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1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds: the Greatest Baseball Team of All Time?

Related Pages: 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

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 full 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 Cardinals, and the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey-Buckner Dodgers). 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. 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" and will proceed to provide the "whys" and "wherefores" ...

The 1975-1976 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. 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 greatest offensive/defensive catcher ever, in his prime years, and despite many injuries due to the rigors of his position, he remains the Reds' all-time leader in homers, RBI and Gold Gloves (ten). Bench was MVP twice, an All-Star 14 times, and he leads all catchers in career WAR and JAWS. How good was Johnny Bench, really? Here's what David Schoenfield said in his article about the best players of all time, age 25 and under: "The only catcher to make the list ... who was he in 1970 [at age 22]? Only the NL MVP after leading the league in home runs [45] and RBI [148] 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." Or as an ESPN writer explained: "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." Or as Bench's manager George "Sparky" Anderson advised, please don't embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench! Bench won a gold glove as a rookie, then went on to earn ten consecutive gold gloves while averaging 29 homers and 100 RBI for a decade; he redefined the catching position while hitting 40+ homers twice. 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.

• 1B Tony Pérez (*) was one of the greatest run producers ever, finishing with 1,652 RBI. That's more than legendary sluggers like Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Jeff Bagwell, Orlando Cepeda and Harmon Killebrew. Called "Mr. Clutch," Pérez ranks behind only Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in RBI and total bases among HOF first basemen who didn't spent much of their careers DH-ing. Pérez ranks in the all-time top 50 for total bases, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews and first base peers like McCovey, Stargell, Killebrew, Bagwell and Cepeda. And while Pérez didn't hit as many homers as the Foxxes and Gehrigs, with 379 dingers he's right up there with a slew of impressive sluggers: Cepeda, Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, Albert Belle, Frank Howard, Ryan Howard, Jim Rice, Norm Cash 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. If for some reason you devalue total bases and RBI, I think he still ranks in the top 20 but I have him closer to the top 10. Pérez rivaled Bench as a home-run and RBI man; he averaged 28 homers and 103 RBI for a decade, and drove in 90+ runs 12 times According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Tony Pérez is the #247 player of all time, comparable to Home Run Baker, Max Carey, Larry Doby and Bob Meusel.

• 2B Joe Morgan (*) 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 immortals 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 and power. In the worst case, he's in the all-time top four. 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 was higher than 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! Morgan revolutionized the second base position with his unique combination of power, speed, base stealing and defense; he averaged 100 runs, 109 walks, 40 steals and 18 homers for a decade. 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 at his peak, Morgan was higher.

• SS Dave Concepción (*) was the most complete shortstop of his era, with speed, defense, athleticism and a potent bat for his position (slugging .401, 25th in the NL in 1976); he was an all-star nine times and won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. If elected, Concepción would rank eighth among HOF shortstops in games; ninth in home runs, stolen bases and defensive WAR; and eleventh in hits and RBI. So he either belongs in the HOF or at the very least deserves strong consideration. Concepción had a ten-year streak in which he either made the all-star team, won a gold glove or was a leading MVP candidate; he also slugged .397 or better six times and drove in 60 or more runs seven times. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Dave Concepción is the #154 player of all time, comparable to Jackie Robinson, Hack Wilson, Willie Stargell, Earle Combs, Pie Traynor and Pee Wee Reese (and he ranks above 14 other HOF shortstops).

• 3B Pete Rose (*) is the all-time leader in games, wins, plate appearances, at-bats, hits and times on base; 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; he also won two Gold Gloves. Rose's 79.1 career WAR would place him fifth among HOF third basemen, behind only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs and George Brett. There has been a noticeable tendency in recent years for some "experts" to claim that 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 Ralph Kiner, Goose Goslin, Tim Raines, Joe Medwick, Manny Ramirez, Willie Stargell, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Paul Waner and Tony Gwynn. 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 exceptional numbers for most players in their primes! According to his peak years alone, Rose would rank #6 among HOF left fielders or #8 among HOF third basemen. If we give him credit for lifetime achievements, he ranks even higher. As for Rose being "just a singles hitter," well he ended up with only 41 fewer total bases than Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat himself! Rose was the only all-star at five different positions; he appears among the top 25 players of all-time at 3B, LF and RF field in various rankings; he had a .395 career OBP and was on base nearly 200 times at age 44. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Pete Rose is the #15 player of all time, comparable to Jimmie Foxx, Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle, Charlie Gehringer, Joe DiMaggio and Tris Speaker.

• 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. If elected, Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348) and eleventh in RBI (1,239) and slugging percentage (.480). He was the 1977 NL MVP and finished 1-2-3-6-12 in the MVP voting. Foster compares favorably with HOF outfielders Joe 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). The last time I counted, there were 32 HOF outfielders who didn't strike me as better than Foster; the majority 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. Rice and Medwick may be a notch above Foster, but it's getting close. Also above Foster I would add speed merchants Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. That still leaves a sizeable list of HOF left fielders with fewer homers and RBI than Foster, and below him in WAR7. If we consider all three outfield positions, since Foster also played center and right, he is well above average in homers and RBI, and his OPS+ is around the HOF average at a healthy 126. If we give him credit for the fact that he did more in fewer at-bats than most of his peers―as did Kiner, Wilson, Combs and Doby―he looks even better. Why is Foster a notch below peers like Stargell and Rice? 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. If Rose hadn't moved to third, Foster may never have found a full-time position. As it was, he started playing full-time for the Reds at age 26 and only played full-time for ten years. But his 162-game average was 29 homers and 102 RBI. And there aren't many outfielders who 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 the players I mentioned previously. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, George Foster is the #193 player of all time, comparable to George Kell, Enos Slaughter, Roger Maris, Tony Lazzeri, Home Run Baker and Tim Raines.

• 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.

• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) 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 (12 GG), Garry Maddox (8 GG), Andre Dawson (8 GG), Dave Winfield (7 GG), Cesar Cedeno (5 GG), Bobby Bonds (3 GG), Dave Parker (3 GG) and Willie Davis (3 GG). While Gerónimo is the only one of the Great Eight who, in my opinion, is not in the conversation for the HOF, if he had played the way he played in 1976 for an extended period of time, he would be! Gerónimo had great range and speed (as evidenced by his leading all MLB outfielders in triples in 1976 while stealing 22 bases) with a canon-like arm. 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. And that is hellaciously good territory for any team's number eight hitter!

Going to WAR with the Elite Eight

To "grok" how great the Elite Eight really were, let's consider how they compare to Hall-of-Fame 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, Killebrew, McCovey, Mize and possibly Greenberg, 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 (79.1 WAR) behind Schmidt, Matthews, Brett, Boggs and Brooks Robinson (the latter moved up for his amazing defense)
• LF George Foster #12-15 (348 HR, 1,239 RBI) comparable to Kiner, Keller, Wilson, Doby, Medwick, Rice, Klein, Slaughter, Wheat, Belle, et al
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. #16-19 (2,143 hits, 1,129 runs) comparable to Maris, Meusel, Flick, Hooper, Combs, Puckett, Averill, Ashburn, Cuyler, Youngs, et al
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (unranked) comparable to Albie Pearson, Pepper Martin, Harry "the Hat" Walker, Gus Bell, Gary Matthews, et al

Reds WARlords

The 1976 Reds could be called the "WAR Lords" or the "Gods of WAR." I don't believe there has ever been a starting eight who acquired as much collective career WAR as the Great Eight. And they were in peak form in 1976. 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 162-game WAR 11.8 (stratospheric, #1 in the actual MVP voting)
Pete Rose: 6.9 WAR, 156 games started, projected WAR 7.1 (MVP, behind only Morgan and Schmidt, #4 in the actual MVP voting)
George Foster: 5.9 WAR, 137 games started, projected WAR 7.0 (MVP, behind only Morgan, Schmidt and Rose, #2 in the actual MVP voting)
Ken Griffey: 4.6 WAR, 126 games started, projected WAR 6.0 (MVP, top ten WAR, #8 in the actual MVP voting)
Johnny Bench: 4.6 WAR, 123 games started, projected WAR 6.0 (MVP, top ten WAR)
Dave Concepción: 4.4 WAR, 142 games started, projected WAR 5.0 (All-Star)
Cesar Gerónimo: 2.7 WAR, 125 games started, projected WAR 3.6 (nearly double an average starter, #25 in the actual MVP voting)
Tony Pérez: 2.6 WAR, 130 games started, projected WAR 3.3 (in 1976, 2.6-3.3 WAR was All-Star level at first base; Pérez was second only to Garvey and had more homers and RBI)

According to Fangraphs, Pete Rose would be the #8 first baseman, the #8 third baseman, the #8 right fielder, the #8 left fielder, or the #5 second baseman right behind Joe Morgan!
According to Fangraphs, Tony Pérez would be the #20 third baseman! He was an all-star at third in his younger years.
And please don't forget that Dan Driessen was 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.

Hall-of-Fame Credentials

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), third in games (2,158), fifth in runs (1,091) and OPS+ (126) and seventh in stolen bases (68).
Tony Pérez had more RBI than all HOF first basemen other than Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Eddie Murray; he also ranks sixth in homers (379) and tenth in runs (1,272).
Joe Morgan ranks second among HOF second basemen in stolen bases (689), fourth in WAR (100.3), JAWS (79.7), home runs (268) and OPS+ (132), fifth in runs (1,650) and sixth in OBP (.392).
Dave Concepción would rank eighth among HOF shortstops in games; ninth in home runs, stolen bases and defensive WAR; and 11th in hits and RBI (so he definitely belongs).
Pete Rose leads all HOF third basemen in games, plate appearances, at-bats, hits, singles, doubles, runs, times on base and total bases, and ranks fifth in WAR (79.1) and JAWS (69.1).
George Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348) and 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 0HOF outfielders (listed above).
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, and the eighth was nobody's weak sister, especially in 1976. These are my main points:

The team above clearly has the best infield of all time―doubly so if we include catcher.
The infielders alone amassed 57 all-star appearances, an average of 11.4 appearances per player (including catcher). 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. (Please check out the "MVP Matrix" under "MVPs Galore" for proof.)
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 despite playing first, 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 into the 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 (pardon the pun), 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 charging fast and Brooks Robinson was obviously better defensively than Rose, although far less dynamic offensively). 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 and Foster? The "big five" for the Reds 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.

Bench was the best catcher in baseball history for over a decade, from 1967-1977; after than he was merely great by everyone else's standards.
Pérez has been vastly underrated, since he drove in more runs than all but a handful of first base immortals.
Morgan may have been the best second baseman ever; if not he was definitely in the top four and his peak years were 1975-1976 when he was twice MVP.
Concepción has also been underrated but the stats don't lie: he had a HOF-caliber career squarely around the middle of the HOF shortstops.
Rose was not the prettiest of fielders at third base, but he didn't make many errors and his offense easily puts him in the top six all-time players at third.
Foster was a monster (no one calls you the "Destroyer" for merely being good!). Foster went 1-2-3-6-12 in the MVP voting with highs of 52 homers and 149 RBI.
Griffey is also underrated; in 1976 his stats were nearly identical to Rose's when Rose was having one of his best years.
Gerónimo had a career year in 1976, leaving no weak links in the Reds lineup.

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 incredible season?

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 over a four-year period of time, Bill James wrote: "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 the Reds only had Rose 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, followed by Eddie Collins. According to HFCS, Morgan compares to Mike Schmidt, the best third baseman of all time.
• James rates Johnny Bench as the #2 catcher of all time, after Yogi Berra, but they are very close in his rankings. According to HFCS, Bench compares to Joe Medwick, Hank Greenberg, Ernie Banks and Harmon Killebrew.
• James rates Pete Rose as the #5 right fielder, ahead of Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner, et al. If we put Rose at third base, he would be #4, behind only George Brett, Wade Boggs and Mike Schmidt. According to HFCS, Rose also ranks above Rickey Henderson as the best lead-off hitter of all time (more on this very interesting debate below; it looks very close to me).
• James compares Dave Concepción to HOF shortstop Pee Wee Reese. According to HFCS, Concepción was roughly equal to Reese, Maranville, Wallace, Bancroft, Jackson and Ward, and substantially better than Rizzuto, Tinker, Wright and Durocher. So by both measures Concepción ranks around #11-14 among HOF shortstops.
 • Tony Pérez ranks around #9-15 among HOF first basemen, depending on how we define "first baseman." According to HFCS, Pérez compares with sluggers like Hack Wilson, George Sisler, Bill Terry, Enos Slaughter, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Jim Rice, Mark McGwire, Dave Parker, Orlando Cepeda and Dick Allen. If we value RBI, Pérez moves up considerably. If we devalue RBI, in the worst case he is still around #15 in the HOF, but I continue to believe that first base is primarily an RBI position, so Pérez is around #9 in my rankings for the position.
• According to HFCS, Ken Griffey compares with Nellie Fox, Steve Garvey, Gil Hodges, Keith Hernandez, Joe Gordon, Elmer Flick, Ross Youngs, Lloyd Waner, Roger Bresnahan and Bob Meusel. If he is not a HOFer, he should at least be in the conversation. At the very worst, he was a star just a few clicks short of the HOF.
• According to HFCS, George Foster compares with Rocky Colavito, Larry Doby, Charlie Keller, Darryl Strawberry, Mo Vaughn and Norm Cash. But his peak was higher.
• Cesar Gerónimo is the only member of the Great Eight who does not rank in the HFCS rankings. But as I have noted elsewhere, he compares with some pretty good outfielders like Albie Pearson, Mule Haas, Carl Everett, Gary Matthews, Bobby Tolan, Lyman Bostock and Roy White. If your eight-place hitter is that good, your team is obviously loaded!

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. This shows, once again, 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.

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 combined with that kind of 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, or driven in as many runs? No, and it really isn't all that close. As Yogi Berra once said, "You could look it up."

If we take pitching into account things get trickier to judge, but elsewhere on this page I have addressed the radical differences in pitching between the "golden age" of baseball and the modern era. Suffice it to say, for now, that strikeout statistics of the past suggest that few pitchers of yore were throwing bullets. Many of the winningest pitchers were tossing 300+ innings and striking out fewer than 100 batters. Obviously they were not bringing much heat, other than a Walter Johnson here and a Rube Waddell there. If we took the fireballing 1976 Reds pitchers back in time, they would suddenly become Bob Fellers and Dazzy Vances. Because I have no rational way to compare pitching staffs across eras, I am going to stick primarily to position players. Even so, I think the gaudy batting averages of yore also present a problem. Would Babe Ruth have hit .393 against modern pitching and defenses, as he did in 1923? It seems very unlikely. Why has there only been one .400 hitter in the modern era, and none since 1941? Such questions are rhetorical. However, I will make the point that even if we accept the (probably) inflated batting numbers of teams like the 1927 Yankees, the 1976 Reds were still demonstrably better. If we accept the (quite probable) facts that George Foster would have been comparable to Babe Ruth in 1927, and that Ken Griffey Sr. was a much better athlete than Bob Meusel, the comparisons break down completely. But for the sake of argument, let's give the hitters of yore the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they would be competitive against modern athletes ... even so, the 1976 Reds still rule the roost, as I will demonstrate ...

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, should 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. Has anyone ever suggested that Joe Dugan, Pat Collins, Johnny Grabowski, Babe Dahlgren, Frankie Crosetti, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer and Bobby Richardson were all MVP candidates?
(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 designated hitter.
(6) While two AL teams (Oakland and Kansas City) stole more bases than the Reds, the Reds were much more efficient base stealers, according to stolen base percentage, so it seems 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 have to sacrifice potent bats for potent defense at these critical positions (more on this important aspect of real greatness, below).
(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 with an OPS+ of 100 or higher. Again, no weak links.
(9) According to Bill James―he used the word "wow!"―the Reds had the greatest infield of all time ... and the Reds outfield was also stellar in 1975-1976. (BTW, catcher was not considered in James's analysis of the greatest infields. What happens when we add the greatest catcher of all time to the mix? Doesn't any debate become rather comical? How do we seriously compare Pat Collins or Johnny Grabowski to Johnny Bench, Joe Dugan to Pete Rose, Mark Koenig to Joe Morgan?)
(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 (an all-star seventeen times at five different positions who ranks #5 at LF and #7 at 3B, according to career WAR). The Reds had four Hall-of-Fame shoo-ins (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).

Joe West, who has been umpiring for 40 years, recently 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 in 1975-1976, but they were still the best he saw "close up and personal" over a 40-year period. And the Reds in 1978 were a mere shadow of the 1975-1976 teams!

Need another reason? The 1976 Reds rose to the occasion: the better the competition, the better they played. They won a glittering 61.1% of their games against the five best teams in the National League. They swept the Phillies in the divisional playoffs, averaging 6.33 runs per game despite facing hall-of-famer Steve Carlton (20-7, 329 career wins), Jim Lonborg (18-10, 157 career wins) and Jim Kaat (283 career wins). The Phillies had won 101 games with a glittering collective team 3.08 ERA, but the Big Red Machine's bats went through them like white-hot knives through butter. The Reds then swept the 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 (17-15, 224 career wins), Ed Figueroa (19-10, fourth in the Cy Young voting), Dock Ellis (17-8, 138 career wins) and Doyle Alexander (10-5, 194 career wins). 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, quite interestingly, the only one who didn't make the actual 1976 NL All-Star 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 links.

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 rhetorical question.)

MVPs Galore: Why the 1976 Reds were the Best Team of All Time, from Top to Bottom

Enter the MVP Matrix, if you dare:

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 selections
2B Joe Morgan 1-1-4-4-8-16-31 with 10 All-Star selections and 5 Gold Gloves
SS Dave Concepcion 4-9-15 with 9 All-Star selections and 5 Gold Gloves
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 (anyone who says Rose "wasn't dynamic" is cuckoo!)
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 Geronimo 25 with 4 Gold Gloves

That's 65 All-Star selections, 26 Gold Gloves, 6 MVP awards, 30 MVP top tens, and 51 MVP nominations! Where is any other starting eight that compares to the Reds' Great Eight? Or do the math ... add up the games played, the hits, the runs scored, the total bases, the RBI, the WAR, the win shares, etc. ... is there another starting eight that even comes close?

This is how the Reds dominated the MVP voting for nearly a decade:

1970  1-3-7-16-21-30
1972  1-4-12-13-20
1973  1-4-7-10-23
1974  4-8-15-16
1975  1-4-5-15
1976  1-2-4-8-13-25
1977  1-15-21

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 "core 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 (1961 Yankees)
Elston Howard         762 (1961 Yankees)
Clete Boyer              654 (1961 Yankees)
Bobby Richardson   390 (1961 Yankees)
Tony Kubek             373 (1961 Yankees)
-------------------------------------------------
Tommy Henrich       795 (1939 Yankees)
Charlie Keller          760 (1939 Yankees)
Frankie Crosetti       649 (1939 Yankees)
George Selkirk         576 (1939 Yankees)
Babe Dahlgren         569 (1939 Yankees)
Red Rolfe                 497 (1939 Yankees)
-------------------------------------------------
Earle Combs            633 (1927 Yankees)
Joe Dugan                567 (1927 Yankees)
Mark Koenig            446 (1927 Yankees)
Pat Collins               168 (1927 Yankees)
Johnny Grabowski     85 (1927 Yankees)

Reds Total Base Tyrants

Pete Rose              5,572 (#8 all-time, just 41 short of Babe Ruth!)
Tony Pérez            4,532 (#48 all-time, more than Mantle, DiMaggio, Berra, Schmidt, Mathews, Gehringer, McCovey, et al)
Joe Morgan          3,962 (#95 all-time, more than DiMaggio, Berra, Cepeda, Garvey, Frisch, et al)
Johnny Bench       3,644 (#140 all-time, more than Berra, McGwire, Canseco, Mize, et al)
George Foster      3,370 (#200 all-time, more than Mattingly, Belle, Lynn, Cash, et al)
Ken Griffey Sr.     3,117 (#257 all-time, more than Dickey, Posada, Lazzeri, White, Combs, Nettles, Meusel, Luzinksi, Powell,  et al)
Dave Concepción 3,114 (#258 all-time, more than Dickey, Posada, Lazzeri, White, Combs, Nettles, Meusel, Luzinksi, Powell, et al)
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 the Great Eight were competitive with a team made up of some of the best Yankees of all time!

So if we are talking about "rows of sluggers," it seems obvious that the Reds had much deeper offensive firepower than the most-lauded Yankee teams. And then there are the four golden gloves at the four most critical defensive positions, and all the stolen bases with the ultra-high success rate.

Getting back to MVPs: none of the other teams had a fifth "big gun" like Tony 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 WAR, 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.

And then there is Dave 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 Slugger awards 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, prior to the arrival of the "steroid monsters."

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 all-star.

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 (114). 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?

The Core Four and the Fearsome Fivesome

At 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, 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 dismal at 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 on this on the hyperlinked article below.)

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 a combined 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. Bob Meusel and Ken Griffey may seem like a draw at first glance, with similar batting averages and total bases, but Meusel made 14 errors in the outfield 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 hands down 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 other contenders.

At the link above the 1976 Reds are compared to the 1902 Pittsburg Pirates, 1906 Chicago Cubs, 1927 Yankees, 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, 1932 Yankees, 1939 Yankees, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1961 Yankees, 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 1997 Seattle Mariners, 1998 Yankees, 2016 Cubs, and other contenders and pretenders to the mantle of "the best baseball team 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 the All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team. How do the all-time Reds rank compared to the all-time 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 stalemating Derek Jeter (SS), Frank Robinson stalemating Mickey Mantle (OF) and Ken Griffey Jr. stalemating 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 base and shortstop. And with Seaver starting they have the edge in pitching as well. 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 (way too low!), and Tony Perez #162 (also too low, in my opinion).

According to WSAB (Win Shares Above Bench), Joe Morgan is #15, Frank Robinson is #16 and Pete Rose is #22.

The JAWS 75 of 75 has Tom Seaver #17, Joe Morgan #26 and 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, and Joey Votto is #312 (and still climbing).

According to the number crunching of Lehigh University Mathematics Professor Don Davis, for players who played within the last 65 years, Johnny Bench is the #1 catcher (ahead of Berra, Piazza, Carter, Rodriguez), Joe Morgan is the #1 second baseman (ahead of Sandberg, Carew, Jackie Robinson, Alomar), and if we moved Pete Rose to the position he played in 1975-1976, he would be the #6 third baseman (behind only Schmidt, Brett, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Matthews and Wade Boggs).

All-Time Rankings

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 (ahead of Nap Lajoie, Jimmie Foxx, Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra), Joe Morgan is #25 (ahead of Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, George Brett, Cap Anson and Charlie Gehringer), and Pete Rose is #47 (ahead of Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Al Simmons). That's three of the top 50 position players of all time, on the same team, playing together in their primes!

On the Ranker list of all-time greats regardless of position, Pete Rose is #17, Johnny Bench is #24, and Joe Morgan is #57. So the 1975-1976 Reds had three of the top 57 players of all time, according to Ranker. Ranker and other rankings include Tony Pérez in the top 100-200 players of all time. But if we study the 1976 statistics, Griffey was as good as Rose that year, and Foster was not only more productive than Bench and Pérez, but than every slugger in baseball that year, and for several years to come. So it was like having six hall-of-fame offensive players, and two who were among the best in baseball at their respective positions.

In the Ranker top ten players of the 1970s, Joe Morgan is #1, Tom Seaver is #4 and Johnny Bench is #5.

Here's another interesting fact about the Great Eight: according to Ranker, George Foster is the 23rd best left fielder of all time, Pete Rose is the 24th best left fielder of all time, and and Ken Griffey Sr. is the 29th best left fielder of all time! So the Reds had three of the best left fielders of all time, on the same team! Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Also according to Ranker, Johnny Bench is the best catcher of all time, Tony Pérez is the 22nd best first baseman, Joe Morgan is the 3rd best second baseman, Dave Concepción is 11th best shortstop, Pete Rose is the 7th best third baseman, Cesar Gerónimo is the 42nd best centerfielder, and Pete Rose is the 8th best right fielder. So according to Ranker, every starter on the 1975-1976 Reds was an all-time great, and Pete Rose was all-world at three different positions (which he really was).

Based on career JAWS, Johnny Bench is the #1 catcher of all time; Pete Rose is the #7 third baseman of all time; Joe Morgan is the #4 second baseman of all time; Tony Pérez is the #28 first baseman of all time; George Foster is the #30 left fielder of all time; Dave Concepción is the #45 shortstop of all time; Ken Griffey Sr. is the #71 right fielder of all time; and Cesar Gerónimo is the #204 center fielder of all time.

Based on career WAR, Johnny Bench is the #1 catcher of all time (75.0); Joe Morgan is the #4 second baseman of all time (100.3); Pete Rose is the #7 third baseman of all time (79.1); Tony Pérez is the #27 first baseman of all time (53.9); George Foster is the #30 left fielder of all time (43.9); Dave Concepción is the #42 shortstop of all time (39.9); Ken Griffey Sr. is the #71 right fielder of all time (34.4) and Cesar Gerónimo is the #204 center fielder of all time (13.0).

According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Pete Rose is the #14 player of all time, Johnny Bench #39, Joe Morgan #64, Dave Concepción #154, George Foster #189, Tony Pérez #242, Ken Griffey Sr. #494, and Cesar Gerónimo #832. (I will argue bitterly that Pérez with 1,652 career RBI at an RBI position is being shortchanged! I think my charts elsewhere on this page are more correct, and Pérez is close to Concepción and Foster.)

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, with no "weak sisters."

Nicknames

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" (the latter because he didn't hesitate to yank struggling pitchers). 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). Cesar Gerónimo was "the Chief" (due to 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 (George) 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 why. It has been suggested that someone thought "Yahtzee" was German for "George."

Offensive Juggernaut

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! And 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 ultra-rare 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.

Incredibly, 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. I recently heard someone speculating that the 2016 Red Sox may be one of the best hitting teams of all time, but only five of nine Red Sox starters were in the AL top 30 for OPS, and their highest ranking hitter was their DH, David Ortiz, so only four position players compare to the Reds.) And how about base-stealing? The 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals while being caught only 57 times, for 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 Davey Lopes, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson. (As a matter of fact, Joe Morgan was the first player in MLB history to retire with more than 600 steals and a success rate higher than .79!) So as a team, the Reds were elite, Hall-of-Fame-caliber base stealers as well! On the other hand, Johnny Bench allowed only 32 stolen bases by opposing baserunners, 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 past ! As we shall see in due course, some of the "great teams" of the past do not begin to compare with the 1976 Reds (or with the 1975 Reds, for that matter).

How did the Great Eight rank against their NL peers in 1976? Amazingly 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 with 130, Morgan with 113, and Griffey with 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 with 121 and Morgan with 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 with 114, Rose with 86, and Bench with 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, and Foster .306). They had three of the top four in OBP (Morgan .444, Rose .404, and Griffey .401) and four of the top six (Gerónimo .382). All eight starters were in the top 35 in OBP. The Reds had the top two sluggers (Morgan .576 and Foster .530), and all eight starters were in the top 30 in slugging percentage. 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 with 299, Foster with 298, and Morgan with 272). All the Reds starters had more than 200 total bases and ranked in the top 35, other than the injured Bench who still garnered 183, which was second among NL catchers and ranked 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 stolen bases.

The offensive lineup was so strong that the number eight hitter, Cesar Gerónimo, batted .307 with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 201 total bases, and 22 steals. Gerónimo slugged .414 with an OBP of .382,  an OPS of .795 and an OPS+ of 125. He also finished 25th in the MVP voting, and won his third of four consecutive Gold Gloves. How many baseball teams have had a number eight hitter deliver that kind of performance?

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 Johnny Bench, who was injured much of the season, only played 135 games, and yet still came very close with 183 total bases and a slugging percentage of .394. And despite having a down year according to his ultra-high standards, Bench still had a way-above-average 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). When we consider that Bench won his ninth of ten consecutive gold gloves; that he excelled at throwing out base runners and thus at protecting his pitchers from the distractions of attempted steals; that he redefined his position by introducing one-handing catching; that he remained a feared slugger as attested by leading all catchers in walks despite missing so many games; and that he led his team to a four-game sweep in the 1976 World Series, hitting .533/.533/1.133 with a 1.667 OPS, two home runs and six RBI in four games ... well, I think we can safely say that he was still the best all-round catcher in the game. By the way, Bench played against the second-best catcher that year, Thurman Munson, in the World Series. Munson hit only meaningless singles and watched his team lose four straight games to the mighty Big Red Machine. As a "sympathetic" Sparky Anderson explained after the series: "I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him with Johnny Bench." And really there never has been a catcher to compare with Bench in his prime, when he was hitting 45 home runs, driving in 148 runs, playing the best defense the world had ever seen, and cutting down runners right and left with his powerful, accurate arm.

The Best Infield Ever, and the Best Outfield of its Era

Here's an interesting fact about the 1976 Reds: they had far-and-away the best infield of all time, if we include catcher, 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). If you do a 1976 screen for all MLB outfielders based on OBP, the top three are all Reds: Rose (.404), Griffey (.401) and Gerónimo (.382). If you do 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). A screen for batting average turns up all four Reds outfielders: Griffey first (.336), Rose third (.323), Gerónimo ninth (.307) and Foster tenth (.306). A screen for OPS 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. In OPS, the aforementioned three Reds ranked ahead of famous slugging outfielders of the day like 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 ranked in the top 25 in 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 all-time best outfielders to third base: he had four of the very best outfielders in all pro baseball, and only one weak spot on the entire diamond! It seems like a genius move in retrospect, but the numbers suggest that he really had no choice, as long as Rose could adapt to third base, which he did. (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. But as I will point out below, Gerónimo did have one of the best seasons by a number eight hitter in modern baseball history, so he certainly played his part by turning a lemon into lemonade.)

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
Rose             162   759   665   130   215   42    6   10     63     9    5    86  .323 .404  .450  .854  141   299    7.0  #4
Foster           144   627   562     86   172   21    9   29   121   17    3    52  .306 .364  .530  .894  150   298    5.9  #2
Morgan        141   599   472   113   151   30    5   27   111   62     9  114  .320 .444 .576 1.020  186   272    9.7  #1
Griffey         148   628   562   111   189   28    9     6     74   34   11    62  .336 .401 .450   .851  140   253    4.6  #8
Pérez            139   586   527     77   137   32    6   19     91   10     5    50  .260 .328 .452   .779  118   238    2.6
Concepción  152   636   576     74   162   28    7     9     69   21   10    49  .281 .335 .401   .736  107   231    4.4
Gerónimo     149   555   486     59   149   24  11     2     49   22     5    56  .307 .382 .414   .795  125   201    2.7  #25
Bench           135   552   465     62   109   24    1   16     74   13     2    81  .234 .348 .394   .741  109   183    4.6

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.

Team Slugging

Raw slugging averages aren't everything; slugging averages have varied widely over the years, from a low league average of 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: every team that finished 15% or better above the league average (removing teams prior to 1888 and Coors Field teams with park-inflated statistics):

                                                  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
6. 1947 New York Giants         .454     .390      16.4
7. 1930 New York Yankees      .488    .421      15.9
8. 1950 Boston Red Sox            .464    .402      15.4
9. 1931 New York Yankees      .457    .396      15.4
10. 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers       .474    .411      15.3 

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, the greatest starting lineup in major league baseball history.

Excellence on the Basepaths

The 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals while being caught only 57 times, for 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. (As a matter of fact, 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), Craig Biggio (.77), Mickey Rivers (.75) and Maury Wills (.74). So as a team, the Reds were elite, Hall-of-Fame-caliber base stealers as well! On the other hand, Johnny Bench allowed only 32 stolen bases by opposing baserunners, 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 past ! As we shall see in due course, some of the "great teams" of the past do not begin to compare with the 1976 Reds (or with the 1975 Reds, for that matter).

Defensive Excellence


Hitting and running are just tips of an iceberg that is about to sink the hopes of any other baseball team hoping to be considered the greatest of all time. Here's a remarkable indication of just 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, 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.)

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 in all MLB 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 fellow gold-glover 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. However, 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. Rose's own manager, Sparky Anderson, was impressed enough with his fielding at third base 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 centerfield 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 and Griffey to play full-time in the outfield. It was the "genius" idea of Sparky Anderson to move Rose to third base in the middle of the 1975 season. But it took the all-world talent of Rose to pull it off. Rose may have been the most versatile baseball superstar of all time. Rose was truly a remarkable player, and it was his unselfish move to third base that "made" the Reds by allowing the Great Eight to take the field together. The 1976 Reds had the fewest errors (102) in the major leagues and the highest fielding percentage (.984). In addition to their four Gold Gove winners (Bench, Morgan, Concepción and Gerónimo), they had "plus" defenders in Pérez at first, Foster in right and Griffey in left. But they also had a much-better-than-adequate-if-not-always-pretty third baseman named Peter Edward Rose.

A number of the 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 do tell us some interesting things, I believe. First, Rose was much less error-prone at third base than Pérez, which explains why Sparky Anderson didn't move Pérez back to third. Second, Rose really was a remarkable baseball player, to rank in the top 60 of all time at three different defensive positions (it could be four, but I couldn't find separate percentages for left and right fielders). Third, it's odd to see how close Pérez and Killebrew were to each other at first and third; they are also very close in career RBI. And then Phil Garner turns up in two different positions: close to Pérez at third, and close to Rose at second! Coincidences seem to abound.

OF Rose (.9911, #35, 2 Gold Gloves) ≈ Mike Trout, Alex Gordon, Mickey Stanley, Torrii Hunter, Andruw Jones
CF Gerónimo (.9896, #43, 4 Gold Gloves) ≈ Brady Anderson, Kirby Puckett, Don Demeter
1B Rose (.9941, #47) ≈ Albert Pujols, Ernie Banks, Ed Kranepool, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Joey Votto, Eddie Murray
3B Rose (.9609, #60) ≈ Graig Nettles, Adrian Beltre, Robin Ventura, Mike Schmidt
C Bench (.9905, #84, 10 Gold Gloves) ≈ Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk
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, Davey Johnson
1B Pérez (.9925, #99) ≈ Norm Cash, Bill Terry, Stan Musial, Bill Buckner, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell
2B Rose (.9754, #158) ≈ Eddie Stankey, Phil Garner, Frankie Frisch, Glenn Beckert
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

Needless to say, if we look at the statistics of teams like the 1927 Yankees, we are not going to find this kind of defensive excellence. The 1927 Yankees committed 196 errors, with more than 90 by their middle infielders alone. They had two catchers who couldn't throw and a centerfielder with the weakest arm in professional baseball history, according to Bill James (more on this later).

The Best Double-Play Combination Ever?

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. Perhaps the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers come closest, with Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor all having banner offensive years. But still they fall short at catcher, at second base, in stolen bases, and in defense. The 2009 Yankees are also strong contenders, with Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Aurelio Rodriguez. But they also fall short at catcher, at second base, in stolen bases, and in defense. When we consider the "total package" the 1976 Reds remain the cream of the infield crop. But as we will soon see, the 1976 Reds outfield was also superior, and by far the best of its day.

The Greatest Infield of All Time

No other team in baseball history had the Big Red Machine's quality depth from the top of the lineup to the bottom. Quite obviously, including catcher, the 1975-1976 Reds had the greatest infield ever, with every member either in the Hall of Fame or a strong candidate. The entire Reds infield made an All-Century Team: Bench, Morgan and Rose made the official MLB All-Century Team, while Concepción and Pérez made the All-Latino All-Century Team. And in 1976 the Reds also had four of the best outfielders in major league baseball: George Foster (who led all MLB in RBI), Cesar Gerónimo having the best offensive year of his career, Ken Griffey Sr. matching Rose stat-for-stat, and the immortal Rose himself. When your number eight hitter, Gerónimo, finishes 25th in the MVP voting and you have to keep Dan Driessen on the bench (he hit .300 the following year with 31 doubles, 17 homers, 91 RBI and 31 steals, slugging .468), you have an embarrassment of offensive riches. And when we consider that the 1976 Reds were also one of the very best defensive and baserunning teams of all time (something that cannot be said about the 1927, 1939, 1961 or 2009 Yankees), that pretty much clinches the debate. Experts who have said that the Reds had the best infield of all time include ESPN's Buster Olney. (BTW, Pete Rose played on another contender: the 1981 Phillies with Manny Trillo, Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt having his best year.) Bill James rated Morgan the best second baseman of all time. Bill James also called Bench "the closest we've seen to a perfect catcher" and rated him number two, after Yogi Berra. In another article on the best infields based on win shares, James rated the 1973-1976 Reds the highest of all time, with 415 followed by an exclamation mark! James noted that with "Pérez, Morgan, Rose and Concepción the Reds had four infielders of Hall of Fame quality." And he wasn't considering catcher at the time. So it seems that baseball's leading expert on stats agrees that the Big Red Machine had, by far, the best infield of all time if we include catcher.

Pitching

It is very difficult to compare pitching staffs from different eras, so I am going to limit my discussion to non-pitchers, except for this paragraph by way of explanation. 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 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 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 Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Dazzy Vance, Whitey Ford and Tim 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. Later he became the first manager to win the World Series with teams in both leagues. He won two with the Reds in 1975-1976, then another with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. He was also the first manager to win 100 games with two different teams. Under his direction, the 1984 Tigers set a MLB record by opening the season 35-5; they finished with a franchise-record 104 wins. Known as "Captain Hook," Anderson was famous for yanking pitchers for relievers. His 2,194 wins are sixth highest in major league baseball history, and he is a member of the Hall of Fame. He was also voted the AL manager of the year in 1984 and 1987.

"Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for," Pete Rose said. "He understood people better than anyone." Bill James noted that among the all-time great managers, Sparky Anderson seemed to care more about his players.

Reds Dominance

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. Another strong case can be made that the Great Eight would be 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' infield including catcher is clearly superior. The outfield might be a wash, but I would give the edge to Foster, Griffey and Gerónimo all having career years (although Foster would soon reach even greater heights). The all-star outfield has more raw power but the Reds outfield was highly productive at the plate while offering more speed, defense and athleticism. The Reds have seven Hall-of-Fame-caliber players with four immortals (Bench, Pérez, Morgan and Rose), while the all-stars have only one HOF "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, WAR=Combined WAR (Wins Above Replacement), OWP=Offensive Win Percentage, PA=Plate Appearances, RC=Runs Created, SBP=Stolen Base Percentage, SP=Slugging Percentage, TOB=Times on Base

Johnny Bench led all NL catchers in defense (Gold Glove/DWAR), runs, home runs, walks, steals and SP; he finished second in doubles, total bases and RBI despite playing in only 134 games
Tony Pérez led all NL first basemen in triples, home runs and extra base hits; he finished second in runs, RBI, doubles and slugging; he was fourth in total bases and steals despite playing in only 139 games
Joe Morgan led all NL second basemen in defense (Golden Glove), WAR, runs, home runs, RBI, walks, BA, OBP, TOB, SP and OPS (often by ridiculous margins); he was second in doubles and steals despite playing in only 141 games
Dave Concepción led all NL shortstops in defense (Golden Glove/DWAR), BA, hits, homers, RBI, total bases, extra base hits, OBP, SP and OPS; he was second in runs and doubles, third in steals
Pete Rose led all NL third basemen in games, at bats, PA, hits, singles, doubles, runs, TOB and OBP; he was second only to Mike Schmidt (and just barely) in total bases and OWAR; despite leading off he was sixth in RBI
Ken Griffey Sr. led all NL outfielders in BA, OBP, TOB, OWP and runs; he was second in hits, RC and OWAR, third in steals and OPS, fourth in doubles and triples; despite hitting second he was ninth in SP and RBI
George Foster led all NL outfielders in WAR, extra base hits, total bases, runs created, SP, OPS and RBI; he was second in OWP and SBP, third in home runs, fourth in hits and triples, fifth in BA and runs
Cesar Gerónimo led all NL outfielders in defense (Golden Glove) and triples; he was second in OBP, third in SBP, fourth in BA, tenth in steals, and within a whisker of Dave Winfield and Bobby Murcer in OPS

Consulting the Experts

What do the 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" but Wright may be including that under the general heading "offense"). Wright calls Johnny Bench the "best defensive catcher in the history of the game" and a "powerful hitter." That makes Bench truly one-of-a-kind, as no other great defensive catcher hit 40+ home runs multiple times, won two MVP awards, and finished with as many career home runs and RBI as Bench. Wright calls Joe Morgan "one of the best second basemen ever to play the game" and indeed in most rankings he is in the top four, along with Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins and Charlie Gehringer. That is very heady company! Wright compliments Pete 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. And Wright salutes Tony 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]. But that is just the beginning, as Wright 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" makes a good case for the 1971-1975 Reds by demonstrating that the Reds consistently had three of the top five players in all MLB, according to accumulated WAR: Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose. Reggie Jackson was close to Bench and Rose. The number five player, Willie Stargell, was extremely close to Tony Pérez, depending on the window of time selected. 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 any of the best for a decade!

Dave 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]!" (Actually, it may have been 87 times, but still the point remains the same.)

"We didn't think we could get beat," Reds second baseman Joe Morgan said, "because we almost never did get beat." And when the Great Eight played together, it was true. A .793 winning percentage over 162 games translates to 128 wins. And that was with just a league-average ERA, which means the position players were―truly―beyond compare.

Pete Rose knows a thing or two about baseball, having been an all-star 17 times at five different positions and having worked as a player-manager. Here is 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." These are important points, I believe. No second baseman of the modern era can rival Morgan's combination of speed, base-stealing, power, getting on base, and defense. He was truly one of a kind. Ditto for Bench, who was a defensive genius and an offensive dynamo. 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.

Bill James is the best-known name in baseball history and stats. In his article "Infields" posted on October 1, 2012, he ranks baseball infields by win shares for a four-year-period of time. His highest-ranking infield, with 415 win shares―followed by an exclamation mark―is the 1973-1976 Reds. (And mind you, James is not including the best catcher of all time, Johnny Bench!) James comments that "with Perez, Morgan, Rose and Concepcion the Reds had four infielders of Hall of Fame quality." Yes, and Bench makes five. And then Foster―leading all MLB outfielders in RBI and slugging in 1976―makes six. Also in 1976, Griffey was playing like another Rose. So for that particular year, make it seven. And Gerónimo wasn't all that far behind, especially when we consider his stellar defense, throwing, base-stealing, and high batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS in 1976. So make it eight, for that one spectacular year.

In The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, James explained one very good reason for the success of Sparky Anderson: "He took over a team with two all-time greats (Rose and Bench) and two other players who were among the twenty-five best ever at their positions (Perez and Concepcion). Within two years, the Reds had traded for Joe Morgan and George Foster."

According to the Bill James Top 100, Joe Morgan is the #15 player of all time and the best second baseman; Pete Rose is the #33 player of all time and would rank third at third base, after Mike Schmidt and George Brett; Johnny Bench is the #44 player of all time, and ranks second at catcher, after Yogi Berra.

If we combine what Bill James said in the excerpts above, we get something like this:

C Bench (all-time-great #44, HOF, #2 catcher of all time)
1B Pérez (top 25 first baseman, HOF)
2B Morgan (all-time-great #15, HOF, #1 second baseman of all time)
SS Concepción (top 25 shortstop, HOF caliber)
3B Rose (all-time-great #33, HOF caliber, #3 third baseman of all time)

Quite obviously, there has never been another infield with such glittering credentials!

Elsewhere, Bill James concluded: “The 1975-1976 Reds were probably the most diverse, broad-based offense in the history of baseball.”

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
Starting Pitchers: Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins
Reliever: Rollie Fingers

Richard Barbieri's '70s All-Decade Team

Catcher: Johnny Bench. The 1970s had its share of talented catchers: Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk. Bench, though is the undisputed king. "For the decade, he hit 290 home runs; no other catcher even topped 175. In fact, the gap from Bench to second place Gene Tenace is as large as the gap from Tenace to 17th place Bob Boone. For good measure, not only was Bench the best power-hitting catcher in the decade, but he also stole the most bases. And, if all that is not enough, Bench also did a fair bit to stop his share of would-be base stealers, winning the Gold Glove at catcher every year from 1970 through 1977."

First Base: Rod Carew or Tony Perez. (In his online comments, Barbieri said that Tony Perez would be the first choice for first baseman, followed by Steve Garvey and George Scott, if the position were limited to players who primarily played first base during the 70's.)

Second Base: Joe Morgan. Morgan was the best overall player of the decade.

Shortstop: Bert Campaneris, but I would take Concepcion (or at least it was very close).

Third Base: Mike Schmidt

Left Field: Pete Rose. He led the league in hits four times, runs three times and doubles four times. His best season came in 1973 when he won the league MVP and batting title.

Center Field: Caesar Cedeno

Right Field: Reggie Jackson

Starting Pitchers: Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, Jim Palmer. Seaver ranks sixth in Baseball-Reference’s fan ELO rating—behind only Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove and Pete Alexander. During the decade, Seaver won 178 games (nearly 18 per year) with a 2.61 ERA.

Manager: Sparky Anderson. He took over the Reds for the 1970 season. That year they went 102-60 and made it to the World Series. The next year the team went just 79-83, and finished fifth. Clearly, Sparky decided he didn’t like that and for the rest of the decade the Reds were an unmatched success. The never won fewer than 88 games, won four division titles, three pennants and two World Series. Overall, and counting the beginning of his career as Tigers’ manager in 1979, Anderson-led teams won 919 games at a .590 clip—that’s an average of nearly 96-66.

My Expanded 1970's All-Decade Team

C - Johnny Bench, Gary Carter
1B - Tony Perez, Willie Stargell
2B - Joe Morgan, Rod Carew
SS - Dave Concepcion, Bert Campaneris
3B - Mike Schmidt, Graig Nettles
OF - Pete Rose, Greg Luzinski
OF - Dave Parker, Lou Brock
OF - Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, George Foster
P - Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Bert Blyleven, Catfish Hunter, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Goose Gossage
Manager - Sparky Anderson (In nine years as Cincinnati skipper, he won two World Series, four NL pennants, five NL West division titles, and had a winning percentage over .600 six time, including five in a row.)

The Great Catcher Debate

There really isn't much―if any―debate about the greatest catcher of all time. Recently, I have heard certain would-be experts claiming that Mike Piazza was the best catcher of modern times. But Bench had more RBI (1,376) and runs (1,091) than Piazza, and Bench was far superior defensively, throwing, and stealing bases. The most glaring difference is Bench's ten Gold Gloves to Piazza's none. Another noticeable difference is career WAR, with Bench leading handily, 75.0 to 59.4. What about speed, or lack of it? Piazza stole 17 bases in 16 years, and was thrown out more times than he succeeded. In 1975 Bench was a perfect 11-0 stealing bases, and in 1976 he was 13-2. Furthermore, Bench revolutionized his  position, introducing the one-handed method of catching. Yes, Piazza was a great hitter, but Bench was great at everything! And before his surgery in 1976, Bench was on pace to leave Piazza (and everyone else) out of the offensive picture entirely. He won two MVP awards by age 24 and had accrued 35.5 WAR by age 26. At the same age Piazza had less than half Bench's WAR. Since Bench's peak WAR was higher than Piazza's, if Bench had stayed healthy the already-considerable WAR gap would be even larger. But as Bench noted himself, after his surgery at age 28, he was never the "real" Johnny Bench again. Still, even hobbled by a falling-apart body, he was a great catcher, by anyone else's standards.

Which catcher came closest to Bench? I would vote for Roy Campanella, who threw out a MLB career record 57% of base-stealers and was a three-time MVP, with offensive stats close to Bench's in his prime. From what I understand, Campanella was great at blocking errant pitches, handling pitchers and throwing out runners, but his overall defense wasn't up to Bench's standards. For instance, Bench's fielding percentage was higher (.990 to .988) and his errors per inning caught were lower (.007 to .008). And Campanella didn't play nearly as many games: he was a rookie at age 26, due to racial discrimination, and then he had only five seasons with 500 or more plate appearances. So I don't think he compares directly to Bench, but at his peak in those MVP years he may have been breathing the same rarified air. In any case, their career batting averages, slugging percentages and OPS+ are quite similar. Bench seems to have had the advantage in overall defense and definitely in games played (and thus career homers, RBI, etc.). Right now, here are my catcher WAR rankings, with a projection of Campanella's career WAR if he had been able to play an entire career:

(#1) Johnny Bench, career WAR 75.0, OPS+ 126, HR 389, RBI 1,376
(#2) Roy Campanella, projected WAR 70.0, OPS+ 123, projected HR 386 and RBI 1,336
(#3) Gary Carter, career WAR 69.9, OPS+ 115, HR 324, RBI 1,225
(#4) Ivan Rodriguez, career WAR 68.4 , OPS+ 106, HR 311, RBI 1,332
(#5) Carlton Fisk, career WAR 68.3, OPS+ 117, HR 376, RBI 1,330
(#6) Yogi Berra, career WAR 59.5, OPS+ 125, HR 358, RBI 1,430
(#7) Mike Piazza, career WAR 59.4, OPS+ 142, HR 427, RBI 1,335
(#8) Bill Dickey, career WAR 55.8, OPS+ 127, HR 202, RBI 1,209
(#9) Gabby Hartnett, career WAR 53.4, OPS+ 126, HR 236, RBI 1,179
(#10) Mickey Cochrane, career WAR 52.1, OPS+ 129, HR 119, RBI 830 at a high level)

The Great Leadoff Debate

Few baseball fans would argue that Johnny Bench was one of the greatest catchers of all time. Few would contest that Joe Morgan was one of the best second basemen of all time. And it's hard to argue with Tony Pérez's 1,652 RBI, Concepción gold gloves and superior offensive stats for a shortstop of his era, or the reason that George Foster was called the "Destroyer." But for some odd reason, many baseball fans radically undervalue Pete Rose. Was he one of the two best leadoff men of all time, or does he belong further down the list? I think it is child's play to prove that Rose is either the best or second-best leadoff man of all time. First, let's ask: "What is the main goal of hitting leadoff?" Isn't the goal to get on base and score or create runs? Yes, stealing bases is a factor, but would you rather have a leadoff hitter who steals bases, or one who scores runs in bunches? I think any baseball coach or manager would chose getting on base and producing runs over steals. So let's examine the evidence from those angles:

Hits: Pete Rose #1, Craig Biggio #22, Rickey Henderson #23, Ichiro Suzuki #25, Lou Brock #26, Omar Vizquel #42, Johnny Damon #54, Max Carey #71, Tim Raines #80
Times on Base: Pete Rose #1, Rickey Henderson #4, Craig Biggio #19, Tim Raines #48, Omar Vizquel #50, Lou Brock #60, Johnny Damon #62, Max Carey #69, Ichiro Suzuki #76
Total Bases: Pete Rose #8 (just 41 less than Babe Ruth!), Craig Biggio #36, Rickey Henderson #45, Johnny Damon #72, Lou Brock #69, Ichiro Suzuki #100
Runs: Rickey Henderson #1, Pete Rose #6, Craig Biggio #15, Billy Hamilton #27, Johnny Damon #32, Lou Brock #47, Tim Raines #54, Max Carey #57, Kenny Lofton #63
Runs Created: Pete Rose #10, Rickey Henderson #11, Craig Biggio #34, Tim Raines #61, Johnny Damon #73, Lou Brock #85, Ichiro Suzuki #91
WAR: Rickey Henderson 110.8, Pete Rose 79.1, Lou Brock 45.2, Tim Raines 69.1, Kenny Lofton 68.2, Craig Biggio 65.1, Billy Hamilton 63.3, Ichiro Suzuki 59.0

What these numbers tell us is that there is a considerable gap among leadoff hitters, after Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson. Rose leads all leadoff hitters in four categories. Henderson leads in runs and WAR. If you want to claim that Henderson was the best leadoff man of all time, you have a decent 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 for the other top slot.

The "eye test" gives me the following ranking: Rose #1, Henderson #2, Biggio #3, Brock #4, Damon #5, Raines #6, Suzuki #7, Carey #8, Vizquel #9, Lofton #10

The Great Second Base Debate

How good was Joe Morgan, really? Really, really good! For example, "Little Joe" is in a virtual three-way tie for the fifth most productive five-year "WAR path" (if you'll pardon the pun) ...

(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
(8) Lou Gehrig (1927-1931) 47.2 WAR
(9) Stan Musial (1948-1952) 44.7 WAR
(10) Albert Pujols (2005-2009) 44.5 WAR

Yes, Joe Morgan was really, really good! Or, more accurately, he 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 the great Hornsby. Other analysts have also dropped Hornsby below Lajoie. Why? I can think of three compelling reasons.

First, Hornsby was an "indifferent" defender with limited range. He had seasons with 52, 46, 34, 34, 30 and 30 errors. His career fielding percentage was .959. Conversely, Morgan and Collins were superior defenders. Collins had a career fielding average of .969 and Morgan's was .981.

 Why was Hornsby's range so limited? Apparently, he was a plodder. In the years that times caught stealing were recorded (13 seasons), Hornsby's stolen base record was a hideous 56-64, for a "success" rate (I use the term loosely) of .467. For 17 consecutive seasons, Hornsby failed to steal as many as ten bases. 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.

Third, Hornsby did not seem to be a positive influence in the clubhouse. In fact, he once had a fistfight with his manager, Branch Rickey! A Saint Louis Blues teammate, Harlond Clift, said of Hornsby that "everyone hated him." And that doesn't seem to be an exaggeration, because when Bill Veeck fired Hornsby the Browns players were so happy that they gave Veeck an engraved trophy to thank him!

Here are my personal rankings, for whatever they're worth:

(1) Joe Morgan excelled at everything; he was a great defender and a much more efficient base-stealer than Collins, with more power to boot.
(2) Eddie Collins was an all-time great hitter, and a much better defender and base-stealer than Hornsby.
(3) Rogers Hornsby was a great pure hitter with considerable power, but he was not as good on defense, the basepaths, or in the clubhouse.
(4) Nap Lajoie is the fourth of the all-time great second basemen. Bill James has argued that he was a good fielder, but not a defensive superstar.
(5) Jackie Robinson was handicapped by racism; he didn't play in the majors before age 28. But when he did play, his peak years were superb.
(6) Charlie Gehringer hit .320 and slugged .480 for his career. He was a superior defensive player who started the first six all-star games.
(7) Rod Carew was an all-star for 18 consecutive seasons, but he never won a Gold Glove and didn't hit with much power, so he drops just a bit.
(8) Ryne Sandberg won nine consecutive Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and was an all-star ten times with highs of 40 homers and 54 steals.
(9) Frankie Frisch hit .316 with 2,880 hits, 419 steals and 1,532 runs. The "Fordham Flash" was fast, and a stellar defender.
(10) Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio (tie). Biggio had 3,060 hits, 414 steals and four Gold Gloves. Alomar had 2,770 hits, 474 steals and ten Gold Gloves.

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 RBI, 1,272 Runs, 2,924 Total Runs
Ernie Banks            1,636 RBI, 1,305 Runs, 2,941 Total Runs
Harmon Killebrew  1,584 RBI, 1,283 Runs, 2,867 Total Runs
Willie McCovey     1,555 RBI, 1,229 Runs, 2,784 Total Runs
Willie Stargell         1,540 RBI, 1,194 Runs, 2,734 Total Runs
Orlando Cepeda    1,365 RBI, 1,131 Runs, 2,496 Total Runs
Al Oliver                1,326 RBI, 1,189 Runs, 2,515 Total Runs
Pete Rose              1,314 RBI, 2,165 Runs, 3,479 Total Runs
Steve Garvey         1,308 RBI, 1,143 Runs, 2,451 Total Runs

Obviously, there are many exceptional names on this list. But Pérez leads in the most important stat for an RBI position, RBI. Only two hall-of-famers have more total runs produced―Pete Rose and Ernie Banks―and they accumulated hordes of those runs playing other positions. And so among players who primarily played first base, Pérez leads in both runs driven in and runs scored. What this chart tells us, I believe, is that Ernie Banks was a helluva player, that Pérez was his equal, and that Rose was worth 1,000 more runs than superstars like Garvey and Carew.

How does Pérez rank against HOF first basemen in the critical category of RBI? He ranks fourth among players who primarily played first base, who did not pad their stats for years by DH-ing.

Cap Anson 2,075
Lou Gehrig 1,995
Jimmie Foxx 1,922
Eddie Murray 1,917 --- 20% of career at DH
Frank Thomas 1,704 --- 57% of career at DH
Tony Pérez 1,652 --- 3% of career at DH
Ernie Banks 1,636
Harmon Killebrew 1,584
Jake Beckley 1,581
Willie McCovey 1,555
Willie Stargell 1,540
Jeff Bagwell 1,529

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 players are ranked by the number of MVP nominations. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame is designated by "Reds." Every member of the Great Eight is in the Reds Hall of Fame. Six of the eight should be in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. The other two were exceptional players who probably fall a bit short of Cooperstown, but were among the brightest stars of their day, and especially in 1976 when Griffey "slashed" nearly the same as Rose, and Gerónimo had his finest offensive season.

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      388   17
SS    Dave Concepción   Reds*  -/3        9        5    .319    .433    .767     91   33      8    16      84      245   41
RF    Ken Griffey Sr.       Reds   -/2         3        -    .336    .503    .855   117   35    10    21      85      273   34
CF    Cesar Gerónimo     Reds   -/1         -        4    .307    .471    .795     73   25    11    10      54      201   22

* Pete Rose should be in the HOF, and would be, if not for gambling that had nothing to do with his play on the field.
* Dave Concepción is not in the HOF, but should be and will hopefully make it soon.
* George Foster was better than most HOF outfielders for a ten-year period from 1975-1984, averaging nearly 100 RBI per season. In a five-year span, he averaged 35 home runs and 116 RBI per season.

Interesting Facts and Statistics about the Big Red Dynasty

The 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds were the first NL team to win back-to-back World Series since the 1921-1922 New York Giants.
The 1975 Reds started 18-19, then won at a .667 clip after manager Sparky Anderson shifted Pete Rose to third base on May 3, 1975, allowing George Foster to play left field.
The 1975 Reds won 108 regular season games, then went 7-3 in the postseason.
The 1975 Reds compiled two notable streaks: winning 41 out of 50 games in one stretch (.820), and going a month without an error. They dominated.
The 1975 Reds were the last NL team to score 100+ runs more than their competitors, other than two altitude-aided Rockies teams.
The 1976 Reds went 109-60, including a perfect 7-0 record in the postseason.
The 1976 Reds had the only perfect postseason since the League Championship Series started in 1969.
From 1970-1976 the Reds won 683 games, an average of 98 wins per season.
In the peak years of the dynasty, from 1972-1976, the Reds averaged 100 wins per season, a .626 winning percentage.
From 1975-76 the Reds won 224 of 351 games including the postseason, a .638 percentage.
The Great Eight played only 87 games together as a starting lineup, going 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 ... the worst trade in Reds history (well, maybe the Frank Robinson trade comes close).
But those 87 games were enough to stamp the signature of the Great Eight on baseball forever.
Members of the 1975-1976 Reds garnered six MVP awards, four home run titles, three batting titles, 26 Gold Gloves and 65 All-Star Game appearances. They were stars, individually and collectively.
In 1976, seven of the eight Reds starters made the NL All-Star team.
The one who didn't—Cesar Gerónimo—hit .307 with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 201 total bases and 22 steals, while winning the third of four straight Gold Gloves and finishing 25th in the MVP voting.
The 1976 Reds hit .280 and slugged .424 as team.
Remove the pitchers and the team slugging percentage rises to .444, while the team batting average climbs from .280 to .291.
The 1976 Reds led both major league divisions in every major hitting category: runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, batting average, total bases, slugging, OBP, OPS and OPS+.
The 1976 Reds also led the major leagues in fielding average.
No other team has ever led all these categories in their own league in one season, let alone all MLB.
Furthermore, the 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals while being caught only 57 times, for a very impressive .79 success rate.
By comparison, the list of stolen base leaders with more than 200 career steals and a success rate of .80 or higher is very short and contains names like Lopes, Raines and Henderson.
So as a team, the 1976 Reds were elite, Hall-of-Fame-caliber base stealers as well!
The 1976 Big Red Machine led the National League in home runs and stolen bases, demonstrating a combination of speed and power rivaled only by the Dodgers of the early 1950s.
In the 1976 NL MVP voting, Joe Morgan was first, George Foster second, Pete Rose fourth, Ken Griffey Sr. eighth, and Cesar Gerónimo twenty-fifth despite hitting eighth in the lineup.
This was in a year that the team's superstar sluggers, Johnny Bench and Tony Pérez, struggled offensively. Would the 1927 Yankees have dominated if Ruth and Gehrig had down years?
The entire infield made an All-Century Team: Bench, Morgan and Rose made the official MLB team, while Concepción and Pérez made the All-Latino All-Century Team.

The Reds had "star power" at every position, with Bench, Morgan, Rose and Foster accounting for six of the eight National League MVPs awarded from 1970-77. Tony Pérez was a regular MVP candidate, finishing as high as third. Dave Concepción was an all-star nine times and placed in the top fifteen in the MVP voting three times, finishing as high as fourth. Ken Griffey Sr. was a three-time all-star who finished as high as eighth in the MVP voting. Cesar Gerónimo won four consecutive Gold Gloves from 1974-1977 and finished as high as twenty-fifth in the MVP voting. There was no "weak link" on the team, at any position. There were only levels of ascending excellence, from all-star to stellar.

Related Pages: All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team, The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time, Cincinnati Reds Trivia, 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 Chronology

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