enough to be
considered for the Rawlings finalists, with four consecutive Gold Gloves, so
where it matters most, up the middle, the Reds had four defensive immortals. Can
that be said about any of the other "murderers' row" offensive teams? (The
question is rhetorical.)
Most Gold Gloves by Position:
Catcher: Johnny Bench, 10, tied for first with Ivan Rodriguez
Second: Joe Morgan, 5, tied for fifth with Bobby Richardson
Shortstop: Dave Concepcion, 5, fifth
Center: Cesar Geronimo, 4
Left: Pete Rose, 2
In Ed Winkler's NL section of "The Best Fielders of the 1970s" Johnny Bench
and Joe Morgan were the runaway winners at catcher and second. Gerónimo was second only to Garry Maddox in a virtual dead heat, and Pete Rose and George Foster were
both in the top ten defensive outfielders. Concepción was second only to Larry Bowa at short. Tony Pérez
was fourth at first base. Thus seven of the Great Eight were voted as being
among the best NL defenders for an entire decade!
According to dWAR, the Big Red Machine had two of the top 50 defenders of all
time (almost) and with FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) we have a third top
100 defender (almost):
• Dave Concepcion (#42 dWAR) ahead of Honus Wagner, Rey Sanchez and Larry Bowa
• Johnny Bench (#55 dWAR) ahead of Brad Asmus, Russell Martin and Carlton Fisk
• Cesar Geronimo (#114 FRAA) ahead of Lorenzo Cain, Kenny Lofton and Kirby
Dave Concepcion was also #106 in FRAA. The omission of Geronimo from some
defensive stats is understandable because he had a shorter MLB career than most
of the great defensive center fielders. The absence of Joe Morgan from the
higher ranks of some of the defensive metrics is harder to understand.
There is an expanded discussion of defense later on this page.
DRAA: Deserved Runs Above Average
Baseball Prospectus has come out with a new stat, DRAA, which stands for
Deserved Runs Above Average. From what I have been able to gather, DRAA is an
upgrade on wRC+ that is better at adjusting for "environmental" factors like
ballparks and the level of competition. According to DRAA, the Big Red Machine
had four of the top 100 hitters of all time, and seven of the top 500:
• Joe Morgan (#39) ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Reggie Jackson and Mike Piazza
• Pete Rose (#59) ahead of Paul Waner, Johnny Mize and Duke Snider
• Johnny Bench (#67) ahead of Johnny Mize, Ernie Banks and Sammy Sosa
• Tony Perez (#85) ahead of Jim Rice, Roberto Clemente and Cal Ripken Jr.
• George Foster (#143) ahead of Cal Ripken Jr., Fred Lynn and Joe Medwick
• Ken Griffey Sr. (#427) ahead of Bob Meusel, Lou Brock and Joe Sewell
• Dan Driessen (#476) ahead of Elston Howard, Edd Roush and Davey Lopes
That's pretty impressive, especially considering that in 1976 the Reds had one
of the greatest hitting seasons by a number eight hitter, and Dave Concepcion
was well above average for a 1970s shortstop, hitting .281 with 231 total bases
and 21 stolen bases while producing a robust 4.4 WAR.
Going to WAR with the Elite Eight
To comprehend how great the Elite Eight really were, let's consider how they compare to
their Hall-of-Fame and other peers at their respective positions ...
• C Johnny Bench #1 (75.0 WAR) followed by Berra, Cochrane, Campanella, Fisk, Carter, Rodriguez, Dickey, Piazza, Simmons, Hartnett
• 1B Tony Pérez #9-11 (53.9 WAR, 1,652 RBI) behind Anson, Gehrig, Foxx, Murray, Thomas,
Thome, Killebrew, McCovey
and possibly Greenberg, Mize, Bagwell
• 2B Joe Morgan #1-4 (100.3 WAR) possibly behind Hornsby, Collins and/or Lajoie (or
quite possibly ahead of them all)
• SS Dave Concepción #11-14 (according to Bill James; see the position
discussion below) close to Reese and ahead of Rizzuto, Tinker, et al
• 3B Pete Rose #6 (79.7 WAR) behind Schmidt, Matthews, Brett, Boggs and Brooks Robinson (the
up for his amazing defense)
• LF George Foster #12-15 (348 HR, 1,239 RBI) comparable to Rice, Kiner, Keller,
Wilson, Doby, Medwick, Klein, Slaughter, Wheat, Belle
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. #16-19 (2,143 hits, 1,129 runs) comparable to Maris,
Hooper, Combs, Puckett, Averill, Ashburn, Cuyler, Youngs
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (unranked) comparable to Albie Pearson, Pepper Martin, Harry
"the Hat" Walker, Gus Bell, Gary Matthews, et al
Please consider that Rose was playing out of position in order to help his team.
According to dWAR, left field was by far Rose's best defensive position. As I
mentioned previously, I believe Rose's career WAR would have been around 20
points higher if he had played left field for his entire career. That would put
him around 100 WAR, close to his teammates Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson and Mike
According to Fangraphs, among Hall-of-Famers, Pete Rose would be the #7 first baseman
after Jeff Bagwell, the #6 third
baseman after Brooks Robinson, the #7 right fielder after Roberto Clemente, the #6 left fielder
after Carl Yastrzemski, or the #5 second baseman
after his teammate Joe Morgan!
According to Fangraphs, Tony Pérez would be the #20 third baseman. He was an all-star
at third in his younger days.
Dan Driessen was a super-sub who played first, third,
left and right―with career highs of 81 runs, 91 RBI, 18
homers, 31 steals, and 251 total bases!
So the Reds had great versatility as well.
In an amusing note, when Jon Morosi and Dontrelle Willis picked their all-time starting nines, Morosi chose Joe
Morgan as his starting second baseman, while Willis chose Pete Rose for the same
position! The fact that they were both under consideration shows how incredibly strong the
Reds' infield was.
The 1976 Reds could be called the "WAR Lords" or the "Gods of WAR."
Has there ever been a starting eight who acquired as much collective
career WAR as the Great Eight? But there
were a number of injuries that kept the starters' seasonal WAR down. So I have
figured each starter's WAR per game started and adjusted it for 162 games.
Please keep in mind that 0 WAR is average/replacement level, 2 is starter level,
5 is all-star level and 6 was MVP level in 1976 ...
Joe Morgan: 9.6 WAR, 131 games started, projected WAR 11.8
Pete Rose: 6.9 WAR, 156 games started, projected WAR 7.1 (MVP level)
George Foster: 5.9 WAR, 137 games started, projected WAR 7.0 (MVP level)
Ken Griffey: 4.6 WAR, 126 games started, projected WAR 6.0 (MVP level)
Johnny Bench: 4.6 WAR, 123 games started, projected WAR 6.0 (MVP level)
Dave Concepción: 4.4 WAR, 142 games started, projected WAR 5.0 (All-Star level)
Tony Pérez: 2.6 WAR, 130 games started, projected WAR 3.3 (All-Star level at first base; Pérez was second only to Garvey
homers and RBI)
Cesar Gerónimo: 2.7 WAR, 125 games started, projected WAR 3.6 (nearly double an
average starter; just below All-Star level in 1976 at center)
This reinforces my contention that the 1976 Reds were a team of all-stars, from
top to bottom. There were some damn good centerfielders in the NL that year, so
it's hard to say that Gerónimo was snubbed. But he was good enough to finish
25th in the MVP voting despite having better-known teammates like Morgan, Rose,
Foster, Griffey and Pérez sucking up votes. And if he wasn't an all-star, he was
damn close. Among the top 25 vote-getters, Gerónimo was 1st in triples, 6th in OBP, 7th in steals, 8th in walks
and 11th in batting average. That's not bad for anyone's eighth-place hitter.
Johnny Bench leads all HOF catchers in home runs (389), WAR
(75.0), JAWS (61.0) and gold gloves (10), is second in RBI (1,376), fifth in runs (1,091) and OPS+ (126).
Tony Pérez had more RBI than all HOF first basemen other than Anson, Gehrig,
Foxx and Murray; he ranks sixth in homers (379), tenth in runs (1,272).
Joe Morgan ranks second among HOF second basemen in steals (689); fourth
in WAR (100.3), JAWS (79.7), homers (268) and OPS+ (132); fifth in runs (1,650); sixth in OBP (.392).
Dave Concepción would rank eighth among HOF shortstops in games; ninth in home
runs, stolen bases and defensive WAR; 11th in hits and RBI.
Pete Rose leads all HOF third basemen in games, plate appearances, at-bats, hits, singles,
doubles, runs, times on base and total bases; he ranks fifth in WAR (79.1) and JAWS (69.1).
George Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348),
11th in RBI (1,239) and slugging percentage (.480).
Ken Griffey hit .296 with a .431 slugging percentage, 2,143 hits and 1,129 runs; he compares favorably with a number of HOF outfielders
Cesar Gerónimo does not compare with most HOF outfielders offensively, but he was a great fielder and thrower, and his 1976 offensive season
makes him one of the best number eight hitters of all time.
Please understand that I'm not saying that Ken Griffey Sr. should be in the Hall
of Fame. I'm just pointing out that he is comparable to a number of HOF
outfielders, and some pretty good names at that. Ditto with Concepción, although
I think―as Bill James has pointed out―that only ten HOF
shortstops seem better statistically, while he seems better than the next ten.
Hence, he seems like a solid HOF contender, considering his defense, speed,
athleticism and clutch hitting. I also think Foster has a very strong case to be in the HOF, since he ranks close to
the left-field top ten in power numbers and was a dominant slugger for a decade.
But for my purposes here, what really matters is that seven of the Great Eight
compare with members of the HOF while the eighth was nobody's weak sister in 1976. These are my main points:
The team above clearly has the best infield of all time―doubly so when we include catcher.
The infielders alone amassed 57 all-star appearances, an average of 11.4
appearances per player. Can your all-time-great team rival that? Didn't think so!
The infielders placed in the MVP voting a stunning 42 times, finishing in the top ten 21 times.
During the Reds' heyday (1970-1976), Morgan easily led all MLB in WAR with 60.1,
an average of 8.6 WAR per season, going 4-4-8-1-1 in the MVP voting.
From 1970-1976, Bench was second only to Morgan in WAR with 42.3, an average of
6.0 WAR per season, going 1-1-10-4-4 in the MVP voting.
From 1970-1976, Rose was just behind Bench with 39.9 WAR, an average of 5.7 WAR
per season, going 6-10-10-2-4-7-24-12-1-5-4 in the MVP voting.
From 1970-1976, Pérez accumulated 29.1 WAR, an average of 4.2 WAR per season, going 8-19-10-3-7-15-22 in the MVP voting.
Concepción was a rookie in 1970 and had a somewhat slow start, but from
1974-1976 he averaged 4.6 WAR per season, going 15-9-4 in the MVP voting.
Please keep in mind that around 5 WAR is all-star level, and anything higher is
getting close to MVP level (especially in the mid-70's).
Where is another baseball infield, including catcher, with that sort of output
for an extended period of time, and with such high peaks?
During that seven-year period, the Reds had the top three WARriors, the best
catcher, the best first baseman (or very close to Willie Stargell), the best
second baseman, the best all-round shortstop, and the best third baseman in
terms of WAR (although Mike Schmidt was closing fast). As far as I have been able to determine, only Reggie
Jackson rivaled the Reds' big three for the seven years in question, falling a
hair short of Rose. Has any other team in baseball history had the three best
players for seven years, complemented by stars like Pérez, Concepción,
Griffey and Foster? The Reds' "big five"
accumulated 187.3 WAR7, and that doesn't include the superb outfield. If we take
the "big five" for the 1996-2002 Yankees, including two outfielders, their
accumulated WAR falls way short at 114.9. Such comparisons show
how "crazy good" the Reds infield really was. I believe the same sort of
disparity would show up with the 1927 Yankees (with the WAR-challenged Collins at catcher, Koenig
at short and Dugan at third), or any other team you care to pick.
Where is there another team this solid from top to bottom, with seven HOF
candidates and a gold glove centerfielder playing like an eighth for one
My definition of a "super team" is a team with a super-high peak that won two
consecutive World Series, with more than 100 wins in both seasons. My rankings
below are based on starting eights. The names of players of Hall-of-Fame caliber
are bolded, if they were playing in their primes or close to their primes, for
the years in question.
(#1) 1975-1976 Reds: Bench, Perez, Morgan, Concepcion, Rose, Griffey, Foster, Geronimo (210 wins, the only super team with no weak sisters among the starters)
(#2) 1927-1928 Yankees: Collins, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Koenig, Dugan, Babe Ruth, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel (211 wins, two all-time greats, three minor stars, then mediocrity)
(#3) 1929-1930 Athletics: Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx , Bishop, Boley, Hale, Al Simmons, Miller, Haas (206 wins, three all-time greats, but no other major stars in '29-'30)
(#4) 1936-1937 Yankees: Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Lazzeri, Crosetti, Rolfe, Hoag, Powell, Joe DiMaggio (204 wins, Lazzeri was on his way down, four others inconsistent)
(#5) 1910-1911 Athletics: Lapp, Davis, Eddie Collins, Barry, Home Run Baker, Harstel, Oldring, Murphy (203 wins, two major stars, two minor, then quite a drop-off)
(#6) 1977-1978 Yankees: Thurman Munson, Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Dent, Graig Nettles, Pinella, Rivers, Reggie Jackson (200 wins, a solid lineup with less star power but less drop-off)
Consulting the Experts
In case you don't believe me or think I'm exaggerating, let's consult Bill James, baseball's best-known
historian/statistician. Here is what he said on the subject, with
references to his Hall of Fame Career Standards (HFCS) rating system:
Bill James wrote: "The 1975-1976 Reds were probably the most diverse,
broad-based offense in the history of baseball."
• In his article about the best infields, Bill
James said of the 1973-1976 Reds: "With Perez, Morgan, Rose and Concepcion the Reds had four
infielders of Hall of Fame quality." He also put an exclamation mark
after "415 win shares!" which led the all-time pack. (And please keep in mind that
Rose was at third for only two of the four years!)
When James published his picks for the top 100 players of all time
(with players like Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Turkey Stearnes and Pop Lloyd in the top 25, which pushes other players down), he had
Joe Morgan at #15 (comparable to Lou Gehrig and Eddie Collins), Pete Rose at #33
(comparable to Jackie Robinson and Eddie Matthews), and Johnny Bench at #44
(comparable to Yogi Berra and Cal Ripken Jr.).
• James rates Joe Morgan as the #1 second baseman of all time.
• James rates Johnny Bench as the #2 catcher of all time, after Yogi Berra, but
they are very close.
• James's HFCS rates Pete Rose as the #5 right fielder and the #4 third baseman.
• James puts Concepción around #11-14 among
• Pérez ranks around #9-15 among HOF first basemen and according to HFCS compares with Sisler, Terry,
McCovey, Stargell, Rice, McGwire and Cepeda.
• According to HFCS, Griffey compares with Nellie Fox, Garvey,
Hodges, Keith Hernandez, Joe Gordon, Flick, Youngs, Lloyd Waner and Meusel.
• According to HFCS, George Foster compares with Colavito, Doby,
Keller, Strawberry, Mo Vaughn and Norm Cash. But his peak was
• Gerónimo is the only member of the Great Eight who does not rank in the HFCS
rankings, but he compares with Albie Pearson, Mule Haas, Carl Everett,
Gary Matthews, Bobby Tolan, Lyman Bostock and Roy White.
If we combine what Bill James said in the excerpts above, we get something like
C Bench (all-time-great #44, HOF, #1 or #2 catcher of all time)
1B Pérez (top 15 first baseman, HOF)
2B Morgan (all-time-great #15, HOF, #1 second baseman of all time)
SS Concepción (top 15 shortstop, HOF caliber)
3B Rose (all-time-great #33, HOF, #4 third baseman of all time)
That seems pretty amazing to me: a team whose entire infield, including catcher,
compare with the top 1-15 players in the HOF at their respective positions. Add to
that two HOF-caliber outfielders and a great defensive centerfielder having a
career year with the bat. Has there ever been
another team in MLB history with that kind of star quality and depth? Has any other starting eight in MLB history played as
many games, appeared in as many all-star games, contended for as many MVP
awards, scored as many runs, driven in as many runs, or accumulated as much
career WAR? No, and it really isn't
all that close. As Yogi Berra once said, "You could look it up."
According to Bill James and his HFCS rating system, I could trade the 1976 Reds
for a team of Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Home
Run Baker (or Brooks Robinson), Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ralph Kiner (or Hack
Wilson) and Roger Maris.
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, I could trade the 1976 Reds for a team
of Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Ernie Banks (or Cal Ripken
Jr. or Robin Yount), Jimmie Foxx, Chuck Klein (or Lloyd Waner), Joe DiMaggio and
Such "trades" show just how great the Great Eight
really were. If this interests you, I have created a page that shows how the
Elite Eight can be traded based on WAR, JAWS, win shares, WSAB, OPS+ and other
factors. To see the "1976
Reds Virtual Trades" just click the hyperlink.
What do other experts say about the 1976 Reds?
Russell O. Wright wrote a book on
the subject, Dominating the Diamond, in which he determines the twelve
most dominant teams in baseball history. Wright
compliments the Reds for their "great offense" and "great defense"
(I would add "great
baserunning"). Wright calls Bench the "best defensive catcher in the history
of the game" and a "powerful hitter." He calls Morgan "one of the best second basemen
ever to play the game." He compliments Rose for being the all-time hit leader and for
being extremely "versatile" by playing several positions at a high level, while
still being able to win Gold Gloves. He salutes Pérez as one of the
most consistent RBI men in baseball history. Wright concludes: "That
combination may have been the best four ever to play in the major leagues
[on the same team]. He goes on to point
out that "There is no doubt that the 1976 Reds had an unusual combination of
all-star players ... The outfielders all hit over .300, and in the case of
George Foster, hit with unusual power."
During the 1975-1976 seasons, that Reds lineup played only 87 games together,
including the post-season, according to Big Red Dynasty by Greg Rhodes
and John Erardi. The Great Eight won 69 games and lost 18, for an otherworldly
.793 winning percentage. Rhodes and Erardi compared the starting eight to other
dynasties', picking the Reds over the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1929 Philadelphia
Athletics, and the 1927 and 1938 Yankees. Their conclusion:
"No team has
ever been more dominant than the '76 Reds."
Dave Schoenfield in his article "Five best players in baseball: a history"
says the 1971-1975 Reds consistently had three of the top five players in all
MLB, according to accumulated WAR, in
Morgan, Bench and Rose. Reggie Jackson was close to Rose.
The number five player, Willie Stargell, was close to Pérez. So the Reds had three of the top five,
and a fourth player who was almost as good. Then George Foster showed up, and he
rivaled the best for a decade!
Schoenfield had this to say about the 1972-1976 window: "Absolutely
phenomenal: Morgan was nearly 18 wins better than the No. 2 player [Rod Carew]
over this five-year span. I don’t know if any player has ever dominated the game
to the extent Morgan did over this stretch (that’s another article)."
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio didn't mince words: "A helluva team. They do everything.
They hit the ball. They run. They are tough on the field. From the top of the
order to the bottom, they can hurt you."
Red Schoendienst agreed: "You make one mistake against a team like that and
you're gone. If you check their power, they'll run you to death. You check their
running, some guy will hit one out in the bottom of the ninth."
Reds manager Sparky Anderson: "When I'm out speaking, I try to explain to people
how good these guys were ... In 1976, they played 162 games, then swept the
playoffs—that's 165 games ... then swept the World Series—that's 169 games. They
won 109 games, a .640 winning percentage ... and the eight guys played together
only 57 times [that year]!"
Pete Rose knows a thing or two about baseball. Here's what
he said, when asked how the Big Red Machine compared to other all-time great
teams: "Not many teams had great production from second base and catcher. That
team had everything: speed, power and daring base running." And Rose might have added that few third basemen could hope to
match his own production.
Johnny Bench mentioned the Reds' confidence and intimidation advantages: "We
could be down two or three runs and we knew we were going to win, they knew we
were going to win, and we knew they knew we were going to win." His comment
reminds me of a golfer saying something similar about Jack Nicklaus when the
Golden Bear was winning all the major golf championships.
Five of the Elite Eight made All-Decade Teams: Bench, Perez, Morgan, Concepcion
and Rose ...
Joel Reuter's 1970's MLB All-Decade Team
Catcher: Johnny Bench
First Base: Willie Stargell
Second Base: Rod Carew
Shortstop: Dave Concepcion
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Outfield #1: Pete Rose
Outfield #2: Reggie Jackson
Outfield #3: Lou Brock
Richard Barbieri's '70s All-Decade Team
Catcher: Johnny Bench
First Base: Tony Perez or Rod Carew
Second Base: Joe Morgan
Shortstop: Bert Campaneris
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Left Field: Pete Rose
Center Field: Caesar Cedeno
Right Field: Reggie Jackson
The Best Double-Play Combination and the Greatest Infield of All Time?
Were Joe Morgan and Dave Concepción the best double-play combination of all
time? They each won Gold Gloves in the same year four times (1974-1977), a feat
matched only by Bobby Grich and Mark Belanger of the Baltimore Orioles. But
Morgan and Concepción were much more productive offensively and on the basepaths
than Grich and Belanger. And while the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield was
made famous by a poem, the trio committed 194 errors in 1906, they were not
offensive superstars, and no one can remember the name of their forgettable
catcher and third baseman. So they really don't come close to matching the Reds
infield of Bench, Pérez, Morgan, Concepción and Rose.
Dave Concepcion is 13th all-time in assists and Joe Morgan is 14th, putting them
above any other double-play combo in assists.
The Best Infield Ever and the Best Outfield of its Era
The 1976 Reds had
the best infield of all time and in 1976 they also had four of the best
outfielders in all baseball (since Rose was an all-world left fielder and
right fielder). A screen of all 1976 MLB outfielders for batting average turns
up four Reds: Griffey first (.336), Rose third (.323), Gerónimo ninth (.307) and
Foster tenth (.306). An OBP screen says the top three outfielders were
Rose (.404), Griffey (.401) and Gerónimo (.382). In a screen for runs, the top
two outfielders are Rose (130) and Griffey (111), with Foster twelfth (86). In
total bases, Rose was first (299), Foster second (298) and Griffey thirteenth
(253). An OPS screen has Foster first by a wide margin (.894), Rose second
(.854), and Griffey fifth (.851). Rose and Griffey were in a virtual dead heat
in OPS with the mighty Reggie Jackson, and Foster had him comfortably
outslugged. The three Reds all ranked ahead of Greg Luzinski, Dave Parker, Dave
Winfield, Fred Lynn and Jerry Rice. And Gerónimo was not far behind (.795),
leading Dave Kingman (37 homers) and Carl Yastrzemski (21 dingers with 102 RBI).
And even though Foster was the only prototypical slugger among the Reds
outfielders, all four were in the top 25 for slugging percentage: Foster first
(.530), Rose and Griffey tied at thirteen (.450) and Gerónimo (.414) still ahead
of most of the outfield pack. Now we can see why Sparky Anderson moved one of
baseball's best outfielders to third base: he had four superior outfielders and
only one weak spot on the entire diamond! (It bears noting that the runs and RBI
rankings are a bit unfair to Gerónimo, since he was forced to hit eighth in such
a formidable lineup. He was the only Reds hitter who could be "worked around"
since the pitcher was coming up next.)
The Top Ten Reasons the 1976 Reds were the Best Team of All Time
(1) The 1976 Reds were a team with no weak links: they had all-stars at seven
positions, and the eighth, Gerónimo, easily could have been an all-star in 1976.
(2) The 1976 Reds were one of only three teams in MLB history with four MVPs in
the lineup, and only the Reds had four MVPs playing together in their primes.
(3) Tony Pérez could easily have been a fifth MVP, as he placed seven times in
the MVP voting, with four top tens, finishing as high as third. Dave Concepción
ranked as high as fourth in the MVP voting, and Cesar Gerónimo placed in 1976.
Thus all eight Reds were MVP candidates during their careers.
(4) The 1976 Reds were the only team in MLB history to lead their league in
every major offensive category: PA, AB, R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI,
BB, BA, OBP, SP, OPS, OPS+, TB and stolen bases.
(5) The 1976 Reds were the only team in MLB history to lead both leagues
in every major hitting category: PA, AB, R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB, BA, OBP, SP,
OPS, OPS+, TB. This is despite AL teams having the advantage of the
(6) While two AL teams (Oakland and Kansas City) stole more bases than the Reds,
the Reds were much more efficient according to stolen base
the Reds were the best base stealers too.
(7) The 1976 Reds also led both leagues in fielding percentage,
with four Gold Gove winners "up the middle" at the most important defensive
positions: C, 2B, SS, CF. And unlike so many other teams, the Reds did not sacrifice
potent bats for less potent defense at these critical positions.
(8) In 1976 all eight Reds starters finished in the their league's top 30 for
OPS. Can any other team in the history of major league baseball say that, even
when there were far fewer teams and players? Also, no other team in modern
baseball history has had eight position players with 550 plate appearances, all
an OPS+ of 100 or higher. Again, no weak links.
(9) According to Bill James the Reds had the greatest infield of all time and
the Reds outfield was also stellar in 1975-1976.
(10) According to multiple player ranking systems, the Reds had three of the
greatest players of all time: Johnny Bench (C#1), Joe Morgan (2B#1-4), and Pete
Rose (LF#5, 3B#7 according to career WAR). The Reds had four Hall-of-Famers (Bench, Morgan, Rose, Pérez), two
more who should be enshrined (Foster and Concepción), another potential candidate
(Griffey), and a four-time Gold Glove winner (Gerónimo).
Need another reason? The 1976 Reds rose to the occasion: the better the
competition, the better they played. They won 61.1% of their games
against the five best NL teams. They swept the Phillies in
the playoffs, averaging 6.33 runs per game despite facing
hall-of-famer Steve Carlton (329 career wins), Jim Lonborg (157) and Jim Kaat (283). The Phillies had won 101
games with a collective 3.08 ERA, but the Big Red Machine's bats went
through them like white-hot knives through butter. The Reds then swept the
vaunted Yankees so easily that the 1976 World Series was called "utterly one-sided." The Reds
averaged 5.5 runs per game, hitting .313 and slugging .522, despite facing
hall-of-famer Catfish Hunter (224 career wins), Ed Figueroa (19-10,
fourth in the Cy Young voting), Dock Ellis (17-8) and Doyle
Alexander (10-5). The highly accomplished Yankees pitching staff had led the AL in wins, ERA and fewest
hits allowed, but once again it was like blazing-hot knives slicing through butter.
What really sets the 1976 Reds apart from all other teams, in my opinion, is that the Great
Eight were a team of all-stars and MVP candidates playing together in their
primes. When the Great Eight were healthy enough to take the field together,
their winning percentage was astronomical (.793). That would be 128 wins for a
full slate of 162 games! So when Johnny Bench started playing
like himself after a difficult season recovering from major lung cancer surgery at
baseball's toughest position, the
Reds became invincible and had the only undefeated postseason since the
divisional playoffs were instituted in 1981. Over a period of 35 years, only the
1976 Reds went undefeated in the postseason, and it was no fluke. The Great
Eight really were that great. And as we will see, some of
the comparisons of "murderers' row" lineups to the Great Eight are actually
laughable. For instance, the 1927 Yankees were terrible on defense, terrible on
the basepaths, had a center fielder with the worst arm in baseball history
(per Bill James), and a catcher with a lame arm and psychological
problems about throwing (per his manager). The Yankees would have been
unable to run on Bench's cannon arm, while the streaking Reds would
have run wild on Pat Collins and Earle Combs. At the same time, the Reds
sluggers would have teed off on the slowballing Yankees pitchers. Not a single
Yankees pitcher had 100 strikeouts in 1927. 'Nuff said.
The things that strikes me here is that the "worst" player on the 1976 Reds was
a Hall-of-Famer with more RBI than any number of all-time great sluggers. If
Pérez had played 162 games, he projected 113 RBI. That's pretty impressive
output from a team's "worst" player! The only Reds starter who might be
considered "marginal" for the 1976 NL All-Star team is the only one who didn't
make the actual team, Gerónimo. But it's really not his fault because three NL
centerfielders had great years in 1976: Greg Maddux (6.4 WAR), Cesar Cedeno (5.9
WAR) and Rick Monday (4.4 WAR). At worst, Gerónimo was just a slight notch below
an All-Star outfield of Foster, Griffey, Monday, Luzinski, Maddox and Cedeno.
And two of the all-star outfielders were his teammates!
One of the most impressive things about the 1976 Reds is that all eight starters
ranked in the top 30 in OPS: Morgan (#1), Foster (#4), Rose (#5), Griffey (#7),
Gerónimo (#20), Pérez (#22), Bench (#27), Concepción (#30).
If we rank the Reds by position, based on OPS, which doesn't factor in their
superior defense and basestealing, they rank #1 at second, short, left and
right; #2 at catcher; #3 at third, and #4 at first and center! Again, no weak
If we factor in defense, basestealing and a bit of common sense, the Reds
rank #1 at catcher, second, short, left and right; #2 at first (after Garvey)
and third (after Schmidt), and #4 at center (after Maddux, Cedeno and Monday).
The Reds dominated in OBP, with four of the top six: Morgan, Rose, Griffey and
Gerónimo. The same four Reds finished in the top ten in batting average, with
Foster number eleven.
The Reds dominated in slugging, with Morgan and Foster sweeping the top two
slots and all eight Reds in the top thirty.
The Reds dominated in RBI, with Foster and Morgan sweeping the top two slots,
Pérez sixth, and seven of the top
thirty-four. Rose, leading off, had more RBI than Jose Cruz, Larry Parrish, Al
Oliver and Bill Buckner. Concepción, hitting seventh, had as many RBI as Dave
Winfield and more than Willie Stargell. Crazy!
The Reds dominated in runs with Rose (130), Morgan (113) and Griffey (111)
finishing 1-2-4. All eight starters finished in the top forty.
The Reds dominated in stolen bases, with seven Reds in the top thirty-three.
Has there ever been another team so dominant at every position? (Another
In 1976 Joe Morgan won the "Sabermetric Triple Crown" by leading both leagues in
On-Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), and Offensive WAR (oWAR).
Morgan also finished first in WAR, first in OPS, first in OPS+, first in runs
created, first in adjusted batting runs, first in adjusted batting wins, first
in sacrifice flies, first in offensive win percentage, first in power-speed,
first in Base-Out Runs Added (RE24), first in Win Probability Added (WPA), first
in Situational Wins Added (WPA/LI), first in Base-Out Wins Added (REW), second
to Rose in runs, second to Foster in RBI, second in walks, second in stolen base
percentage, third in stolen bases, third in extra base hits, fourth in times on
base, fourth in at-bats per homer, tied with Reggie Jackson for sixth in homers,
ninth in batting average, and tenth in total bases.
How good was Pete Rose? In 1978, at age 37, he became the only modern baseball
player to seriously challenge Joe DiMaggio's record hitting streak of 56 games.
Rose hit in 44 consecutive games. And it wasn't a fluke because
Rose and Ty Cobb recorded hitting streaks of at least 20 games or more eight
times, the most since 1900. Rose hit .331 at
age 38 and led the NL with a .418 OBP. He hit .325 at age 40 and led the
NL in hits. At age 41 he led the NL in games played with 162. At age 42
he hit .375 in the playoffs and .313 in the World Series. At age 44
he was on base nearly 200 times and had a .395 OBP. In the modern era, Rose is
by far the leader in hits, walks, times on base, total bases, runs created and
runs scored after age 40.
MVPs Galore: Why the 1976 Reds were the Best Team of All Time,
from Top to Bottom
Enter the MVP Matrix, if you dare. The dashed numbers are where the players
finished in the MVP voting ...
C Johnny Bench 1-1-4-4-10-13-16-17-21-23 with 14 All-Star
selections and 10 Gold Gloves
1B Tony Perez 3-7-8-10-15-19-22 with 7 All-Star
2B Joe Morgan 1-1-4-4-8-16-31 with 10 All-Star selections and 5
SS Dave Concepción 4-9-15 with 9 All-Star selections and 5 Gold
3B Pete Rose 1-2-4-4-5-6-7-10-10-11-12-15-15-24 with 17 All-Star
selections and 2 Gold Gloves
LF George Foster 1-2-3-6-12 with 5 All-Star selections
RF Ken Griffey Sr. 8-22 with 3 All-Star selections
CF Cesar Gerónimo 25 with 4 Gold Gloves
This is how the Reds dominated the MVP voting for nearly a decade:
This is how Reds rank in an exclusive club of players who had the most
top-four MVP finishes in MLB history: Bonds (10), Pujols (9), Mays (8), Musial
(8), Ted Williams (8), Mantle (7), Aaron (7), Berra (7), Trout (7), DiMaggio
(6), Killebrew (6), Frank Robinson (6) , Frank Thomas (6), A-Rod (6), Schmidt (5), Gehrig (5),
Eddie Collins (5), Brooks Robinson (5), Rice (5), Bench (4) ,
Rose (4) , Morgan (4) , Griffey Jr. (4) ,
Banks (4), Brett (4), Foxx (4), Greenberg (4), Hornsby (4), ...
Foster (3) , Joey Votto (3) ,
Gehringer (3), Ripken Jr. (3), Jeter
That's pretty fast company to keep, and four other Reds had top-ten finishes in
the MVP voting: Griffey Sr. (1), Concepción (2), and Perez (4) with one year he
could have easily won.
None of the great Yankees teams had a fifth "big gun" like Pérez; he placed in the MVP voting seven times, finishing 3rd, 7th,
8th, 10th, 15th, 19th and 22nd. Pérez could easily have won the MVP award in 1970, when
his partner in slugging crimes won. Bench had
more homers, RBI and total bases, but Pérez bested him in
most other offensive categories: hits (186), walks (83), runs (107),
runs created (140), stolen bases (8), batting average (.317), OBP
(.401), slugging (.589), OPS (.990) and OPS+ (158). Pérez had 28
doubles, 6 triples, 40 homers, 346 total bases, and 129 RBI. The two "bash
brothers" were nearly equal
in which they led all NL position players, with Bench narrowly ahead: 7.4 to 7.2.
They were also first and second in RBI. In short, Bench was very deserving of
the MVP award, but Pérez was just as deserving that year. If Pérez hadn't been
competing against a teammate having the greatest offensive/defensive season by a catcher
in the history of baseball, he could have won the MVP in a landslide. That year
the incomparable Bench set
single-season records for catchers with 45 homers, 148 RBI and 355 total bases,
while earning one of his ten consecutive Gold Gloves.
Then there's Concepción, who finished as high as 4th in the NL MVP
voting. He placed in the top 15 three times: ranking 4th, 9th and 15th.
Concepción was a highly-regarded clutch hitter who won two Silver Sluggers in
addition to his five Gold Gloves. He had career highs of 16 home runs and 84
RBI, and topped 200 total bases seven times. Those were exceptional numbers for
a shortstop of his era.
Ken Griffey Sr. finished 8th in the NL MVP voting in 1976, despite the obvious
handicap of competing with Morgan, Bench, Rose, Foster and company for the
award. Griffey also finished 22nd in the 1980 MVP voting, and was a three-time
Finally, Cesar Gerónimo finished 25th in the 1976 NL MVP voting, despite the
handicap of hitting eighth, with the pitcher coming up next. Thus, every member
of the Great Eight was a potential MVP. That cannot be said about any other
candidate for the best team of all time.
Oh, and speaking of MVP awards, was Johnny Bench robbed of a third MVP award in
1974, when Steve Garvey won? Garvey had a nice 4.4 WAR season, but it paled in
comparison to what Bench accomplished at baseball's most demanding position.
Bench had 7.8 WAR and 8.6 fWAR. He threw out 49% of base stealers and had only
three passed balls. Bench topped Garvey in homers (33), RBI (129), extra-base
hits (73), total bases (315), slugging (.507), runs (108) and runs created
Joe Morgan also bested Garvey in WAR (8.6), OBP (.427), slugging (.494), OPS (.921), OPS+ (159),
runs (107), runs created (125), walks (120), stolen bases (58) and times on base
(273). Should there be a seventh MVP award in the Great Eight's trophy case?
How did the Reds rank among players who were in their primes during the
mid-1970s, according to the MVP voters of their era? This listing is ranked by
the number of MVP awards, then by MVP shares, with supporting detail ...
(#1) Mike Schmidt (3 MVPs, 8 top 8, 13 top 25, MVP shares 4.96)
(#2) Joe Morgan (2 MVPs, 5 top 8, 6 top 25, MVP shares 3.04)
(#3) Johnny Bench (2 MVPs, 4 top 4, 10 top 25, MVP shares 2.77)
(#4) Pete Rose (1 MVP, 1 second, 7 top 8, 15 top 25, MVP shares 3.68)
(#5) George Brett (1 MVP, 2 seconds, 5 top 8, 10 top 25, MVP shares
(#5) Willie Stargell (1 MVP, 2 seconds, 1 third, 11 top 25, MVP shares 3.30)
(#6) Reggie Jackson (1 MVP, 1 second, 7 top 8, 13 top 25, MVP shares 3.28)
(#7) Dave Parker (1 MVP, 1 second, 1 third, 9 top 25, MVP shares 3.19)
(#8) Jim Rice (1 MVP, 6 top 5, 8 top 25, MVP shares 3.15)
(#9) Steve Garvey (1 MVP, 1 second, 5 top 6, 9 top 25, MVP shares 2.46)
(#10) George Foster (1 MVP, 1 second, 1 third, 5 top 25, MVP shares
Honorable Mention with times in the MVP top 25 votes: Rod Carew (8), Keith
Hernandez (8), Dave Winfield (8), Carlton Fisk (7), Tony Perez (7),
Ted Simmons (7), Bert Campaneris (6), Thurman Munson (6), Don Baylor (5), Cesar
Cedeno (5), Ron Cey (5), Bobby Grich (5), Reggie Smith (5), Fred Lynn (4),
Dave Concepcion (3), Graig Nettles (3), Ken Griffey Sr.
(2), Cesar Geronimo (1)
Please note that I did not include players who were past or prior to their
primes in 1975-1976, since that is my focus here.
Alleged “experts” who say Pete Rose wasn’t “dynamic” should consider how closely
he compares with Reggie Jackson. The MVP voters seemed to think he was pretty
damn good. Rose and Jackson were equal in wins, seconds and times in the top 8,
with Rose having two more appearances in the top 25 because he played at a
higher level a bit longer. WAR tells us the same thing, with Rose having 79.7
WAR compared to Jackson’s 74.0 WAR. It also bears noting how close George Foster
is to Steve Garvey in the rankings despite having a shorter career.
WAR tells us a similar story. According to Fangraphs
fWAR, this is how the Elite Eight ranked in cumulative WAR for both leagues:
1975 to 1975: Morgan #1, Bench #8, Rose #16, Foster #18, Concepcion #31,
Geronimo #38, Perez #42, Griffey #68
1975 to 1976: Morgan #1, Rose #6, Bench #9, Foster #10, Concepcion #26,
Geronimo #40, Griffey #43, Perez #44
1975 to 1977: Morgan #1, Foster #4, Bench #9, Rose #11, Concepcion #34, Griffey
#38, Perez #52, Geronimo #65
1975 to 1978: Morgan #2, Foster #4, Bench #11, Rose #13, Concepcion #33, Griffey
#45, Perez #49, Geronimo #99
The Elite Eight had four of the top ten position players in all MLB from
1975-1978 (ignoring the fact that they only played together through 1976). The
team peaked in 1976 because Geronimo and Griffey both had career-best years.
George Foster kept improving and became a top four player in his prime.
Concepcion, Griffey and Perez would each make all-star teams and earn MVP votes.
Geronimo's offense peaked in 1976, giving the Big Red Machine eight of the top
45 players for two years running, something that has never happened in MLB
history and probably never will again.
The Reds are one of only three teams in MLB history with four league MVPs in the same lineup:
Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and George Foster. The other such teams were the 1939 Yankees (Joe DiMaggio,
Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon) and the 1961 Yankees (Mickey Mantle,
Roger Maris, Elston Howard and Yogi Berra.) But in the years in question, Gehrig
and Berra were on the downsides of their careers. (In 1939, Gehrig hit .143 with
one RBI in eight games before retiring mid-season.) And while Gordon and Howard
were very good players, they were were not as dominant as any of the Reds' "core four."
Maris had two MVP seasons and one extraordinary year, hitting 61 homers in 1961, but he was not a
hall-of-fame player for his career (or if he was, George Foster and Ken Griffey
Sr. should be shoo-ins!). Dickey and Berra were great
catchers, but not as great as Bench. Gordon was no match for
Morgan at second base. Maris and Howard were RBI men who finished with 850 and
762 for their respective careers, but Pérez drove in more runs than the two
combined by himself, and
the four Reds easily exceeded those totals, even though Rose and Morgan were not
prototypical sluggers and were often hitting first or second.
Hell, the Reds' leadoff hitter had
more RBI than a long list of Yankee sluggers! Pete Rose had 1,314 RBI, which
ties him with Graig Nettles and bests Derek Jeter, Enos Slaughter, Mark
Teixeira, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Bill Dickey, Tony
Lazzeri, Don Mattingly, Bob Meusel and Jorge Posada. Rose also had more RBI than
sluggers like Steve Garvey, Larry Walker, Mickey Vernon, Paul Waner, Roberto
Clemente, Eddie Collins, Hank Greenberg and Gil Hodges.
Reds RBI Kings
Tony Pérez 1,652
Johnny Bench 1,376
Pete Rose 1,314
George Foster 1,239
Joe Morgan 1,133
Dave Concepción 950
Ken Griffey Sr. 859
Roger Maris 850
Elston Howard 762
Clete Boyer 654
Bobby Richardson 390
Tony Kubek 373
Tommy Henrich 795
Charlie Keller 760
Frankie Crosetti 649
George Selkirk 576
Babe Dahlgren 569
Red Rolfe 497
Earle Combs 633
Joe Dugan 567
Mark Koenig 446
Pat Collins 168
Johnny Grabowski 85
Reds Total Base Tyrants
Pete Rose 5,572
(#8 all-time, just 41 short of Babe Ruth!, more than Gehrig, Mantle)
Tony Pérez 4,532
(#48 all-time, more than Mantle, DiMaggio, Berra)
Joe Morgan 3,962 (#95 all-time, more than DiMaggio, Berra,
Johnny Bench 3,644 (#140 all-time, more than Berra, Mattingly,
George Foster 3,370 (#200 all-time, more than Mattingly,
Ken Griffey Sr. 3,117 (#257 all-time, more than Posada, Lazzeri,
Combs, Nettles, Meusel, Maris)
Dave Concepción 3,114 (#258 all-time, ditto)
Cesar Gerónimo 1,391 (more than Lou Pinella and Clete Boyer, who are
in the top 50 for the Yankees)
Total Bases and RBI show that the Great Eight were not only vastly superior to
Yankees like Kubek, Dahlgren, Dugan and Collins, but that they were competitive
with some of the best Yankees of all time.
The Core Four and the Fearsome Fivesome
the positions where one generally finds weaker hitters for
the sake of defense―catcher,
second, shortstop and third―the Reds had a "core four" of
Hall-of-Fame-caliber players: Bench, Morgan, Concepción and Rose. At the
prototypical RBI positions―first base and outfield―they had two of the best RBI
men of their era in Foster and Pérez, and they were joined by Morgan having an
unbelievable year for a second baseman. If Bench and Pérez had matched their
best offensive seasons in 1976, there would be no debate today about which team was the
greatest ever. But even with their two legendary run producers
having somewhat "down" years, the Reds were still an offensive juggernaut. Can
anyone say that about the Ruth-Gehrig or Mantle-Maris teams, if the superstars
had failed to have stellar years? The 1976 Reds were
different because they had stars to match anyone's, but no other team ever had
eight position players who were all playing at an all-star level in the same
season―not only offensively, but defensively and on the basepaths as well.
According to the Hardball Times Baseball
Annual, the Reds' "core four" had higher combined win shares over a three-year span
than any other team in the last 50 years, matching
the average win shares of the 1927 Yankees and their "fearsome foursome" of Babe
Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri. But there are good reasons to
consider the Reds the superior team.
First, the Reds
really had a "fearsome fivesome" because for a decade in his prime,
Foster was an absolute monster. Foster was called "the Destroyer"
because that's what he did with his ebony bat called "The Black Death."
He destroyed opposing pitchers and threatened stadiums with his tape-measure
homers (two of which reportedly traveled more than 500 feet).
Second, the rest of the Big Red Machine were
much better, because the 1927 Yankees were average at short (Mark Koenig had an AL-worst
47 errors), dreadful at catcher (Pat Collins, Johnny Grabowski, Benny Bengough) and
third (Joe Dugan). In his book Baseball's Ten Greatest Teams baseball
historian Donald Honig said that the 1976 Reds were better at four positions
(catcher, shortstop, second and third) and probably better at a fifth
(left field, with the Destroyer).
Third, the Reds were by far the better base-running and
base-stealing team, while the Yankees were slow afoot and had two of the worst base-stealers of all
time, percentage-wise and according to wSB, in Ruth and Gehrig.
Fourth, the Reds were much better on defense, with four gold gloves and cannon
arms up the middle, while the Yankees had a center fielder (Combs) with the
worst arm in baseball history according to Bill James, and two catchers with
lame arms. The primary Yankees catcher (Collins) had a psychological problem
about throwing, according to his manager. (More about this on the hyperlinked
And while Ruth and Gehrig were undeniably great, the
Yankees simply couldn't match up at the other positions: Bench was a vastly greater
catcher (Collins had a measly 6.8 career WAR); Morgan was a vastly greater second baseman in every respect (the
Yankees' second basemen had 45 errors); Concepción was much better
defensively at short and on the basepaths (Koenig had an anemic 7.6 career WAR); Rose was a vastly superior hitter
and leader at
third (Dugan had 9.3 career WAR); Gerónimo had one of the best arms in centerfield, compared to
one of the worst ever. Meusel and Griffey may seem like a draw at first glance,
with similar batting averages and total bases, but Meusel made 14 errors and was far less proficient as a base-stealer. And his average was
undoubtedly inflated by his era. Griffey is the clear winner in my book, or Foster, if we
compare him to Meusel. Perhaps give half a point to Combs for his offense, and take
away half a point for his pitiful throwing. That makes the final tally 6
1/2 to 2 1/2 in favor of the Reds. And as we will see, the same holds true with
other "murderers' row" teams of the past. The Reds match up with anyone on
offense and win when defense and baserunning are considered. And the
Reds also win on intangibles, from the dominating arms of Bench and Gerónimo, to
the fiery leadership and hustle of Rose and Morgan, to the clutch hitting of
Pérez and Concepción, to the scowling presence of "the Destroyer" and his
intimidating black bat.
Click here for a detailed comparison of the 1976 Reds to the 1927 Yankees and
At the link above the 1976 Reds are compared to the 1902 Pirates, 1906
Cubs, 1927 Yankees, 1929 Athletics, 1932 Yankees, 1939
Yankees, 1955 Dodgers, 1961 Yankees, 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 1997
Mariners, 1998 Yankees, 2016 Cubs, and other contenders and pretenders
to the mantle of "the best baseball team of all time."
How do the 1975-1976 Reds Compare to Modern Teams?
When comparing the 1975-1976 Reds to more recent teams, please keep in mind that
there were no free agents or player rentals back then. The first free agents
were signed after the end of the 1976 season, an interesting synchronicity. Did
the baseball gods decide that since there would never be a better team, why not
open the money floodgates and let the players prosper along with the owners? In
any case, while I intend to demonstrate that the Big Red Machine's starting
eight were better than any outfit that followed,
just imagine what your favorite post-1976 team would look like without its free
agents and rentals. The Reds made hay the old-fashioned way: with talented
talent scouts, a great farm system, and a few astute trades—especially
the ones that secured Morgan and Foster. Today
big-market cities like New York and Los Angeles have tremendous advantages over
smaller-market cities like Cincinnati. We may never see another team like the
Big Red Machine in a smaller city, but at least we have this one for the ages!
Only three teams in the last 50 years have had more wins than the Reds' 108 in
1975. One such team was the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who went 116-46. How do the
teams' position players compare? At catcher, Dan Wilson with his 90 OPS+ does
not begin to compare to the immortal Johnny Bench. At first, John Olerud is not
a career match for Hall-of-Famer Tony Pérez, but it's close in the years in
question so we'll call it even. Bret Boone had a great year but is no match for
Joe Morgan. At short Carlos Guillen with his anemic 87 OPS+ cannot compare with
Dave Concepción. Ditto for David Bell at third with his 92 OPS+. Ditto again for
Al Martin with his 93 OPS+ in left. It's close in right with Ichiro Suzuki
versus Ken Griffey Sr., but Griffey had the better season in 1976. In center
Mike Cameron gets the nod over Cesar Gerónimo, although once again it's close.
My final tally is five clear wins for the Reds, one close win with Griffey over
Suzuki, one tie, and only one win for the Mariners. That makes it 6-1-1 although
Suzuki fans who ignore his OPS+ might argue for 5-2-1. But in any case the Reds
were clearly superior on the field.
The next candidate is the 1998 New York Yankees, who went 114-48. Jorge Posada
does not compare with Bench at catcher. At first it's close, but Tino Martinez
was a bit better in the years in question so he gets the nod. At second Chuck
Knoblauch is no match for Morgan. Derek Jeter gets the win at short, although
it's competitive there with Concepción's gold glove, basestealing, athleticism
and clutch bat. Scott Brosius does not compare with Rose at third. Chad Curtis
does not compare with the Destroyer in left. Paul O'Neil had a nice year in
1998, but Griffey was better in 1976. Bernie Williams is a strong win for the
Yanks in center. My final tally is 5-3 in favor of the Reds, with only one
strong win for the pinstripers and four resounding wins for the Reds.
The third candidate is the 1969 Baltimore Orioles, who went 109-53, just one
game better than the 1975 Reds. At catcher Elrod Hendricks falls light years
short of Bench. At first Pérez gets the career nod over Boog Powell, but Powell
was better in the years in question. Davey Johnson does not begin to compare to
Morgan at second. Concepción is a clear winner over Mark Belanger and his 95
OPS+ at short. I love Brooks Robinson and his marvelous defense, but he only hit
.234 with a 92 OPS+ and is no match for Rose at third. Don Buford is no match
for Foster in left. Frank Robinson is a clear winner in right. Paul Blair ties
with Geronimo for the years in question. My final tally is 5-2-1 for the Reds.
It's no just that the Reds win the position battles, but how
they win and by what margins, with baseball immortals like Bench, Morgan and
Rose. And if we take career achievements into account, all the Reds other than
Geronimo merit consideration for the Hall of Fame. For instance, Pérez is a
clear pick over Olerud, Martinez and Powell when we consider careers. Pérez had
a good year in 1976 and made the all-star team, but it was far from one of his
best years. When we consider careers, the Reds are even more dominant. And if we
consider the fact that the 1976 Reds led both leagues
in every major offensive category including slugging and base-stealing
efficiency, and were superior defenders, the margin grows even wider.
So how do the 1976 Reds compare with the latest super-team, the 2020 Los Angeles
Dodgers, after the addition of Mookie Betts? Russell Martin, Will Smith and
Austin Barnes are no match for the immortal Bench at catcher. Max Muncy is good
but not a hall-of-famer, so the nod goes to Perez at first. Let's not embarrass
Enrique Hernandez by comparing him to Morgan at second. If Corey Seager stays
healthy he might possibly get the nod at short, but based on real-world results
Concepcion is the winner. Justin Turner is a nice player, but no match for Rose
at third. Mookie Betts gets the first Dodger win in right field, but Griffey is
very competitive there. In center A. J. Pollock versus Geronimo is competitive,
but Geronimo was better in 1976 than Pollock was in 2019. In left field, Cody
Bellinger versus the Destroyer is a clash of Titans. I will give the edge to
Bellinger, but it's a narrow victory. That makes the final tally 6-2 for the
Reds, with the two Dodger wins being on the narrow side.
How do the 1976 Reds compare with the 2019
Houston Astros? Some Houston fans
were crowing that their team's offense was the "best ever" when two other
AL teams actually scored more runs in 2019. But let's compare positions, just to be
sure. At catcher, no one is going mistake Robinson Chirinos for Johnny Bench.
Ditto at first, with Yuli Gurriel going up against Pérez and his 1,652
RBI. Jose Altuve is a star, but still doesn't
compare with Morgan at his absolute peak. Carlos Correa vs. Concepción is
closer, but WAR tells us Concepción was substantially better. At
third, Alex Bregman vs. Rose is also close, but Rose did it for 24 years and had
a monster year in 1976, so he gets the edge for now. Michael Brantley had a nice
year, but the Destroyer in his prime wins easily in left field. George Springer in
center gets the Astros' only clear win, over Gerónimo. Josh
Reddick in right doesn't compare with Ken Griffey Sr. having his best year.
Furthermore, the Reds were much better base stealers, led both leagues in all major
offensive categories, and had four Gold Gove winners up the middle. The Astros
had no Gold Glove winners, and were 3rd in homers, 3rd in runs, and 8th in steals.
How do the 1976 Reds compare with the 2018 Boston
Red Sox? At catcher, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez
do not begin to compare
with Bench. At first, no one is going to confuse
Mitch Moreland with a Hall-of-Famer like Pérez. At second, Eduardo Nunez, Brock
Holt and Ian Kinsler are
light years behind Morgan. Shortstop is much closer, but WAR says Concepción was
better than Xander Bogaerts by a full point. At third, Rafael Devers
with his .237 average is only 100 points behind Rose (and 100 hits as well). In
left, J. D. Martinez vs. George Foster is a tie between monster sluggers, according to WAR. In right,
Andrew Benintendi is a dynamic player, but so was Griffey, and WAR says Griffey was better in 1976. If we put Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Gerónimo
was better in 1976. If we put Betts in center so that Martinez can play,
Betts is a clear winner over Gerónimo. But Betts is the only clear winner for
the Sox, while the Reds dominate at
catcher, first, second and third, with four hall-of-famers. Team OPS+ tells the
same story, with the Reds (sans pitchers) having a 129 OPS+ compared to the
Sox's 111. The Reds stole nearly 100 more bases and were equally as efficient.
The Reds led all MLB in homers while
the Sox finished fourth in the AL. Then there's the fact that the "worst" of the
Reds were far better than their counterparts. The "worst" Reds all played at an
all-star level in 1976. No one can say that considering the WAR of Nunez (-1.1),
Vazquez (-0.8), Leon (-0.5), Devers (0.0) and Moreland (0.9) in 2018. The Sox
had four starters who played above replacement level, while all eight Reds
starters did, by comfortable margins.
In my opinion the Reds defeated a better Red Sox team in the 1975 World Series.
That team was absolutely loaded and much better balanced than the 2018 version,
with nine position players above replacement level plus super-sub Juan Beniquez. The 1975 Sox had three hall-of-famers
(Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice) and three contenders (Fred Lynn,
Dwight Evans, Cecil Copper). The rest of the
supporting cast was strong, with Rico Petrocelli, Bernie Carbo, Denny Doyle,
Rick Burleson and Beniquez. The 1975
Sox led the AL in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, total bases, runs, hits
and doubles. Like their 2018 counterparts, they were fourth in homers. Lynn was
the AL MVP, hitting .331/162 OPS+ with 7.4 WAR. Fisk hit .331/150
OPS+, Cooper .311/143 OPS+, Rice .309/128 OPS+, Doyle
.310/109 OPS+. Evans slugged .456/120 OPS+
with 5.1 WAR. Carbo, who couldn't crack the loaded Reds outfield, slugged
.483/143 OPS+. Yastrzemski slugged .405/112 OPS+. From top to bottom, that may have been the best Red Sox team of all
So the better comparison of starting eights is the 1975 Reds to the 1975 Red
Sox, but they actually met in the field and the Big Red Machine came out on top
in one of the greatest World Series of all time!
The 1975-1976 Reds are the only team with three of the top 40 players of all
time, according to the ESPN Hall of 100, which has Joe Morgan #18, Johnny Bench
#26, and Pete Rose #38. To put that in perspective, they are all ranked ahead of
Eddie Collins, Sandy Koufax, Nap Lajoie, Reggie Jackson, Charlie Gehringer, Cap
Anson and Al Simmons. Other Reds on the Hall of 100 list include Frank Robinson
#20, Tom Seaver #22, Ken Griffey Jr. #35, and Barry Larkin #75. (Click here for
All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team.) How do the all-time Reds rank
compared to the Yankees? Pretty favorably, actually. The Yankees
clearly win at three positions: Ruth (OF), Gehrig (1B) and Mariano Rivera (RP).
Three positions are virtual ties, with Barry Larkin vs. Derek Jeter (SS),
Frank Robinson vs. Mickey Mantle (OF) and Ken
Griffey Jr. vs. Joe DiMaggio (CF). The Reds win
with Johnny Bench over Bill Dickey or Yogi Berra (C), Joe Morgan over Joe Gordon
or Tony Lazzeri (2B), Pete Rose over Graig Nettles or Red Rolfe (3B) and Tom
Seaver over Whitey Ford or any other Yankees starting pitcher. The all-time Reds
are superior defensively and on the basepaths, with a decisive edge at the key
defensive positions of catcher, second and shortstop. The Yankees' main advantages are the power of Ruth and Gehrig and the greatest closer of all time.
I have the all-time Reds slightly ahead at 4-3-3.
The Bill James Hall-of-Fame Career Standards ranks Frank Robinson #22, Ken
Griffey Jr. #31, Joe Morgan #56, Pete Rose #65, Barry Larkin #102, Johnny Bench
#116 (too low!) and Tony Perez #162 (also too low)
According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Rose is the #14 player of all
time, Bench #39, Morgan #64, Concepción #154, Foster #189, Pérez #242, Griffey
#493, Gerónimo #832
Bill James' Top Second Basemen: 1. Joe Morgan 2. Eddie Collins
3. Rogers Hornsby 4. Jackie Robinson 5. Craig Biggio 6. Nap Lajoie 7. Ryne
Sandberg 8. Charlie Gehringer 9. Rod Carew 10. Roberto Alomar
Bill James' Top Catchers: 1. Yogi Berra 2. Johnny Bench 3. Roy
Campanella 4. Mickey Cochrane 5. Mike Piazza 6. Carlton Fisk 7. Bill Dickey 8.
Gary Carter 9. Gabby Hartnett 10. Ted Simmons
Bill James' Top Right Fielders: 1. Babe Ruth 2. Hank Aaron 3. Frank Robinson 4.
Mel Ott 5. Pete Rose 6. Tony Gwynn 7. Reggie Jackson 8. Roberto
Clemente 9. Paul Waner 10. Sam Crawford
Bill James' Top First Basemen: 1. Gehrig 2. Foxx 3. McGwire 4. Bagwell 5. Murray
6. Mize 7. Killebrew 8. Greenberg 9. McCovey 13. Perez
Bill James' Top Shortstops: 1. Honus Wagner 2. Arky Vaughan, 3. Cal Ripken 4.
Robin Yount 5. Ernie Banks 6. Barry Larkin 7. Ozzie Smith 8. Joe Cronin 26. Dave Concepcion
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Morgan is #13, Rose #29, Bench #34,
Perez #137, Foster #166, Concepcion #194, Griffey #445, Geronimo #978
According to Baseball Egg, Morgan is the #3 second baseman and #15 player of all
time, Frank Robinson #16, Seaver #26, Griffey Jr. #38, Bench the #1 catcher and
#40 player, Rose the #6 left fielder and #63 player, Larkin #93, Perez the #19
first basemen, Foster the #26 left fielder, Concepcion the #37 shortstop, and
Griffey Sr. the #63 right fielder
Based on career JAWS, Bench is the #1 catcher; Rose the #7 third baseman; Morgan
the #4 second baseman; Pérez the #28 first baseman; Foster the #30 left fielder;
Concepción the #45 shortstop; Griffey the #71 right fielder; and Gerónimo the
#204 center fielder
Based on career WAR, Bench is the #1 catcher (75.0);
Morgan the #4 second baseman (100.3); Rose the #7 third
baseman (79.1); Pérez the #27 first baseman
(53.9); Foster the #30 left fielder (43.9); Concepción the #42 shortstop (39.9);
Griffey Sr. the #71 right fielder (34.4) and Gerónimo the #204 center fielder
According to Baseball Projection, Joe Morgan is the #19 player of all time, Pete
Rose #45, Johnny Bench #52, Tony Pérez #167, George Foster #253, Dave Concepción
#375 and Ken Griffey Sr. #422. By comparison, the 1927 Yankees had only three
players in the top 500 (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs). The 1961 Yankees
had only two players in the top 280 (Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra) and two more
in the top 500 (Roger Maris and Elston Howard). The 1939 Yankees have only one
player in the top 100 (Joe DiMaggio) and four more ranked no higher than #141
(Joe Gordon, Bill Dickey, Charlie Keller, and Tommy Henrich). Once again, the
Reds are clearly superior, top to bottom.
According to WSAB (Win Shares Above Bench), Joe Morgan is #15, Frank Robinson
#16, Pete Rose #22
The JAWS 75 has Tom Seaver #17, Joe Morgan #26, Johnny Bench #59
According to WAR, Tom Seaver is #20, Frank Robinson #24, Joe Morgan #31, Ken
Griffey Jr. #57, Pete Rose #65, Johnny Bench #77, Barry Larkin #97, Vada Pinson
#242, Tony Perez #245
According to the number crunching of Lehigh University Mathematics Professor Don
Davis, for players who played within the last 65 years, Bench is the #1
catcher, Morgan the #1 second
baseman, and Rose would be the #6 third baseman
According to "The Top 100 Position Players in MLB History" which ranks position
players on WAR+WAA except for catchers (and I agree that WAR undervalues
catchers), Johnny Bench is the #21 player of all time, Joe Morgan #25, and Pete
According to TheSportster.com, Johnny Bench was the #6 defensive player of all
time, regardless of position
On the Ranker list of all-time greats regardless of position, Rose is #17, Bench
#24 and Morgan #57
In the Ranker top ten players of the 1970s, Morgan is #1, Seaver #4 and Bench #5
According to Ranker, Foster is the #23rd left fielder, Rose the #24 left
fielder, and Griffey the #29 left fielder! So the Reds had three of the best
left fielders of all time, on the same team!
Also according to Ranker, Bench is the #1 catcher, Pérez the #22 first baseman,
Morgan the #3 second baseman, Concepción the #11 shortstop, Rose the #7 third
baseman, Gerónimo the #42 centerfielder, and Rose the #8 right fielder
So according to Ranker, every starter on the 1975-1976 Reds was an all-time
great, and Rose was all-world at three different positions!
On a more amusing note, the Reds also had some of the greatest nicknames of all
time. Pete Rose was "Charlie Hustle." George Foster was "the Destroyer"
and his ebony bat was "The Black Death." Manager
George Anderson was "Sparky" and "Captain Hook." Joe Morgan was "Little Joe"
because at 5'-7" he was short like Little Joe Cartwright on the TV show
Bonanza. Conversely, Tony Pérez was "Big Dog" and "Big Doggie"
and "The Mayor of Riverfront" and "Mr. Clutch." Johnny
Bench was the "Little General," "Hench Ench" and the "Binger Banger." Dave Concepción was "El Rey"
(the King) and "The Immaculate Concepción." Cesar Gerónimo was "the Chief" (having the same
name as the famous Native
American chief). Fastballing ace Don Gullett was "Bullet." And the team also had a
badass nickname: "The Big Red Machine."
George Foster may have received his nickname "the Destroyer" from this quote by
manager Sparky Anderson: "If Foster had been playing with the Dodgers
in the '50's they wouldn't have had to tear down Ebbets Field. George would have
demolished it with shots off his bat." In 1977, Foster was the only baseball
player within a 25-year time span (from 1965 to 1990) to hit 50 home runs in a
single season (the last was the immortal Willie Mays).
Foster was also nicknamed "Yahtzee" by Pete Rose, but no one seems to know
How good were the 1976 Reds offensively? Well, they were
the only team MLB history to lead their league in every major
hitting category. And they not only led the NL, they also led every team in the
AL as well, despite the huge advantage of designated hitters. The Red led all major league teams
in plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs,
RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage,
OPS, OPS+ and total bases. How amazing! No other team in baseball history has
ever led all these categories in their own league, much less all of major league
baseball. As we will see, when comparing teams against teams of their own
eras (to adjust for obviously inflated batting statistics in baseball's past),
the 1976 Reds were the most dominant offensive team of all time. And that's
before we consider things like defense, athleticism and base-stealing.
The 1976 Reds also led the NL in the power/speed combination of team
batting average, home runs and steals. And while Oakland and Kansas City stole
more bases in the AL, the Reds were much more efficient, with an 79% success
rate compared to KC's 67% and Oakland's 73%. So the case can be made that the
Reds were the best base-stealing team in all MLB as well. Oh, and they also led
in fielding percentage.
In 1976 all eight Reds starters were in the
NL's top 30 for slugging percentage and OPS. Has any team in major league baseball history ever had
all its starters rank in the top 30 for an entire season? (The 1927 Yankees had only five players in the AL top 30, and
there were fewer teams and players competing back then.) And how
about base-stealing? The 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals while being caught only 57
times, for that ultra-impressive 79% success rate.
Meanwhile, Bench allowed only 32 stolen bases
by opposing baserunners while throwing out 46% of attempting stealers. So the Reds
had a huge advantage on the basepaths. One obviously cannot say such things about lumbering Yankee teams of the
How did the Great Eight rank against their NL peers in 1976? The Reds
had four of the top five NL players in runs created (Morgan #1, Rose #2, Foster
#4, Griffey #5). Only Mike Schmidt prevented a clean sweep by the Big Red
Machine. The Reds swept the top three positions in offensive win percentage
(Morgan #1, Griffey #2, Foster #3) with Rose giving
them four of the top six. They had three of the top four in runs scored (Rose 130, Morgan 113, Griffey 111)
and four of the top nine (Foster had 86). All eight Reds starters ranked in the
top 35 in runs scored. The Reds had the league
leaders in RBI (Foster 121, Morgan 111) and Pérez was sixth with
91. They had nine of the top 45 base stealers (including super sub Dan
Driessen). They had three of the top eight in
walks (Morgan 114, Rose 86, Bench 81), and all eight starters
ranked in the top 45. They had five of the
top eleven NL batting averages (Griffey .336, Rose .323, Morgan
.320, Gerónimo .307, Foster .306). They had three of the top four
in OBP (Morgan .444, Rose .404, Griffey .401) and four of the
top six (Gerónimo .382). All eight starters were in the top 35.
The Reds had the top two sluggers (Morgan .576, Foster .530), and
all eight starters were in the top 30. They had four of
the top seven in OPS (Morgan 1.020, Foster .894, Rose .854, Griffey .851), and
all eight starters were in the top 30. They had three of the top five in total
bases (Rose 299, Foster 298, Morgan 272). All Reds starters
had more than 200 total bases and ranked in the top 35, other than the injured
Bench who still garnered 183 (second among NL catchers and still in
the top 45). They had four of the top six in extra-base hits (Rose #2, Foster #3,
Morgan #5, Pérez #6) and all eight starters ranked in the top 45. They had three
of the top four in times on base (Rose #1, Morgan #2, Griffey #4). They had three
of the top six in stolen base percentage (Morgan #2, Foster #4, Gerónimo #6).
They had four of the top ten position players in WAR (Morgan #1, Rose #3,
Foster #6, Bench #10). Has there ever been a
team that dominated all the major offensive statistics so thoroughly, from the
top to the bottom of the lineup? Not the 1927 Yankees with Dugan, Collins and
Grabowski. Not the 1961 Yankees with Richardson, Kubek and Boyer. Not the 1939
Yankees with Crosetti, Dahlgren and Henrich. Not the 1997 Mariners with Wilson,
Sorrento and Davis. Not the 1996 Yankees with Girardi, Duncan and Sierra. Not
the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers with Gilliam, Amoros and Jackie Robinson having a very
poor year. Not the 1970 Orioles
with Johnson, Belanger, Hendricks and Etchebarren. Not the 1929 Athletics with
Bishop, Hale and Boley. Not the 1998 Yankees with Curtis, Posada and Knoblauch.
None of the other great lineups compare with the 1976 Reds from the top of the
lineup to the bottom, when considering batting, defense and baserunning.
What happens if we throw in the whole American league as well? The Reds still
have a clean sweep of the top three in offensive win percentage; four of the top
ten players in extra-base hits, OBP, OPS and runs created; four of the top
twenty in batting average; three of the top four in runs scored; three of the
top ten in batting average (and five of the top twenty); three of the top ten in
total bases and stolen base percentage; the top two in RBI and slugging
percentage; two of the top ten in homers, six of the top fifty in runs, RBI,
OBP, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS; seven of the top 100 in hits and
homers; and eight of the top 100 in extra-base hits, total bases, walks and
To show how strong the Reds lineup was, from top to bottom, every Reds starter
had 200 or more total bases and slugged .400 or higher, with the exception of
the injured Bench, who still came very close by slugging .394 with 183 total
bases. And despite having a down year according to his ultra-high standards,
Bench still had a superior year for his position, ranking in the top five among
catchers in walks (#1), stolen base percentage (#1), stolen bases (#2), doubles
(#3), RBI (#3), runs (#4), home runs (#4), slugging percentage (#4), on-base
percentage (#4), and OPS (#5).
1976 Batting Statistics (bold italics indicates the league leader; bold
indicates top ten NL or top fifty MLB)
-G- PA AB
-R- -H- 2B 3B
HR RBI SB CS BB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB WAR MVP
215 42 6 10
63 9 5
.404 .450 .854 141 299
144 627 562 86 172
21 9 29
17 3 52
.306 .364 .530
.894 150 298
141 599 472 113
30 5 27
111 62 9 114
.320 .444 .576 1.020 186
148 628 562 111
28 9 6
74 34 11
.401 .450 .851
140 253 4.6
139 586 527 77 137
19 91 10 5 50
.260 .328 .452 .779
636 576 74 162
10 49 .281
.335 .401 .736 107 231
555 486 59 149
24 11 2 49 22 5 56 .307 .382 .414
.795 125 201 2.7
135 552 465 62 109
24 1 16 74 13 2
81 .234 .348 .394 .741 109 183
As an indication of the Red's hitting dominance in 1976, their eight-place batter, Cesar Gerónimo, was in the top ten for OBP and the top thirty for OPS (both leagues included).
Bill Madlock of the Pittsburg Pirates edged out Ken Griffey Sr. for the NL batting championship on the last day of the season.
George Foster led the NL in RBIs and was second to Morgan in slugging percentage.
Johnny Bench and Tony Pérez had off years in 1976. If they had produced typical results, the team's offensive numbers would have been even more off the charts. Bench was battling physical problems, particularly bad
shoulders. But Bench hit .385 in the NLCS against Philadelphia, and when New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson hit .529 in the World Series, Bench rose to the occasion, hitting .533 with two home runs, for which he was
awarded the World Series MVP award. When Sparky Anderson was asked to compare Munson to Bench, he demurred, saying: "You don't compare anyone to Johnny Bench. You don't want to embarrass anybody."
Dan Driessen was the DH in all four World Series games. In fact, 1976 was the first year the DH was allowed the the Series. At that time, the DH was allowed on an every-other-year basis and in ALL games (until 1986 when
it became yearly and only in the AL parks). In 1976, Driessen DH-ed in both Yankee Stadium & Riverfront. He went 5 for 14 (.357) with one homer and two doubles.
Raw slugging averages aren't everything, having varied widely from around .300 in the dead-ball era to a high of almost .450 in the 1930s and late 1990s. But if we divide a team's slugging average by the league's
slugging average, we get a relative number, so that we can compare teams from different eras. Here are the all-time leaders after removing teams prior to 1888 and Coors Field teams with park-inflated stats:
Team League Relative
1. 1927 New York Yankees .489 .399 22.6
2. 1976 Cincinnati Reds .424 .361 17.5
3. 1965 Cincinnati Reds .439 .374 17.4
4. 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates .374 .319 17.2
5. 2003 Red Sox .501 .428 17.1
But there are other offensive factors not measured by slugging percentage, such as baserunning and hitting in the clutch. So a better measure may be a team's runs per game compared to the league average. As I mentioned
above, the 1927 Yankees were great at .28 runs per game above the league average, but the 1976 Reds were better at .33 higher. And because the Reds were also markedly better at defense and base-running, and had no weak
links, I think the clear edge goes to the 1976 Reds.
Here's an indication of how good the best offensive baseball team of all time was defensively: Bench and Morgan were selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team, while Concepción was a finalist whose career
defensive WAR puts him in the top 40 defenders of all time, regardless of position. Cesar Gerónimo was good enough to be considered for the Rawlings finalists, with four consecutive Gold Gloves. Thus where it matters
most, up the middle, the Reds had four defensive immortals! Can that be said about any of the other "murderers' row" offensive teams? (The question is rhetorical.)
In Ed Winkler's article "The Best Fielders of the 1970s," Johnny Bench had the most votes for any position and was a runaway winner at catcher. Joe Morgan had the second-most votes for any position and was the
runaway winner at second. Cesar Geronimo was second only to Garry Maddox in the outfield, in a virtual dead heat, and Pete Rose and George Foster were both in the top ten. Concepción was second only to Larry Bowa at
short, and was far ahead of defensive specialists Don Kessinger and Buddy Harrelson. Tony Perez was fourth at first base. Thus seven of the Great Eight were voted as being among the best NL defenders for a decade.
The 1976 Reds led the NL and all MLB in fielding, with the fewest errors and the highest fielding percentage. So they were the best defensive team by the numbers. This can be backed up by the fact that four Reds starters
won gold gloves in 1976: Bench (C), Morgan (2B), Concepción (SS) and Gerónimo (CF). Furthermore the Reds won Gold Gloves at these four key defensive positions for four straight years , 1974-77. Altogether, members
of the "great eight" accumulated 26 Gold Gloves. The Reds who didn't win gold gloves weren't exactly slouches, either. Tony Pérez (1B) had a stellar .996 fielding percentage and only five errors in 1976, but
Steve Garvey won the gold glove with an even-more-stellar .998. Pete Rose (3B) won two gold gloves in other seasons, and ranks close to Alex Gordon in left-field Total Zone metrics at +11 per season. In 1976, Rose was
playing out of position at third base, where he was a decent-but-not-great defender. Even so, he led NL third basemen in fielding percentage that year! And with Concepción's speed, strong arm, innovative one-bounce throws
to first, ability to chase pop flies, and amazing leaping ability, the left side of the infield was more than adequately defended. And we must remember that it was a truly unselfish act for Rose to move to third base, when
he had won two gold gloves in the outfield. As a rival manager pointed out, Rose's move "made the team" by allowing George Foster to play every day. Sparky Anderson was impressed enough with Rose's fielding at
third to mention "some real fielding gems" that he came up with. Foster was a good outfielder with above-average speed and a strong, accurate arm in his prime years; he had been used as a late-inning defensive
replacement early in his career. As an example of Foster's speed and athleticism, in 1976 he stole 17 bases and was only caught three times. Ken Griffey Sr. was also a good outfielder with excellent speed and a strong arm.
He defended well enough to play 203 games at center during his career. So there you have it: the 1976 Reds were one of the all-time great defensive teams as well!
How good were the Reds on defense? Well, Bench is number one among catchers all-time with ten Gold Gloves and was the number one catcher on the Rawlings all-time Gold Glove list with 59% of the vote (more
than Ozzie Smith!). In his prime, playing in the steal-happy NL of the 1970's, Bench had eight seasons in which he threw out 46% of runners or higher (1969-1970, 1972-1975), twice topping 56%. Morgan earned five Gold
Gloves and was the number one defensive second baseman on the Rawlings list. Concepción also garnered five Gold Gloves and was one of six finalists at shortstop on the Rawlings list. (Concepción would almost
certainly have won more Gold Gloves if a young defensive whiz named Ozzie Smith hadn't started gobbling them up.) Gerónimo won four consecutive Gold Gloves and thus qualifies as one of the best defensive
centerfielders of all time. Pete Rose won two Gold Gloves and has the 35th highest fielding percentage of all time among outfielders at .991. Pérez had his best fielding year at first base in 1976. Griffey and
Foster were above-average defenders, with excellent speed and athleticism, and strong arms. Dave Schoenfield mentioned the 1975-1976 Reds in his discussion of the best defensive teams of all time, naming Foster along
with Bench, Morgan, Concepción and Gerónimo as the key defenders. The 1975 Reds had a +61 runs Total Zone defensive rating. Schoenfield commented: "Bench is probably underrated here, rating at just +10 runs even
though he had a 46 percent caught stealing rate and just 32 steals allowed in 132 starts." In any case, with four Gold Glove winners at the key positions up the middle, great team speed, and the best fielding
percentage in the NL, the Reds were certainly in the running as one of the best defensive teams of all time.
What is the single most amazing 1976 Reds stat? It may be the fact that a 35-year-old Pete Rose only committed 13 errors while playing out of position at third base in order to allow Foster to play full-time in left. It
was the "genius" idea of Sparky Anderson to move Rose to third in the middle of the 1975 season. But it took the all-world talent of Rose to pull it off. And despite all his position changes, Pete Rose was a
very capable defender. He led the NL in fielding percentage at four positions: 1B (.997 in 1980), RF (.997 in 1970), LF (.994 in 1972 and .997 in 1974), and 3B (.969 in 1976). He was also second in fielding percentage at
2B (.979 in 1964). Leading the league in fielding percentage at four positions, and nearly at five, is pretty remarkable. In the all-time defensive rankings, Rose has the seventh-highest fielding percentage for a right
fielder, and the eleventh-highest fielding percentage for a left fielder. In 1968, Rose led all NL right fielders in assists, and in 1971 he led all NL right fielders in putouts. In 1965 he led all NL second basemen
in putouts. In 1980 he led all NL first basemen in assists.
Several Reds are among the top 100 in fielding percentage at their respective positions, with Rose ranking at multiple positions. Of course fielding percentage doesn't tell the whole story, but it does tell us whether
a defender is competent once he gets his hands on the ball. And these stats tell us some interesting things. First, Rose was less error-prone at third base than Pérez, which probably explains why Sparky Anderson didn't
move Pérez back to third. Second, Rose really was a remarkable player, ranking in the top 60 at four different defensive positions. Third, it's interesting to see how close Pérez and Killebrew were to each other at first
and third; they are also very close in career RBI.
RF Rose (.9911, #7 , 2 Gold Gloves) ≈ Grady Sizemore, Mookie Betts, Ichiro Suzuki
LF Rose (.9911, #11, 2 Gold Gloves) ≈ Alex Gordon, Joe Rudi, Dave Roberts
1B Rose (.9941, #47) ≈ Albert Pujols, Ernie Banks, Ed Kranepool, Jim Thome
3B Rose (.9609, #60) ≈ Graig Nettles, Adrian Beltre, Robin Ventura, Mike Schmidt
2B Rose (.9754, #167) ≈ Charlie Gehringer, Eddie Stanky, Phil Garner, Frankie Frisch
CF Gerónimo(.9896, #43, 4 Gold Gloves) ≈ Brady Anderson, Kirby Puckett, Don Demeter
C Bench (.9905, #84, 10 Gold Gloves) ≈ Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey
SS Concepción (.9706, #84, 5 Gold Gloves) ≈ Luis Aparicio, Ed Brinkman, Walt Weiss
2B Morgan (.9812, #90, 5 Gold Gloves) ≈ Bill Mazeroski, Chase Utley, Manny Trillo
1B Pérez (.9925, #99) ≈ Norm Cash, Bill Terry, Stan Musial, Bill Buckner
3B Pérez (.9456, #171) ≈ Phil Garner, Home Run Baker, Harmon Killebrew
OF Foster (.9845, #242) ≈ Carlos May, Eric Davis, Kenny Lofton
OF Griffey (.9808, #392) ≈ Bill North, Ken Landreaux, Vada Pinson, Willie Mays
It's difficult to compare pitching staffs from different eras, so I will limit my discussion to non-pitchers, except for this paragraph. The statistics cited here are strikeouts per nine inning game (SPG) and the
pitchers' all-time ranking in this category. We have to drop out of the top 125 strikeout pitchers of all time to find the first great early fireballers. I believe Rube Waddell (7.04, #130), Smokey Joe Wood (6.21, #243),
Dazzy Vance (6.20, #245) and Bullet Bob Feller (6.07, #260) would have been great pitchers in any era, but what would have happened if an average pitcher of the past started tossing 80-85 mph "fast balls" to
George Foster, Johnny Bench and Tony Pérez? They may have all hit 60+ home runs in the same season! Conversely, who is to say how many games "Bullet" Don Gullett (5.96, #293) would have won if he and his
near-100-mph fastball had been transported back in time? After all, Gullett is comparable to Feller in SPG and he's comfortably ahead of Whitey Ford (5.55, #393), Johnny Vander Meer (5.53, #395, Hal Newhouser (5.40, #417),
Walter Johnson (5.34, #437), Dizzy Dean (5.32, #442), Lefty Gomez (5.28, #455), Ed Walsh (5.27, #457), Lefty Grove (5.17, #479), Chief Bender (5.10, #505), Tim Keefe (4.57, #637) and Rube Marquard (4.34, #690). I think
it's safe to say that the average pitching speed in the past was far from spectacular, just by examining the innings and strikeouts of the top pitchers. Some of the famous aces of the past were pitching 300 to 400 innings
per year, and striking out 120 or fewer batters, even though the hitters were using heavier bats. For instance, Cy Young (3.43, #919) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (3.81, #822) were obviously not throwing extreme heat.
Young must have been slower than Christmas, because a typical season for him was close to 400 innings and around 120 strikeouts, and that was true even when he was in his prime. Many pitchers of yore with lots of career
strikeouts got them only because they threw beaucoup innings. For instance, Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell and Eddie Plank were under 4.5 SPG and out of the top 600. There was obviously a dearth of pitching speed, aside
from a few blazing exceptions. When a flameballing strikeout artist like Rube Waddell or Dazzy Vance appears, he really sticks out in the pitching statistics because strikeouts were so few and far between back then.
For instance, in 1927, the year of the famous Yankees "murder's row" led by Ruth and Gehrig, only two pitchers struck out as many as 174 batters: Vance and Grove. Hell, only nine pitchers had 100 or more
strikeouts! Either all the batters had the eyesight and coordination of Ted Williams, or the pitches were relatively slow and easy to make contact with. The statistics obviously suggest the latter, and explain why Ruth
and Gehrig hit so many homers that year. I believe my compilation here is a reasonably complete list of the main strikeout kings from 1900 to 1950. There is an obvious connection between velocity and HPG, because the
leaders in HPG were speed merchants: Herb Score, Nolan Ryan, Clayton Kershaw, Sid Fernandez, J. R. Richard, et al. Even among the elders the strikeout kings were generally the best in HPG: Ed Walsh, Smokey Joe Wood, Bullet
Bob Turley, Walter Johnson, Rube Waddell, et al. In conclusion, it is my opinion that if the 1976 Reds pitching staff were transported back in time to 1950 or earlier, they would suddenly have become a staff of all-time
aces. Don Gullett (5.96, #293) compares with Bob Feller; Fred Norman (6.05, #272) with Dazzy Vance; Gary Nolan (5.58, #386) with Whitey Ford; Pat Zachry (5.11, #499) with Lefty Grove; Jack Billingham (4.6, #629) with
Tim Keefe. So in any comparison to teams of the first half of the 20th century, the fireballing Reds would have a staff equivalent to Feller, Grove, Vance, Ford and Keefe. If we pair those five Hall of Fame pitchers with
the Great Eight, I think it's safe to say they would blow away the 1927 Yankees, or any other team they might face! Of course there are pitching factors other than speed, but let's be honest ... what made Rapid Robert
Feller a legend? Obviously, the speed of his fastball. What made Herb Score a sensation? Ditto. What made Walter Johnson a legend? Ditto. So it stands to reason that if we sent Bullet Gullett back in time, his fastball
would make him a legend. Gary Nolan also had a blazing fastball; at age 18 he struck out Willie Mays four times in a game and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning for his rookie season. Fred Norman's fastball was
described as "electric" and topped out around 94 mph. Pat Zachry threw a mean fastball in the 90-92 mph range. The real difference is that in the past only a few rare pitchers could really bring the heat, whereas
in modern times many talented pitchers can.
Bench, Pitching and Coaching
While the Big Red Machine was legendary for its starting eight players, the 1976 Reds also had a productive bench. Dan Driessen played first base and left field, slugging .402 with an OPS+ of 116, driving in 44 runs, and
stealing 14 bases while only being caught once. (Driessen would star in the 1976 World Series as a designated hitter, then go on to have an OPS+ of 100 or higher in 13 of his 15 major league seasons.) Bob Bailey played
third base and left field, hitting .298 and slugging .508 with an OPS+ of 148. Ed Armbrister played left field and right field, hitting .295 and slugging .462 with an OPS+ of 125. Doug Flynn played second, third and
shortstop, batting .283 and leading the reserves with 62 hits. Other backups included Bill Plummer (catcher), Mike Lum (all three outfield positions), and the versatile Joel Youngblood (all three outfield positions,
catcher, second and third). Don Werner (catcher) played in three games as the team's only late-season call-up. Merv Rettenmund was traded to the San Diego Padres during the 1976 season. Clay Carroll and Joaquín Andújar
were traded before the season began.
The 1976 Reds pitching staff exactly matched the NL league average ERA that year (3.51) despite the position players' defensive prowess, meaning that the team's success was primarily due to the excellence of the Great
Eight. Reds pitchers included Gary Nolan (15-9, 3.46), Pat Zachary (14-7, 2.74), Fred Norman (12-7, 3.09), Jack Billingham (12-10, 4.32), Santo Alcala (11-4, 4.70), Don Gullett (11-3, 3.00), Rawly Eastwick (11-5, 2.09,
26 saves), Manny Sarmiento (5-1, 2.06), Pedro Borbon (4-3, 3.35, 8 saves), Pat Darcy (2-3, 6.23), Will McEnaney (2-6, 4.85, 7 saves), Rich Hinton (1-2, 7.64) and John Henderson (2-0, 0.00).
The Reds had a great coaching staff, led by Hall-of-Fame manager George "Sparky" Anderson. Other coaches included Ted Kluszewski, Russ Nixon, George Scherger and Larry Shephard.
The Best Manager Ever?
Sparky Anderson was called "Sparky Who?" in headlines that announced his hiring by Reds general manager Bob Howsam. But "Sparky" had immediate success as a manager, winning 102 games in his
inaugural 1970 season. He became the first manager to win the World Series with teams in both leagues. He won two with the Reds, then another with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. He was also the first manager to win 100 games
with two different teams. His 2,194 wins are sixth highest in MLB history and he's in the Hall of Fame.
To understand how completely the Great Eight dominated the National League in 1976, please consider that all eight Reds starters ranked in the top 30 for OPS, with Morgan #1, Foster #4, Rose #5, Griffey #7, Gerónimo #20,
Pérez #22, Bench #27 and Concepción #30. That is all the more impressive because Bench was recovering from major surgery, had a down year (for him, not mortal catchers) and missed 27 games. Morgan and Pérez also missed
more than 20 games. But Morgan still managed to nearly double some of his closest competitors' stats. Bench and Pérez were still elite at their positions. A strong case can be made that every Reds starter was either first
or second at his respective position if offense, defense and baserunning are considered.
A case can be made that the Great Eight would have been heavily favored over an NL all-star team of Bob Boone, Steve Garvey, Dave Cash, Bill Russell, Mike Schmidt, Cesar Cedeno, Greg Luzinski and Dave Kingman. The Reds
have seven Hall-of-Fame-caliber players with four immortals (Bench, Pérez, Morgan and Rose), while the all-stars have only one "lock" in Schmidt. (I based the opposing all-star team on the 1976 NL all-star
team after removing the Reds who made the team that year.)
Key: BA=Batting Average, DWAR=Defensive WAR, OWAR=Offensive WAR, OWP=Offensive Win Percentage, PA=Plate Appearances, RC=Runs Created, SBP=Stolen Base Percentage, SP=Slugging Percentage, TOB=Times on Base, TB=Total Bases,
Johnny Bench led NL catchers in defense (Gold Glove/DWAR), runs, homers, walks, steals and SP; second in doubles, TB and RBI (134 games)
Tony Pérez led NL first basemen in triples, homers and EBH; second in runs, RBI, doubles and SP; fourth in TB and steals (139 games)
Joe Morgan led NL second basemen in defense (Golden Glove), WAR, runs, homers, RBI, walks, BA, OBP, TOB, SP and OPS; second in doubles and steals (141 games)
Dave Concepción led NL shortstops in defense (Golden Glove/DWAR), BA, hits, homers, RBI, TB, EBH, OBP, SP and OPS; second in runs and doubles; third in steals
Pete Rose led NL third basemen in games, at bats, PA, hits, singles, doubles, runs, TOB and OBP; second only to Mike Schmidt (just barely) in TB and OWAR
Ken Griffey Sr. led NL outfielders in BA, OBP, TOB, OWP and runs; second in hits, RC and OWAR; third in steals and OPS; fourth in doubles and triples
George Foster led NL outfielders in WAR, EBH, TB, RC, SP, OPS and RBI; second in OWP and SBP; third in homers; fourth in hits and triples; fifth in BA and runs
Cesar Gerónimo led NL outfielders in defense (Golden Glove) and triples; second in OBP; third in SBP; fourth in BA; tenth in steals
The Great Catcher Debate
There really isn't much―if any―debate about the greatest catcher of all time. In addition to winning ten consecutive gold gloves and revolutionizing his position by catching one-handed, Bench is first in WAR,
JAWS and WAA; second in WAR7 and homers; and third in RBI. Due to injuries Bench played fewer games than his main competitors, so he was more productive in less time.
(#1) Johnny Bench, career WAR 75.0
(#2) Gary Carter, 69.9
(#3) Ivan Rodriguez, 68.4
(#4) Carlton Fisk, 68.3
(#5) Yogi Berra, 59.5
(#6) Mike Piazza, 59.4
(#7) Bill Dickey, 55.8
(#8) Gabby Hartnett, 53.4
(#9) Mickey Cochrane, 52.1
(#10) Roy Campanella, 37.0
The Great Leadoff Debate
Pete Rose is either the best or second-best leadoff man of all time. Here's the evidence:
Hits: Pete Rose #1, Craig Biggio #22, Rickey Henderson #23, Ichiro Suzuki #25,
Lou Brock #26
Times on Base: Rose #1, Henderson #4, Biggio #19
Total Bases: Rose #8, Biggio #36,
Runs: Henderson #1, Rose #6, Biggio #15
Runs Created: Rose #10, Henderson #11, Biggio #34
WAR: Henderson 110.8, Rose 79.1, Tim Raines 69.1,
Kenny Lofton 68.2, Biggio 65.1, Billy Hamilton 63.3, Suzuki 59.0, Brock 45.2
These numbers tell us there is a considerable gap among leadoff hitters, after Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson. Rose leads in four categories. Henderson leads in runs and WAR. If you claim Henderson was the best leadoff
man ever, you have a good argument, although Rose leads Henderson by wide margins in hits and total bases. But I don't think there is much of an argument to choose anyone other than Rose or Henderson for the top slot.
The Great Second Base Debate
How good was Joe Morgan, really? Really, really good! Morgan is in a virtual three-way tie for the fifth most productive five-year "WAR path":
(1)Babe Ruth (1920-1924) 56.9 WAR
(2)Willie Mays (1962-1966) 52.3 WAR
(3)Barry Bonds (2000-2004) 51.1 WAR
(4)Roger Hornsby (1921-1925) 49.9 WAR
(5)Mike Trout (2012-2016) 47.8 WAR
(5)Mickey Mantle (1954-1958) 47.7 WAR
(5)Joe Morgan (1972-1976) 47.7 WAR
Joe Morgan was one of the all-time greats and a challenger to Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie for the title of the best second baseman ever. Bill James ranks Morgan first, with Collins ahead of Hornsby. Other
analysts have dropped Hornsby below Lajoie. Why? Hornsby was an indifferent defender with limited range. His career fielding percentage was .959, compared to .969 for Collins and .981 for Morgan. Hornsby was also a
plodder. In the years that his times caught stealing were recorded, Hornsby's stolen base record was 56-64, for a "success" rate of .467. And while Collins stole a lot of bases (741), he got thrown out a lot
too, with seasons of 58-30, 46-30, 48-29 and 12-10. Morgan was the first MLB player to retire with 600 steals and a success rate above .800, so he wins this contest hands down.
Here are my personal rankings: (1) Joe Morgan, (2) Eddie Collins, (3) Rogers Hornsby, (4) Nap Lajoie, (5) Jackie Robinson, (6) Charlie Gehringer, (7) Rod Carew, (8) Ryne Sandberg, (9) Frankie Frisch, (10) Craig Biggio
The Great First Base Debate
How good was Pérez? Let's compare him to his first base peers who played during the same era.
Tony Pérez 1,652 2,924
Ernie Banks 1,636 2,941
Harmon Killebrew 1,584 2,867
Willie McCovey 1,555 2,784
Willie Stargell 1,540 2,734
Orlando Cepeda 1,365 2,496
Al Oliver 1,326 2,515
Pete Rose 1,314 3,479
Steve Garvey 1,308 2,451
Pérez ranks fourth among HOF first basemen in RBI, excluding those who padded their stats by DH-ing.
Cap Anson 2,075
Lou Gehrig 1,995
Jimmie Foxx 1,922
Tony Pérez 1,652
Ranking the Reds by MPV, All-Star and Gold Glove Awards
In the MVP column, the first number is the times winner, and the second number is the times in the top 25 in the MVP voting. The second number may be the more meaningful. Every member of the Great Eight was in the MVP
race at least once, and average players do not get votes for MVP. All-Star is abbreviated A/S, and Gold Glove is GG. The stats below are the players' career-best numbers. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame is designated
by "Reds." Every member of the Great Eight is in the Reds Hall of Fame.
Pos Name HOF MVP A/S GG -BA- SLG -OPS- -R- 2B 3B HR RBI TB SB
3B Pete Rose
Reds 1/14 17 2 .348 .512 .940 130 51 11 16 82 321 20
C Johnny Bench Yes 2/10 14 10 .293 .587 .932 108 40 4 45
148 355 13
2B Joe Morgan Yes 2/7 10 5 .327 .576
1.020 122 35 12 26
111 284 67 (twice)
1B Tony Pérez Yes -/7 7 - .328 .589 .990 107 38 7 40
129 346 10
LF George Foster Reds 1/5 5 - .320 .631 1.013 124
31 9 52 149
SS Dave Concepción Reds -/3 9 5 .319 .433 .767 91 33 8 16 84 245
RF Ken Griffey Sr. Reds -/2 3 - .336 .503 .855 117 35
10 21 85 273
CF Cesar Gerónimo Reds -/1 - 4 .307 .471 .795 73
25 11 10 54
Related Pages: All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team,
The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time,
Cincinnati Reds Trivia,
1976 Reds Virtual Trades,
Is Mike Trout the GOAT?,
Best Baseball Nicknames,
Mike Trout Nicknames,
Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia,
Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates,
Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame,
Big Red Machine Chronology,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Plate Appearance,
Baseball's 100 WAR Leaders,
Weird Sports Trivia,
Who is the NBA GOAT?,
NBA All-Time PPG Leaders,
NBA Greatest Scorers,
The Best All-Time SEC Basketball Players by Position,
The Best Tennessee Vols Basketball Teams and Players of All Time