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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, Bench remains the Reds' all-time leader in homers, RBI and Gold Gloves (ten consecutive). 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 seenhe 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! 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. 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! 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. 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! 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. 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! 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!

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 (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, Wilson, Doby, Medwick, Rice, Klein, Slaughter, Wheat, et al.
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. #16-19 (2,143 hits, 1,129 runs) comparable to 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.

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 timedoubly 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, with one in the HOF and two in the discussions? 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, an intimidator (no one calls you the "Destroyer" for merely being good!).
Foster was great for a decade, going 1-2-3-6-12 in the MVP voting with crazy highs for his era 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 has had to say 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 two of the four years!)
When Bill 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.).
• Bill 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.
• Bill 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.
• Bill 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, according to HFCS 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).
• Bill James has compared Dave Concepción to HOF shortstop Pee Wee Reese. According to HFCS, Concepción was roughly equal to 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, Jose Canseco, 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, like some of the great players just mentioned.
• 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, Dave Henderson, Tommy Harper, Cesar Tovar 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.

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 proceed to 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 safe to say that the Reds were the best base stealers also.
(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 and 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 possible candidate (Griffey), and a four-time Gold Glove winner (Gerónimo). Later on this page, I will discuss in more detail the reasons Rose, Foster and Concepción belong in the HOF, and why Ken Griffey Sr. should not be out of the picture. 

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 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.

But what about more recent teams? Take the highly-touted 2017 Houston Astros, for example. At catcher, no one is ever going to mistake Brian McCann or Evan Gattis for Johnny Bench. At age 33, Yuli Gurriel and his 88 career RBI will never be mentioned in the same breath with Tony Pérez. Jose Altuve had a great year at second, but Joe Morgan was playing in another league in 1975-1976. Alex Bregman has 211 career hits; that's one season to Pete Rose at third. Carlos Correa gives the Astros their first possible win at shortstop; he could be a hall-of-famer although that remains to be seen. George Springer is good, but not as good as George Foster in his prime, or at least not yet. At age 30, Josh Reddick does not look likely to compare with Ken Griffey Sr., and especially not in 1976 when he was an all-star playing at the same level as Rose. At age 35, to go with his 94 OPS+, Norichika Aoki has 10.8 WAR, which is less than Cesar Gerónimo's 13.0 (not to mention his four Gold Gloves and two World Series wins). Carlos Beltran lends a good name, but only 84 OPS+ for 2017. Marwin Gonzalez is a very nice utility player, but so was Dan Driessen (and Rose could play six positions and was an all-star at five of them). Furthermore, the Reds were better on defense and were much more prolific and efficient base-stealers. The Reds had Gold Glove winners "up the middle" at the four most critical defensive positions. The Astros not only had no Gold Glove winners, they didn't have a single nominee at any position. And the Astros were 13th out of 15 AL teams in being caught stealing. Only Altuve and Bregman had more than nine steals, while the Reds had eight players with ten or more, including Morgan with 60 and Griffey with 34 (nearly as many as the Astros, with less than half the "caughts"). So there really is no comparison, even if Altuve, Correa and Springer all become hall-of-famers.

Ditto the 2017 Cleveland Indians, who have one possible win a shortstop with Franciso Lindor, although Concepción was certainly competitive in 1976. Lindor obviously has more power and the potential to be one of the great shortstops. But that still leaves the Reds with the advantage at seven positions, especially when we compare Yan Gomes with his 83 OPS+ to Bench, Jason Kipnis with his 82 OPS+ to Morgan, and Bradley Zimmer with his 79 OPS+ to any Reds outfielder.

The 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers don't fare (or compare) any better. They are competitive at first with Cody Bellinger and at short with Corey Seager. But the Reds win massively at catcher, second, third and in the outfield. The Dodgers had just two nominees for Gold Gloves and only 77 steals. The real strength of this team was its pitching, especially Kershaw, Wood, Darvish, Hill, Jansen, Fields and Baez. Four of the top nine hitters were average or below, according to OPS+.

Ditto with the 2016 Cubs. Even if Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo end up in the Hall of Fame, they will at best be competitive with Rose and Pérez. Concepción and Addison Russell look competitive at short with nearly identical seasonal WAR.  But none of the other Cubs compare with Bench, Morgan, the Destroyer and Griffey. The Cubs' only clear win might be at center with Dexter Fowler having a very nice 4.2 WAR season in 2016.

Bottom line? The best contemporary teams struggle to match the 1976 Reds at one or two positions. There simply isn't a team out there with a catcher as all-excelling as Bench, a first baseman as run-productive as Pérez, a second baseman as crazy good as Morgan, a shortstop as well-rounded as Concepción, a third baseman as dynamic as Rose, and three outfielders as good as Foster, Griffey and Gerónimo. The Reds will call your pair of aces, then lay down a royal flush: the greatest infield of all time (Bench, Pérez, Morgan, Concepción, Rose), followed by three jokers (Foster, Griffey, Gerónimo). And they still have Dan Driessen hidden up their sleeve! (He would hit .300 with 91 RBI and 31 steals in 1977.)

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, beyond MVP, #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)

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!

If we do 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 number six despite missing considerable playing time, 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.)

But what about career WAR? According to Fangraphs fWAR:

Johnny Bench is the #1 catcher of all time, ahead of Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, Mickey Cochrane, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Bill Dickey and Ted Simmons
Tony Pérez is the #28 first baseman of all time, comparable to Willie Stargell, Joe Torre, Hank Greenberg, Keith Hernandez, Bill Terry, George Sisler and Orlando Cepeda
Joe Morgan is the #4 second baseman, ahead of Charlie Gehringer, Rod Carew, Frankie Frisch, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson and Bobby Grich
Dave Concepción is the #44 shortstop, comparable to Rabbit Maranville, Phil Rizutto, Maury Wills, Alvin Dark, Dick Groat, John Ward, George Wright and Mark Belanger
Pete Rose is the #8 third baseman, tied with Brooks Robinson and ahead of Paul Molitor, Harmon Killebrew, Dick Allen, Graig Nettles, Ron Santo and Edgar Martinez
Ken Griffey Sr. is the #88 right fielder, comparable to Roger Maris, Kirk Gibson, Carl Furillo, Jackie Jensen, Bob Meusel, Gavvy Cravath, Willie McGee and Shawn Green
George Foster is the #40 left fielder, comparable to Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner, Charlie Keller, Rocky Colavito, Moises Alou, Albert Belle, Frank Howard and Dusty Baker
Cesar Gerónimo is the #215 center fielder, comparable to Gary Matthews, Manny Mota, Bobby Tolan, Ken Berrry, Don Demeter, Ron LeFlore and Mule Haas

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. 

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

Enter the MVP Matrix Zone, 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

Robinson Cano's game-winning home run at the 2017 All-Star game was the event's first extra-inning blast in exactly 50 years. Ironically, Tony Perez, who threw the game's opening pitch, was the last All-Star to hit an extra-inning homer, in 1967. Five of the Great Eight became All-Star MVPs: Tony Perez (1967), Joe Morgan (1972), George Foster (1976), Ken Griffey Sr. (1980) and Dave Concepcion (1982). Ironically, the two Reds with the most All-Star appearances, Pete Rose (17) and Johnny Bench (14), failed to become All-Star MVPs. However, they both became World Series and National League MVPs. So seven of the Great Eight were MVPs during their careers. The "odd Red out" was Cesar Geronimo, who finished 25th in the 1976 NL MVP voting despite hitting eighth in an outrageously good lineup. So he, too, was a "contendah," to quote Marlon Brando.

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.

Thus the other "big fours" really don't compare with the Reds' big four. Furthermore, the bottom of the Reds' lineup was much deeper, without a single "weak sister" hitter (in fact, seven of the Great Eight had more career RBI than Maris and Howard!) ...

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."


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.


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. According to Wright, the 1976 Reds are the last NL team to qualify for his short list of truly dominant teams. Wright compliments the 1976 Reds for their "great offense" and "great defense," pointing out that their pitching was less than superlative (their team ERA was exactly the NL average that year and ranked 12th in MLB). 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 did. 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." And here, I believe, is the fact that makes the 1976 Reds stand out: their "core four" were better than the top four players for any other team. But the next four were also stars in their own right: Foster was a monster for a decade: the most intimidating and feared slugger of his era. Dave Concepción was a Hall-of-Fame-caliber shortstop comparable to Luis Aparicio and Pee Wee Reese. And in 1976, Ken Griffey Sr. and Cesar Gerónimo played like all-stars. The 1976 Reds were the only team in the history of major league baseball that did not have a single "weak sister" hitter in the lineup. The stats I provide later on this page, when I compare the Reds to other all-time-great teams, will back this up. And the astronomical winning percentage of the Great Eight, when they played together, will be proof positive ...

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.

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. The 1927 Yankees simply do not compare with the Reds at catcher, second, short or third. And the same is true for most of the other "murder's row" teams, whose offenses typically centered around first base and the outfield. The 1976 Reds had great production from those positions, but they had very good offense at short, and all-time-great production at catcher, second and third. Therein lies the rub, and the difference.

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 sharesfollowed by an exclamation markis 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 Fosterleading 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. Here’s a spoiler alert: we’ll be seeing a lot Cincinnati Reds on this team. We’ll address the success of the Big Red Machine a little later, but for now we’ll focus on the players that provided the motor for that machine. The 1970s saw more than its share of talented catchers; the likes Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk all played for some or all of the decade. Bench, though is the 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. Lo and behold, it’s another member of the Big Red Machine. Of course, Morgan would be on this list no matter where he played. Morgan was the best overall player of the decade, in large part based on his strength at every aspect of the game ... There is serious competition for the title of best second baseman ever, but it seems likely that the nod goes to Joe Morgan. (In his comments Barbieri agreed that the 1970's outfield was not as good as the 1960's outfield of Mays, Aaron and Mantle. But he concluded: "On the other hand, the infield does have maybe the greatest catcher, second baseman and third baseman of all-time. So that helps." Thus he evidently thinks that Bend and Morgan were the best of all-time at their positions, or very close).

Shortstop: Bert Campaneris

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. Rose qualifies all over the field—every infield position except shortstop and both outfield corners—but left is where he slots in for the all '70s team, topping the likes of Carl Yastrzemski, Roy White, and Willie Stargell. And you can bet on that. As would Pete. (Sorry!)

Center Field: Caesar Cedeno

Right Field: Reggie Jackson

Starting Pitchers: Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, Jim Palmer. If [Reggie] Jackson has a reputation entirely divided between those who overrate him and those who underrate him, Seaver seems to be almost entirely underrated. Though he does rank sixth in Baseball-Reference’s fan ELO rating—behind only Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove and Pete Alexander—one almost never hears his name in the discussion of the greatest pitchers of all-time. It probably should be in there, in no small part because of his work during this decade, when Seaver won 178 games (that’s nearly 18 per year) and did it 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 (higher if the 60's were included)
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.)

Trading the Great Eight for Comparable Players

One way to get a feel for the "real value" of the Great Eight is to compare each player to his closest peers. We can do that via a variety of methods. I will quickly summarize here, then provide more detail later on this page. 

According to WAR rounded to the closest even number, by always trading down for each Red, I could assemble a team consisting of:

• C Roy Campanella (a three-time MVP, he averaged 32 homers and 114 RBI per 162 games)
• 1B Jimmie Foxx (he slashed .325/.428/.609./1.038 with 534 homers and 1,922 RBI)
• 2B Charlie Gehringer (he slashed .320/.404/.480/.884 with 1,775 runs)
• SS Ernie Banks (512 HR with 1,636 RBI)
• 3B Pie Traynor (he slashed .320/.362/.435./.797)
• OF Ralph Kiner (a seven-time NL home run leader with a stellar .548 career slugging percentage)
• OF Hack Wilson (a .545 career slugging percentage with season highs of 56 HR and 191 RBI)
• OF Lyman Bostock (he slashed .311/.365/.427/.791)

In win shares, the Great Eight have seven of the top 350 players in major league baseball history: Rose (#13), Morgan (#18), Bench (#88), Pérez (#108), Concepción (#297), Foster (#298) and Griffey (#329). If I were to trade down for the Great Eight, based on career win shares, I could assemble a team of:

• C Mike Piazza
• 1B Hank Greenberg
• 2B Rogers Hornsby
• SS Vern Stephens
• 3B Mike Schmidt
• OF Ralph Kiner
• OF Chuck Klein
• OF Albie Pearson

Using the Reds' combined win shares of 2,673.8 to "buy" replacement players, I could assemble a "murderers' row" of:

• C Roy Campanella (205.9)
• 1B Jimmie Foxx (431.1)
• 2B Charlie Gehringer (381.5)
• SS Ernie Banks (332.4)
• 3B Pie Traynor (273.0)
• OF Joe DiMaggio (385.9)
• OF Shoeless Joe Jackson (288.1)
• OF Al Simmons (372.9)

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. So by trading for near equivalents or down, I could assemble a team by pick from:

• C Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, or any other catcher
• 1B Dave Ortiz, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Chance, Jim Bottomley, Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly, Boog Powell, Steve Garvey, Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, Norm Cash
• 2B Charlie Gehringer, Rod Carew, Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Nellie Fox, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Joe Gordon, Bobby Grich
• SS Vern Stephens, Phil Rizzuto, Rabbit Maranville, Maury Wills, Dick Groat, Garry Templeton, Johnny Pesky, John Ward, George Wright, Rico Petrocelli
• 3B Brooks Robinson, Paul Molitor, Edgar Martinez, Home Run Baker, Graig Nettles, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Darrell Evans, George Kell, Pie Traynor
• OF Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Charlie Keller, Heinie Manush, Lou Brock, Albert Belle, Pedro Guerrero, Lonnie Smith, Moises Alou
• OF Roger Maris, Kirk Gibson, Carl Furillo, Bob Meusel, Ross Youngs, Gavvy Cravath, Reggie Sanders, Paul O'Neill, David Justice, Juan Gonzalez
• OF Albie Pearson, Harry "The Hat" Walker, Mule Haas, Bobby Tolan, Lyman Bostock, Doc Cramer, Don Demeter, Ken Landreaux, Ken Berry

Such "thought experiments" demonstrate just how great the Great Eight really were. I will do more such experiments, providing more details, later on this page. If this interests you, you can use CTRL-F or the search feature of your browser to look for "trades." I have created similar "trades" based on gWAR, WSAB, career OPS+ and other factors.

Big Red Dynasty

The Reds had one of the longest-lived dynasties in the history of major league baseball, with winning seasons in 19 of 21 seasons from 1961 to 1981. In their two non-winning seasons, the Reds were just a few games below .500, while at their peak they averaged 100 wins for five years (1972-1976) and won two World Series titles. Obviously, not many teams have been that good for more than two decades, and with that high a peak. During this streak the Reds won seven NL West division titles, five NL pennants, and two World Series.

Here is a comparison of the Reds to other baseball dynasties that lasted more than a few "flash in the pan" years. Peak5 is the average number of wins for the team's best five consecutive year; the names listed are Hall-of-Fame caliber players who played in the field during the peak seasons and made major contributions. The names in bold are the stars of the highest magnitude.

Reds 1961-1981 (21): Peak5 100.2 Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Pérez, George Foster, Dave Concepción
Pirates 1901-1912 (13): Peak5 97.6 Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke
Dodgers 1945-1957 (13): Peak5 97.6 Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider
Orioles 1968-1980 (12): Peak5 97.8 Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell
Giants 1903-1914 (12): Peak5 97.2 Roger Bresnahan
Cubs 1903-1913 (11): Peak5 106.0 Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance
Cards 1939-1949 (11): Peak5 101.6 Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter 
Braves 1995-2005 (11): Peak5 100.2 Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones
Athletics 1968-1976 (9): Peak5 95.0 Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando
Indians 1948-1956 (9): Peak5 96.4 Larry Doby, Al Rosen
Athletics 1925-1932 (8): Peak5 101.0 Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane
Giants 1919-1925 (7): Peak5 92.2 Frankie Frisch, Hack Wilson, Bill Terry, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson

There were several Yankee dynasties, ruled by different stars:

Yankees 1926-1934 (9): Peak5 95.2 Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Bob Meusel
Yankees 1935-1943 (9): Peak5 99.6 Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri
Yankees 1946-1951 (6): Peak5 96.8 Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Charlie Keller
Yankees 1952-1964 (13): Peak5 101.0 Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Elston Howard
Yankees 1974-1980 (7): Peak5 97.8 Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph
Yankees 1996-2012 (17): Peak5 99.4 Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada

NOTE: Some of the dynasties above depended more on pitching than hitting; for instance, the Orioles, Giants, Cubs, Indians and Braves. But the topic at hand here is the greatest teams to take the field. The Big Red Machine was never known for otherworldly pitching, and thus depended more on position players than several of the teams listed above. For 21 years, the Reds consistently scored well above the average runs-per-game for both leagues, even after the AL instituted the designated hitter. The Reds had fourteen seasons with over 700 runs, and five over 800 (including three consecutive seasons from 1975-1977). In 1976 the Reds scored 857 runs, or 5.29 runs per game, when the average for both leagues was only 3.99. That year the non-pitcher Reds had a combined OPS+ of 129. From 1969-1980, a string of twelve years, the Reds topped 700 runs eleven times. A Reds all-star team taken from this dynasty would be: Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepción, Pete Rose, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and George Foster. A comparable 1920-1940 Yankees all-star team that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig would be overmatched at catcher (Bill Dickey), second (Tony Lazzeri or Joe Gordon), short (Mark Koenig), third base (Joe Dugan or Red Rolfe) and one outfield position (the weak-armed Earle Combs). And the Yankees would be tremendously disadvantaged defensively and on the basepaths. There is no doubt that Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio were all-time great players, but the Reds were better at five positions, and Frank Robinson, Tony Pérez and George Foster would give up much less to the Yankees' big three than Dickey, Lazzeri/Gordon, Koenig, Dugan/Rolfe and Combs would to Bench, Morgan, Concepción, Rose and any of the Reds' outfielders. 

I find amusing that the 1927-1928 Yankees get so much positive press these days because of Ruth and Gehrig, but the same Yankee team was dominated by the 1929-1931 Athletics. So even in their own day Ruth and Gehrig couldn't assure their team of victory, and the 1975-1976 Reds were much deeper talent-wise than the Athletics, and were far better base-stealers and defenders. Here's how the Reds compare in career WAR with the 1929 Athletics team that outclassed the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees for three consecutive years:

Joe Morgan 100.3 vs. Jimmie Foxx 97.4 = 2.9 WAR advantage
Pete Rose 79.1 vs. Al Simmons 68.7 = 10.4 WAR advantage
Johnny Bench 75.0 vs. Mickey Cochrane 52.1 = 22.9 WAR advantage
Tony Pérez 53.9 vs. Max Bishop 37.4 = 16.5 WAR advantage
George Foster 43.9 vs. Bing Miller 28.8 = 15.1 WAR advantage
Ken Griffey Sr. 34.4 vs. Sammy Hale 12.5 = 21.9 WAR advantage
Dave Concepción 39.9 vs. Mule Haas 12.4 = 27.5 WAR advantage
Cesar Gerónimo 13.0 vs. Joe Boley 3.3 = 9.7 WAR advantage

So the Great Eight had a whopping 126.9 WAR advantage over the 1929-1931 Athletics. That argument that the superiority of Ruth and Gehrig made the 1927 Yankees "better" simply doesn't hold water, because Ruth and Gehrig couldn't defeat a team that was radically outclassed by the 1976 Reds. Yes, Ruth and Gehrig were two of the all-time greats, but they couldn't make up for teammates who were outmatched by players like Max Bishop, Bing Miller, Sammy Hale, Mule Haas and Joe Boley. So how could they overcome the much larger disadvantage posed by the far more potent Reds?

I think the 1935-1943 Yankees were actually better than the Ruthian team, and the Peak5 numbers back me up. But the highest peak for the Yankees was achieved when Mickey Mantle was in his prime and teamed up with Roger Maris for a few magical seasons. Maris was a shooting star, not an all-time great by his career numbers, but they did make quite a dynamic duo, supported by a cast that included Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Bill Skowron. But the 1961 Yankees would be overmatched by the 1975-76 Reds on defense, on the basepaths, and at catcher, first, second, short, third and one outfield position. And really, at their peaks Roger Maris and George Foster were pretty damn close. So the 1961 Yankees only have one clear winner: Mickey Mantle in center.

None of the other dynasties had four stars as good as the Reds' "core four," and as I have pointed out elsewhere on this page, Foster and Concepción stack up well against many hall-of-fame left fielders and shortstops. And no other dynastic team had seventh and eight position players as good as Griffey and Gerónimo in 1976. The Cubs have the highest Peak5 number, but that is due to superior pitching, not the hitting of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance (three of the more "challenged" offensive players in the Hall of Fame).

One of the more interesting dynastic teams is the 1919-1925 Giants, who had a whopping ten Hall-of-Fame position players, then added a 17-year-old Mel Ott in 1926, giving them eleven. Now, not all the HOF-ers were playing at their peaks for the Giants, and some seem marginal, if not questionable, based on their stats. But still, they were obviously highly accomplished players. Yet for all that talent, the Giants still had the lowest Peak5 number and the shortest reign ... go figure! The HOF-ers were Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry, Hack Wilson, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Ross Youngs, Freddie Lindstrom, High Pockets Kelly, Billy Southworth and Casey Stengel. Amazingly, two more Giants were of similar caliber: Irish Meusel and Heinie Groh. But none of them played for the Giants at the level of Morgan, Bench, Rose, Pérez and Foster in their primes.

Reds Chronology: A Brief History of the Big Red Machine

It bears noting that many great Reds players were "homegrown" talents developed and nurtured by the Reds farm system, which was directed by Sheldon "Chief" Bender from 1967-1988. Another important cog in the Big Red Machine was Joe Bowen, the Reds' director of scouting from 1967-1982. (His brother Rex Bowen was the head scout in the field.) Along with Bob Howsam and Dick Wagner, Chief Bender and Joe Bowen formed a managerial "big four" who helped assemble the Big Red Machine as the chronology below indicates ...

Keys: AS=All-Star, GG=Golden Glove, MVP=Most Valuable Player, RoY=Rookie of the Year

1956 Frank Robinson (age 20): HOF, MVP(2), AS(12), RoY, 586 home runs, 1,812 RBI, #1 WAR 107.2, 154 OPS+
1958 Vada Pinson (age 19): AS(2), GG(1), 2,757 hits, 256 home runs, 305 steals, #5 WAR 54.1, 111 OPS+
1963 Pete Rose (age 22): HOF*, MVP(1), AS(17), GG(2), RoY, #3 WAR 79.1, #1 in games, at-bats, hits, times-on-base
1964 Tony Perez (age 22): HOF
, AS(7), 379 homer runs, 1,652 RBI, #6 WAR 53.9, 122 OPS+
1965 Bernie Carbo is drafted ahead of Johnny Bench by the Reds!
1965 Lee May (age 22): AS(3), 354 home runs, 1,244 RBI, #11 WAR 27.1, 116 OPS+
1966 Tommy Helms (age 25): AS(2), GG(2), 1,342 hits, 414 runs, 79 OPS+
1968 Johnny Bench (age 20): HOF, MVP(2), AS(14), GG(10), RoY, 389 home runs, 1,376 RBI, #4 WAR 75.0, 126 OPS+
1969 Bobby Tolan (age 23): 1,121 hits, 193 stolen bases, 95 OPS+
1969 The Reds are given the nickname "Big Red Machine" by a Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter, Bob Hertzel
1970 Dave Concepcion (age 22): AS(9), GG(5), 2,326 hits, 993 runs, 321 stolen bases, #8 WAR 39.8
1971 George Foster (age 22): MVP(1), AS(5), 348 home runs, 1,239 RBI, #7 WAR 43.9, 126 OPS+
1971 The Reds trade all-stars Lee May and Tommy Helms for Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo; Reds fans are aghast!
1977 Tony Perez is traded to Montreal Expos (the Big Red Machine loses its first major cog); Tom Seaver is traded to Reds
1979 Pete Rose joins the Phillies as a free agent with a record $3.2 million deal; Rose at age 38 leads the NL in OBP
1980 Joe Morgan returns to Houston where he leads the Astros to first in the NL West over the Reds at 89-73
1980 Pete Rose leads the Phillies to their first World Series win, playing 162 games at age 39 and leading the NL in doubles

Please click here for an expanded Big Red Machine Chronology

1976 Reds Batting Order

Opening Day Batting Order: Rose (3B), Griffey (RF), Morgan (2B), Bench (C), Pérez (1B), Foster (LF), Concepción (SS), Gerónimo (CF), Gary Nolan (P)

World Series Game One Batting Order: Rose (3B), Griffey (RF), Morgan (2B), Pérez (1B), Dan Driessen (DH), Foster (LF), Bench (C), Concepción (SS), Gerónimo (CF)

Rose was the number two lead-off hitter of the past 50 years, according to Bleacher Report and Fansided, behind only Rickey Henderson (see "The Great Leadoff Debate" below)
Griffey was essentially Rose's identical twin in 1976, albeit with more speed (34 steals); he finished in the top ten of the NL MVP voting along with Morgan, Foster and Rose
Morgan had one of the greatest offensive years by a second baseman in 1976 and won the NL MVP with his season for the ages (186 OPS+ and 9.6 WAR)
Foster came into his own as a slugger in 1976, and would terrorize NL pitchers for a decade; he would be the only MLB player to hit 50 home runs over a 25-year span ... until the "steroid era" began
Pérez was a consummate RBI man and clutch hitter who knocked in more runs than his closest Hall-of-Fame contemporaries: Banks, Schmidt, Killebrew, McCovey and Stargell
Bench was an all-world catcher offensively and defensively; he had a "down" year after major surgery but was still the world's best catcher by the end of the 1976 season, winning the World Series MVP
Concepción was the best offensive shortstop of his era, and also the best defensively and athletically, until the Wizard of Oz started his magic act
Gerónimo had a career year with the bat and was certainly one of the best number eight hitters of all time in 1976
• Driessen was the Reds' DH in the World Series; the following year he would slash .300/.375/.468/.843 with 91 RBI and 31 steals!

The "great eight" had 8,915 career RBI, compared to 8,288 for the fabled 1927 Yankees. And that is despite the massive RBI figures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and the fact that batting stats were vastly inflated in 1927.

Hell, the Reds' leadoff hitter had more career RBI than six of the eight Yankee starters! Although Rose spent most of his career hitting lead-off, he finished with almost as many total bases as Babe Ruth, and his 1,314 career RBI are more than those of sluggers like Hank Greenberg, Paul Waner, Mickey Vernon, George Sisler, Rocky Colavito, Larry Walker, Steve Garvey, Gil Hodges, Dale Murphy, Edgar Martinez, Albert Belle, Matt Williams, Dave Kingman and Boog Powell.

Joe Morgan, despite not being a prototypical slugger and only hitting third for a few years, had more career RBI (1,133) than Greg Luzinski, Joe Adcock, Dick Allen, Luke Appling, Frank Howard, Fred Lynn and Norm Cash ... not to mention more than celebrated Yankees sluggers like Don Mattingly (1,099), Bob Meusel (1,067), Jorge Posada (1,065), Bobby Murcer (1,043), Joe Gordon (975), Bill Skowron (888), Roger Maris (850), Tommy Henrich (795), Elston Howard (762, Charlie Keller (760), Roy White (758), Thurman Munson (701) and Earle Combs (632). I do hope I didn't leave anyone out!

Here's an important point for die-hard Yankees fans: It's not just that Johnny Bench was better than any Yankees catcher, that Joe Morgan was better than any Yankees second baseman, and that Pete Rose was better than any Yankees third baseman ... it's that they were all playing together on the same team. If the 1927 Yankees could replace Pat Collins with Yogi Berra or Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig with Joe Gordon or Willie Randolph, and Joe Dugan with Graig Nettles ... then the Elite Eight would have some real competition. But then the entire slowballing Yankees pitching staff without a single pitcher with 100 strikeouts would have to be replaced, or the Reds sluggers would be launching balls out of Yankee stadium at a fearsome rate! And to be fair the Reds could bring in Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Tom Seaver, et al. Now the Yankees might win the all-time matchup (although I think it would be a very competitive game), but as long as we are talking about teams that actually played together, no single Yankees team matches up position-by-position with the Elite Eight.

When George "the Destroyer" Foster and Johnny "the Binger Banger" Bench are hitting sixth and seventh in your World Series lineup, followed by a potential Hall-of-Fame shortstop known for clutch hitting, and a .307 hitter with power and speed, your team is "crazy good" on offense. It took Bench most of the 1976 season to recover from major surgery. When he rounded into form in the playoffs and World Series, the baseball world saw how formidable the Big Red Machine really was. The Reds had three of the very best table setters in Rose, Griffey and Morgan. They had four premier sluggers in Morgan, Foster, Pérez and Bench. They had speed and pop in the number seven and eight slots. And they also had great base-stealing and great defense, with cannon arms to keep other teams from running. The only undefeated postseason since divisional playoffs began was no fluke. The Reds really were that good. They were great when Johnny Bench was having a down year, for him. When he started hitting like the Johnny Bench who won two MVP awards, they becameliterallyunbeatable.

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
(#11) Joe Mauer, career WAR 50.7, OPS+ 126 (still active, but seems to be slowing down)
(#12) Ted Simmons, career WAR 50.1, OPS+ 118, HR 248, RBI 1,389 (deserves HOF!)
(#13) Buster Posey, career WAR 36.1, OPS+ 138 (only 30 and still playing at a high level)

While I think WAR tends to undervalue catchers, within this group the WAR rankings seem about right to me. But I think WAR also tends to undervalue RBI, so I would consider moving Yogi Berra up to number three. Getting 1,430 RBI from a catcher who plays reasonably good defense and wins three MVP awards sounds wise to me. And Yogi did play on 14 pennant-winning teams and 10 teams that won the World Series! Also, according to Jay Jaffe, among Hall-of-Fame players, Yogi Berra counted for 7.9 wins, behind only Nellie Fox (12.8), Tony Gwynn (9.9) and Pete Rose (9.5).

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 are all-too-ready to 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 help 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, Kenny Lofton #120, Billy Hamilton #198

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, Billy Hamilton #111, Kenny Lofton #120

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, Tim Raines #121, Omar Vizquel #129, Max Carey #151

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, Omar Vizquel #81, Ichiro Suzuki #96

Runs Created: Pete Rose #10, Rickey Henderson #11, Craig Biggio #34, Tim Raines #61, Johnny Damon #73, Lou Brock #85, Ichiro Suzuki #91, Kenny Lofton #116, Max Carey #136, Omar Vizquel #144, Billy Hamilton #192

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, Johnny Damon 56.0, Max Carey 54.2, Omar Vizquel 45.3, Lou Brock 45.2

Other leadoff hitters I considered, but who didn't break the top 100 in runs, include Brady Anderson, Luis Aparicio, Richie Ashburn, Bobby Bonds, Brett Butler, Bert Campaneris, Vince Coleman, Earle Combs, Dom DiMaggio, Stan Hack, Harry Hooper, Chuck Knoblauch, Davey Lopes, Pee Wee Reese, Lloyd Waner, Devon White, Maury Wills, Willie Wilson and Eddie Yost. I also didn't consider players who spent a lot of time hitting in other positions, such as Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor and Lou Whitaker. Pete Rose had nearly 3,000 hits batting leadoff, so I am comparing him to other players who were primarily leadoff hitters.

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, Hamilton #11 (BTW, this tends to support Bill James, who has ranked Biggio much higher than many other baseball gurus)

If we included Boggs and Molitor, they would both be in the top five, but I don't think they would jump over Rose and Henderson.

If we drop the "top 100 in runs" restriction, add Boggs and Molitor, and value speed more highly, I would put Henderson first and change my rankings as follows: Henderson #1, Rose #2, Molitor #3, Biggio #4, Boggs #5, Brock #6, Raines #7, Suzuki #8, Damon/Wills #9, Carey #10, Vizquel #11 Lofton #12, Hamilton #13, Coleman #14, Butler #15

But I continue to favor times on base and runs for the leadoff position, just as I favor RBI production at first base. Were the 1975-1976 Reds the best team of all time because they had players who uniquely suited to the roles they played? Rose is the all-time leader in hits and times on base, and number six in runs. Perez drove in considerably more runs than many first basemen who are typically ranked above him. I think the 1976 Reds were remarkable because in my opinion they had the best leadoff hitter of all time playing third, the best catcher of all time, and the best second baseman of all time. If they were not the best, they were certainly among the very best. And that is more remarkable than having power hitters at power positions like first base and the outfield. Toss in Pérez and Concepción and you easily have the best infield of all time. Then look at the stats of the outfielders, who were easily the best outfield in all MLB in 1976. This is just more evidence that the 1976 Reds stand alone as the best team of position players, from top to bottom, in the history of baseball.

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) ...

All-Time Peak Five-Year WAR

(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
(11) Hank Aaron (1959-1963) 43.6 WAR
(12) Carl Yastrzemski (1966-1970) 43.4 WAR
(12) Alex Rodriguez (2000-2004) 43.4 WAR
(14) Jimmie Foxx (1932-1936) 42.9 WAR
(15) Ted Williams (1946-1950) 42.3 WAR
(16) Jackie Robinson (1949-1953) 42.2 WAR
(17) Wade Boggs (1985-1989) 42.0 WAR
(18) Ron Santo (1963-1967) 41.9 WAR
(19) Mike Schmidt (1974-1978) 40.3 WAR
(20) Roberto Clemente (1965-1969) 39.8 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.

This leads me to my second point. 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, in the clubhouse! 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. They had very similar career slugging averages and OPS+. Perhaps give a slight edge to Alomar, but they were very close.

[*] If you think Rod Carew was as good as Joe Morgan, or close, Dave Schoenfield had this to say about the 1972-1976 period when they led all MLB in WAR: "Absolutely phenomenal: Morgan was nearly 18 wins better than the No. 2 player [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)."

High Honorable Mention: Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Joe Gordon, Jeff Kent, Tony Lazzeri, Willie Randolph, Billy Herman, Bid McPhee, Johnny Evers, Davey Lopes, Bill Mazeroski

Up-and Coming: Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Jose Altuve, Ben Zobrist, Neil Walker, Daniel Murphy

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
Lee May                1,244 RBI,    959 Runs, 2,203 Total Runs
Bill Buckner          1,208 RBI, 1,077 Runs, 2,285 Total Runs
Boog Powell         1,187 RBI,    889 Runs, 2,076 Total Runs
Jack Clark             1,180 RBI, 1,118 Runs, 2,298 Total Runs
Dick Allen            1,119 RBI,  1,099 Runs, 2,218 Total Runs
Norm Cash            1,104 RBI, 1,045 Runs, 2,149 Total Runs
Keith Hernandez   1,071 RBI, 1,124 Runs, 2,195 Total Runs
George Scott         1,051 RBI,    957 Runs, 2,008 Total Runs
Rod Carew           1,015 RBI, 1,424 Runs, 2,439 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
Orlando Cepeda 1,365
Johnny Mize 1,337
Roger Connor 1,323
Dan Brouthers 1,301
Hank Greenberg 1,274
Joe Torre 1,185
George Sisler 1,178
Bill Terry 1,078
High Pockets Kelly 1,020
Charlie Comiskey 883
Frank Chance 596

The Greatest Baseball Teams of All Time, Ranked by Winning Percentage and OPS+

Note: The players listed by name below are those who had superior seasons, according to OPS+ (which accounts for different offensive averages in different eras and different ballparks). Players named had an OPS+ above 100, a slugging percentage around .400 or higher, and at least 180 total bases (to weed out part-time players). The 1976 Reds are the only team on which all eight starters met these standards. On the 1976 Reds, all starters had 180 or more total bases. On the 1975 Reds, all starters had 179 or more total bases. So the Reds were very productive and very consistent as an entire team, offensively. And they were also great defensively and on the basepaths, which explains the ultra-high winning percentage despite injuries that robbed Bench, Morgan and Pérez of a number of games in 1976. Teams in italics lost the World Series and/or had a mediocre team OPS+ and/or team slugging percentage, and in my opinion do not qualify for the title "greatest baseball team of all time," especially when we are focusing on the position players, as we are here. To keep the DH from skewing team OPS+ in favor of modern AL teams, I have used to determine the team OPS+ not including pitchers. Teams with a collective OPS+ below 115, or that slugged below a collective .400 have been eliminated from consideration for the greatest team of all time, along with teams that failed to win the World Series. I have not been able to determine the collective OPS+ for the Great Eight only in games in which they played together, so I summed their individual OPSes for 1976 and divided by eight. Interestingly, this left the Great Eight one point behind the 1927 Yankees. But OPS+ does not take into account the Reds' superior defense, baserunning and athleticism. So in my opinion the Great Eight still win, hands down.

-----  -----
.793 135 The 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds when the Great Eight played together (*): Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepción, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Gerónimo, George Foster

.763 112 The 1906 Chicago Cubs: Frank Chance, Harry Steinfeldt (Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker had woeful offensive years; this team won with great pitching but lost the WS)
.724 116 The 1909 Pittsburg Pirates: Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Dots Miller (this team also won primarily with superb pitching and only slugged a lowly .353)
.721 109 The 1954 Cleveland Indians: Al Rosen, Bobby Avila, Larry Doby, Al Smith (lost the WS; yet another team that won via superb pitching, with a team OPS+ below 110)
.716 118 The 2001 Seattle Mariners: Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, John Olerud, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cameron (lost the WS; Boone and Cameron never reached the same heights again)
.714 136 The 1927 New York Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri (all-time team OPS+, but terrible defense, weak arms, poor speed and three "weak sisters")
.704 117 The 1998 New York Yankees: Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch (the best team money could buy, but only one all-time superstar, Jeter)
.695 128 The 1932 New York Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Ben Chapman (high OPS+, but poor fielding, abysmal base-stealing and two "weak sisters")
.693 115 The 1929 Philadelphia Athletics: Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Mule Hass, Jimmy Dykes, Bing Miller (three all-time superstars, then a considerable drop-off)
.688 117 The 1939 New York Yankees: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Red Rolfe, Charlie Keller, George Selkirk (but there were "weak sisters" at first and short and the third outfield position was average)
.680 122 The 1910 Philadelphia Athletics: Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Danny Murphy, Rube Oldring (won the WS; two all-time superstars, but only slugged .355 with four "weak sisters")
.673 118 The 1961 New York Yankees:  Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, Bill Skowron (Mantle and Maris had seasons for the ages, then a considerable drop-off)
.673 119 The 1969 Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Don Buford, Paul Blair (Brooks Robinson had a dismal offensive year; shortstop and catcher were no-shows on offense; lost the WS)
.667 117 The 1975 Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster (Gerónimo and Concepción were a bit below average, so the nod goes to the 1976 Reds)
.667 114 The 1970 Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Don Buford, Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson (they won the WS, but five positions kept the team OPS+ below 115)
.656 124 The 1928 New York Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri, Mark Koenig (high OPS+, but same weaknesses as the 1927 Yankees with less offense to compensate)
.651 110 The 1938 New York Yankees: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Tommy Henrich, Joe Gordon, Red Rolfe (despite its star power, the team had only a combined 110 OPS+)
.636 120 The 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepción, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Gerónimo, George Foster (super-high OPS+ plus defense and speed)
.632 115 The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers: Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee-Wee Reese (star power galore, but Jackie Robinson had a poor offensive year)
.630 109 The 1977 Kansas City Royals: George Brett, Al Cowens, Hal McRae, Darrell Porter, Amos Otis (did not make it to the WS; only one superstar in Brett)
.630 101 The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins (did not even make it to the World Series; mediocre team 101 OPS+)
.630 117 The 1998 Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Moises Alou, Derek Bell, Carl Everett (plenty of thunder, but did not make it to the WS)
.617 120 The 1957 Milwaukee Braves: Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Wes Covington, Red Schoendienst (two all-time greats and a power-packed supporting cast hit 199 homers)
.606 119 The 1966 Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Curt Blefary, Russ Snyder (they won the WS, but four positions were below average)

.605 109 The 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers: Reggie Smith, Dusty Baker, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes (no all-time superstars, although Garvey came close)
.593 110 The 2011 Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz (lotsa thunder, but lost the WS)

.586 121 The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers: Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas, Paul Molitor, Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons (great team hitting 1-6, but lost the WS)
.562 103 The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Greg Luzinski, Lonnie Smith, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo (star power; won the World Series, but only team 103 OPS+)

(*) 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 was that "No team has ever been more dominant than the '76 Reds."

As you can see, all teams other than 1976 Reds had at least two or three "weak sister" hitters, or perhaps good players having below average offensive years. While the 1927 Yankees have the higher OPS+ by a hair, the 1976 Reds are clear winners when we consider defense, throwing, base-stealing and athleticism. When the Great Eight took the field together, their OPS+ was nearly identical to the 1927 Yankees', and it really wasn't a contest otherwise.

As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The 1976 Reds had no weak links. Every Reds starter finished in the top 30 of the NL in OPS, and every starter had at least 180 total bases. That is not true for any other team in the history of major league baseball, as far as I have been able to determine. Here are the "weak sisters" for the other main contenders ...

1910 Athletics: Only one player with 80 or more RBI, four "weak sisters" with 164 or fewer total bases, good basestealing but really not much offense after the top four hitters, woeful defense (230 errors)
1927 Yankees: Joe Dugan .78 OPS+, Mark Koenig .83 OPS+, Pat Collins only 105 total bases, terrible team defense (196 errors), terrible arms at catcher and in center, terrible basestealing (90/64)
1928 Yankees: Joe Grabowski 51 OPS+ with 60 total bases, Joe Dugan 84 OPS+ with 119 total bases, negative basestealing (51/52), terrible defense (199 errors)
1932 Yankees: Frankie Crosetti 87 OPS+, Joe Sewell 96 OPS+, terrible team defense (189 errors), awesomely terrible basestealing  (77/66)
1957 Braves: Four average hitters (Del Crandall, Frank Torre, Johnny Logan, Bill Bruton), terrible basestealing (35/16), .327 team OBP
1961 Yankees: Bobby Richardson 67 OPS+, Clete Boyer 79 OPS+, Tony Kubek 90 OPS+, truly terrible team basestealing (28/18), .330 team OBP
1982 Brewers: Lots of power, but subpar averages from Ben Ogilvie (.244), Gorman Thomas (.245), Charlie Moore (.254), Roy Howell (.260), .335 team OBP, poor basestealing (84/52)
1998 Yankees: Four mediocre averages from Chad Curtis (.243), Darryl Strawberry (.247), Chuck Knoblauch (.265), Jorge Posada (.268), three starters with terrible basestealing stats

I rest my case, if things like hitting, defense, baserunning and overall excellence really matter. None of the "weak sisters" named above will ever be confused with Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepción, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Gerónimo and George Foster, playing together in 1976. Why? Because none of the Great Eight sucked (please pardon my French!). Johnny Bench was the greatest catcher ever to play the game, both offensively and defensively, in his prime. Tony Pérez drove in more runs than most better-known sluggers, including Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell. Joe Morgan was one of the greatest second basemen of all time, if not the greatest. Dave Concepción was the best overall shortstop of his era, and the best defensively and athletically until the arrival of Ozzie Smith. Pete Rose was more than a singles hitter; he ended up with more total bases than Mickey Mantle and almost as many as Babe Ruth! Ken Griffey Sr. was basically Rose's equal in 1976. Cesar Gerónimo was an all-world defender who had a career year at the plate in 1976. George Foster truly was the "Destroyer" for a decade in which he was baseball's most feared slugger. I challenge you to find any team that even comes close, in overall excellence. (But we both know it ain't gonna happen.)

I mean, c'mon really! Who was better ...

Johnny Bench or Pat Collins, Joe Grabowski, Jack Lapp, Del Crandall or Jorge Posada?
Tony Pérez or Frank Torre, Harry Davis, Tino Martinez or Frank Chance?
Joe Morgan or Bobby Richardson, Chuck Knoblauch or Tony Lazzeri?
Dave Concepción or Johnny Logan, Frankie Crosetti or Tony Kubek?
Pete Rose or Joe Dugan, Joe Sewell, Clete Boyer or Roy Howell?
George "the Destroyer" Foster or Bob Meusel, Ben Ogilvie or Gorman Thomas?
Cesar Gerónimo or Bill Bruton, or Earle Combs, the centerfielder with the weakest arm in the history of baseball, according to Bill James?
Ken Griffey Sr. or Chad Curtis or Charlie Moore?


Key: AS=All-Star, GG=Gold Glove, SS=Silver Slugger, HOF=Hall of Fame, ROY=Rookie of Year

How good were the 1975-1976 Reds? Well, they finished 20 games ahead of the Dodgers in 1975, then 10 games ahead in 1976. That is even more impressive when we consider the quality of their main competition, because the Dodgers had all-star-caliber players at nearly every position, including starting pitchers and relievers (but possibly excepting catcher): Steve Garvey (AS-10, MVP-1, GG-4), Reggie Smith (AS-7, GG-1), Ron Cey (AS-6), Don Sutton (AS-4, HOF), Tommy John (AS-4), Davey Lopes (AS-4), Bill Russell (AS-3), Jimmy Wynn (AS-3), Mike Marshall (AS-2, CYA-1), Dusty Baker (AS-2, SS-2, GG-1), Rick Rhoden (AS-2), Burt Hooten (AS-1), Charlie Hough (1), Bill Buckner (AS-1), Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Ted Sizemore, Lee Lacy, and Doug Rau. The Dodgers would go to the World Series in 1977-1978, and win it all in 1981. However, when the Reds were in their prime, it was close to a draw at first base and the Reds had the advantage at every other position (excluding pitching, where the Dodgers had a decided advantage). That's 36 all-star selections for the position players, compared to 65 for the Great Eight.

In the 1976 NL playoffs, the Reds swept a Philadelphia Phillies team that was also loaded, winning 101 games with Mike Schmidt (AS-12, GG-10, MVP-3, HOF), Steve Carlton (AS-10, CYA-4, HOF), Dick Allen (AS-7, MVP-1), Larry Bowa (AS-5, GG-1), Bob Boone (AS-4, GG-7), Greg Luzinski (AS-4), Jim Kaat (AS-3, GG-16), Dave Cash (AS-3) Tim McCarver (AS-2), Tug McGraw (AS-2), Jim Lonborg (AS-1, CYA-1), Ron Reed (AS-1), Wayne Twitchell (AS-1, Gary Maddox (GG-8), Bobby Tolan, Jay Johnstone, Larry Christenson, Tom Underwood, and Gene Garber. The Phillies would also win 101 games in 1977, then win it all in 1980 after Pete Rose hooked up with Schmidt, Luzinski and company. In 1975-1976, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt were just about a draw offensively, but give the edge to Schmidt for his superior power and gold glove defense. Luzinski and Foster would be close to a draw, but give the edge to Foster for superior speed, athleticism and defense. The Reds had a marked advantage at every other position (excluding pitching). That's 37 all-star selections for the position players, compared to 65 for the Great Eight.

In the 1976 World Series, the Reds swept a New York Yankees team that featured Catfish Hunter (AS-8, CYA-1, HOF), Thurman Munson (AS-7, MVP-1, GG-3), Graig Nettles (AS-6, GG-2), Willie Randolph (AS-6, SS-1), Sparky Lyle (AS-3, CYA-1), Roy White (AS-2), Ken Holtzman (AS-2), Carlos May (AS-2), Chris Chambliss (AS-1, GG-1, ROY), Lou Piniella (AS-1, ROY), Mickey Rivers (AS-1), Doyle Alexander (AS-1), Ed Figueroa (AS-1), Tippy Martinez (AS-1), Grant Jackson (AS-1), Fred Stanley, Oscar Gamble, Dock Ellis, Rudy May, and Dick Tidrow. Here, the best matchup was at catcher, with Bench and Munson both hitting over .500. But Bench had far superior slugging figures and drove in more runs. Also, the Reds out-stole the speedy Yankees 7-1, so Bench gets another plus for superior throwing. Nettles was superior to Rose as a defensive third baseman, but Rose was the better and more dynamic hitter. So perhaps make third base a tie. Otherwise the Yankees were completely outmatched, which explains why they didn't win a game despite their impressive pitching staff. That's 24 all-star selections for the position players, compared to 65 for the Great Eight.

By every measure: all-star selections, MVP awards, gold gloves, Hall of Fame elections and real-world results, the Reds were the superior team. And even though the three teams above had better pitching staffs than the Reds, that wasn't enough to make up the difference. The competition was very good, but the Great Eight were that much better.

All-Century Reds

Three members of the 1975-1976 Reds made the Major League Baseball All-Century Team: they were Bench, Morgan and Rose. Pérez had more RBI than any of the team's first basemenother than Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Eddie Murryand should have also made the team in my opinion. Pérez had 500 more RBI than George Sisler and Bill Terry, 400 more than Hank Greenberg, 200 more than Mark McGwire (who cheated), and 100 more than Willie McCovey. Obviously, Gehrig and Foxx are the top dogs at first base. But I will make the case that Pérez ranks just below Murray at number four on the list. Here's a quick comparison of their slash lines:

Eddie Murray .287/.359/.476/.836/129 OPS+
Tony Pérez     .279/.341/.463/.804/122 OPS+

That is obviously very close, but Murray gets the edge at number three because he had more hits, total bases and RBI than Pérez. After Murray, the closest competition for Pérez is Harmon Killebrew, with 68 fewer RBI and 389 fewer total bases, but a LOT more home runs. Still, what is the point of first basemen hitting home runs? To drive in runs, and Pérez drove in more. After Killebrew, the next closest competition is Willie McCovey, with 97 fewer RBI and 313 fewer total bases. In effect, Pérez was one "big" power season better than McCovey, over their careers. (And McCovey himself noted that Pérez was the man no other team wanted to see coming up to the plate with men on base!) After McCovey, the competition is really not that close. With 1,652 RBI and 4,532 total bases, Pérez has huge margins over George Sisler (nearly 500 more RBI and 700 total bases), Mark McGwire (more than 200 RBI and nearly 1,000 total bases), Bill Terry (nearly 600 RBI and 1,300 total bases), Hank Greenberg (nearly 400 RBI and 1,400 total bases) and Buck Leonard (impossible to compare). If you think home runs are the most important stat for first basemen, perhaps rank Pérez seventh after Gehrig, Foxx, Murray, Killebrew, McCovey and McGwire. But that seems silly to me, because first base is primarily an RBI position. So I would rank Pérez fourth, after Gehrig, Foxx and Murray, in a near-tie with Harmon Killebrew and both slightly ahead of McCovey. But in either case, Pérez is in the top seven first basemen. In short, Pérez is one of the most underrated baseball players of all time. And speaking of short, what about Concepción? He compares quite favorably with two members of the All-Century team:

Luis Aparicio         .262/.311/.343/.653/82 OPS+
Ozzie Smith           .262/.337/.328/.666/87 OPS+
Dave Concepción  .267/.322/.357/.679/88 OPS+

Concepción hit more home runs and had considerably more RBI; he was known for his clutch hitting with men on base. Aparicio was better known for stealing bases and scoring runs. The Wizard of Oz was of course known for his stellar defense. But all-in-all they were comparable, with different strengths, and Concepción is not far behind these "dream team" shortstops, if he is behind at all. And how about Foster, who compares favorably with a number of the "dream team" outfielders ...

Billy Williams   .290/.361/.492/.853/133 OPS+
Al Kaline         .297/.376/.480/.855/134 OPS+
George Foster .274/.338/.480/.818/126 OPS+

Ralph Kiner     .279, 369 homers, 1,015 RBI
Duke Snider    .295, 407 homers, 1,333 RBI
George Foster .274, 348 homers, 1,239 RBI

Mind you, I'm not making the case that Pérez, Concepción and Foster all belong on the All-Century team. I am simply pointing out that the Reds had six players who were true "contendahs," to quote Marlon Brando. The entire Reds infield, including catcher, was hall-of-fame caliber. Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers, and eleventh in RBI. And in his prime years, the "Destroyer" was better than most HOF left fielders in their prime years. For three years, he averaged 40 homers and 130 RBI. For six years, he averaged 33 homers and 111 RBI. For a decade, he averaged 29 homers and 91 RBI, and that includes two seasons in which he was injured and only had around 400 at-bats. If Foster doesn't make the Hall of Fame, it will probably be because the Reds outfield was loaded with with players like Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Gerónimo, Bobby Tolan, Bernie Carbo, Hal McRae, Merv Rettenmund and Dan Driessen. (To illustrate how difficult the competition was: Rose was a baseball immortal; Griffey was a three-time all-star who slashed .296/.359/.430/.790/118 OPS+ for his career; Gerónimo won four Gold Gloves in center; Tolan twice finished in the top twenty of the NL MVP voting; Carbo slashed .264./.387/.427/.814/126 OPS+; McRae hit .300 or higher seven times; Rettenmund slashed .271/.381/.406./.786/123 OPS+; and Driessen slashed .267/.356/.411/.767/113 OPS+.) Foster didn't get much playing time until he was 26, because Pete Rose was patrolling left field and there was intense competition for the other outfield positions. When Rose moved to third, Foster quickly blossomed into a star. But in any case, how many teams can say that they had six players with legitimate Hall of Fame credentials, all playing together in their prime years? And yet the Reds can go even further than that, because Ken Griffey played like another Rose in 1976. If he had duplicated that season a few more times, he would have ended up in the Hall of Fame as well. (As I will explain, Griffey still compares favorably with a number of HOF outfielders, based on what he actually accomplished). And while Gerónimo is not a HOF candidate for his hitting, he was a defensive genius, and he too had a career offensive year in 1976. If he had been able to duplicate that one magical season, he would also have been a "contendah."

My main point is this: on the 1976 Reds, for the only time in major league baseball history, all eight starters performed like hall-of-famers. Six of the Reds duplicated their performances enough times to contend for HOF admission. Griffey came close, but may have fallen a bit short; however, his 1976 season was stellar. Gerónimo didn't hit well enough for his career to merit serious consideration, but in 1976 he did, especially if we factor in his superior defense, throwing and baserunning.

Reds All-Stars

Five Reds started in the 1976 all-star game: Bench, Morgan, Concepción, Rose and Foster. Pérez and Griffey also played. The Reds got 7 of the NL's 10 hits, scored 4 runs, and had 4 RBI in the 7-1 victory. The Reds hit .500, had a .533 OBP, and slugged .867 against the AL's best pitchers.

Reds all-star appearances: Rose (17), Bench (14), Morgan (10), Concepción (9), Pérez (7), Foster (5), Griffey (3). That's a total of 65 all-star appearances for the Great Eight alone. And there could easily have been more. For instance, Pérez had 12 seasons with 90 or more RBI, but he had major competition at first base with players like Steve Garvey (10), Willie Stargell (7), Willie McCovey (6) and Keith Hernandez (5). Concepción had similar fierce competition at short with Ozzie Smith (15), Larry Bowa (5), Bill Russell (3) and Garry Templeton (3). Foster, Griffey and Gerónimo had scads of tough competition in the outfield with Hank Aaron (21), Willie Mays (20), Tony Gwynn (15), Roberto Clemente (12), Dave Winfield (12), Andre Dawson (8), Darryl Strawberry (8), Dave Parker (7), Dale Murphy (7), Tim Raines (7), Reggie Smith (7), Al Oliver (7), Lou Brock (6), Billy Williams (6), Greg Luzinski (4), Cesar Cedeno (4), Jack Clark (4), Bobby Bonds (3) and Dave Kingman (3). The competition was so stiff that it was not unusual for players named above to finish in the top ten of the MVP voting, or even to win the MVP award, and still not make the all-star team! 

Tony Pérez definitely got shortchanged at times. For instance, in 1973 he was clearly the best first baseman in the NL, slashing .314/.393/.527/.919 with a stellar 159 OPS+ that was second only to Willie Stargell (who played outfield that year). Pérez finished seventh in the MVP voting and was in the top ten in batting average, doubles, homers, total bases, RBI, runs created, slugging, OPS and OPS+. But a non-first-baseman, Hank Aaron, was the all-star starter at first base, and the two reserves were (I assume), picked not because they were the two best first basemen in the league, but the best players on nondescript teams: Ron Fairly (.458 slugging, with a whopping 49 RBI) and Nate Colbert (.450 slugging with 80 RBI). And I believe Pérez was shortchanged again in 1980, when his stats (.467 slugging, 105 RBI) were almost identical to those of the starter, Steve Garvey (.467 slugging, 106 RBI). Ironically, this time Pérez was passed over in favor of his old teammate, Pete Rose (.354 slugging, 64 RBI). And I believe George Foster was also shortchanged in 1980, when among NL outfielders he was third in homers and RBI, fourth in walks, sixth in slugging, and seventh in OPS. There is no way that Dave Kingman (18 homers, 57 RBI, .957 career outfield fielding percentage) or Jose Cruz (11 homers, .426 slugging) should have been picked over Foster. Ken Griffey Sr. was shortchanged in 1986, when he slashed .306/.350/.492/.842 with 241 total bases and 14 steals. He easily outclassed Chili Davis, who slashed .270/.375/.416/.791 with 216 total bases and 16 steals (but was caught nearly as many times, 13). Pete Rose should have made the all-star team in 1966 when he finished tenth in the MVP voting with 205 hits, 301 total bases, and slugged .460. Rose should also have made the all-star team in 1972 when he finished twelfth in the MVP voting and led the NL in games, plate appearances, at-bats and hits, with a 134 OPS+. And Gerónimo really should have been the eighth Red on the 1976 all-star team, since he finished first among NL outfielders in triples, second in on-base percentage and fourth in batting average, with a stellar stolen base record (22-5) while winning one of four consecutive Gold Gloves at the premier defensive outfield position. Gerónimo was much better in 1976 than defensive liability Dave Kingman (.238/.286/.793 OPS), Al Oliver (another lackluster defender with only 62 runs, 61 RBI and 6 steals), Bake McBride (40 runs, 24 RBI), and catcher Steve Swisher (.236, 25 runs, 42 RBI).

I believe in correcting obvious errors, so here are my "adjusted" Reds all-star selections: Rose (19), Bench (14), Morgan (10), Concepción (9), Pérez (9), Foster (6), Griffey (4), Gerónimo (1). That's a total of 72 all-star nominations for the Great Eight, or 9 per player.

Reds Fast Facts

1976 Reds Fast Facts: All eight Reds starters had 552 or more plate appearances. The 1976 Reds still hold the franchise record for the most hits, with 1,599. The team batting average, excluding pitchers, was .291 with a slugging percentage of .444 and an OPS+ of 129. The eight starters averaged .298 with a slugging percentage of .458 and an OPS+ of 135. Amazingly, all eight Reds starters finished in the top 30 of the NL in OPS! Morgan's atmospheric OPS+ of 186 was the highest for any middle infielder after 1935. All starters other than Bench had 200 or more total bases (Bench had 183 total bases despite missing 27 games). The Reds went 13-5 against their main rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the postseason, they outscored their opponents 41-19, more than doubling the score and averaging nearly 6 runs per game. The Reds drew 2,629,708 fans to their home games at Riverfront Stadium, an all-time franchise attendance record. Joe Morgan was the NL MVP. Pete Rose won the Roberto Clemente Award. Johnny Bench won the Babe Ruth Award and was the World Series MVP.

1975 Reds Fast Facts: The 1975 Reds actually won more regular-season games, with 108. The eight starters averaged .293 with a slugging percentage of .445 and an OPS+ of 125. Bench and Pérez had better offensive seasons, with 110 and 109 RBI, respectively, and were second and third in all MLB. Bench had 6.6 WAR and was a perfect 11 for 11 on stolen base attempts. Morgan led all MLB with 11.0 WAR, .974 OPS, 169 OPS+, 145 runs created and franchise records in OBP (.466) and walks (132). Rose led all MLB in runs scored with 112, Morgan was fourth with 107, and Griffey was seventh with 95. Rose led all MLB in games played (162), doubles (47) and times on base (310), with Morgan a close second (298). Morgan led the NL in OBP (.466), Rose was second (.406) and Griffey tenth (.391). Four Reds won Gold Gloves and were among the NL top ten in defensive WAR: Gerónimo second with 2.7, Concepción third with 2.6, Morgan fourth with 2.0, and Bench eighth with 1.8. Morgan led all MLB in stolen base percentage (87.01%) with Concepción sixth (84.62%). Four Reds hit .300 or better: Morgan (.327), Rose (.317), Griffey (.305) and Foster (.300). They were followed by Bench (.283), Pérez (.282), Dave Concepción (.274) and Gerónimo (.257). Three Reds were in the NL top ten in slugging percentage: Bench (.519), Foster (.518) and Morgan (.508), followed by Pérez (.466), Rose (.432), Griffey (.402), Gerónimo (.363) and Concepción (.353).

How do the 1975 and 1976 Reds compare? Both teams were great, thanks to the Great Eight, but the 1976 team led all MLB in every major offensive category and had the advantage in hits, runs, stolen bases, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. One big difference was that Griffey and Foster became all-stars in 1976, and Gerónimo could easily have been an all-star too. The Reds were otherworldly in 1975, then the best of all-time in 1976.

Reds Records

Reds Single Season Records: Morgan .466 OBP and 132 walks in 1975. Rose 680 AB in 1973. Foster 52 homers, 149 RBI and 388 total bases in 1977. Tom Seaver .875 winning percentage and .956 WHIP in 1977.

Reds Franchise Leaders: Johnny Bench is the franchise leader in home runs, RBI, intentional walks, sacrifice flies and Gold Gloves. Pete Rose is the franchise leader in games, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, singles, doubles, walks, times on base, extra-base hits, total bases and runs created. Tony Pérez is second in RBI, third in home runs, fourth in total bases, sixth in games and at-bats and hits and doubles, and eighth in runs. Joe Morgan is second in steals and OBP, fourth in OPS, fifth in walks, and tenth in runs. Also, Morgan was the first player in MLB history to steal more than 600 bases and retire with a stolen base percentage above 80%. Concepción is second in games, third in hits and doubles, fifth in total bases, sixth in runs and steals, seventh in RBI and eighth in walks. Dan Driessen is tenth in games, at-bats and walks. George Foster is fourth in slugging percentage, sixth in home runs, seventh in OPS, ninth in RBI, and thirteenth in total bases. Ken Griffey Sr. is fifteenth in batting average at .303, sixteenth in runs, eighteenth in OBP and nineteenth in hits. Cesar Gerónimo is twenty-third in games.

Thus all the Great Eight and super-sub Dan Driessen show up in the top 25 rankings for the Reds franchise. The franchise rankings demonstrate that Rose, Bench, Pérez and Morgan were all-time top ten players for the Reds. The rankings also demonstrate that Foster was a premier slugger, that Concepción was a remarkably well-rounded player, and that Ken Griffey Sr. was a top 20 player. Gerónimo's defensive excellence does not show up in the offensive rankings, but the fact that he remains one of the top 25 Reds in games played demonstrates his real value as a player.

Reds General Manager Bob Howsam deserves a lot of credit for the success of the Big Red Machine dynasty. In 1971, he traded for Joe Morgan, Cesar Gerónimo and George Foster. Foster became a five-time all-star and NL MVP. Gerónimo was a great defensive center with a powerful arm, excellent speed and some pop in his bat. Morgan was a future hall-of-famer, a two-time NL MVP, and an all-star all eight years that he played for the Reds, averaging 102 runs and 51 steals per season, with a .415 OBP. Howsam also hired the then-unproven George "Sparky" Anderson as Reds manager. However, some Reds fans will never forgive Howsam for trading Tony Pérez to the Montreal Expos after the 1976 season (including this one)!

The next two big moves were up to Reds Manager Sparky Anderson. Both big moves were made in 1975. First, Sparky moved Pete Rose to third base, which allowed George Foster and Ken Griffey to both play regularly in the outfield, rather than being platooned. Then, Sparky moved Griffey to second in the batting order, which allowed Morgan to hit third. Suddenly, the Reds had three "table setters" who were on base A LOT. The three would combine for 354 runs in 1976, an average of 118 runs each. All three had OBP's above .400, led by Morgan's .444. If we determine the total "net bases" produced by the trio in 1976, by adding total bases, walks and steals, we get 446 for Morgan, 394 for Rose, and 349 for Griffey. Together, they produced 1,189 net bases. How does that compare to their main NL West challengers, the Los Angeles Dodgers? From looking at box scores, it appears the first three hitters for the Dodgers were typically Davey Lopes (265), Bill Buckner (304) and Steve Garvey (353), for a total of 922 net bases. That means the first three Reds gave their teammates 267 more chances to be driven in. It is also striking that the least productive of the three Reds, Griffey, was nearly equivalent to Garvey in net bases. So it's no wonder that the Reds finished ten games ahead of the Dodgers, even though the Reds' pitching was average for the league that year. How did the Reds compare to their main NL East competitors, the Philadelphia Phillies? Again, from looking at box scores it appears that the first three Phillies were typically Dave Cash (294), Larry Bowa (250) and Mike Schmidt (420), for a total of 964. So the Reds trio gave their teammates an advantage of 225 more net bases. And the Reds trio were not just better at setting the table. They also had markedly higher collective slugging percentages and RBIs. And they had more collective stolen bases, so they were putting more pressure on the competition in every possible way.

Postseason Excellence

Yes, all very impressive, you may say, but what about the postseason? How did the Great Eight perform under pressure? Well, the 1976 Reds were also the greatest post-season team of all time! They went undefeated, winning eight consecutive games (the only team to run the table since divisional playoffs were instituted).  The 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds were the first NL team to win back-to-back World Series since the 1921-1922 New York Giants, and no team has done it since. They slugged .545 as a team with a combined .914 OPS, despite facing top-notch pitchers like Steve Carlton, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Tug McGraw and Sparky Lyle. Johnny Bench hit .444, slugging .926 with an OPS of 1.390 and seven RBI in eight games. George Foster actually topped him in the RBI depart, with eight, averaging one per game. Seven Reds slugged .417 or better in the postseason, including the five hitters at the bottom of the lineup. There were no "easy outs" in this amazing lineup! In the World Series the Reds hit .313 as a team, with a team slugging percentage of .522. They were led by Bench (.533/.533/1.133/1.667 with six RBI in four games).

The 1976 Reds were superlative on offense in the postseason, as demonstrated by the bolded slugging percentages :

Bench .444/.464/.926/1.390 with 3 homers, 7 runs and 7 RBI in 7 games
Driessen .333/.412/.667/1.078 with 4 runs in 5 games
Morgan .227/.433/.500/.933 with 8 walks, 4 stolen bases and 5 runs in 7 games
Foster .308/.345./.577/.922 with 2 homers and 8 RBI in 7 games
Concepción .292/.370/.458/.829 with 5 runs in 7 games
Rose .300/.353/.467/.820 with 9 hits, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 runs and 3 RBI in 7 games
Gerónimo .250/.333/.417/.750 with 3 runs and 3 RBI in 7 games
Pérez .269/.300/.308/.608 with 6 RBI in 7 games
Griffey .200/.242/.267/.309 with 3 stolen bases and 4 runs in 7 games

Seven Reds slugged .417 or higher in the postseason. And while Pérez didn't have great power numbers, he still drove in six runs in seven games, which was his primary duty. The only Red who "fell off" a bit was Griffey, but he still stole three bases and scored four runs. The Reds averaged six runs per game against the best pitchers on the best teams, while more than doubling the collective score on the opposition: 41-19. In the World Series, the Reds nearly tripled the score on the Yankees: 22-8. Amazingly, Reds manager "Captain Hook" Sparky Anderson did not make a single change during the entire Series among his position players, forsaking the use of a pinch-hitter or a pinch-runner and never making a switch in either his batting order or fielding alignment. But then, the Great Eight were so great, how does one improve on near perfection? Yankee fans who came to see a dynasty in action did ... but it was the dynastic and dynamic Big Red Machine. The Yankees were overmatched at every position. Catcher Thurman Munson was the best New York performer in the World Series, hitting .529 but with only two RBI. Bench hit .533 with six RBI, so even that competition wasn't close. Bench and Foster knocked in more runs than the entire Yankees team. And to add insult to injury, the Reds out-stole an excellent base-stealing team with Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph and Roy White by a margin of 7-1. But the Yanks hadn't amassed their stolen bases against a catcher like Johnny Bench!

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 among HOF first basemen 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); he was the 1977 NL MVP and also finished 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 12th in the MVP voting. He compares favorably with HOF outfielders like Joe Medwick, Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner, Zack Wheat, Jim O'Rourke, Joe Kelley, et al.

Ken Griffey hit .296 with a .431 slugging percentage, 2,143 hits and 1,129 runs; he compares favorably with HOF outfielders Enos Slaughter, Kiki Cuyler, George Kell, Joe Sewell, Billy Herman, Lloyd Waner, Richie Ashburn, et al.

Cesar Gerónimo does not rank with most HOF outfielders offensively for his career, 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.

(*) Cap Anson played three different positions. Frank Thomas was primarily a designated hitter; Eddie Murray also did a lot of hitting as a DH, so one can reasonably posit that Pérez is third on the list of run-producing first basemen.

Johnny Bench has the highest WAR per 162 games played among catchers (5.6). That is comparable to Dick Allen and Scott Rolen, so WAR seems to drastically undervalue catchers!

If Gerónimo had been able to replicate his 1976 success over his entire career, he too would merit consideration for the Hall of Fame. If Griffey had replicated his 1976 season a few times, he would undoubtedly be in the Hall of Fame. Ditto for Foster. In short, every member of the 1976 Reds was either a Hall-of-Famer, or would have been if he were able to repeat his successes during the 1976 season. So for that single splendid season, every member of the Great Eight was playing at a Hall-of-Fame level. If there is any justice in the universe, Rose, Foster and Concepción will soon be enshrined in Canton.

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.

Hall-of-Fame Considerations

Getting back to the Hall of Fame, should Pete Rose, Dave Concepción, George Foster and Ken Griffey Sr. be admitted, really? Yes, really. In my opinion, Rose must be in the HOF, Concepción and Foster should be in the HOF, and Griffey Sr. merits serious consideration.

The case for Rose is open-and-shut, as I will explain later on this page.

George Foster was better than most HOF left fielders in his prime, and his prime lasted a decade, so he was no flash in the pan, as I will also be glad to prove.

The case for Ken Griffey Sr. may not be as strong as the others, but he is certainly worthy of consideration. Here is a list of HOF outfielders whose stats, adjusted for eras, resemble Griffey's: Enos Slaughter, Kiki Cuyler, Earle Combs, Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Lloyd Waner, Richie Ashburn, Joe Kelley, King Kelly, George "High Pockets" Kelly, Billy Herman, Harry Hooper, Deacon White, Freddie Lindstrom, Edd Roush, Sam Thompson, Elmer Flick, Chick Hafey, Monte Irvin, Earl Averill, Jesse Burkett, Fred Clarke, Tommy McCarthy, Ross Youngs, Billy Southworth, Larry Doby, Buck Ewing, John McGraw, Hugh Duffy and Ned Hanlon.

Concepción was as good as most of the shortstops already enshrined in Cooperstown, and his stats prove it. In fact, I will make the case that only ten HOF shortstops had stats markedly better than Concepción's: Honus Wagner (#1, obviously), Cal Ripken (the streak), Ozzie Smith (wizardly defense), Ernie Banks (512 homers), Robin Yount (3,142 hits), Joe Cronin (1,424 RBI), Luis Aparicio (506 steals), Luke Appling (career .310 average with 2,749 hits), Arky Vaughan (slugged .453) and Barry Larkin (slugged .444). But other than slugging, Larkin's stats are very close to Concepción's, and Concepción won more Gold Gloves. Concepción compares very well with all other HOF shortstops when hitting, power, defense, athleticism, baserunning, clutch play and leadership are considered. Concepción's main problem is that he was damn good at everything and didn't stand out for one thing in particular like Smith (defensive wizardry), Ripken (indestructibility) or Banks (power). But most HOF shortstops, like Concepción, were well-rounded players. Also, Concepción is undoubtedly handicapped by the fact that he was probably the seventh best hitter on his team, even though he was the best hitting shortstop of his era. As Reds manager Sparky Anderson pointed out, Concepción was the team's best clutch hitter and a remarkable athlete, but the Roses, Benches, Morgans, Pérezes and Fosters produced more offensive fireworks and grabbed the headlines, while a truly great all-round player remained mostly in the background. In an interesting synchronicity, the day that I compiled my list of the ten HOF shortstops above, I found confirmation from an unexpected source: Bill James himself. I stumbled upon the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, which ranks players by their statistical worthiness to become hall-of-famers. Sure enough, James had ranked the ten shortstops I named higher than Concepción. But all the other HOF shortstops were ranked lower, including Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Lou Boudreau, Rabbit Maranville, George Davis, Dave Bancroft, Joe Sewell, Hughie Jennings, Bobby Wallace, John Ward, Travis Jackson, Joe Tinker, George Wright and Leo Durocher. So there are more HOF shortstops ranked below Concepción than above him. Let him in!

Let's compare Concepción to ten HOF shortstops (Rizzuto, Boudreau, Bancroft, Ward, Maranville, Jennings, Wright, Joe Tinker, Luis Aparicio and Leo Durocher). Concepción is first in home runs and RBI, second in doubles and Gold Gloves, third in hits, fourth in slugging percentage, fifth in stolen bases, and sixth in runs. And he played on championship teams that won five division titles, four pennants, and two World Series. Furthermore, if we are looking for a well-rounded shortstop, Concepción is in a select group of shortstops with at least 2,000 hits, 300 steals, 100 home runs, 950 runs and 950 RBI. The others are Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Barry Larkin. Let him in!

I then decided to check my analysis of Foster against the BJHOFM. Although we didn't agree exactly, we were pretty close. We agreed that eleven HOF left fielders rank above Foster: Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Al Simmons, Carl Yastrzemski, Goose Goslin, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell, Ed Delahanty, Joe Medwick, Jim Rice and Billy Williams. The monitor had three left fielders in addition to mine: Zack Wheat, Joe Kelley and Heinie Manush. But we were pretty close. And that means Foster should be in the HOF, being somewhere between the twelfth to fifteenth best left fielder of all time. Let him in!

But with Foster, I decided to dig a bit further. In reality, Foster was not all that far behind Williams, Medwick and Rice, if we consider OPS+, Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, RBI and WAR7 (the latter helps us determine how good players were in their peak seven years). Here are my conclusions (please feel free to draw your own, after examining the evidence) ...

The highest echelon of left fielders: Ted Williams (190 OPS+) and Barry Bonds (182 OPS+) ... but Bonds cheated, so in my opinion Ted Williams stands alone as the greatest left fielder of all time.

The second echelon of left fielders: Rickey Henderson (2,295 runs, 1,406 stolen bases), Pete Rose (4,256 hits, 2,165 runs), Carl Yastrzemski (1,844 RBI), Al Simmons (1,828 RBI), Goose Goslin (1,612 RBI)

The third echelon of left fielders: Ed Delahanty (152 OPS+, 1,466 RBI), Willie Stargell (147 OPS+, 475 homers, 1,540 RBI)

At this point, if we use WAR7 to determine which players had the highest peaks, including similar performance from other outfield positions, we get: Ralph Kiner (43.6), Tim Raines (42.2), Billy Williams (41.3), Joe Medwick (39.7), Jesse Burkett (37.2), George Foster (36.7), Chuck Klein (36.7), Jim Rice (36.2), Joe Kelley (36.2), Fred Clarke (36.1), Hack Wilson (35.8), Enos Slaughter (35.1), Zack Wheat (34.7), Earle Combs (34.3), Kiki Cuyler (34.9), Heinie Manush (34.7), Sam Thompson (33.2), Max Carey (32.9), Lou Brock (32.0), Edd Roush (31.5), King Kelly (31.1), Hugh Duffy (30.8), Ross Youngs (30.3), Harry Hooper (30.0), Chick Hafey (27.1), Monte Irvin (21.2), Lloyd Waner (20.3), Billy Southworth (19.8), Tommy McCarthy (18.9), Casey Stengel (17.3), Ned Hanlon (14.2)

George Foster hit 348 homers with 1,239 RBI, 126 OPS+ and a .480 slugging percentage. Those figures compare very favorably with legendary outfielders like Ralph Kiner, Tim Raines, Billy Williams, Joe Medwick, Chuck Klein, Jim Rice, Hack Wilson, Enos Slaughter, Zack Wheat, Earle Combs, Kiki Cuyler and Heinie Manush. Foster's numbers are significantly better than those of many of the other names listed above. Foster had a somewhat late start, not becoming a regular in the star-studded Reds lineup until age 27. But for a decade he was a monster hitter known as "the Destroyer." In those ten years, he was as good as just about any left fielder not named Williams, Bonds, Henderson, Rose, Yastrzemski, Simmons, Goslin, Delahanty or Stargell. And for four years, from 1976-1979, Foster was a worthy rival of any slugging outfielder.


One way to judge the value of a player is by how many times he makes an all-star team, how many Gold Gloves he wins, and how many times he places in the MVP voting. In the following table I "add up" such awards to determine each player's "star rating," giving two points for each all-star selection and each finish in the top 25 in the MVP voting. I have awarded ten extra points for winning the MVP and five for finishing in the top ten. To balance offense and defense, I have given two points for each Golden Glove (GG) and one point for every superior offensive season (SOS) with either a 100+ OPS or more than 162 total bases (an average of a base per game). On this scale, 0 is average, 1-25 is above average, 26-50 is a star, 50-100 is a superstar, and anything over 100 is a baseball immortal. 

(#1) Pete Rose: 1 MVP award, 15 MVP nominations with seven top tens, 17 all-star games, 2 GG, 21 SOS = 134 (immortal)
(#2) Johnny Bench: 2 MVP awards, 10 MVP nominations with five top tens, 14 all-star games, 10 GG, 15 SOS = 128 (immortal)
(#3) Joe Morgan: 2 MVP awards, 7 MVP nominations with five top tens, 10 all-star games, 5 GG, 19 SOS = 108 (immortal)
(#4a) Tony Pérez: 7 MVP nominations finishing as high as third with three top tens, 7 all-star games, 17 SOS = 60 (superstar)
(#4b) George Foster: 1 MVP award, 5 MVP nominations finishing 1-2-3-6-12, 5 all-star games, 13 SOS = 58 (superstar)
(#4c) Dave Concepción: 3 MVP nominations finishing as high as fourth with two top tens, 9 all-star games, 5 GG, 13 SOS = 57 (superstar)
(#7) Ken Griffey: 2 MVP nominations finishing as high as eighth, 3 all-star games, 16 SOS = 31 (star)
(#8) Cesar Gerónimo: 1 MVP nomination finishing 25th, 4 GG, 6 SOS = 16 (well above average)

Three interesting things to note: (1) Pete Rose nudges out Johnny Bench by virtue of six more superior offensive seasons because Rose was basically indestructible and Bench played the hardest position health-wise; (2) Pérez, Foster and Concepción are tightly bunched in positions 4a-4c; and (3) Concepción, Griffey and Gerónimo were much better players than the "weak sisters" of teams like the 1927 Yankees, the 1939 Yankees, the 1961 Yankees, and the 1998 Yankees. (Sorry, Yankees fans, but the 1976 Reds rule, with no weaknesses!)

My conclusion, after looking at the Great Eight from every possible angle, is that the Core Four were really the Superior Six, because in his prime Foster was as good or better than Pérez, and Concepción truly was a superstar shortstop for his era. And for that one magical season, Ken Griffey Sr. was about as good as Rose. Then, to top it off, Gerónimo had his best offensive season, by far, to go with his defensive excellence. I think the chart above reflects the "long-term" value of the Great Eight, but in 1976, Griffey was a superstar and Gerónimo was a star, so the team looks like this, resorted to account for 1976 performances:

(#1) Joe Morgan (immortal) MVP#1, 9.6 WAR, Gold Glove, the best player in 1976, first in OBP, slugging and OPS; second in runs, RBI, walks; third in steals and extra-base hits (all MLB)
(#2) George Foster (superstar) MVP#2, 5.9 WAR, first in RBI; second only to Morgan in slugging percentage; fourth in total bases and OPS; fifth in homers and extra-base hits (all MLB)
(#3a) Pete Rose (immortal) MVP#4, 6.9 WAR, first in games, plate appearances, hits, runs and doubles; second in total bases while batting lead-off; fourth in OBP (all MLB)
(#3b) Ken Griffey (superstar) MVP#8, 4.6 WAR, with stats almost identical to Rose's: second in batting average, fourth in runs, fifth in OBP (all MLB)
(#5) Johnny Bench (immortal), 4.6 WAR, Gold Glove, World Series MVP, first among NL catchers in runs, homers, walks and steals; second in doubles, RBI, OBP and slugging
(#6) Dave Concepción (superstar), 4.4 WAR, Gold Glove, first among NL shortstops in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, hits, homers and RBI; second in doubles; third in steals
(#7) Tony Pérez (superstar), 2.6 WAR, first among NL first basemen in triples, homers and extra base hits; second in runs, doubles, slugging and RBI; fourth in hits, total bases, OPS and steals
(#8) Cesar Gerónimo (star) MVP#25, Gold Glove, 2.7 WAR despite hitting eighth, first among NL outfielders in triples; third in OBP; fifth in batting average; tenth in steals

Why were the 1976 Reds so very hard to beat? They had two fantastic "table setters" in Rose and Griffey. They had a crazy-good "hybrid" slugger hitting third in Joe Morgan. If someone was on base, he led all MLB in slugging. If no one was on base, he led all MLB in OBP and was a great base stealer. So he could also "set the table" when necessary, with a walk and a steal. Next up was "The Destroyer" who led all MLB in RBI and was second only to Morgan in slugging. Then it was one of the all-time-great RBI men in Pérez. He was followed by Johnny Bench, a two-time MVP with two of the greatest offensive seasons ever recorded by a catcher. Batting seventh was Concepción, probably the best clutch hitter on the team. Then in the eight hole it was Gerónimo having his best offensive season, hitting .307 with 201 total bases. And if all that offense wasn't offensive enough, the Reds were one of the best defensive and base-running teams of all time!

The Best Baseball Team of All Time

Quite obviously, when your "worst" player wins four consecutive Gold Gloves, has an arm so powerful and accurate that no one dares run on him, and bats .307 with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 201 total bases and 22 steals, finishing 25th in the MVP voting despite hitting eighth in the order ... well, you have have a helluva team. From top to bottom, there has never been a team as good as the 1976 Reds, all things considered. Or, to be more accurate, there hasn't ever been a team that was really even that close to the 1976 Reds, when we consider defense, baserunning and intangibles as well as hitting.

One very unusual thing about the 1976 Reds compared to the other "greatest of all time" teams is how good they were offensively at the "more defensive" positions. At catcher they had the greatest of all time, Johnny Bench. They also had the greatest second baseman of the modern era, if not the greatest ever, in Joe Morgan. They had the best overall shortstop of that era, Dave Concepción. They had the all-time hits and hustle leader at third base, Pete Rose. And they had one of the best defensive center fielders of all time having a monster offensive year in the eight hole, Cesar Gerónimo. At the "more offensive" positions, they had superior hitters in Tony Pérez, George Foster and Ken Griffey Sr. On every other "greatest of all time" team, there were one or more "weak sisters" either offensively or defensively. Usually there were at least two or three players who were average or below average. I will prove this later on the page, but for now my claim is that the 1976 Reds were the greatest team of all time for the following reasons: (1) all eight starters were all-stars and at least six (perhaps seven) belong in the Hall of Fame; (2) the Reds were not only an offensive juggernaut but also were among the best teams ever on defense and on the bases; (3) the Reds had a "Superior Six" who were better than the six best players of any other team and the next two were leaps and bounds above the "weak sisters" of other teams. So as far as starting lineups go, in my opinion the 1976 Reds were decidedly the best.

The Greatest Team of All Time

Okay, now back to the 1976 Reds and their case as the greatest baseball team of all time ...

The 1976 Reds had one of the greatest hitting infields of all time, based on OPS+, which measures on-base percentage and slugging relative to other hitters the same season, with anything above 100 being better than average:

C  Johnny Bench 109 (a down year for him, due to injuries, but still a strong season for a catcher, as he led all MLB catchers in walks and base-stealing, and was in the top five of most major batting categories )
1B Tony Pérez 118 (not his best hitting season, either, but still a very productive year with 91 RBIs; also he led all MLB first basemen in homers and was second in slugging percentage by a whisker)
2B Joe Morgan 186 (one of the best seasons by a second baseman in the modern era, or any era; he slugged more than 100 points higher than the closest second baseman, Rod Carew)
SS Dave Concepción 107 (outstanding for a shortstop of that era; a great clutch hitter, he led the Reds with 15 game-winning hits and led all MLB shortstops in hits, slugging percentage and RBI)
3B Pete Rose 141 (a typical ultra-productive year from the all-time hits leader; he led all MLB third basemen in hits, runs and doubles)

That's a combined OPS+ of 661, not including an outfield with sluggers George Foster (150), Ken Griffey Sr. (140) and Cesar Gerónimo (125). Including the outfield, that's a total combined OPS+ of 1,076 with an average OPS+ of 134.5. And while that may not be an official statistic, or very scientific (i.e., adding and averaging percentages), it does suggest that the 1976 Reds were far above average, from the top of the lineup to the bottom. The outfield was also exceptional:

RF Ken Griffey Sr. 140 (led all MLB outfielders in batting average, runs and OBP, was second in hits, fourth in OPS, fifth in triples, ninth in steals and thirteenth in slugging)
CF Cesar Gerónimo 125 (led all MLB outfielders in triples, was second in OBP, eighth in batting average, and fifteenth in OPS)
LF George Foster 150 (led all MLB outfielders in RBIs, slugging and OPS, was third in homers, fifth in triples, sixth in hits, ninth in average, eleventh in runs, thirteenth in OBP)

Here's another interesting fact: no other team in modern baseball history has had eight different position players with at least an 100 OPS+ and 550 plate appearances. Every member of the Great Eight had an OPS+ above 100 in 1976. The team had a combined average OPS+ of 134.5, which is higher than the 1961 Yankees with Maris, Mantle and Berra, and higher than the 1939 Yankees with DiMaggio, Keller and Dickey. The 1961 Yankees had three "weak sister" hitters, while the 1939 Yankees had two starters who hit .235 or lower with OBPs barely above .300. The team most often compared to the 1976 Reds is the 1927 Yankees. But the 1927 Yankees were weak at catcher, shortstop and third base. They had two starters with OBPs barely above .300. They were lackluster base-stealers, with a glaring dearth of speed up the middle, and were less than stellar defensively. And based on runs per game compared to the league average, the Reds were better hitters and sluggers:

The 1927 Yankees were 28% above the league average in runs scored
The 1976 Reds were 33% above the league average in runs scored

The 1976 Reds were much better athletes, much faster and more efficient on the basepaths, much better defensively, and much sounder top-to-bottom than the 1927 Yankees. In my opinion, the Yankees were only clearly better at two positions: RF (Babe Ruth) and 1B (Lou Gehrig). The Reds were clearly much better at C (Bench), 2B (Morgan), 3B (Rose), SS (Concepción) and LF (Foster). When we take into account that in 1927 there were no black players, that relief pitching was not as advanced, that there were no night games, and that the players were not as athletic as they are today, it seems obvious that if the teams matched up, the Yankees would not have the same gaudy statistics. I would put my money on the Reds, without reservation.

How dominant were the 1976 Reds offensively? Another way to rank them is by the OPS of each starter, comparing all players in both leagues: Morgan (#1), Foster (#4), Rose (#7), Griffey (#10), Gerónimo (#30), Pérez (#39), Bench (#57), Concepción (#61). (And Morgan's OPS was more than 100 points higher than the OPS of the second place finisher, Bill Madlock, so there were some huge gaps.) If we do the same thing with the other 1976 World Series team, the Yankees, we get: #25-#40-#43-#46-#48-#56-#77-#102. So it's not even close, and then we have to factor in the superior defense, base-stealing and intangibles of the Great Eight. So it's no surprise that in the 87 games that the Great Eight played together, they were so dominant (an otherworldly .793 winning percentage), because they really were that much better than the competition. Even if we compare the 1927 Yankees and give them full credit for their inflated statistics, the drop-off is apparent: #1-#2-#10-#16-#20-#72 and then the "weak sisters" are out of the top 100. And can anyone possibly believe that the 20th best hitter in 1927 according to OPS, Tony Lazzeri, was better than Pérez, Bench and Concepción? Pshaw!

Another way the 1976 Reds are clearly better than any other team, is by evaluation of each position according to various all-time rankings of the top players by position:

C Johnny Bench: #3, #2, #2, #1, #1, #1 = consensus 1.67
1B Tony Pérez: #20, #19, #26, #8 = consensus 18.25
2B Joe Morgan: #2, #2, #3, #3, #4, #2, #7, #2 = consensus 3.13
3B Pete Rose #20, #7, #4, #6 = consensus 9.25 (three of the rankings are for RF and LF, not 3B)
SS Dave Concepción: #30, #34, #45, #21 = consensus 32.50
LF George Foster #37, #27, #27, #24 = consensus 28.75

This means that six Reds starters were among the best 35 players at their positions, in the all-time rankings. Granted, Pete Rose was only a third baseman for four years, making it hard to evaluate him against full-time third basemen. But look at this another way: how many third basemen have done what Rose did in 1976, when he hit .323 with 215 hits, 130 runs, 299 total bases, 86 walks, .404 OBP, and finished fourth in the MVP voting?

Another method is to ask how the players are ranked regardless of position. Once again I have consulted multiple polls:

Joe Morgan #9, #9, #10, #10, #11, #14, #14, #17, #17, #19, #20, #20, #22, #24, #26, #27, #33, #35, #56, #89, #102 = consensus 27.00
Pete Rose #6, #9, #16, #17, #20, #25, #26, #29, #32, #33, #37, #38, #39, #45, #48, #51, #55, #64, #67 = consensus 34.58
Johnny Bench #13, #14, #17, #18, #18, #19, #25, #26, #27, #27, #28, #33, #43, #50, #52, #59, #73, #74, #79, #110 = consensus 38.33
Tony Pérez #44, #56, #59, #95, #107, #108, #115, #143, #157, #165, #167, #171, #235, #239 = consensus 132.79 (some of the polls cut off at 50-100-150-250-500, so there are fewer polls from this point down)
George Foster #153, #165, #174, #205, #216, #226, #251, #253, #267, #311 = consensus 222.10
Dave Concepción #42, #242, #290, #368, #375 = consensus 263.40
Ken Griffey Sr. #172, #214, #230, #273, #293, #324, #417, #422 = consensus 293.13
Cesar Gerónimo #469, #1278 = consensus 873.50

This seems remarkable to me. Three Reds starters are among the consensus top 40 baseball players of all time. Tony Pérez is a top 150 player, although that seems low to me, since he's 28th on the all-time RBI list, ahead of players who are usually ranked higher, such as George Brett, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Mize, Goose Goslin, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey. Three other Reds starters rank among the top 200-300 players of all time. The only starter who isn't ranked among the best 300 players of all time happens to be one of the best defensive and throwing center fielders ever, and is undoubtedly being penalized for his not-always-impressive hitting. But as I mentioned before, in 1976, 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. Concepción should be in the Hall of Fame, and probably will make it one day. But the Reds player who is the most slighted, in my opinion, is George Foster. In his prime years, he was baseball's most feared slugger. He 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. Are there 222 baseball players who can make that claim? Methinks not.

Please consider the 1975-1976 Reds who are in the Hall of Fame, or should be ...

C Johnny Bench
1B Tony Pérez
2B Joe Morgan
SS Dave Concepción*
3B Pete Rose**
LF George Foster***
Sparky Anderson (Manager)

* Dave Concepción has better offensive stats and was better defensively and on the bases than half the shortstop in the Hall of Fame, and will hopefully be inducted soon.
** Pete Rose would have had a cakewalk into the HOF, except for gambling problems that had nothing to do with his performance on the field.
*** George Foster was more dominant than many HOF outfielders, for a decade.

The two Reds starters who many not be HOF-caliber were still damn good: Ken Griffey Sr. and Cesar Gerónimo. Can you name any team in the history of baseball whose #7 and #8 players were that good? And certainly not in the modern era. Could the number #7 and #8 players for the 1927 Yankees have beaten out superb athletes like Griffey and Gerónimo? No, they were weak sisters even then: the idea is ludicrous! Perhaps Ruth and Gehrig were better than Foster and Pérez, although I have my doubts. But top-to-bottom the 1927 Yankees simply don't compare to the 1975-1976 Big Red Machine!

The bottom line is that the entire Reds infield is Hall-of-Fame caliber, including catcher. Can that be said about any other team in the history of baseball? And the Reds outfield was also superior in 1976, with George Foster, Cesar Gerónimo and Ken Griffey Sr. all having outstanding seasons, each hitting over .300 with power and speed. If Griffey and Gerónimo had repeated their 1976 performances every year, they would be candidates for the Hall of Fame as well.

More Trades: Trading the Great Eight for Equivalent Players

According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Pete Rose is the #14 player of all time, Johnny Bench is #39, Joe Morgan is #64, Dave Concepción is #154, George Foster is #189, Tony Pérez is #242, Ken Griffey Sr. is #494, and Cesar Gerónimo is #832. Quite obviously, the Great Eight had the number one infield of all time, by far. Especially if we consider catcher to be an infield position. (I will argue bitterly that Pérez with 1,652 career RBI at an RBI position is being shortchanged!) However, going with the guru's rankings and substituting comparable players at each ranking slot, we can come up with a comparable team of:

Pete Rose (#14, #1 at 3B) Mickey Mantle (CF), Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Rod Carew, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs,
Johnny Bench (#39, #2 at C) ≈ Hank Greenberg (1B), George Brett, Joe Medwick, George Sisler, Sammy Sosa, Cap Anson, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella, Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk
Joe Morgan (#64, #7 at 2B) ≈ Ernie Banks (SS), Reggie Jackson, Bill Terry, Mark McGwire, Dave Ortiz, Eddie Matthews, Goose Goslin, Paul Molitor, Craig Biggio, Nellie Fox, Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Kent

Dave Concepción (#154, #14 at SS)Roy Campanella (C), Hack Wilson, Willie Stargell, Dick Allen, Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff, Dick Groat, Maury Wills, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Fernandez
George Foster (#189, #31 at LF) ≈ Jackie Robinson (2B), Pie Traynor, Max Carey, Earle Combs, Enos Slaughter, Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Doerr, George Kell, Roger Maris, Tim Raines, Vada Pinson
Tony Pérez (#242, #23 at 1B*) ≈ Home Run Baker (3B), Max Carey, Elston Howard, Frank Chance, Moises Alou, Bob Meusel, Frank Howard, Rocky Colavito, Ted Kluszewski, Gil Hodges, Will Clark
Ken Griffey Sr. (#494, #72 at RF) ≈ Carl Furillo (RF), Jimmy Collins, Harry Hooper, Buck Ewing, Bill Skowron, Tony Kubek, Cesar Cedeno, Amos Otis, David Justice, Davey Johnson, Kevin Mitchell
Cesar Gerónimo (#832, #206 at CF) ≈ Kirk Gibson (LF), Frank Chance, Mark Koenig, Monte Irvin, Heinie Groh, Albie Pearson, Joe Adcock, Mule Haas, Eric Davis, Raul Mondesi, Carl Everett, Gary Matthews, Lou Pinella, Bobby Tolan, Lyman Bostock, Kirk Gibson, Dave Henderson, Tommy Harper, Cesar Tovar, Roy White

* I considered some players frequently listed as first basemen to have predominately played other positions. For instance, Joe Torre played catcher and third base during his prime years. Jim Thome and Miguel Cabrera played third and DH. Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi had many years in which they primarily played DH. Tony Pérez was an all-star four times at third base, but his other 19 years were spent predominately at first base, with 15 years exclusively at first. In other words, he really was a first baseman.

Another way to trade is what might be called "Hall of Fame WAR." I have taken each of the Great Eight and found the closest Hall of Fame players with similar career WAR

Joe Morgan is the #18 HOF player with 100.3 career WAR ≈ Charlie Gehringer (2B), Rod Carew, Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Matthews, Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs, George Brett
Pete Rose would rank #35 in the HOF with 79.1 career WAR ≈ Robin Yount (SS), Ozzie Smith, Joe DiMaggio, Brooks Robinson, Paul Molitor, Sam Crawford, Dan Brouthers
Johnny Bench is the #41 HOF player with 75.0 career WAR ≈ Reggie Jackson (RF), Paul Waner, Harry Heilmann, Luke Appling, Frank Thomas, Arky Vaughn, Johnny Mize
Tony Pérez is the #99 HOF player with 53.9 career WAR ≈ George Sisler (1B), Bill Terry, Orlando Cepeda, Joe Medwick, Enos Slaughter, Max Carey, Wee Willie Keeler, Mickey Cochrane
George Foster would rank #134 in the HOF with 43.9 WAR ≈ Hack Wilson (CF), Chuck Klein, Earle Combs, Frank Chance, Lou Brock, Edd Roush, Sam Thompson
Dave Concepción would rank #142 in the HOF with 39.8 WAR ≈ Pie Traynor (3B), Rabbit Maranville, George Kell, Red Schoendienst, Bill Mazeroski, Ross Youngs
Ken Griffey Sr. would rank #144 in the HOF with 34.4 WAR ≈ Roy Campanella (C), Lloyd Waner, Chick Hafey, Freddie Lindstrom, High Pockets Kelly, Ray Schalk
Cesar Gerónimo would rank #168 in the HOF with 13.0 WAR ≈ Tommy McCarthy (LF), Monte Irvin, Ned Hanlon, Al Lopez, Bucky Harris, Wilbert Robinson

Based on the Baseball Gauge wins above replacement (gWAR) formula, Morgan is #39 and can be traded for Joe DiMaggio, George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr., Cap Anson or Roberto Clemente. Johnny Bench is #70 and Pete Rose is #71; they can be traded for any two taken from Charlie Gehringer, Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Waner, Wade Boggs, Robin Yount, or Rod Carew. Pérez is #209 and can be traded for Mike Piazza, David Ortiz, Bill Terry or George Sisler. Concepción is #344 and can be traded for Pie Traynor, George Selkirk or Vic Wertz. Griffey with 33.0 gWAR can be traded for Roy Campanella, Hank Bauer, Joe Carter or Raul Mondesi. Gerónimo with 17.3 gWAR can be traded for Bobby Tolan, Gus Bell, Harry Walker or Gary Matthews. So I could assemble an all-hall-of-fame team of Roy Campanella, Bill Terry, Charlie Gehringer, Ernie Banks, Pie Traynor, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Medwick and Harry "the Hat" Walker. 

Another way to rank the Reds is by career WAR, according to These are the all-time WAR player rankings: Morgan (#21, 100.3), Rose (#40, 79.1, Bench (#48, 75.0), Pérez (#155, 53.9), Foster (#264, 43.9), Concepción (#326, 39.8), Griffey (#417, 34.4), Gerónimo (not ranked, 13.0 career WAR). To put this in perspective, Morgan is ranked higher than immortals like Jimmie Foxx, Cap Anson and Cal Ripken. Rose ranks above Joe DiMaggio, Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith. Bench is above Reggie Jackson, Paul Waner, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome. Pérez is above Mickey Cochrane, Orlando Cepeda and Ralph Kiner. Foster is above Chuck Klein, Charlie Keller, Jose Canseco, Darryl Strawberry, Tony Oliva and Earle Combs. Concepción is even with Dave Parker and Albert Belle, and above Boog Powell, Hack Wilson, Roger Maris, Steve Garvey and Maury Wills. Griffey is above Roy Campanella, Pedro Guerrero, Joe Adcock and Gavvy Cravath. Gerónimo compares with Albie Pearson, Lyman Bostock, Mule Haas and Harry "the Hat" Walker.

According to WAR rounded to the closest even number, by trading down for each Red, I could assemble a team consisting of Roy Campanella (C, three-time MVP, averaged 32 homers and 114 RBI per 162 games), Jimmie Foxx (1B, .325/.428/.609./1.038 with 534 homers and 1,922 RBI), Charlie Gehringer (2B, .320/.404/.480/.884 with 1,775 runs), Ernie Banks (SS, 512 HR, 1,636 RBI), Pie Traynor (3B, .320/.362/.435./.797), Ralph Kiner (OF, seven-time NL home run leader, .548 career slugging percentage), Hack Wilson (OF, highs of 56 HR and all-time season record 191 RBI, .545 career slugging percentage) and Lyman Bostock (CF, .311/.365/.427/.791). 

Or for a team of old-timers, I could trade for Mickey Cochrane (C, .320/.419/.478/.897), Al Simmons (1B, .334/.380/.535/.915 with 1,828 RBI), Charlie Gehringer (2B, .320/.404/.480/.884 with 1,775 runs), Cecil Travis (SS, .314/.370/.416/.786), Jimmie Foxx (3B, .325/.428/.609./1.038 with 534 homers and 1,922 RBI), Chuck Klein (RF, .320/.379/.543/.922) or Hack Wilson (CF, 191 RBI in a single season), Lefty O'Doul (LF, .349/.413/.532/.945) and Babe Herman (CF, .324/.383/.532/.859).

Or if I took the Reds' combined WAR for the Great Eight of 439.4 and "spent" it on whomever I please, I could assemble a team of Roy Campanella (C, 34.2), George Sisler or Bill Terry (1B, 54.2), Jackie Robinson (2B, 61.5), Ernie Banks (SS, 67.4), Pie Traynor (3B, 36.2), Al Simmons (OF, 68.7), Shoeless Joe Jackson (OF, 62.3), and Hack Wilson or Ralph Kiner or Chuck Klein (OF, 49.3). Or I could upgrade 2B to Charlie Gehringer, or CF to Joe DiMaggio, by opting for Lefty O'Doul or Lloyd Waner in one outfield position.

Those are very impressive "replacement" teams, and they help illustrate just how good the Great Eight really were. However, I think the career rankings undervalue the career years that Griffey and Gerónimo had in 1976, and the monster years that Morgan, Rose and Foster had. To get real value for the Reds, we need to use WAR, and focus on the 1976 season. To do this, I have taken each player's WAR in 1976 and multiplied it by a "typical" career of 15 years. Most of the Great Eight played more than 15 years, but I am trying to "guesstimate" where the Reds would have ended up on the all-time WAR rankings if they kept duplicating their 1976 achievements. Here's what I came up with:

Joe Morgan (9.6 x 15 = 144) ≈ Rogers Hornsby (2B), Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins
Pete Rose (6.9 x 15 = 109.5) ≈ Jimmy Foxx (1B), Albert Pujols, Cal Ripken
George Foster (5.9 x 15 = 88.5) ≈ George Brett (3B), Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr.
Johnny Bench (4.6 x 15 = 69) ≈ Ernie Banks (SS), Al Simmons, Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter
Ken Griffey Sr. (4.6 x 15 = 69) ≈ Carlton Fisk (C), Al Simmons, Ernie Banks, Eddie Murray, Gary Carter
Dave Concepción (4.4 x 15 = 66) ≈ Duke Snider (CF), Goose Goslin, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese
Cesar Gerónimo (2.7 x 15 = 40.5) ≈ Babe Herman (LF), Dave Justice, Tim Salmon
Tony Pérez (2.6 x 15 = 39) ≈ Hack Wilson (RF), Boog Powell, Dave Parker, Maury Wills

This one "feels" like it might be the most accurate so far. Pérez was still damn good, but had a bit of a down year, for him, and he doesn't get extra defensive and baserunning points like Gerónimo and Concepción. I believe that in this case, projected career WAR is reflecting a fairly accurate picture. If so, my "fairest" trades will result in a team of: Carlton Fisk, Jimmy Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Duke Snider, Babe Herman and Hack Wilson.

In win shares, the "great eight" have seven of the top 350 players of all time: Rose (#13), Morgan (#18), Bench (#88), Pérez (#108), Concepción (#297), Foster (#298) and Griffey (#329). If I were to trade down for the Great Eight, based on career win shares, I could assemble a team with any of the following:

C - Bench (#2, 365.4) for any catcher other than Yogi Berra: so Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Gary Cater, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, et al
1B - Pérez  (#16, 347.5) for any of the following: Hank Greenberg, Bill Terry, George Sisler, Ernie Banks, Johnny Mize, Orlando Cepeda, Gil Hodges, Mark McGwire, Steve Garvey, Boog Powell, Will Clark, et al
2B - Morgan (#2, 508.3) for any second baseman other than Eddie Collins: so Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Nap Lajoie, Rod Carew, Craig Biggio, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Jeff Kent, Nellie Fox, et al
SS - Concepción (#28, 269.6) for any of the following: Vern Stephens, Joe Tinker, Maury Wills, Phil Rizzuto, Al Dark, Dick Groat, Johnny Pesky, Marty Marion, Tony Fernandez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jim Fregosi, et al
3B - Rose (#1, 546.9) for any third baseman: so Mike Schmidt, Mel Ott, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Eddie Matthews, Pie Traynor, Home Run Baker, Wade Boggs, Brooks Robinson, Ron Santo, Darrell Evans, Dick Allen, et al
LF - Foster (#36, 269.3) for any of the following: Ralph Kiner, Charlie Keller, Bob Meusel, Albert Belle, Roy White, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Gary Matthews, Greg Luzinski, Hank Sauer, Dusty Baker, Kirk Gibson, et al
RF - Griffey (#37, 260.0) for any of the following: Chuck Klein, Babe Herman, Harvey Kuenn, Roger Maris, Darryl Strawberry, Paul O'Neill, Tony Oliva, Carl Furillo, Vic Wertz, Shawn Green, Felipe Alou, et al
CF - Gerónimo (#197, 106.8) for any of the following: Albie Pearson, Harry "the Hat" Walker, Don Demeter, Gary Matthews, Lyman Bostock, Billy Hatcher, Chad Curtis, Mitch Webster, Milt Thompson, et al

So using career win shares, always trading down, I could put together a team of Bill Dickey, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby, Vern Stephens, Mike Schmidt, Ralph Kiner, Chuck Klein and Albie Pearson or Lyman Bostock.

Or trading down based on win shares, I could go for an all-time OPS team of Mike Piazza (#47, .9217), Hank Greenberg (#6, 1.0169), Rogers Hornsby (#7, 1.0103), Vern Stephens (.8154), Mel Ott (#23, .9471), Ralph Kiner (#24, .9459), Chuck Klein (#48, .9218) and Lyman Bostock (.8120). In effect, I would be trading the superior speed and defense of the Reds for the highest possible on-base and slugging percentages. And yes, Mel Ott did play third base. Or I could substitute Mike Schmidt, George Brett or Chipper Jones there.

Using a fairer method of trading up one position or down any number of positions, I could assemble a team of Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Harry Heilmann and Albie Pearson or Lyman Bostock.

Using the Reds' combined win shares of 2,673.8 to "buy" replacement players, I could assemble a "murderers' row" of Roy Campanella (205.9), Jimmie Foxx (431.1), Charlie Gehringer (381.5), Ernie Banks (332.4), Pie Traynor (273.0), Joe DiMaggio (385.9), Shoeless Joe Jackson (288.1) and Al Simmons (372.9). That shows just how great the Great Eight really were.

In win shares above bench (WSAB), Morgan ranks #24 and could be traded for Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez or Jimmy Foxx. Rose ranks #31 and could be traded for Reggie Jackson, Cap Anson or Joe DiMaggio. Bench ranks #114 and could be traded for Hank Greenberg, Joe Medwick or Bill Terry. Pérez ranks #168 and could be traded for Carlton Fisk, Bill Dickey or Jackie Robinson. Foster ranks #303 and could be traded for Ernie Banks, Gil Hodges or Steve Garvey. Griffey ranks #355 and could be traded for Roger Maris, Roy Campanella or Jimmy Collins. Concepción with 50.3 WSAB could be traded for Monte Irvin, Ralph Garr, Rabbit Maranville, Luis Aparicio, or Dick Groat. Gerónimo could be traded for Omar Vizquel, Daryl Boston, Billy Hatcher or Dave May. So using WSAB, I could assemble a team of Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Omar Vizquel, Mike Schmidt, Ernie Banks, Joe DiMaggio and Monte Irvin. 

Using the Hall of Stats rankings, I could trade the Great Eight for a team of Roy Campanella, Jimmy Foxx, Nellie Fox, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Al Simmons, Dusty Baker and Mike Devereaux. The players I traded, respectively, were Foster (#392), Morgan (#31), Concepción (#536), Pérez (#286), Bench (#42), Rose (#65), Griffey (#765), Gerónimo (13.0 career WAR). Other Reds high in the Hall of Stats rankings include Tom Seaver (#24), Frank Robinson (#28) and Ken Griffey Jr. (#48). The Hall of Stats also provides "near equivalent" players:

Joe Morgan Jimmy Foxx, Mike Schmidt, Ken Griffy Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Charlie Gehringer, Eddie Collins
Johnny Bench Joe DiMaggio, George Brett, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Bill Dickey (or any other catcher)
Pete Rose Al Simmons, Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, Rod Carew
Tony Pérez Ernie Banks, Enos Slaughter, Jim Rice, Willie Keeler
Dave Concepción Nellie Fox, Maury Wills, Dick Groat
George Foster Roy Campanella, Don Mattingly, Kiki Cuyler, Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges
Ken Griffey Sr. Dusty Baker, Bobby Murcer, Shawn Green, Jim Bottomley
Cesar Gerónimo Mike Devereaux, Ken Berry, Gary Matthews

Again, these rankings confirm how good the Great Eight really were. But once again the career rankings tend to undervalue the career years that Griffey and Gerónimo had in 1976. That year, Griffey had a stellar 140 OPS+. Hall of Fame right fielders with comparable OPS+ ratings are Reggie Jackson, Chuck Klein, Paul Waner and Al Kaline. Gerónimo had an excellent 125 OPS+. That compares with centerfielders like Earl Combs, Kirby Puckett, Bernie Williams, Eric Davis and Lyman Bostock. So my "adjusted" Hall of Stats team becomes: Roy Campanella, Jimmy Foxx, Nellie Fox, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Al Simmons, Reggie Jackson and Eric Davis. That's a helluva team, but I still like the original Reds better because they were better defensively and on the basepaths. Trading for OPS neglects the real value of players like Gerónimo, Concepción, Morgan and Bench―who were Gold Glove winners and superior base stealers.

The cogs of the Big Red Machine also play well in the power-speed rankings: Morgan (#6), Rose (#128), Griffey (#134), Concepción (#173), Driessen (#174), Bench (#332), Foster (#512), Pérez (#531), Gerónimo (#811). Trading down or for near equivalents, I could assemble a team of Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Eddie Collins, Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Aaron, Paul Waner and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Foster is #302 and can be traded for Joe Medwick, Kiki Cuyler, Vern Stephens or Ichiro Suzuki.

But I think the fairest approach to trading is my own system, which is based on fairness. The Reds were unusual in that they had such great players at the most critical defensive positions: catcher, second, shortstop and third base. When trading, that should be taken into account. Bench at catcher and Morgan at second are worth more than hard-hitting first basemen and outfielders. Bench is the greatest player of all time at a critical position, so I should be able to trade him for anyone, including Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Ted Williams. I believe Pérez is undervalued because first base is an RBI position and many of the ranking systems seem to undervalue or ignore RBIs. I should be able to trade Pérez for other first basemen with fewer career RBI, such as Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey and Hank Greenberg. Morgan was the greatest all-round second baseman of all time, so I should be able to trade him for any other second baseman, including Rogers Hornsby and Charlie Gehringer. According to Bill James, Concepción is better than all but ten hall-of-fame players at another premium position. So I should be able to trade him for a top ten player at a less critical position, such as Pie Traynor or Adrian Beltre. Rose ranks with the very best third basemen of all time, so I should be able to trade him for a top five player at another position, such as Mike Piazza or Mike Schmidt. Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348) and 11th in RBI (1,239) and slugging percentage (.480), so he should be traded for similar value: a top twenty power-hitting left fielder like Joe Medwick, Billy Williams, Ralph Kiner or Willie Stargell. Griffey compares favorably with HOF outfielders Enos Slaughter, Kiki Cuyler and Lloyd Waner. Gerónimo compares with Albie Pearson, Lyman Bostock and Harry "the Hat" Walker. So according to my "fairness" doctrine, I can trade the 1976 Reds for a team of Mike Piazza, Ernie Banks, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Joe Medwick, Kiki Cuyler and Albie Pearson.

Thus, according to stats like WAR and win shares, the Great Eight truly were great, and we can see just how great by considering the players they could be exchanged for. Do I like my new teams better than the 1976 Reds? No, because they are not as good defensively or on the basepaths. I will keep my beloved Reds. I just did the "swapping" to demonstrate the quality of the team according to career WAR. If I were trading, it would be hard to give up Bench's defense and power, Morgan's all-round excellence, Rose's leadership and versatility, and Foster's intimidation factor. And I really can't get comparable value for Gerónimo and Griffey, who both had career years in 1976. So I will keep the Big Red Machine, thank you very much!

How about the 1927 Yankees? Their career WAR rankings tell us that Ruth (163.1) and Gehrig (112.4) were truly great. But there is a huge drop-off to Tony Lazzeri (49.9) and Earle Combs (42,5), especially considering their defensive limitations. There is another significant drop-off to Bob Meusel (27.6). Then we have three career sad sacks in Mark Koenig (7.6), Joe Dugan (9.3) and Pat Collins (6.8). Here's a position-by-position comparison:

C - Johnny Bench is the #1 catcher of all time (75.0) advantage over Pat Collins (6.8) = 11X
1B - Tony Pérez is the #27 first baseman of all time (53.9) disadvantage to Lou Gehrig (112.4) = negative 2X
2B - Joe Morgan is the #4 second baseman of all time (100.3) advantage over Tony Lazzeri (49.9) = 2X, which doesn't begin to illustrate the real difference here
SS - Dave Concepción is the #42 shortstop of all time (39.9) advantage over Mark Koenig (7.6) = 5X
3B - Pete Rose is the #7 third baseman of all time (79.1) advantage over Joe Dugan (9.3) = 9X
RF - Ken Griffey Sr. is the #71 right fielder of all time (34.4) disadvantage to Babe Ruth (163.1) = negative 5X
CF - Cesar Gerónimo is the #204 center fielder of all time (13.0) disadvantage to Earle Combs (42.5) = negative 3X
LF - George Foster is the #30 left fielder of all time (43.9) advantage over Bob Meusel (27.6) = 2X

Obviously, Babe Ruth has a huge advantage over Griffey. But Gehrig is only a "double" at first base due to the Reds having a hall-of-famer and one of the greatest RBI men of all time at that position. However, Morgan has as big an advantage over Lazzeri as Gehrig does over Pérez. The only other advantage the Yankees have over the Reds is in center field. But that advantage is negated by Foster's clear superiority to Meusel. We are left with three positions where the Red absolutely clobber the Yankees: catcher (11X), shortstop (5X) and third base (9X). So career WAR tells me that the Reds were the much better all-round team, and that the advantage of Ruth, Gehrig and Combs (the third perhaps a mirage due to his abysmal arm) was vastly overcome by the superiority of Bench, Morgan, Concepción, Foster and Rose at their positions. And there is probably another mirage, because I don't believe that Combs was three times the player Gerónimo was. Nor do I think that Gehrig was twice the player Pérez was. The Yankees' batting statistics were inflated by their era. There has never been a first baseman who was twice as good as Pérez, not even the Iron Horse. If they played in the same era, Gehrig might still be the better hitter, but their statistics would be much closer. And to be quite frank, playing in the same era, Foster would probably be comparable to Ruth, and Pérez to Gehrig. But for the sake of argument, let's say that Ruth and Gehrig are still superior. Combs may have an offensive advantage in center, but let's take away half a point for his defensive limitations. The Reds win every other position, hands down. So the final tally is 6 1/2 to 2 1/2. The Reds are clearly the better team, with the Yankees committing 196 errors and having two catchers and a center fielder with lame arms. The Reds would have run wild on them.

Now, back to the trading ...

If I am trading on career OPS+, which doesn't take into account the great defense and base-stealing of the Great Eight, I can still acquire a team consisting of Yogi Berra or Roy Campanella (C), Steve Garvey or George Sisler (1B), Charlie Gehringer or Rod Carew (2B), Ozzie Smith or Ernie Banks (SS), Paul Molitor or Adrian Beltre (3B), and an outfield taken from among Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn, Sammy Sosa, Earle Combs and Bob Meusel. Here are other potential trades based on career OPS+ ...

Joe Morgan 132 career OPS+ for Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Tony Oliva, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Goose Goslin
Johnny Bench 126 career OPS+ for Bill Dickey, Rickey Henderson, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Earle Combs, Wee Willie Keeler, George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Paul Molitor
George Foster 126 career OPS+ for Bill Dickey, Rickey Henderson, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Earle Combs, Wee Willie Keeler, George Sisler, Carl Yatrzemski, Jim Rice
Tony Pérez 122 career OPS+ for Roy Campanella, Paul Molitor, Tony Lazzeri, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Jim Bottomley, Ernie Banks, Gil Hodges, George Sisler, Ryan Howard
Pete Rose 118 career OPS+ for Joe Cronin, Paul Molitor, Derek Jeter, Vern Stephens, Brooks Robinson, Andre Dawson, Bob Meusel, Steve Garvey, Adrian Beltre, Pie Traynor
Ken Griffey 118 career OPS+ for Joe Cronin, Paul Molitor, Derek Jeter, Vern Stephens, Brooks Robinson, Andre Dawson, Bob Meusel, Carlton Fisk, Steve Garvey
Cesar Gerónimo 93 career OPS+ for Willie Wilson, Paul Blair, Doc Cramer, Bobby Tolan, Mule Haas, Jim Piersall, Gary Matthews
Dave Concepción 88 career OPS+ for Ozzie Smith, Phil Rizzuto, Luis Aparicio, Rabbit Maranville, Dick Groat, Maury Wills, Gary Templeton, Bert Campaneris

So trading for "near equivalent" OPS+,. even though this tends to devalue the Great Eight by ignoring their superior defense and baserunning, I can assemble a team of Roy Campanella (C), Steve Garvey (1B), Charlie Gehringer (2B), Ozzie Smith (SS), Pie Traynor (3B), Roberto Clemente (RF), Willie Wilson (CF), Rickey Henderson (LF)

Trading for "pure OPS" I could assemble a team of near eqivalents, which again tends to undervalue the Reds' defense and base-stealing prowess ...

Joe Morgan .819 career OPS  for Rod Carew, Rickey Henderson, Ernie Banks, Keith Hernandez, Bobby Doerr, Joe Gordon
George Foster .818 career OPS for Rickey Henderson, Adrian Beltre, Roger Maris, Joe Adcock, Boog Powell, Dixie Walker, Howard Baines
Johnny Bench .818 career OPS for Paul Molitor, Derek Jeter, Vern Stephens, Zack Wheat, Dale Murphy, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Torre
Tony Pérez .804 career OPS for Home Run Baker, Wee Willie Keeler, Frankie Frisch, Joe Sewell, Dave Parker, Matt Williams, Andre Dawson
Ken Griffey .790 career OPS for Steve Garvey, Cal Ripken, Frank Chance, Brooks Robinson, Darrell Evans, Bill Skowron, Lonnie Smith, Lou Whitaker
Pete Rose .784 career OPS for Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Steve Garvey, Frank Chance, Mickey Vernon, Dave Kingman, George "Killer" Kell
Dan Driessen .767 career OPS for Gary Carter, Ichiro Suzuki, Lou Brock, Steve Garvey, Lee May, George Scott, Nate Colbert, Thurman Munson, Brooks Robinson
Cesar Gerónimo .693 career OPS for Bert Campaneris, Willie Wilson, Paul Blair, Bobby Tolan, Ned Hanlon, Harry Wright, Bill Virdon, Otis Nixon, Mookie Wilson, Cesar Tovar
Dave Concepción .697 career OPS for Ozzie Smith, Phil Rizzuto, Luis Aparicio, Rabbit Maranville, Joe Tinker, John Ward, Leo Durocher

I took advantage of the fact that Dan Driessen had a strong career OPS to pick up Bert Campaneris as a utility player. My "equivalent OPS team" is Gary Carter (C), Steve Garvey (1B), Rod Carew (2B), Ozzie Smith (SS), Home Run Baker (3B), Robin Yount (RF), Paul Molitor (CF), Rickey Henderson (LF), Bert Campaneris (UT). Campaneris once played all nine positions in a single game, and was an accomplished base stealer.

Another way to trade is by "near equivalents" for each position. I have tried to find the "closest match" at each position. This gives me a team of ...

(C) Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Mike Piazza (for Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher of all time based on overall excellence)
(1B) Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Mark McGwire, Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg (for Tony Pérez, based on career RBI at an RBI position)
(2B) Nap Lajoie, Charlie Gehringer, Rod Carew, Frankie Frisch (for Joe Morgan, one of the greatest second basemen of all time based on overall excellence)
(SS) Ozzie Smith, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, Maury Wills (for Dave Concepción, who ranks around the middle of the 21 hall-of-fame shortstops according to Bill James)
(3B) Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Home Run Baker, Pie Traynor (for Pete Rose, whose career WAR would rank him the 7th best third baseman of all time, ahead of Molitor)
(LF) Jim Rice, Albert Belle, Willie Stargell, Joe Medwick (for George Foster, based on WAR7, because for a decade he was the equal of Rice, Belle, Stargell, et al)
(CF) Paul Blair, Marquis Grissom, Mickey Stanley, Darin Erstad, Jim Piersall, Ken Berry (for Cesar Gerónimo, based on multiple Gold Gloves and similar career OPS+).
(RF) Bob Meusel, Carl Furillo, Reggie Sanders, Harold Baines, Paul O'Neill, Jackie Jensen (for Ken Griffey Sr., based on WAR7)
(UT) Bill Melton, Carney Lansford, Dave Magadan, Gil McDougald, Toby Harrah, Chris Sabo (for Dan Driessen, based on similar career OPS and the ability to play several positions)

Bios of the Great Eight

C: Johnny Bench was the greatest catcher ever, combining hitting, power, defense, footwork, throwing, leadership, intimidation, imagination, innovation, durability and intangibles. Where others merely donned the "tools of ignorance," Johnny Baseball actually improved them. He was a baseball genius. Bench won ten consecutive Gold Gloves, two MVPs, three RBI titles, two home run titles, was an all-star 14 times, and was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot with 96.4% of the vote (the third highest ever). Bench was number 16 on The Sporting News list of the Hundred Greatest Baseball Players, and the highest-ranking catcher. ESPN named him the best catcher ever. Bench was also elected to the MLB All-Century Team as the top vote-receiving catcher, and to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team. How good was Johnny Bench? Well, he was a major league catcher and hit a home run as a teenager! At age 20, he was the NL Rookie of the Year and the first catcher ever to win a Gold Glove as a rookie. At age 22, Bench became the youngest NL MVP, leading the league with 45 home runs and a franchise-record 148 RBI. At age 24, he won his second MVP, leading the NL with 40 homers and 125 RBI. By age 24, Bench had booked two of the greatest offensive seasons ever by a catcher and had five Golden Gloves. But then a spot was detected on his lung and major surgery was required to remove it. I heard Bench speak on a sports radio show recently, and he admitted, quite frankly, "I was never Johnny Bench again." Bench also mentioned his surgeons telling him that he had the "worst shoulder" they had ever seen when they removed 30 bone chips. In 1975, he played with severely damaged cartilage in his shoulder after an early-season collision, but only missed 20 games by delaying major shoulder surgery till after the season. In 1976, he suffered with spasms due to what turned out to be a potassium deficiency, but still played 135 games. Even his mother said in an interview that his body was becoming an old man's by age 28. But he kept playing through the pain. As the years mounted, playing baseball's most demanding position, Bench's injuries also mounted: 14 broken bones, severe back pain that required hospitalization, arthritis of the chest from being hit by batted balls, surgery on the other shoulder, etc. Toward the end of his career, Bench ruefully observed: ''I've been shot with so many pain-killers that if I were a race horse I'd be illegal!'' And yet despite all his physical woes, Bench set a record by playing 100 or more games at catcher for 13 consecutive seasons. And even though he was really only "Johnny Bench" for five full seasons, he still managed to drive in 80 or more runs nine times times, to hit 10 or more home runs 15 times, and remarkably to be in the lineup nearly all the time no matter how much he was suffering. Some experts (or inexperts) claim that Mike Piazza was the better catcher because of his offense, but Bench's hitting statistics (other than batting average) are very close to Piazza's, and he had more runs, doubles, triples, walks and RBIs. Bench was also a much better and more active base stealer (over a two-year span, he stole 24 bases and was only caught twice). Defensively there was no comparison, as Bench won ten gold gloves to none for Piazza. And Bench was a pioneer of his position: one-handed catching using an oversized flex-hinged glove to protect his throwing hand, catching balls backhanded, wearing a batting helmet backwards to protect his head, etc. How good was Bench at throwing out and controlling base stealers? His manager, Sparky Anderson, said: "When we got into a tight game, we never worried about the other team running on us. They had to hit the ball to beat us. Do you realize the edge that gave us over a 162-game season?" As one sportswriter pointed out, Mike Piazza was "a likely Hall of Famer" but he lacked Bench's "off-the-chart athletic gifts." The only thing that kept Bench from owning all the important all-time catching records other than batting average was his health. But still he was the best, and second is not even close.

1B: Tony Pérez, the Reds' Mr. Clutch, was an RBI machine, with 1,652 career ribbies. He had more career RBI than Ernie Banks, Goose Goslin, Nap Lajoie, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Al Kaline, Willie McCovey, Tris Speaker, Willie Stargell, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew. During the decade of the 1970s, Pérez had 954 RBI, second in major league baseball only to Bench's 1,013. Pérez was also remarkably consistent, with 14 consecutive seasons in which he had 200 or more total bases and 70 or more RBI. And he was a real "money" player. Dave Bristol said: "If there is a way to win a baseball game, Tony Pérez will find it." One of the other all-time-great RBI man agreed: "With men in scoring position and the game on the line," said Willie Stargell, "Tony's the last guy an opponent wanted to see." Pérez was also a very positive figure in the dugout and locker room. He was "always up," according to Bench. After he was traded, Reds GM Bob Howsam said: "It was the worst mistake I ever made. I didn't realize how important he was to our team." The Big Red Machine was never the same again. Sparky Anderson agreed with Howsam, saying that Pérez had been the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine. Like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Sparky Anderson, Tony Pérez is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His full name is Atanasio Pérez Rigal.  

2B: Joe Morgan is a Hall of Famer who put together otherworldly numbers from 1972-1977; he was the best all-round player at his position in modern times, and quite possibly of all time. He won five Gold Gloves and two MVPs, was an all-star 10 times, and had an OBP of .400 or higher nine times in his stellar career. He stole 689 bases, walked 1,865 times and scored 1,650 runs. He was the first baseball player to retire with more than 600 stolen bases and a success rate of over 80%. Those are all exceptional numbers for a second baseman, in any era. And Morgan was remarkably consistent, with an OPS+ of over 100 for a remarkable 20 consecutive seasons. He leads all second basemen in times-on-base, walks and stealing efficiency; he is second in steals; third in games; fourth in at-bats (despite all the walks); fifth in runs, home runs and OBP; ninth in doubles and hits (again, despite all the walks); eleventh in RBI and OPS. And like Bench, he was selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team.

SS: Dave Concepción was an all-star nine times; he also won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. He merits consideration for the Hall of Fame, being as good or better overall than enshrined shortstops such as Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Ozzie Smith. There were 22 shortstops in the Hall of Fame as of 2012. Among them, Concepción ranks 8th in games, 9th in plate appearances and homers, 10th in at-bats and stolen bases, 11th in hits and RBI, 15th in slugging and 19th in average and OBP. With offensive numbers like those combined with his defensive prowess, speed and athleticism, it's hard to understand why he isn't in the HOF. Concepción's career defensive WAR of 20.9 places him in the Top 40 all-time, regardless of position, right between Honus Wagner and Graig Nettles, and ahead of defensive specialists like Ed Brinkman and Larry Bowa. Concepción also offered way more offense than most shortstops of his era. He had 2,300 hits and twice hit double-digit home runs: his 16 home runs in 1979 is the most for any National League shortstop between 1967 and 1982. He was also an accomplished base stealer who was rarely thrown out. For six years (1974-79), he was the game's best all-around shortstop. Through 1979, he had won five Gold Gloves. Then in 1980, Ozzie Smith won his first of 14 straight Gold Gloves. Smith's defensive dominance hurt Concepción's ranking, as did the rise of offensive-minded shortstops like Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr. Concepción was also overshadowed by the Reds' "big five" of Rose, Bench, Morgan, Pérez and Foster. Not many people know it, Sparky Anderson said, but on the Big Red Machine, the hitter with the highest success ratio with runners in scoring position was Concepción. "And as good as Ozzie Smith was defensively, Davey doesn't take a back seat to anybody," Anderson said. "Davey had a superb arm, and great, great range. And pop-ups? Oh my goodness. He loved to catch pop-ups. I told (former Reds coach) Alex Grammas, 'One of these days they are going to open the gate out in left field and Davey's going to run past the left-fielder and catch one.' He could jump higher than any man I've ever seen." So let's give honor where honor is due, and put a great shortstop where he belongs: in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

3B: Pete Rose is the all-time leader in hits, games played, plate appearances and at-bats. He is the only baseball player to play 500 or more games at five different positions (1B, 2B, 3B, RF, LF) and he was an all-star 17 times at those positions. It was Rose's versatility that allowed the Great Eight to play together, when he shifted to third base to make room in the outfield for George Foster. Rose also won two Gold Gloves despite playing musical chairs, position-wise. And while he is not usually thought of as a slugger, Rose has the most extra-base hits and total bases by a switch hitter, and he also holds the NL record for doubles. He also has more total bases than immortal sluggers like Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott and Jimmy Foxx. Hell, Rose has more than a thousand total bases more than Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Sammy Sosa, Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt! Rose was also highly durable, holding the record of 17 seasons appearing in 150 or more games. And he was remarkably consistent, holding the record of 10 seasons with 200 or more hits. He was the NL rookie of the year in 1963, the NL MVP in 1973, and the World Series MVP in 1975. He finished in the NL's top 25 in batting 17 times, and in the top 25 in OBP a remarkable 20 times. At age 44, he was on base nearly 200 times, with 86 walks, a .395 OBP and eight steals while only being caught once. That year, his walks and OBP both ranked fourth in the NL. That's insane! It is absolutely ridiculous to keep Rose out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, considering some of the people currently enshrined (more on this later), so let him in too!

LF: George Foster was a five-time all-star and 1977 MVP who led the NL in home runs twice (1977-1978) and RBIs three times (1976-1978). His three consecutive RBI crowns tied a MLB record. Foster was the final piece of the "awesome eight." He was the only major league baseball player to hit more than 50 homeruns for a span of 25 years, and for a decade (1975-1984) he was the most feared power hitter in the game. During that decade he was a remarkably consistent slugger, finishing in the NL top ten in homers nine times, in RBI eight times, and in OPS seven times. He finished in the top three of the MVP voting three times, and five times in the top twelve, within a span of six years (1976-1981) in which he averaged 33 homers and 112 RBI per year. For three years (1976-1978) he averaged 40 home runs and 130 RBI at a time when such stats were unknown. Foster's main rival as the NL's chief slugger for those three years was Mike Schmidt, but Schmidt lagged considerably behind Foster with an average of 32 home runs and 95 RBI per year. Foster belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, based on his peak years. He slugged .480 for his career, better than hall-of-famer left fielders Heinie Manush, Monte Irvin, Carl Yastrzemski, Joe Kelley, Jesse Burkett, Fred Clarke, Jim O'Rourke and Zach Wheat. Foster's 348 career homers would rank seventh among HOF left fielders, and his 1,239 career RBI eleventh. His prime years as a slugger were only exceeded by Ted Williams, Al Simmons, Joe Medwick and Ralph Kiner among the HOF left fielders. The only thing keeping Foster out of the HOF is the fact that his career was on the short side, but in fewer years he produced more than most of his left field competitors. Should he be penalized for that? And one reason Foster was a late bloomer is that it very difficult to crack a Reds outfield that from 1971-1975 included Rose, Griffey, Gerónimo, Bobby Tolan (who hit .316 and led the NL in stolen bases with 57 in 1970), Bernie Carbo (who slashed .264,.387/.427/.814 for his career), Hal McRae (a three-time all-star who slashed .290/.351/.454/.805), Merv Rettenmund (.271/.381./.406./.786) and Dan Driessen (who hit .280 or higher four of five seasons from 1973-1977, with speed and power, while moving from position to position in search of playing time). All the aforementioned players had nice careers, so the Reds outfield was a hard nut to crack, and Foster wasn't able to start regularly until Rose moved to third base in 1975. Foster’s physique was so impressive that Joe Morgan said it was surpassed only by Willie Mays’s, while Pete Rose opined that Foster was “too strong to be playing baseball. He should be hunting bears with switches.”

CF: Cesar Gerónimo won four consecutive Gold Gloves from 1974-1977. He was a stellar defender with a cannon for an arm. Ted Kluszewski, the Reds' hitting coach, said: that Gerónimo "is like a center in basketball—he intimidates you. Not only is his arm incredibly strong, it's also accurate. No one, I mean no one, runs on him." And in 1976 Gerónimo had a banner offensive year, finishing 2nd in the NL in triples (11), 5th in intentional walks (13), 6th in OBP (.382) and stolen base percentage (81.48%), 10th in batting average (.307), 16th in stolen bases (22), 20th in OPS (.795), and 23rd in slugging percentage (.414). While Gerónimo is not a candidate for the Hall of Fame, he was a damn good player. Center fielders he compares with based on his career WAR include Harry "The Hat" Walker, Albie Pearson, Mule Haas and Lyman Bostock. How good was Gerónimo on defense? Reds manger Sparky Anderson called his defense "ungodly." According to, Gerónimo ranks #46 among the greatest defensive outfielders of all time. He also ranks among the top 100 outfielders for career fielding percentage, tied with Don Buford and Fred Lynn at .9884, and ahead of defensive superstars like Richie Ashburn, Paul Blair, Barry Bonds, Roberto Clemente, Andre Dawson, Dwight Evans, Curt Flood, Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, Kenny Lofton, Willie Mays, Kirby Puckett and Larry Walker. (By the way, in a seldom-heard fact, Pete Rose is tied for 32nd at .9911.) The list of centerfielders better defensively than Gerónimo is short and may consist of Andruw Jones and Devon White. And while sometimes fielding percentages don't tell the whole story, because slower players may not get to as many balls to make plays, that was definitely not the case with this defensive genius. I quote: "Gerónimo's arm was matched only by his uncommon grace in patrolling centerfield. His long, smooth strides allowed him to close on fly balls that most outfielders simply could not get to in time. A track coach once measured Gerónimo's stride at nine feet, nearly two more feet than that of the average runner. He excelled at making the spectacular look routine, at turning diving catches into easy outs." I think we don't hear much about Gerónimo these days for two reasons. First, Garry Maddox won eight consecutive Gold Gloves and gave Gerónimo serious competition for the crown of best defensive centerfielder. Second, Gerónimo was overshadowed by his teammates who produced more offensive fireworks. But Gerónimo hit .280 in the 1975 World Series, with two home runs and a triple, slugging .680 with 15 total bases in seven games. And he hit .308 in the 1976 World Series, slugging .462 with two doubles and two steals in six games. So he had a habit of coming through when it mattered most. In an interesting Reds trivia note, Gerónimo was the 3000th strikeout victim of both Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson.

RF: Ken Griffey Sr. was a three-time all-star who finished as high as eighth in the MVP voting. He hit .300 or better nine times, and finished his career with more than 2,000 hits. In 1976 he had a banner year, almost winning the NL batting championship and slashing virtually even with the immortal Pete Rose. And while Ken Griffey Sr. has not been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he may deserve an asterisk of sorts, as his son Ken Griffey Jr. was elected on his first attempt in 2016, with the highest percentage of votes in baseball history, 99.32% (breaking the record of another former Red, Tom Seaver, who held the previous record with 98.84% of the vote in 1992). Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 draft. He made it to the majors two years later as a teenager, was the AL Rookie of the Year, and always seemed destined for greatness. In 1989, Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father-and-son combination to play during the same Major League Baseball season, when Junior was called up by the Seattle Mariners while Senior was playing with the Cincinnati Reds. They became Seattle Mariner teammates in 1990. The Griffeys became the first father-and-son tandem to play on the same Major League Baseball team when they started together for the Seattle Mariners against the Kansas City Royals on August 31, 1990. In Senior's first game as a Mariner, on August 31, 1990, the pair hit back-to-back singles in the first inning and both scored. They both finished with identical stats: one hit in four at-bats with one run scored apiece. On September 14, 1990, in the top of the first against California Angels pitcher Kirk McCaskill, the Griffeys hit back-to-back home runs, becoming the first and only father-son duo ever to accomplish such a feat. The dynamic duo played a total of 51 games together before Senior retired in June 1991 at age 41. Ken Griffey Jr. who hade been a bat-boy for the Reds in his youth, later played and starred for the Reds for nine years (2000-2008). And while I will not insist that Ken Griffey Sr. should be in the Hall of Fame, he at least merits consideration, as he would rank 14th among right fielders in walks and stolen bases, 18th in games and hits, and 22nd in runs, OPS and OPS+. He is, at the very least, a contender.

Now, back to the 1976 Big Red Machine and the "great eight" ...

In 1976, Johnny Bench, despite playing only 135 games, led all MLB catchers in walks and stolen base effectiveness (13 for 15), and finished in the top five in runs, doubles, home runs, RBI, OBP, slugging and OPS
In 1976, Tony Pérez, despite playing only 139 games, led all MLB first basemen in home runs and triples, was second in doubles and slugging percentage, fourth in runs and steals, and fifth in RBI and OPS
In 1976, Joe Morgan, despite playing only 141 games, led all MLB second basemen in runs, home runs, RBI, walks, OBP, slugging and OPS (in some cases by huge margins)
In 1976, Dave Concepción won his third of five gold gloves and led all MLB shortstops in hits, RBI and slugging percentage
In 1976, Pete Rose at age 35 led all MLB third basemen in games, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs and doubles; he finished second in total bases and OBP despite competing with Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Bill Madlock
In 1976, George Foster, the "Destroyer," led all MLB outfielders in RBI, slugging, OPS and intimidation
In 1976, Ken Griffey Sr. led all MLB outfielders in runs, batting average and OBP, and was fourth in OPS
In 1976, Cesar Gerónimo won his fourth consecutive gold glove and led all MLB outfielders in triples; he was third in OBP (after Rose and Griffey) and eighth in batting average

My point? Well, at each position the 1976 Reds were competitive with the best players in all major league baseball that year. You don't trade Bench, Pérez, Morgan, Concepción, Rose, Foster or Griffey even-up for anyone at their respective positions. And that year Gerónimo was competitive offensively with Fred Lynn, Rick Monday and Cesar Cedeno. With Gerónimo's speed and glove, there's really no reason to trade him head-up either. Yes, it's tempting to consider Mike Schmidt at third, but he didn't win a World Series until Rose joined the Phillies, and the Reds didn't need another 38 homers. Rose was a better fit for the Reds, even playing out of position. Yes, there were some nice right fielders who hit more home runs than Griffey, but in 1976 he was offensive dynamite and there were no major upgrades available. This is why the trade of Pérez after the World Series was so puzzling. The Reds were set at every position. Why try to fix what ain't broke, as we say down south? Yes, Dan Driessen was a nice player who was younger and faster ... but still he wasn't Tony Pérez, the Hall-of-Famer who was a joy in the clubhouse, a father figure to the younger Hispanic players, and a clutch hitter who would end up with more RBI than Schmidt, Hornsby, Mantle and DiMaggio. And Pérez was far from done, as he averaged around .280 with 90 RBI for the next four years. Hell, he hit 31 doubles, 25 homers and drove in 105 runs at age 38! Double-hell, even at age 43 the ever-young Pérez slugged .470 and drove in 33 runs in 183 at-bats. That's comparable to 100 RBI for a full-time player. There really is no substitute for talent, and Pérez had a knack for driving in runs, rain or shine, year after year after year.

Career Highlights of the Great Eight

Johnny Bench won a gold glove as a rookie and went on to earn ten consecutive gold gloves while averaging 29 homers and 100 RBI for that decade; he redefined the catching position while hitting 40+ homers twice
Tony Pérez rivaled Bench as a home-run and RBI man; he averaged 28 homers and 103 RBI for a decade, hitting 18+ homers and driving in 90+ runs 12 times
Joe 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
Pete Rose was the only MLB 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 OBP and was on base nearly 200 times at age 44
George Foster averaged 29 homers and 100 RBI for a decade in which he ruled as the most intimidating slugger in major league baseball; he was better for those ten years than most hall-of-fame outfielders
Dave 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
Ken Griffey Sr. 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
Cesar Gerónimo won four consecutive gold gloves, had great range and speed (as evidenced by his leading all MLB outfielders in triples in 1976 while stealing 22 bases), and had a canon-like arm

This impressive lineup includes the best catcher of all time (Bench), the best all-round second baseman of all time (Morgan), the all-time leader in games, wins, plate appearances, at-bats, hits, times on base, and hustle (Rose), baseball's most feared slugger for a decade in his prime (Foster), the best all-around shortstop of his era (Concepción), one of the best RBI men in baseball history who averaged nearly 100 RBI for an amazing fifteen consecutive seasons (Pérez), a .336 hitter who "slashed" as good as Rose in 1976 (Griffey), and an exceptional defensive center fielder who packed plenty of pop in his bat (Gerónimo). 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. (Ironically, Rose was listed as an outfielder and Pérez as a third baseman, but that shows how versatile greatness can be. Rose played six positions during his career―seven if we consider playing-while-managing to be a position. Pérez played third base for five years, averaging 29 home runs and 107 RBI per season, making the all-star team four times, and finishing in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times and in the top 20 four times. So he certainly qualifies as an all-time great third baseman offensively, although he was no Brooks Robinson in the field. Rose, on the other hand, was a superior defensive outfielder.)

Going to WAR with the Great Eight

Perhaps the best way to rank the Reds is by all-time WAR at their respective positions. This seems like the most accurate method that I've come up with, although it doesn't account for the career-best performances of some of the Reds in 1976. However, it does help us to rank each player against his closest peers. So let's see what has to say, position by position:

C Johnny Bench is #1 with 75.0 career WAR, followed by Berra, Cochrane, Campanella, Fisk, Carter, Rodriguez, Dickey, Piazza. Would I trade Bench for anyone below him? Not a chance!
1B Tony Pérez is #27 with 53.9 career WAR. But his RBI make him my #9 first baseman, behind Gehrig, Foxx, Musial, Anson, Greenberg, Murray, Pujols and the still-climbing Cabrera.
2B Joe Morgan is #4 with 100.3 career WAR, behind Hornsby, Collins and Lajoie. They were all great players, but Morgan had the best combination of speed, power and defense, so I have him #2 after Hornsby. 
SS Dave Concepción is #42 with 39.9 career WAR. He doesn't compare defensively with Ozzie (who does?) or offensively with Wagner, Rodriguez, Ripken, Yount, Jeter, Banks, Vaughan, Cronin or Larkin. I have him #18. 
3B Pete Rose is #7 with 79.1 career WAR. I would put him #8 after Schmidt, Robinson, Brett, Jones, Matthews, Boggs and Traynor. What Rose lacked in power and defense at third, he made up in hits, hustle and heart.
LF Pete Rose is #5 and George Foster is #36 with 43.9 career WAR. I would drop Rose to #7 after Simmons and Goslin. I would raise Foster to #22 because for ten years he outslugged everyone in MLB.
CF Cesar Gerónimo is #203 with 13.0 career WAR. This ranking does not reflect the exceptional year he had in 1976, but he was only exceptional for four gold glove years, so around #200 seems within reason.
RF Ken Griffey Sr. is #64 with 34.4 career WAR. Griffey was an above-average player for 14 years, and he flirted with greatness for half those years. But #64 seems about right for his career.
UT Pete Rose (2B/3B/1B/LF/CF/RF) is my #2 utility player, after Babe Ruth (P/RF/LF/1B) who was a clutch pitcher with an 0.87 ERA and 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in three World Series starts

What the analysis above tells me is that the 1976 Reds did not have a weak spot in their starting lineup. Six of the players are among the all-time best at their positions, and the other two were all-star-caliber and MVP-candidate players having career years. Bench and Morgan are, virtually by consensus, either the best players of all time at their positions, or in the top five. If you care more about power and homers than RBI and intangibles, you may favor first basemen who had higher slugging percentages than Pérez, but hopefully you will agree that 1,652 RBI and a great clubhouse presence and leadership make him one of the top 10-25 first basemen of all time. I don't see how he can drop much lower than 20th at first base, since he has more RBI than all but 19 hall-of-famers, irrespective of position! And while Rose gets the slap that he was "just a singles hitter," he ended up only slightly behind Babe Ruth in total bases, and ahead of legendary sluggers like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Reggie Jackson. In fact, Rose has more than a thousand total bases more than Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Al Simmons, Cap Anson and Mickey Mantle! All those singles, doubles and triples really did add up. And Rose's longevity and indestructibility really are remarkable. He was still going strong at age 44, reaching base nearly 200 times, with an OBP of .395. But the Red who has been most slighted, in my opinion, is George Foster. For ten years. Foster was the most dominant and most feared slugger in major league baseball. Are there really 36 left fielders who were better than Foster in his prime? Would you take Roy White, Minnie Minoso, Sherry Magee or Bob Johnson over "The Destroyer" in a pickup game? Me neither.

How good were the 1976 Reds? Well, quite justifiably Bench, Morgan, Pérez and manager Sparky Anderson are in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. (If you have any quibbles with Pérez, please consider the fact that first base is an RBI position, and Pérez has more RBI than 227 of the 247 members of the HOF! Only two full-time first basemen in baseball history have more RBI than Pérez, those being Lou Gehrig and Eddie Murray. 'Nuff said.) Rose obviously would have been in the HOF long ago, if not for gambling that had nothing to do with his performance on the field. I will make the case below that Foster and Concepción have strong arguments to be inducted as well. And the two remaining players, Griffey and Gerónimo, were way above average. As we will soon see, the other candidates for the greatest team of all time each had "weak sister" hitters at the bottom of the lineup―guys who were hitting .230 or lower with OBPs around .300. That is not the stuff of greatness! In 1976, Griffey "slashed" as good as Rose, who was having one of his most productive years. Gerónimo graded out as one of the best MLB outfielders in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS, and he was a gold-glove-winning centerfielder with a canon arm (so strong that almost nobody even tried to run on him), and a great base stealer. There were no weak chinks in this chain!

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 more than 100 runs more than their competitors, other than two altitude-aided Colorado Rockies teams.
The 1976 Reds went 109-60, including a perfect 7-0 record in the postseason.
By sweeping the Phillies and Yankees, 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 of baseball.
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 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.

The 1976 Reds had just average pitching (the National League's combined ERA that year was 3.51 and the Reds' team ERA was also 3.51). The Reds had a not-so-great bench. The team was an offensive and defensive juggernaut primarily because of the Great Eight ...

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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