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Cincinnati 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+
1960 Leo Cardenas (age 21): GG(1), #10 WAR 27.3
1960 Deron Johnson (age 21): 245 home runs, 923 RBI, 102 OPS+
1962 Tommy Harper (age 21): GG(2), RoY, 1,609 hits, 408 stolen bases, 101 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+
1968 Alex Johnson (age 25): .288 BA, 1,331 hits, 105 OPS+
1969 Bobby Tolan (age 23): 1,121 hits, 193 stolen bases, 95 OPS+
1969 Bernie Carbo (age 21): RoY, 96 home runs, 358 RBI, 126 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
1970 The Reds win the NL pennant with a record of 102-60, led by Bench, Perez, Rose, Tolan, May and Carbo
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!
1972 Joe Morgan (age 28): HOF, MVP(2), AS(10), 689 stolen bases, #2 WAR 100.3, 132 OPS+
1972 Cesar Geronimo (age 24): GG(4), 977 hits, 13.0 WAR, 93 OPS+
1972 Bernie Carbo slumps and is traded to the Cards for Joe Hague; Bobby Tolan is traded for Clay Kirby
1972 The Reds win the NL pennant with a record of 95-59, but lose the World Series to the Oakland A's
1973 Dan Driessen (age 21): 1,464 hits, 153 home runs, 154 stolen bases, #12 WAR 20.4, 113 OPS+
1975 The Reds win the NL pennant going 108-54, then win one of the greatest World Series ever, over the Red Sox
1976 The Reds win the NL pennant going 102-60, then sweep the Phillies and Yankees in the postseason
1976 Pete Rose at age 35 leads the NL in PA, hits, runs and doubles
1977 Tony Perez is traded to Montreal Expos (the Big Red Machine loses its first major cog); Tom Seaver is traded to Reds
1977 The Big Red Machine scores 802 runs but finishes 88-74, second to the hated Dodgers
1977 Pete Rose at age 36 leads the NL in games, PA and AB, gets his 3,000th hit, and hits in an NL-record 44 consecutive games
1978 Pete Rose at age 37 leads the NL in PA and doubles
1978 The Reds score 710 runs and finish 92-59, "close but no cigar" at 2.5 games behind the Dodgers
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
1979 The Reds score 730 runs and finish first in the NL West with a record of 90-71, but lose to the Pirates in the playoffs
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
1981 Pete Rose leads the NL in hits at age 40 and bats .325 for the Phillies
1981 Cesar Geronimo goes to the Kansas City Royals; Johnny Bench becomes a part-time first baseman, catching just seven games
1981 The Reds have the best overall record in the NL at 66-42, but don't make the playoffs due to an abbreviated "split season"
1982 Johnny Bench becomes a part-time third baseman; George Foster goes to the Mets, Ken Griffey Sr. to the Yankees
1982 The indestructible Pete Rose leads the NL in games played (162) at age 41 for the Phillies; the Reds drop to 61-101
1983 Pete Rose, at age 42, has 555 PA, then hits .375 in the NLCS and .312 in the World Series for the Phillies
1984 Bench and Morgan retire ... were they the greatest catcher and second baseman of all time? Rose heads north to the Expos.
1984 Rose rejoins the Reds as a player-manager, hits .365 with a .430 OBP and .888 OPS at age 43! Perez also rejoins the Reds.
1985 Rose breaks Ty Cobb's all-time hit record; Rose sports a .395 OBP at age 44, with 129 total bases and 86 walks!
1985 Rose ranks #4 in OBP, #5 in walks, goes 8-1 in steals, makes the All-Star team, and is second for NL manager of the year!
1985 Perez, at age 43, hits .328 with a 138 OPS+ in spot duty for the Reds
1985 With Rose, Perez and Concepcion on board, the Reds go 89-72, second to the Dodgers
1986 Barry Larkin (age 22): HOF, RoY, MVP(1), AS(12), GG(3), 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs, 379 steals, 116 OPS+
1986 The Reds score 732 runs and finish 86-76, second to the Astros
1987 Perez retires with 1,652 RBI, more than Hornsby, Schmidt, Mantle, DiMaggio, Banks, McCovey, et al
1987 Rose retires, holding the all-time records for games, wins, plate appearances, at-bats, hits and times-on-base
1987 Rose continues to manage the Reds, who finish second to the Astros with a record of 84-78
1988 Ken Griffey Sr. returns to the Reds at age 38 and hits .280 in spot duty
1988 The Reds finish second to the Dodgers with a record of 87-74
1989 Concepcion retires
1989 Ken Griffey Sr. at age 39 has 116 OPS+ in 106 games
1989 Pete Rose's last year as manager of the Reds; with a record of 426–388, Rose ranks fifth in Reds history for managerial wins
1990 Ken Griffey Sr. joins his son Ken Griffey Jr. with the Seattle Mariners; they hit homers in the same game!
1990 Ken Griffey Sr. at age 40 slashes .377/.443./.519/.963 with a 169 OPS+ after joining his son with the Mariners
1991 Ken Griffey Sr. at age 41 slashes .282/.380/.400/.780 with a 117 OPS+ in his final season
1992 Ken Griffey Sr. retires, the last of the Great Eight to play in the majors
2000 Ken Griffey Jr. becomes a Cincinnati Red, following in his father's footsteps
2010 Ken Griffey Jr. retires with 630 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers and 13 All-Star appearances
2016 Ken Griffey Jr. enters the Hall of Fame with 99.32% of the ballots, breaking Tom Seaver's record

Johnny Bench and Pete Rose are voted onto the MLB All-Century Team
Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan are voted onto the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BWAA) MLB All-Time Team
Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion are voted onto the Rawlings All-Time Gold Glove Team
Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Tom Seaver, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown

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.

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.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?

The Big Red Machine and the Great Eight

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 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. 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, 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 an MVP twice, an All-Star 14 times, and he leads all catchers in career WAR and JAWS.

• 1B Tony Pérez (*) was one of the greatest run producers ever, finishing with 1,652 RBI (more than legendary sluggers like Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Orlando Cepeda and Harmon Killebrew). Called "Mr. Clutch," Pérez ranks behind only Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in RBI among HOF first basemen who didn't spent much of their careers DH-ing.

• 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 is 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 (1972-1976)? Morgan's peak WAR was higher than baseball immortals Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams ... and every other player not named Ruth, Mays, Bonds, Hornsby, Mantle or Trout! 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 good!

• 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); 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 obviously belongs, or at the very least deserves strong consideration.

• 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 "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 in his/her right mind would claim that these legendary players were "not dynamic." So obviously Rose was. 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!)

• LF George Foster (*) aka "the Destroyer" was the most feared slugger of his era; in 1976 he hit .306/.364/.530/.894 with 29 homers and led all MLB with 121 RBI; he was second only to Morgan in slugging percentage. Foster 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 also finished 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 12th in the MVP voting. Foster compares favorably with HOF outfielders Joe Medwick, Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner, Zack Wheat, Jim O'Rourke, Joe Kelley, et al.

• 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 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.

• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) was a great defensive player with a cannon-like arm and outstanding speed; 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 defensive outfielders 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).

The Greatest 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.

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 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.

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  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).

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 freakin' team.

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

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