1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds: the Greatest Baseball Team of All Time?
Were the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds the greatest major league baseball team of
The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time,
Is Mike Trout the GOAT?, Best Baseball Nicknames,
Weird Baseball Facts and
Trivia, Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates,
Why Pete Rose
Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame,
Big Red Machine Timeline/Chronology,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7,
Weird Sports Trivia,
The Big Red Machine dominated the National League from 1970-1976, with a dynasty that won five division titles and four
pennants. During this impressive run the Reds appeared in four World Series, winning the last two
consecutively while going an astonishing 14-3 (82.4%)
in postseason play against the world's best teams. For five seasons, 1972-1976, the Reds averaged a .626 winning percentage and 100
victories per year. For nearly a decade, 1970-1976, they averaged 98 wins per
season. The 1975 Reds won 108 games, one of the best records in the
modern era, against very stiff competition (the Schmidt-Luzinski-Carlton Phillies, the Stargell-Parker-Oliver Pirates, the Simmons-Brock-McBride-Hernandez
Cardinals, and the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey-Buckner Dodgers). The 1976 Reds won 102 games despite injuries that often kept the starters from
playing together, and they remain the only major league baseball team to go undefeated in the postseason since divisional playoffs began.
As the only NL team in nearly 100 years to win
consecutive World Series, they definitely qualify as the greatest senior league team of
the modern era. But what about the AL? Were the 1975-1976 Reds the greatest baseball team of modern times? Were they the greatest baseball team of all time? I claim the answer
to both questions is "yes," especially when the focus is on
starting eights, and will proceed to provide the "whys" and "wherefores" ...
The 1976 Reds had a star-studded starting lineup called the "Great Eight" that was the best of all time when offense, defense,
baserunning and intangibles like hustle, versatility, clutch play and intimidation are considered. Members of the Great Eight collected six
MVP awards, four home run titles, six RBI titles, seven hits titles, six runs titles, three batting titles, 26 Gold Gloves and a staggering
65 All-Star selections. That's an average of eight All-Star appearances per starter!
Incredibly, seven of the Great Eight made
the 1976 NL all-star team. The only Reds starter who didn't make the
All-Star team that year, center fielder Cesar Gerónimo, hit .307, won a Gold
Glove, and finished 25th in the MVP voting despite batting eighth! Furthermore,
as I will document, the 1976 Reds were one of the best defensive and
base-stealing teams of all time. Up the middle, at the four most important
defensive positions, they had 24 Gold Gloves. As a team they stole bases at a
higher percentage than some of the all-time great base thieves. One cannot make
such claims about teams like the 1927, 1939 and 1961 Yankees.
But here's the most incredible stat of all: the Great Eight played only 87 games
together as a starting lineup and went 69-18 for an otherworldly .793 winning
percentage. Multiply .793 by 162 games, and you get 128 wins for a full season.
Were they really that good? "We didn't think we could get beat," said Joe
Morgan, "because we almost never did get beat." Then suddenly it was over, when
Tony Pérez was traded to Montreal. But those 87 games were enough to
stamp the signature of the Great Eight on baseball forever.
How good were the 1976 Reds offensively? They were
the only MLB team to lead their league in every major
hitting category. And they not only led the NL, they also led every team in the
AL as well, despite the huge advantage of the designated hitter! The
Red led all MLB in plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs,
doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage,
slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases and stolen base efficiency. No other team has led all these categories in
one league, much less both!
I will begin with quick capsule bios that give the main
recommendations for each player. I will then give expanded bios that are still
relatively brief, for anyone interested enough to keep reading. My premise is
that the 1975 Reds were undeniably great, but the 1976 Reds were the greatest
team of all time, due to career-best seasons by Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Sr.,
Cesar Gerónimo and George Foster (although Foster would have an even better year
in 1977, when he hit 52 homers, drove in 149 runs, and was the NL MVP). Because
it's very difficult to compare pitching between eras, I'm going to focus on
the position players, but in due course I will explain why the
fireballing Reds pitchers would have become Bob Fellers and Dazzy Vances if they
were transported back to the era of Ruth, Gehrig, et al. (Hint: the truth lies in
the strikeout statistics.)
The "slash lines" below are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging
percentage/OPS. An asterisk means the player is a superstar in the Baseball Hall
of Fame (HOF), or should be. A plus sign means the player was well above average
for his position. A minus sign would designate a below-average player, but you
won't find any weak spots in this stellar lineup.
• C Johnny Bench (*) was the #1 catcher of all time according to most rankings;
he was a slugging two-time MVP who won ten consecutive Gold Gloves
• 1B Tony Pérez (*) had 1,652 RBI (more than Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe
DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle and other immortal sluggers)
• 2B Joe Morgan (*) was the #1 second baseman of all time according to Bill
James; in 1976 the NL MVP led all MLB in WAR, Slugging, OBP, OPS and OPS+
• SS Dave Concepción (*) compares favorably with a number of HOF shortstops
including Reese and Rizzuto; he won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers
• 3B Pete Rose (*) is the all-time leader in games, wins, hits and times on base;
in 1976 he led all MLB with 215 hits, 307 times on base, 130 runs and 42 doubles
• LF George Foster (*) was baseball's most feared slugger in his prime and
compares favorably with many HOF outfielders; in 1976 he led all MLB with 121 RBI
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. (+) missed the 1976 batting title by an eyelash and slashed .336/.401/.450/.851
with 189 hits, 253 total bases, 111 runs and 34 steals
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) won one of four consecutive Gold Gloves in 1976 while
with 201 total bases, 22 steals and 11 triples
If we consider the stats of the Reds' bottom three players, the
excellence of the overall lineup becomes apparent. The infield is undoubtedly
the best of all time, as punctuated by Bill James with the word "WOW!" (And he
wasn't including Bench at the time.) Bench, Pérez, and Morgan are
in the HOF, and Bench and Morgan have legitimate claims as the all-time
best at their positions. Rose would have been a first-ballot HOFer if not for
gambling issues. Concepción was a star shortstop of the pre-steroid era, and
he compares favorably with half the shortstops in the HOF. So what about the
outfield? Foster played at an HOF level for a decade, but is handicapped by not
becoming a full-timer until age 26 because the loaded Reds lineup was so hard to
crack. (Rose had to move from left to third in order for Foster
regularly.) And yet Foster still has better numbers than a slew of HOF
outfielders, as I confirm in his expanded bio. Ken Griffey Sr. also played at a
HOF level for a decade but got a late start for the same reason. While he
probably won't make the HOF, Griffey's stats compare favorably
with those of several HOFers. In any case, Griffey certainly played at an HOF
level in 1976 and that is the focus of this discussion. Cesar Gerónimo is the
only member of the Great Eight who is not in a discussion for the HOF, but in 1976 he
too was playing at an exalted level, especially considering his gold glove,
cannon arm, speed and athleticism. So the bottom line is that the 1976 Reds had
the only team in history with four HOFers playing together in their primes, with
four other superstars all having HOF-caliber seasons. When your number eight
hitter has stats like Gerónimo's there is "magic in the air." And there
definitely was magic in the air for the Big Red Machine in 1976, when they swept
through the playoffs and World Series without losing a game, something no other
modern era team has managed.
Expanded Bios of the Big Red Machine
• C Johnny Bench (*) aka the "Binger Banger" was the greatest offensive/defensive catcher ever, in his prime years, and despite many injuries due to
the rigors of his position, he remains the Reds' all-time leader in homers, RBI and Gold Gloves.
Bench was MVP twice, an All-Star 14 times, and he leads all catchers in career WAR and JAWS.
How good was Johnny Bench? Here's what David Schoenfield said in his
article about the best players of all time, age 25 and under. Bench was the only
catcher to make the list [at age 22] because he was "the NL MVP after leading the league in home
runs  and RBI  while possessing the strongest arm many had ever seen―he
started 130 games at catcher and allowed only 32 steals while throwing out 30.
You did not run on Johnny Bench." 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
Reds manager Sparky Anderson advised, please don't embarrass any
other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench! According to Baseball Egg
no other catcher "was as great as Bench at his
peak and no one was as great for as long as he was. He has the best three-year
peak, the best five-year peak, and the second best seven-year peak. Bench kept
going and going: he's the only catcher to have as many as ten 4-WAR seasons (and
he had 12 of them). If you want a winner, he was behind the plate for four
pennant-winning teams and two World Champions. His [MVP] performance in the 1976
World Series, when he terrorized Yankee pitching and silenced their running
game, was his signature moment." Bench won a gold glove as a rookie
and went on to
earn ten in a row, while averaging 29 homers and 100 RBI for a
decade. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Johnny Bench is the #40 player of all time,
comparable to Mel Ott, Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett and Joe Medwick.
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Johnny Bench is the #34 player of all
time, comparable to Ott and Cal Ripken Jr.
• 1B Tony Pérez (*) aka "Mr. Clutch" was one of the greatest run producers ever, with 1,652 RBI.
That's more than legendary sluggers like
Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey,
Jeff Bagwell, Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell. Pérez was
called "Mr. Clutch" for a reason. As Stargell noted: "With men in scoring
position and the game on the line, Tony's the last
guy an opponent wanted to see." Only Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx
had more RBI among HOF first basemen who didn't spent
much of their careers DH-ing. Pérez also ranks in the all-time top 50 for total
bases, ahead of Mantle, Schmidt and his first base
peers previously mentioned. And
with 379 homers he's right up there with some impressive sluggers:
Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, Albert Belle, Frank Howard,
Ryan Howard, Jim Rice, Norm Cash, Cepeda and Bench. If you want your
first baseman to consistently produce lots of total bases and RBI, year after
year, then Pérez is in the upper tier. Even if you devalue total
bases and RBI, he still ranks in the top 20. Newarena.com has Pérez ranked as
the 17th best first baseman of all time, but I have him closer to the
top 10. Bill James has ranked Pérez around 12-13 over the years, above Eddie
Murray, Hank Greenberg, Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley, Cash and Cepeda. As
Baseball Egg pointed out, the Reds started to slip when they traded Pérez:
"Much has been written about The Big Red Machine, and rightfully so: the 1975-76
Reds are the best team since integration. The team's dominance ended abruptly
when they traded Perez to the Expos at the winter meetings in 1976." Pérez rivaled Bench as a home-run and RBI man, averaging 28 homers and
103 RBI for a decade. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Tony Pérez is
the #247 player of all time, comparable to Home Run Baker, Roger Maris, Max Carey, Larry
Doby, Joe Gordon, Ron Santo and Bob Meusel. But for ribbies at an RBI
position, Pérez has been vastly undervalued, in my opinion. I would rank him
closer to the players he most resembles: Killebrew, McCovey, Cepeda and David
Ortiz, with an average HOFM player rating of 98. According to Baseball
Prospectus BWARP, Pérez is the #137 player of all time, comparable to Jim
Rice, Tony Oliva and Albert Belle.
• 2B Joe Morgan (*) aka "Little Joe" may have been the greatest all-round second baseman ever; the 1976 NL MVP hit .320/.444/.576/1.020
with 27 homers, 111 RBI, 113 runs, 114 walks and 62 stolen bases; he also won five Gold
Gloves. Morgan has the highest career WAR among modern second baseman and ranks behind only Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins
and Nap Lajoie at his position; however, he may have been the best when we consider defense, getting on base, base-stealing
efficiency and power. In the
worst case, he's in the all-time top four. He's also one of only 20 position
players with 100 career WAR. As examples of his excellence,
Morgan is first among all MLB players in the number of years in the top ten for
stolen base percentage (15) and bases on balls (18). How rare was Morgan's 1976 season? Well, it would be 40 years before another second baseman
would lead either league in OPS. How good was Morgan for his peak five years of 1972-1976? Morgan's peak WAR
bested that of Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams ... and every other
HOF player not named Ruth, Mays or Mantle!
As Larry Granillo pointed out in his article on the greatest players by era: "Joe Morgan takes over as the best player in baseball in 1973.
His four-year run ends after two great years in '75 and '76 that find him
as far above the second best player as anyone else in history."
That opinion was seconded by The Sporting News, which made Morgan its
player of the year in 1975 and 1976. The only two-time winners prior to Morgan
were Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Sandy Koufax.
That's heady company! Morgan revolutionized the second base position with his
unique skills, averaging 100
runs, 109 walks, 40 steals and 18 homers for a decade. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Joe Morgan is the #64
player of all time, comparable to Johnny Mize, Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks, Mark
McGwire and Paul Molitor. But Morgan's peak was higher and we are talking
specifically about 1976. In his Historical Baseball
Abstract, Bill James named Morgan the best second baseman ever, ahead of Collins and Hornsby. James also named Morgan the "greatest
percentages player in baseball history" because of his strong fielding
percentage, stolen base percentage, walk-to-strikeout ratio, and
walks-per-plate-appearance. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Morgan
is the #13 player of all time, comparable to Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio.
• SS Dave Concepción (*) aka "El Rey" (the King) 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). A nine-time all-star, he 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 belongs in the HOF or at least deserves strong consideration.
Beyond the Box Score agrees, ranking
Concepción only slightly behind Derek Jeter as a HOF candidate and calling him a
"pretty bad snub." Concepción had a ten-year streak in which he either made the all-star team,
won a gold glove, or was an MVP candidate; he also slugged .397 or better
six times and drove in 60 or more runs seven times despite hitting lower down in
the Reds' loaded lineup. According to Andrew Robeson,
Concepción is the sixth best defensive shortstop of all time. With 21.4 dWAR,
Concepción ranks higher defensively than Honus Wagner, Bert Campaneris, Rey
Sanchez, Ed Brinkman, Bill Russell, Larry Bowa, Luke Appling, Dick Groat, Lou
Whitaker and Dal Maxvill. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Dave Concepción is the
#154 player of all time, comparable to Jackie Robinson, Hack Wilson, Willie
Stargell, Earle Combs, Pie Traynor and Pee Wee Reese (and he also ranks above 14 other HOF
shortstops). According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Concepción is the
#194 player of all time, comparable to Lou Boudreau, Gil Hodges, Pie Traynor and
• 3B Pete Rose (*) aka "Charlie Hustle" is the all-time leader in games, wins, plate appearances, at-bats, hits and times-on-base.
He also has the most top ten seasons for hits (17), times-on-base
(18) and plate appearances (19).
In 1976 he had a banner year, batting .323/.404/.450/.854 with 215 hits, 130 runs, 42 doubles, 86 walks and
299 total bases while leading off. Rose was an all-star at five
different positions: 1B, 2B, 3B, LF and RF. According to JAWS, Rose ranks
#5 among HOF left fielders, #6 among HOF third basemen, #7 among HOF second
basemen, and #8 among HOF right fielders. If we give him credit for his
staggering lifetime achievements, Rose ranks even higher. For instance, his 79.7
career WAR puts Rose #5 among HOF third basemen behind only
Schmidt, Mathews, Boggs and Brett. Naysayers often claim Rose was "just a singles hitter" and "not dynamic."
But that can easily
be refuted with WAR7, which measures a player's seven best years. Rose has a higher WAR7 than Kiner, Goslin,
Raines, Medwick, Stargell, Molitor, Gwynn,
Jeter, Anson, McGwire, Sosa and Piazza. Surely no one would claim those superstars were "not dynamic."
So obviously Rose was. Rose ranks #21 all-time in MVP
shares, ahead of Gehringer, Hornsby, Brett, Killebrew, Morgan, Ott,
Banks, and a host of other baseball legends. Here's another measure of Rose's dynamism: over
a 24-year career that obviously involved some slowing down at the end, he
averaged 98 runs, 194 hits and 262 total bases per 162 games. Again, that's
for a 24-year career. Those would be great numbers for most stars
in their primes! As for Rose being "just a singles hitter," he ended up with
only 41 fewer total bases than Babe Ruth.
And Rose was a winner; when the Phillies were trying desperately to claim their
first World Series title, they made the 38-year-old Rose the highest-paid player in
baseball and he responded by hitting .331 and leading the NL with a .418 OBP.
Next year the Phillies finally won it all. (A poll of 30 reporters named Rose the Phillies' greatest free agent acquisition.) Rose went on to lead the NL
in hits at age 40 and games played at 41. Hell, he had a .395 OBP and was on base nearly 200
times at age 44. Not dynamic, my ass!
Rose was "clutch" too: in 67 postseason
games he hit .321 and slugged .440, well above his career averages. He remains
fourth all-time in postseason WPA (Win Probability Added). Newarena.com ranks
Rose the #13
hitter of all time. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Pete Rose is the #15 player of all time, comparable to Foxx, Wagner, Mantle,
Gehringer, DiMaggio and Speaker. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP,
Rose is the #29 player of all time, comparable to Foxx, Gehrig and Ott. Despite
all his position changes, Rose won two Gold Gloves. Furthermore, a
study of Rose's dWAR suggests that his career WAR could have been around 20
points higher if had been able to play his best defensive position, left field.
That would put him in the top 20 position players. According to James Gentile,
Rose had one of the highest defensive peaks of all time at left field from
1972-1974, with 52.7 defensive runs saved. But Rose unselfishly switched positions
for the good of his team and as a result he's been undervalued. In any case, keeping Rose out of the HOF is a crime, when notorious gamblers, racists, drug users and wife abusers
are enshrined, including some of baseball's most luminous names: Cobb, Hornsby,
Anson, et al. According to the Not in the Hall
of Fame Committee, Pete Rose is number 1A on the list of players who should be
in the HOF, followed by Shoeless Joe Jackson, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. For
more information on this subject, please click
Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
• LF George Foster (*) aka "the Destroyer" was the most feared slugger of his era; in 1976 he hit .306/.364/.530/.894
with 29 homers and led all MLB with 121 RBI; he was second only to Morgan in slugging percentage.
Foster is the only NL hitter to win three consecutive RBI titles (1976-1978) since Joe
Medwick in 1938. During those three years (1976-1978) he averaged 40 homers and
130 RBI during a down time for hitters. Foster was the 1977 NL MVP and finished
1-2-3-6-12 in the MVP voting. He also led NL
left fielders in fielding percentage four times. If elected, Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348) and eleventh in RBI (1,239) and slugging percentage (.480). Foster compares favorably with HOF outfielders Medwick, Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner,
Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Enos Slaughter, Earle Combs, Kiki Cuyler, Zack Wheat,
Sam Thompson and Larry Doby. Foster's WAR7 puts him squarely
between Stargell and Rice (a very high peak indeed). The last time I
counted, there were 32 HOF outfielders who didn't strike me as better than
Foster; the majority of them seemed less good. The only slugging RBI types among the left
fielders markedly better than Foster, in my opinion, were Ted Williams, Carl
Yastrzemski, Al Simmons, Goose Goslin, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams and Ed
Delahanty. Medwick and Rice may be a notch above Foster, but it's getting close.
I would add speed merchants Rickey Henderson and Tim
Raines above Foster. That still leaves a sizeable list of HOF left fielders with fewer homers and RBI
than Foster, and below him in WAR7. 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 Rice in homers and RBI? Well it was hard for him to play left field when it was being manned by 17-time all-star Pete
Rose! The Big Red Machine was blessed with a two-decade unbroken string of excellent outfielders:
Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Rose, Tommy Harper, Deron Johnson, Alex Johnson, Bobby Tolan, Bernie Carbo,
Hal McRae, Griffey, Geronimo and Foster. When Rose moved to third, Foster was 26 and
he only played full-time for ten years. But his
162-game average was 29 homers and 102 RBI. Not many outfielders
can say that. Billy Williams averaged 28/96, Carl Yastrzemski 22/90 and Reggie Jackson 32/98.
They were great players, and Foster was in the same class for a decade. That
should be good enough for HOF enshrinement, since ten stellar years (or fewer)
were good enough for 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. According
to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Foster is the #166 player of all time,
comparable to Ernie Lombardi, Thurman Munson, Charlie Gehringer and Vada Pinson.
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. (+) combined speed (34 stolen bases) with
pop (.851 OPS); in 1976 he missed the NL
batting title by an eyelash and his .336/.401/.450/.851 slash line was nearly identical to Rose's. For his career, Griffey hit
.296 with a .431 slugging percentage, 2,143 hits, 152 homers, 200 steals and 1,129 runs.
Perhaps his most impressive stat is that he averaged 87 runs per 162 games for a
19-year career. Griffey compares favorably with HOF outfielders Earle Combs,
Kirby Puckett, Earl Averill, Richie Ashburn, Harry Hooper, Edd Roush, Kiki Cuyler,
Larry Doby, Enos Slaughter, Lloyd Waner, Chick Hafey, Ross Youngs, King Kelly,
Elmer Flick, Hack Wilson, Chuck Klein, Sam Thompson, Monte Irvin and Hugh Duffy.
Griffey's case for the HOF is not as strong as Concepción's and Foster's, but he
belongs in the conversation and that makes him a star.
Griffey made three all-star teams and was the 1980 MVP, hit .300 or
better nine times, slugged .400 or better seventeen times, stole ten or more
bases ten times, and hit ten or more homers nine times. According to the
Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Ken Griffey Sr. is the #493 player of all time,
comparable to Carl Furillo, Cesar Cedeno, Amos Otis, Kevin Mitchell, Brady
Anderson and Harry Hooper. According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Griffey
is the #445 player of all time, comparable to Chuck Klein, Heinie Manush and
"Little Poison" Lloyd Waner.
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (+) aka "The Chief" was a great defensive player with a cannon-like arm and outstanding speed
and athleticism; in 1976 he hit .307/.382/.414/.795
with 201 total bases and 22 steals. He also won
four consecutive Gold Gloves while competing against great glove men like Roberto Clemente, Garry Maddox, Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Cesar Cedeno, Bobby Bonds,
Dave Parker and Willie Davis. While Gerónimo is the only one of the Great
Eight who, in my opinion, is not in the conversation for the HOF, if he had
played the way he played in 1976 for an extended period of time, he would have been!
Gerónimo had great range and speed, as evidenced by his leading all MLB outfielders in triples in 1976 while stealing
22 bases. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Cesar Gerónimo is the
#857 player of all time, comparable to Kirk Gibson, Gary Matthews, Monte Irvin, Roy White, Lou Pinella, Bobby Tolan and Cesar Tovar.
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Gerónimo is the #978 player of all time,
comparable to Matty Alou and Ralph Garr. And
that is hellaciously good territory for any team's number eight hitter!
Excellence on the Basepaths
The 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals with an ultra-impressive .79 success rate.
By way of comparison, the list of players with more than 200 career steals
and a success rate of .79 or higher is very short and contains names like Tim
Raines, Davey Lopes, Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson. (To demonstrate how
rare this is, Joe
Morgan was the first player in MLB history to retire with more than 600 steals
and a success rate higher than .79!)
The Reds had a higher stolen base success rate than superstar base-stealers like
Lou Brock (.75), Mickey Rivers (.75) and Maury Wills (.74). So as a team the Reds were elite, Hall-of-Fame-caliber base stealers! On the other hand, Johnny Bench allowed only 32 stolen bases
by opposing baserunners, throwing out 46% of attempting stealers. So the Reds
had a huge advantage on the basepaths.
Here's an indication of just how good the Reds were defensively: Bench and
Morgan were selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team, while Concepción
was a finalist whose career defensive WAR puts him in the top 40 defenders of
all time, regardless of position. Cesar Gerónimo was good enough to be
considered for the Rawlings finalists, with four consecutive Gold Gloves, so
where it matters most, up the middle, the Reds had four defensive immortals. Can
that be said about any of the other "murderers' row" offensive teams? (The
question is rhetorical.)
In Ed Winkler's NL section of "The Best Fielders of the 1970s" Johnny Bench
and Joe Morgan were the runaway winners at catcher and second. Gerónimo was second only to Garry Maddox in a virtual dead heat, and Pete Rose and George Foster were
both in the top ten outfielders. Concepción was second only to Larry Bowa at short. Tony Pérez
was fourth at first base. Thus seven of the Great Eight were voted as being
among the best NL defenders for an entire decade!
There is an expanded discussion of the subject of defense later on this page.
Going to WAR with the Elite Eight
To comprehend how great the Elite Eight really were, let's consider how they compare to
their Hall-of-Fame and other peers at their respective positions ...
• C Johnny Bench #1 (75.0 WAR) followed by Berra, Cochrane, Campanella, Fisk, Carter, Rodriguez, Dickey, Piazza, Simmons, Hartnett
• 1B Tony Pérez #9-11 (53.9 WAR, 1,652 RBI) behind Anson, Gehrig, Foxx, Murray, Thomas,
Thome, Killebrew, McCovey
and possibly Greenberg, Mize, Bagwell
• 2B Joe Morgan #1-4 (100.3 WAR) possibly behind Hornsby, Collins and/or Lajoie (or
quite possibly ahead of them all)
• SS Dave Concepción #11-14 (according to Bill James; see the position
discussion below) close to Reese and ahead of Rizzuto, Tinker, et al
• 3B Pete Rose #6 (79.7 WAR) behind Schmidt, Matthews, Brett, Boggs and Brooks Robinson (the
up for his amazing defense)
• LF George Foster #12-15 (348 HR, 1,239 RBI) comparable to Rice, Kiner, Keller,
Wilson, Doby, Medwick, Klein, Slaughter, Wheat, Belle
• RF Ken Griffey Sr. #16-19 (2,143 hits, 1,129 runs) comparable to Maris,
Hooper, Combs, Puckett, Averill, Ashburn, Cuyler, Youngs
• CF Cesar Gerónimo (unranked) comparable to Albie Pearson, Pepper Martin, Harry
"the Hat" Walker, Gus Bell, Gary Matthews, et al
Please consider that Rose was playing out of position in order to help his team.
According to dWAR, left field was by far Rose's best defensive position. As I
mentioned previously, I believe Rose's career WAR would have been around 20
points higher if he had played left field for his entire career. That would put
him around 100 WAR, close to his teammates Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson and Mike
According to Fangraphs, among Hall-of-Famers, Pete Rose would be the #7 first baseman
after Jeff Bagwell, the #6 third
baseman after Brooks Robinson, the #7 right fielder after Roberto Clemente, the #6 left fielder
after Carl Yastrzemski, or the #5 second baseman
after his teammate Joe Morgan!
According to Fangraphs, Tony Pérez would be the #20 third baseman. He was an all-star
at third in his younger days.
Dan Driessen was a super-sub who played first, third,
left and right―with career highs of 81 runs, 91 RBI, 18
homers, 31 steals, and 251 total bases!
So the Reds had great versatility as well.
In an amusing note, when Jon Morosi and Dontrelle Willis picked their all-time starting nines, Morosi chose Joe
Morgan as his starting second baseman, while Willis chose Pete Rose for the same
position! The fact that they were both under consideration shows how incredibly strong the
Reds' infield was.
The 1976 Reds could be called the "WAR Lords" or the "Gods of WAR."
Has there ever been a starting eight who acquired as much collective
career WAR as the Great Eight? But there
were a number of injuries that kept the starters' seasonal WAR down. So I have
figured each starter's WAR per game started and adjusted it for 162 games.
Please keep in mind that 0 WAR is average/replacement level, 2 is starter level,
5 is all-star level and 6 was MVP level in 1976 ...
Joe Morgan: 9.6 WAR, 131 games started, projected WAR 11.8
Pete Rose: 6.9 WAR, 156 games started, projected WAR 7.1 (MVP level)
George Foster: 5.9 WAR, 137 games started, projected WAR 7.0 (MVP level)
Ken Griffey: 4.6 WAR, 126 games started, projected WAR 6.0 (MVP level)
Johnny Bench: 4.6 WAR, 123 games started, projected WAR 6.0 (MVP level)
Dave Concepción: 4.4 WAR, 142 games started, projected WAR 5.0 (All-Star level)
Tony Pérez: 2.6 WAR, 130 games started, projected WAR 3.3 (All-Star level at first base; Pérez was second only to Garvey
homers and RBI)
Cesar Gerónimo: 2.7 WAR, 125 games started, projected WAR 3.6 (nearly double an
average starter; just below All-Star level in 1976 at center)
This reinforces my contention that the 1976 Reds were a team of all-stars, from
top to bottom. There were some damn good centerfielders in the NL that year, so
it's hard to say that Gerónimo was snubbed. But he was good enough to finish
25th in the MVP voting despite having better-known teammates like Morgan, Rose,
Foster, Griffey and Pérez sucking up votes. And if he wasn't an all-star, he was
damn close. Among the top 25 vote-getters, Gerónimo was 1st in triples, 6th in OBP, 7th in steals, 8th in walks
and 11th in batting average. That's not bad for anyone's eighth-place hitter.
Johnny Bench leads all HOF catchers in home runs (389), WAR
(75.0), JAWS (61.0) and gold gloves (10), is second in RBI (1,376), fifth in runs (1,091) and OPS+ (126).
Tony Pérez had more RBI than all HOF first basemen other than
Foxx and Murray; he ranks sixth in homers (379), tenth in runs (1,272).
Joe Morgan ranks second among HOF second basemen in steals (689); fourth
in WAR (100.3), JAWS (79.7), homers (268) and OPS+ (132); fifth in runs (1,650); sixth in OBP (.392).
Dave Concepción would rank eighth among HOF shortstops in games; ninth in home
runs, stolen bases and defensive WAR; 11th in hits and RBI.
Pete Rose leads all HOF third basemen in games, plate appearances, at-bats, hits, singles,
doubles, runs, times on base and total bases; he ranks fifth in WAR (79.1) and
George Foster would rank seventh among HOF left fielders in homers (348),
11th in RBI (1,239) and slugging percentage (.480).
Ken Griffey hit .296 with a .431 slugging percentage,
2,143 hits and 1,129 runs; he compares favorably with a number of HOF outfielders
Cesar Gerónimo does not compare with most HOF outfielders offensively, but he was a great fielder and thrower, and his 1976 offensive season
makes him one of the best number eight hitters of all time.
Please understand that I'm not saying that Ken Griffey Sr. should be in the Hall
of Fame. I'm just pointing out that he is comparable to a number of HOF
outfielders, and some pretty good names at that. Ditto with Concepción, although
I think―as Bill James has pointed out―that only ten HOF
shortstops seem better statistically, while he seems better than the next ten.
Hence, he seems like a solid HOF contender, considering his defense, speed,
athleticism and clutch hitting. I
also think Foster has a very strong case to be in the HOF, since he ranks close to
the left-field top ten in power numbers and was a dominant slugger for a decade.
But for my purposes here, what really matters is that seven of the Great Eight
compare with members of the HOF while the eighth was nobody's weak sister in 1976. These are my main points:
The team above clearly has the best infield of all time―doubly so when we include
The infielders alone amassed 57 all-star appearances, an average of 11.4
appearances per player. Can your all-time-great team rival
that? Didn't think so!
The infielders placed in the MVP voting a stunning 42 times, finishing in the
top ten 21 times.
During the Reds' heyday (1970-1976), Morgan easily led all MLB in WAR with 60.1,
an average of 8.6 WAR per season, going 4-4-8-1-1 in the MVP voting.
From 1970-1976, Bench was second only to Morgan in WAR with 42.3, an average of
6.0 WAR per season, going 1-1-10-4-4 in the MVP voting.
From 1970-1976, Rose was just behind Bench with 39.9 WAR, an average of 5.7 WAR
per season, going 6-10-10-2-4-7-24-12-1-5-4 in the MVP voting.
From 1970-1976, Pérez accumulated 29.1 WAR, an average of 4.2 WAR per season, going 8-19-10-3-7-15-22 in the MVP voting.
Concepción was a rookie in 1970 and had a somewhat slow start, but from
1974-1976 he averaged 4.6 WAR per season, going 15-9-4 in the MVP voting.
Please keep in mind that around 5 WAR is all-star level, and anything higher is
getting close to MVP level (especially in the mid-70's).
Where is another baseball infield, including catcher, with that sort of output
for an extended period of time, and with such high peaks?
During that seven-year period, the Reds had the top three WARriors, the best
catcher, the best first baseman (or very close to Willie Stargell), the best
second baseman, the best all-round shortstop, and the best third baseman in
terms of WAR (although Mike Schmidt was closing fast). As far as I have been able to determine, only Reggie
Jackson rivaled the Reds' big three for the seven years in question, falling a
hair short of Rose. Has any other team in baseball history had the three best
players for seven years, complemented by stars like Pérez, Concepción,
Griffey and Foster? The Reds' "big five"
accumulated 187.3 WAR7, and that doesn't include the superb outfield. If we take
the "big five" for the 1996-2002 Yankees, including two outfielders, their
accumulated WAR falls way short at 114.9. Such comparisons show
how "crazy good" the Reds infield really was. I believe the same sort of
disparity would show up with the 1927 Yankees (with the WAR-challenged Collins at catcher, Koenig
at short and Dugan at third), or any other team you care to pick.
Where is there another team this solid from top to bottom, with seven HOF
candidates and a gold glove centerfielder playing like an eighth for one
Consulting the Experts
In case you don't believe me or think I'm exaggerating, let's consult Bill James, baseball's best-known
historian/statistician. Here is what he said on the subject, with
references to his Hall of Fame Career Standards (HFCS) rating system:
Bill James wrote: "The 1975-1976 Reds were probably the most diverse,
broad-based offense in the history of baseball."
• In his article about the best infields, Bill
James said of the 1973-1976 Reds: "With Perez, Morgan, Rose and Concepcion the Reds had four
infielders of Hall of Fame quality." He also put an exclamation mark
after "415 win shares!" which led the all-time pack. (And please keep
in mind that
Rose was at third for only two of the four years!)
When James published his picks for the top 100 players of all time
(with players like Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Turkey Stearnes and Pop Lloyd in the top 25, which pushes other players down), he had
Joe Morgan at #15 (comparable to Lou Gehrig and Eddie Collins), Pete Rose at #33
(comparable to Jackie Robinson and Eddie Matthews), and Johnny Bench at #44
(comparable to Yogi Berra and Cal Ripken Jr.).
• James rates Joe Morgan as the #1 second baseman of all time.
• James rates Johnny Bench as the #2 catcher of all time, after Yogi Berra, but
they are very close.
• James's HFCS rates Pete Rose as the #5 right fielder and the #4 third baseman.
• James puts Concepción around #11-14 among
• Pérez ranks around #9-15 among HOF first basemen and according to HFCS compares with Sisler, Terry,
McCovey, Stargell, Rice, McGwire and Cepeda.
• According to HFCS, Griffey compares with Nellie Fox, Garvey,
Hodges, Keith Hernandez, Joe Gordon, Flick, Youngs, Lloyd Waner and Meusel.
• According to HFCS, George Foster compares with Colavito, Doby,
Keller, Strawberry, Mo Vaughn and Norm Cash. But his peak was
• Gerónimo is the only member of the Great Eight who does not rank in the HFCS
rankings, but he compares with Albie Pearson, Mule Haas, Carl Everett,
Gary Matthews, Bobby Tolan, Lyman Bostock and Roy White.
If we combine what Bill James said in the excerpts above, we get something like
C Bench (all-time-great #44, HOF, #1 or #2 catcher of all time)
1B Pérez (top 15 first baseman, HOF)
2B Morgan (all-time-great #15, HOF, #1 second baseman of all time)
SS Concepción (top 15 shortstop, HOF caliber)
3B Rose (all-time-great #33, HOF, #4 third baseman of all time)
That seems pretty amazing to me: a team whose entire infield, including catcher,
compare with the top 1-15 players in the HOF at their respective positions. Add to
that two HOF-caliber outfielders and a great defensive centerfielder having a
career year with the bat. Has there ever been
another team in MLB history with that kind of star quality and depth? Has any other starting eight in MLB history played as
many games, appeared in as many all-star games, contended for as many MVP
awards, scored as many runs, driven in as many runs, or accumulated as much
career WAR? No, and it really isn't
all that close. As Yogi Berra once said, "You could look it up."
According to Bill James and his HFCS rating system, I could trade the 1976 Reds
for a team of Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Home
Run Baker (or Brooks Robinson), Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ralph Kiner (or Hack
Wilson) and Roger Maris.
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, I could trade the 1976 Reds for a team
of Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Ernie Banks (or Cal Ripken
Jr. or Robin Yount), Jimmie Foxx, Chuck Klein (or Lloyd Waner), Joe DiMaggio and
Such "trades" show just how great the Great Eight
really were. If this interests you, I have created a page that shows how the
Elite Eight can be traded based on WAR, JAWS, win shares, WSAB, OPS+ and other
factors. To see the "1976
Reds Virtual Trades" just click the hyperlink.
What do other experts say about the 1976 Reds?
Russell O. Wright wrote a book on
the subject, Dominating the Diamond, in which he determines the twelve
most dominant teams in baseball history. Wright
compliments the Reds for their "great offense" and "great defense"
(I would add "great
baserunning"). Wright calls Bench the "best defensive catcher in the history
of the game" and a "powerful hitter." He calls Morgan "one of the best second basemen
ever to play the game." He compliments Rose for being the all-time hit leader and for
being extremely "versatile" by playing several positions at a high level, while
still being able to win Gold Gloves. He salutes Pérez as one of the
most consistent RBI men in baseball history. Wright concludes: "That
combination may have been the best four ever to play in the major leagues
[on the same team]. He goes on to point
out that "There is no doubt that the 1976 Reds had an unusual combination of
all-star players ... The outfielders all hit over .300, and in the case of
George Foster, hit with unusual power."
During the 1975-1976 seasons, that Reds lineup played only 87 games together,
including the post-season, according to Big Red Dynasty by Greg Rhodes
and John Erardi. The Great Eight won 69 games and lost 18, for an otherworldly
.793 winning percentage. Rhodes and Erardi compared the starting eight to other
dynasties', picking the Reds over the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1929 Philadelphia
Athletics, and the 1927 and 1938 Yankees. Their conclusion:
"No team has
ever been more dominant than the '76 Reds."
Dave Schoenfield in his article "Five best players in baseball: a history"
says the 1971-1975 Reds consistently had three of the top five players in all
MLB, according to accumulated WAR in
Morgan, Bench and Rose. Reggie Jackson was close to Rose.
The number five player, Willie Stargell, was close to Pérez. So the Reds had three of the top five,
and a fourth player who was almost as good. Then George Foster showed up, and he
rivaled the best for a decade!
Schoenfield had this to say about the 1972-1976 window: "Absolutely
phenomenal: Morgan was nearly 18 wins better than the No. 2 player [Rod Carew]
over this five-year span. I don’t know if any player has ever dominated the game
to the extent Morgan did over this stretch (that’s another article)."
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio didn't mince words: "A helluva team. They do everything.
They hit the ball. They run. They are tough on the field. From the top of the
order to the bottom, they can hurt you."
Red Schoendienst agreed: "You make one mistake against a team like that and
you're gone. If you check their power, they'll run you to death. You check their
running, some guy will hit one out in the bottom of the ninth."
Reds manager Sparky Anderson: "When I'm out speaking, I try to explain to people
how good these guys were ... In 1976, they played 162 games, then swept the
playoffs—that's 165 games ... then swept the World Series—that's 169 games. They
won 109 games, a .640 winning percentage ... and the eight guys played together
only 57 times [that year]!"
Pete Rose knows a thing or two about baseball. Here's what
he said, when asked how the Big Red Machine compared to other all-time great
teams: "Not many teams had great production from second base and catcher. That
team had everything: speed, power and daring base running." And Rose might have added that few third basemen could hope to
match his own production.
Johnny Bench mentioned the Reds' confidence and intimidation advantages: "We
could be down two or three runs and we knew we were going to win, they knew we
were going to win, and we knew they knew we were going to win." His comment
reminds me of a golfer saying something similar
about Jack Nicklaus when the Golden Bear was winning all the major golf
Joel Reuter's 1970's MLB All-Decade Team
Catcher: Johnny Bench
First Base: Willie Stargell
Second Base: Rod Carew
Shortstop: Dave Concepcion
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Outfield #1: Pete Rose
Outfield #2: Reggie Jackson
Outfield #3: Lou Brock
Richard Barbieri's '70s All-Decade Team
Catcher: Johnny Bench
First Base: Tony Perez or Rod Carew
Second Base: Joe Morgan.
Shortstop: Bert Campaneris
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Left Field: Pete Rose.
Center Field: Caesar Cedeno
Right Field: Reggie Jackson
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, George Foster
The Best Double-Play Combination and the Greatest Infield of All Time?
Were Joe Morgan and Dave Concepción the best double-play combination of all
time? They each won Gold Gloves in the same year four times (1974-1977), a feat
matched only by Bobby Grich and Mark Belanger of the Baltimore Orioles. But
Morgan and Concepción were much more productive offensively and on the basepaths
than Grich and Belanger. And while the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield was
made famous by a poem, the trio committed 194 errors in 1906, they were not
offensive superstars, and no one can remember the name of their forgettable
catcher and third baseman. So they really don't come close to matching the Reds
infield of Bench, Pérez, Morgan, Concepción and Rose.
The Best Infield Ever and the Best Outfield of its Era
The 1976 Reds had
far-and-away the best infield of all time, especially 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 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
three Reds ranked ahead of Greg Luzinski, Dave Parker, Dave Winfield, Fred Lynn and Jerry Rice. And
Gerónimo was not far behind (.795), ahead of Dave Kingman (37 homers) and Carl
Yastrzemski (21 dingers with 102 RBI). And even though Foster was the
only prototypical slugger among the Reds outfielders, all four were in the top 25
for slugging percentage: Foster first (.530), Rose and
Griffey tied at thirteen (.450) and Gerónimo (.414) still ahead of most of the
outfield pack. Now we can see why Sparky Anderson moved one of baseball's
all-time best outfielders to third base: he had four superior
outfielders 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.)
The Top Ten Reasons the 1976 Reds were the Best Team of All Time
(1) The 1976 Reds were a team with no weak links: they had all-stars at seven
positions, and the eighth, Gerónimo, easily could have been an all-star in 1976.
(2) The 1976 Reds were one of only three teams in MLB history with four MVPs in
the lineup, and only the Reds had four MVPs playing together in their primes.
(3) Tony Pérez could easily have been a fifth MVP, as he placed seven times in
the MVP voting, with four top tens, finishing as high as third. Dave Concepción
ranked as high as fourth in the MVP voting, and Cesar Gerónimo placed in 1976.
Thus all eight Reds were MVP candidates during their careers.
(4) The 1976 Reds were the only team in MLB history to lead their league in
every major offensive category: PA, AB, R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI,
BB, BA, OBP, SP, OPS, OPS+, TB and stolen bases.
(5) The 1976 Reds were the only team in MLB history to lead both leagues
in every major hitting category: PA, AB, R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB, BA, OBP, SP,
OPS, OPS+, TB. This is despite AL teams having the advantage of the
(6) While two AL teams (Oakland and Kansas City) stole more bases than the Reds,
the Reds were much more efficient according to stolen base
percentage, so it seems
the Reds were the best base stealers too.
(7) The 1976 Reds also led both leagues in fielding percentage,
with four Gold Gove winners "up the middle" at the most important defensive
positions: C, 2B, SS, CF. And unlike so many other teams, the Reds did not sacrifice
potent bats for less potent defense at these critical positions.
(8) In 1976 all eight Reds starters finished in the their league's top 30 for
OPS. Can any other team in the history of major league baseball say that, even
when there were far fewer teams and players? Also, no other team in modern
baseball history has had eight position players with 550 plate appearances, all
an OPS+ of 100 or higher. Again, no weak links.
(9) According to Bill James the Reds had the greatest infield of all time and
the Reds outfield was also stellar in 1975-1976.
(10) According to multiple player ranking systems, the Reds had three of the
greatest players of all time: Johnny Bench (C#1), Joe Morgan (2B#1-4), and Pete
Rose (LF#5, 3B#7 according to career WAR). The Reds had four Hall-of-Fame shoo-ins (Bench, Morgan, Rose, Pérez), two
more who should be enshrined (Foster and Concepción), another potential candidate
(Griffey), and a four-time Gold Glove winner (Gerónimo).
Joe West, who has been umpiring for 40 years, recently said, "The best hitting
team I ended up seeing was the Big Red Machine, just as they were dismantling."
West became a full-time NL umpire in 1978, so apparently he didn't see the Reds
at their peak in 1975-1976, but they were still the best he saw "close up and
personal" over a 40-year period. And the Reds in 1978 were a mere shadow of the
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
vaunted Yankees so easily that the 1976 World Series was called "utterly one-sided." The Reds
averaged 5.5 runs per game, hitting .313 and slugging .522, despite facing
hall-of-famer Catfish Hunter (17-15, 224 career wins), Ed Figueroa (19-10,
fourth in the Cy Young voting), Dock Ellis (17-8, 138 career wins) and Doyle
Alexander (10-5, 194 career wins). The highly accomplished Yankees pitching staff had led the AL in wins, ERA and fewest
hits allowed, but once again it was like blazing-hot knives slicing through butter.
What really sets the 1976 Reds apart from all other teams, in my opinion, is that the Great
Eight were a team of all-stars and MVP candidates playing together in their
primes. When the Great Eight were healthy enough to take the field together,
their winning percentage was astronomical (.793). That would be 128 wins for a
full slate of 162 games! So when Johnny Bench started playing
like himself after a difficult season recovering from major lung cancer surgery at
baseball's toughest position, the
Reds became invincible and had the only undefeated postseason since the
divisional playoffs were instituted in 1981. Over a period of 35 years, only the
1976 Reds went undefeated in the postseason, and it was no fluke. The Great
Eight really were that great. And as we will see, some of
the comparisons of "murderers' row" lineups to the Great Eight are actually
laughable. For instance, the 1927 Yankees were terrible on defense, terrible on
the basepaths, had a center fielder with the worst arm in baseball history
(per Bill James), and a catcher with a lame arm and psychological
problems about throwing (per his manager). The Yankees would have been
unable to run on Bench's cannon arm, while the streaking Reds would
have run wild on Pat Collins and Earle Combs. At the same time, the Reds
sluggers would have teed off on the slowballing Yankees pitchers. Not a single
Yankees pitcher had 100 strikeouts in 1927. 'Nuff said.
The things that strikes me here is that the "worst" player on the 1976 Reds was
a Hall-of-Famer with more RBI than any number of all-time great sluggers. If
Pérez had played 162 games, he projected 113 RBI. That's pretty impressive
output from a team's "worst" player! The only Reds starter who might be
considered "marginal" for the 1976 NL All-Star team is, quite interestingly, the
only one who didn't make the actual 1976 NL All-Star team, Gerónimo. But it's
really not his fault because three NL centerfielders had great years in 1976:
Greg Maddux (6.4 WAR), Cesar Cedeno (5.9 WAR) and Rick Monday (4.4 WAR). At
worst, Gerónimo was just a slight notch below an All-Star outfield of Foster,
Griffey, Monday, Luzinski, Maddox and Cedeno. And two of the all-star
outfielders were his
One of the most impressive things about the 1976 Reds is that all eight starters
ranked in the top 30 in OPS: Morgan (#1), Foster (#4), Rose (#5), Griffey (#7),
Gerónimo (#20), Pérez (#22), Bench (#27), Concepción (#30).
If we rank the Reds by position, based on OPS, which doesn't factor in their
superior defense and basestealing, they rank #1 at second, short, left and
right; #2 at catcher; #3 at third, and #4 at first and center! Again, no weak
If we factor in defense, basestealing and a bit of common sense, the Reds
rank #1 at catcher, second, short, left and right; #2 at first (after Garvey)
and third (after Schmidt), and #4 at center (after Maddux, Cedeno and Monday).
The Reds dominated in OBP, with four of the top six: Morgan, Rose, Griffey and
Gerónimo. The same four Reds finished in the top ten in batting average, with
Foster number eleven.
The Reds dominated in slugging, with Morgan and Foster sweeping the top two
slots and all eight Reds in the top thirty.
The Reds dominated in RBI, with Foster and Morgan sweeping the top two slots,
Pérez sixth, and seven of the top
thirty-four. Rose, leading off, had more RBI than Jose Cruz, Larry Parrish, Al
Oliver and Bill Buckner. Concepción, hitting seventh, had as many RBI as Dave
Winfield and more than Willie Stargell. Crazy!
The Reds dominated in runs with Rose (130), Morgan (113) and Griffey (111)
finishing 1-2-4. All eight starters finished in the top forty.
The Reds dominated in stolen bases, with seven Reds in the top thirty-three.
Has there ever been another team so dominant at every position? (Another
In 1976 Joe Morgan won the "Sabermetric Triple Crown" by leading both leagues in
On-Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), and Offensive WAR (oWAR).
Morgan also finished first in WAR, first in OPS, first in OPS+, first in runs
created, first in adjusted batting runs, first in adjusted batting wins, first
in sacrifice flies, first in offensive win percentage, first in power-speed,
first in Base-Out Runs Added (RE24), first in Win Probability Added (WPA), first
in Situational Wins Added (WPA/LI), first in Base-Out Wins Added (REW), second
to Rose in runs, second to Foster in RBI, second in walks, second in stolen base
percentage, third in stolen bases, third in extra base hits, fourth in times on
base, fourth in at-bats per homer, tied with Reggie Jackson for sixth in homers,
ninth in batting average, and tenth in total bases.
How good was Pete Rose? In 1978, at age 37, he became the only modern baseball
player to seriously challenge Joe DiMaggio's record hitting streak of 56 games.
Rose hit in 44 consecutive games. And it wasn't a fluke because
Rose and Ty Cobb recorded hitting streaks of at least 20 games or more eight
times, the most since 1900. Rose hit .331 at
age 38 and led the NL with a .418 OBP. He hit .325 at age 40 and led the
NL in hits. At age 41 he led the NL in games played with 162. At age 42
he hit .375 in the playoffs and .313 in the World Series. At age 44
he was on base nearly 200 times and had a .395 OBP. In the modern era, Rose is
by far the leader in hits, walks, times on base, total bases, runs created and
runs scored after age 40.
MVPs Galore: Why the 1976 Reds were the Best Team of All Time,
from Top to Bottom
Enter the MVP Matrix, if you dare:
C Johnny Bench 1-1-4-4-10-13-16-17-21-23 with 14 All-Star
selections and 10 Gold Gloves
1B Tony Perez 3-7-8-10-15-19-22 with 7 All-Star
2B Joe Morgan 1-1-4-4-8-16-31 with 10 All-Star selections and 5
SS Dave Concepcion 4-9-15 with 9 All-Star selections and 5 Gold
3B Pete Rose 1-2-4-4-5-6-7-10-10-11-12-15-15-24 with 17 All-Star
selections and 2 Gold Gloves
LF George Foster 1-2-3-6-12 with 5 All-Star selections
RF Ken Griffey Sr. 8-22 with 3 All-Star selections
CF Cesar Geronimo 25 with 4 Gold Gloves
This is how the Reds dominated the MVP voting for nearly a decade:
None of the great Yankees teams had a fifth "big gun" like Pérez; he placed in the MVP voting seven times, finishing 3rd, 7th,
8th, 10th, 15th, 19th and 22nd. Pérez could easily have won the MVP award in 1970, when
his partner in slugging crimes won. Bench had
more homers, RBI and total bases, but Pérez bested him in
most other offensive categories: hits (186), walks (83), runs (107),
runs created (140), stolen bases (8), batting average (.317), OBP
(.401), slugging (.589), OPS (.990) and OPS+ (158). Pérez had 28
doubles, 6 triples, 40 homers, 346 total bases, and 129 RBI. The two "bash
brothers" were nearly equal
in which they led all NL position players, with Bench narrowly ahead: 7.4 to 7.2.
They were also first and second in RBI. In short, Bench was very deserving of
the MVP award, but Pérez was just as deserving that year. If Pérez hadn't been
competing against a teammate having the greatest offensive/defensive season by a catcher
in the history of baseball, he could have won the MVP in a landslide. That year
the incomparable Bench set
single-season records for catchers with 45 homers, 148 RBI and 355 total bases,
while earning one of his ten consecutive Gold Gloves.
Then there's Concepción, who finished as high as 4th in the NL MVP
voting. He placed in the top 15 three times: ranking 4th, 9th and 15th.
Concepción was a highly-regarded clutch hitter who won two Silver 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
Ken Griffey Sr. finished 8th in the NL MVP voting in 1976, despite the obvious
handicap of competing with Morgan, Bench, Rose, Foster and company for the award.
Griffey also finished 22nd in the 1980 MVP voting, and was a three-time
Finally, Cesar Gerónimo finished 25th in the 1976 NL MVP voting, despite the
handicap of hitting eighth, with the pitcher coming up next. Thus, every member
of the Great Eight was a potential MVP. That cannot be said about any other
candidate for the best team of all time.
Oh, and speaking of MVP awards, was Johnny Bench robbed of a third MVP award in
1974, when Steve Garvey won? Garvey had a nice 4.4 WAR season, but it paled in
comparison to what Bench accomplished at baseball's most demanding position.
Bench had 7.8 WAR and 8.6 fWAR. He threw out 49% of base stealers and had only
three passed balls. Bench topped Garvey in homers (33), RBI (129), extra-base
hits (73), total bases (315), slugging (.507), runs (108) and runs created
Joe Morgan also bested Garvey in WAR (8.6), OBP (.427), slugging (.494), OPS (.921), OPS+ (159),
runs (107), runs created (125), walks (120), stolen bases (58) and times on base
(273). Should there be a seventh MVP award in the Great Eight's trophy case?
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./bookmark/
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
850 (1961 Yankees)
Elston Howard 762 (1961 Yankees)
654 (1961 Yankees)
Bobby Richardson 390 (1961 Yankees)
373 (1961 Yankees)
Tommy Henrich 795 (1939 Yankees)
Charlie Keller 760
Frankie Crosetti 649 (1939 Yankees)
George Selkirk 576 (1939
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!, more than Gehrig, Mantle)
Tony Pérez 4,532
(#48 all-time, more than Mantle, DiMaggio, Berra)
Joe Morgan 3,962 (#95 all-time, more than DiMaggio, Berra,
Johnny Bench 3,644 (#140 all-time, more than Berra, Mattingly,
George Foster 3,370 (#200 all-time, more than Mattingly,
Ken Griffey Sr. 3,117 (#257 all-time, more than Posada, Lazzeri,
Combs, Nettles, Meusel, Maris)
Dave Concepción 3,114 (#258 all-time, ditto)
Cesar Gerónimo 1,391 (more than Lou Pinella and Clete Boyer, who are
in the top 50 for the Yankees)
Total Bases and RBI show that the Great Eight were not only vastly superior to
Yankees like Kubek, Dahlgren, Dugan and Collins, but that they were competitive
with some of the best Yankees of all time.
The Core Four and the Fearsome Fivesome
the positions where one generally finds weaker hitters for
the sake of defense―catcher,
second, shortstop and third―the Reds had a "core four" of
Hall-of-Fame-caliber players: Bench, Morgan, Concepción and Rose. At the
prototypical RBI positions―first base and outfield―they had two of the best RBI
men of their era in Foster and Pérez, and they were joined by Morgan having an
unbelievable year for a second baseman. If Bench and Pérez had matched their
best offensive seasons in 1976, there would be no debate today about which team was the
greatest ever. But even with their two legendary run producers
having somewhat "down" years, the Reds were still an offensive juggernaut. Can
anyone say that about the Ruth-Gehrig or Mantle-Maris teams, if the superstars
had failed to have stellar years? The 1976 Reds were
different because they had stars to match anyone's, but no other team ever had
eight position players who were all playing at an all-star level in the same
season―not only offensively, but defensively and on the basepaths as well.
According to the Hardball Times Baseball
Annual, the Reds' "core four" had higher combined win shares over a three-year span
than any other team in the last 50 years, matching
the average win shares of the 1927 Yankees and their "fearsome foursome" of Babe
Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri. But there are good reasons to
consider the Reds the superior team.
First, the Reds
really had a "fearsome fivesome" because for a decade in his prime,
Foster was an absolute monster. Foster was called "the Destroyer"
because that's what he did with his ebony bat called "The Black Death."
He destroyed opposing pitchers and threatened stadiums with his tape-measure
homers (two of which reportedly traveled more than 500 feet).
Second, the rest of the Big Red Machine were
much better, because the 1927 Yankees were average at short (Mark Koenig had an AL-worst
47 errors), dreadful at catcher (Pat Collins, Johnny Grabowski, Benny Bengough) and
third (Joe Dugan). In his book Baseball's Ten Greatest Teams baseball
historian Donald Honig said that the 1976 Reds were better at four positions
(catcher, shortstop, second and third) and probably better at a fifth
(left field, with the Destroyer).
Third, the Reds were by far the better base-running and
base-stealing team, while the Yankees were slow afoot and had two of the worst base-stealers of all
time, percentage-wise and according to wSB, in Ruth and Gehrig.
Fourth, the Reds were much better on defense, with four gold gloves and cannon
arms up the middle, while the Yankees had a center fielder (Combs) with the
worst arm in baseball history according to Bill James, and two catchers with
lame arms. The primary Yankees catcher (Collins) had a psychological problem
about throwing, according to his manager. (More about this on the hyperlinked
And while Ruth and Gehrig were undeniably great, the
Yankees simply couldn't match up at the other positions: Bench was a vastly greater
catcher (Collins had a measly 6.8 career WAR); Morgan was a vastly greater second baseman in every respect (the
Yankees' second basemen had 45 errors); Concepción was much better
defensively at short and on the basepaths (Koenig had an anemic 7.6 career WAR); Rose was a vastly superior hitter
and leader at
third (Dugan had 9.3 career WAR); Gerónimo had one of the best arms in centerfield, compared to
one of the worst ever. Meusel and Griffey may seem like a draw at first glance,
with similar batting averages and total bases, but Meusel made 14 errors and was far less proficient as a base-stealer. And his average was
undoubtedly inflated by his era. Griffey is the clear winner in my book, or Foster, if we
compare him to Meusel. Perhaps give half a point to Combs for his offense, and take
away half a point for his pitiful throwing. That makes the final tally 6
1/2 to 2 1/2 in favor of the Reds. And as we will see, the same holds true with
other "murderers' row" teams of the past. The Reds match up with anyone on
offense and win when defense and baserunning are considered. And the
Reds also win on intangibles, from the dominating arms of Bench and Gerónimo, to
the fiery leadership and hustle of Rose and Morgan, to the clutch hitting of
Pérez and Concepción, to the scowling presence of "the Destroyer" and his
intimidating black bat.
Click here for a detailed comparison of the 1976 Reds to the 1927 Yankees and
At the link above the 1976 Reds are compared to the 1902 Pirates, 1906
Cubs, 1927 Yankees, 1929 Athletics, 1932 Yankees, 1939
Yankees, 1955 Dodgers, 1961 Yankees, 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 1997
Mariners, 1998 Yankees, 2016 Cubs, and other contenders and pretenders
to the mantle of "the best baseball team of all time."
How do the 1975-1976 Reds Compare to Modern Teams?
When comparing the 1975-1976 Reds to more recent teams, please keep in mind that
there were no free agents or player rentals back then. The first free agents
were signed after the end of the 1976 season, an interesting synchronicity. Did
the baseball gods decide that since there would never be a better team, why not
open the money floodgates and let the players prosper along with the owners? In
any case, while I intend to demonstrate that the Big Red Machine's starting
eight were better than any outfit that followed,
just imagine what your favorite post-1976 team would look like without its free
agents and rentals. The Reds made hay the old-fashioned way: with talented
talent scouts, a great farm system, and a few astute trades—especially
the ones that secured Morgan and Foster. Today
big-market cities like New York and Los Angeles have a tremendous advantage over
smaller-market cities like Cincinnati. We may never see another team like the
Big Red Machine in a smaller city, but at least we have this one for the ages!
So how do the 1975-1976 Reds compare with the latest super-team, the 2018 Boston
Red Sox? At catcher, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez
do not begin to compare
with the greatest of all time, Bench. At first base, no one is going to confuse
Mitch Moreland with a Hall-of-Famer like Pérez. At second, Eduardo Nunez, Brock
Holt and Ian Kinsler are
light years behind Morgan. Shortstop is much closer, but WAR says Concepción was
better than Xander Bogaerts by a full point. At third Rafael Devers
with his .237 average is only 100 points behind Rose (and 100 hits as well). In
left J. D. Martinez vs. George Foster is a tie between monster sluggers, according to WAR. In right
Andrew Benintendi is a dynamic player, but so was Griffey, and WAR says Griffey was better in 1976. If we put Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Gerónimo
was better in 1976. If we put Betts in center so that Martinez can play,
Betts is a clear winner over Gerónimo. But Betts is the only clear winner for
the Sox, while the Reds dominate at
catcher, first, second and third, with four hall-of-famers. Team OPS+ tells the
same story, with the Reds (sans pitchers) having a 129 OPS+ compared to the
Sox's 111. The Reds stole nearly 100 more bases and were equally as efficient.
The Reds led all MLB in homers while
the Sox finished fourth in the AL. Essentially, it boils down to the
excellence of Betts versus the excellence of Bench, Pérez, Morgan and
Rose, so it's really not that close. Then there's the
fact that the "worst" of the Reds were far better than their counterparts. The
"worst" Reds all played at an all-star level in 1976. No one can say that
considering the WAR of Nunez (-1.1), Vazquez (-0.8),
Leon (-0.5), Devers (0.0) and Moreland (0.9) in 2018. The Sox
had four starters who played above replacement level, while all eight Reds
starters did, by comfortable margins. Furthermore, the Reds
were a dynasty for a decade, with the same central characters averaging around
100 wins per year, rain or shine. The Red Sox are spending mega-bucks on what appear to be interchangeable parts.
In my opinion the Reds defeated a better Red Sox team in the 1975 World Series.
That team was absolutely loaded and much better balanced than the 2018 version,
with nine position players above replacement level plus super-sub Juan Beniquez. The 1975 Sox had three hall-of-famers
(Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice) and three contenders (Fred Lynn,
Dwight Evans, Cecil Copper). The rest of the
supporting cast was strong, with Rico Petrocelli, Bernie Carbo, Denny Doyle,
Rick Burleson and Beniquez. The 1975
Sox led the AL in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, total bases, runs, hits
and doubles. Like their 2018 counterparts, they were fourth in homers. Lynn was
the AL MVP, hitting .331/162 OPS+ with 7.4 WAR. Fisk hit .331/150
OPS+, Cooper .311/143 OPS+, Rice .309/128 OPS+, Doyle
.310/109 OPS+. Evans slugged .456/120 OPS+
with 5.1 WAR. Carbo, who couldn't crack the loaded Reds outfield, slugged
.483/143 OPS+. Yastrzemski slugged .405/112 OPS+. From top to bottom, that may have been the best Red Sox team of all
So the better comparison of starting eights is the 1975 Reds to the 1975 Red
Sox, but they actually met in the field and the Big Red Machine came out on top
in one of the greatest World Series of all time!
The 1975-1976 Reds are the only team with three of the top 40 players of all
time, according to the ESPN Hall of 100, which has Joe Morgan #18, Johnny Bench
#26, and Pete Rose #38. To put that in perspective, they are all ranked ahead of
Eddie Collins, Sandy Koufax, Nap Lajoie, Reggie Jackson, Charlie Gehringer, Cap
Anson and Al Simmons. Other Reds on the Hall of 100 list include Frank Robinson
#20, Tom Seaver #22, Ken Griffey Jr. #35, and Barry Larkin #75. (Click here for
All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team.) How do the all-time Reds rank
compared to the 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 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).
According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, Rose is the #14 player of
all time, Bench #39, Morgan #64, Concepción #154, Foster
#189, Pérez #242, Griffey #493, Gerónimo #832.
Bill James' Top Second Basemen: 1. Joe Morgan 2. Eddie Collins
3. Rogers Hornsby 4. Jackie Robinson 5. Craig Biggio 6. Nap Lajoie 7. Ryne
Sandberg 8. Charlie Gehringer 9. Rod Carew 10. Roberto Alomar
Bill James' Top Catchers: 1. Yogi Berra 2. Johnny Bench 3. Roy
Campanella 4. Mickey Cochrane 5. Mike Piazza 6. Carlton Fisk 7. Bill Dickey 8.
Gary Carter 9. Gabby Hartnett 10. Ted Simmons
Bill James' Top Right Fielders: 1. Babe Ruth 2. Hank Aaron 3. Frank Robinson 4.
Mel Ott 5. Pete Rose 6. Tony Gwynn 7. Reggie Jackson 8. Roberto
Clemente 9. Paul Waner 10. Sam Crawford
Bill James' Top First Basemen: 1. Gehrig 2. Foxx 3. McGwire 4. Bagwell 5. Murray
6. Mize 7. Killebrew 8. Greenberg 9. McCovey 10. Frank Thomas 11. Anson 12.
Mattingly 13. Perez
Bill James' Top Shortstops: 1. Honus Wagner 2. Arky Vaughan, 3. Cal Ripken 4.
Robin Yount 5. Ernie Banks 6. Barry Larkin 7. Ozzie Smith 8. Joe Cronin 9. Alan
Trammell 26. Dave Concepcion
According to Baseball Prospectus BWARP, Morgan is #13, Rose #29, Bench #34,
Perez #137, Foster #166, Concepcion #194, Griffey #445, Geronimo #978.
According to Baseball Egg, Morgan is the #3 second baseman and #15
player of all time, Frank Robinson #16, Seaver
#26, Griffey Jr. #38,
Bench the #1 catcher and #40 player, Rose the #6
left fielder and #63 player, Larkin #93, Perez the #19 first basemen, Foster the #26
left fielder, Concepcion the #37 shortstop, and
Griffey Sr. the #63 right fielder.
Based on career JAWS, Bench is the #1 catcher; Rose
the #7 third baseman; Morgan the #4 second baseman; Pérez the #28 first baseman; Foster the #30
left fielder; Concepción the #45 shortstop;
Griffey the #71 right fielder; and Gerónimo the #204
Based on career WAR, Bench is the #1 catcher (75.0);
Morgan the #4 second baseman (100.3); Rose the #7 third
baseman (79.1); Pérez the #27 first baseman
(53.9); Foster is #30 left fielder (43.9); Concepción the #42 shortstop (39.9);
Griffey Sr. the #71 right
fielder (34.4) and Gerónimo the #204 center fielder (13.0).
According to Baseball Projection, Joe Morgan is the #19 player of all time, Pete
Rose #45, Johnny Bench #52, Tony Pérez #167, George Foster #253, Dave Concepción
#375, and Ken Griffey Sr. #422. By comparison, the 1927 Yankees had only three
players in the top 500 (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs). The 1961 Yankees
had only two players in the top 280 (Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra) and two more
in the top 500 (Roger Maris and Elston Howard). The 1939 Yankees have only one
player in the top 100 (Joe DiMaggio) and four more ranked no higher than #141
(Joe Gordon, Bill Dickey, Charlie Keller, and Tommy Henrich). Once again, the
Reds are clearly superior, top to bottom.
According to WSAB (Win Shares Above Bench), Joe Morgan is #15, Frank Robinson
#16, Pete Rose #22.
The JAWS 75 of 75 has Tom Seaver #17, Joe Morgan #26, Johnny Bench #59.
According to WAR, Tom Seaver is #20, Frank Robinson #24, Joe Morgan #31,
Ken Griffey Jr. #57, Pete Rose #65, Johnny Bench #77, Barry Larkin
#97, Vada Pinson #242, Tony Perez #245, and Joey Votto #312 (and
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
According to "The Top 100 Position Players in MLB History" which ranks position
players on WAR+WAA except for catchers (and I agree that WAR undervalues
catchers), Johnny Bench is the #21 player of all time, Joe Morgan #25, and
Pete Rose #47. That's three of the top 50 position players of all time, on the
same team, playing together in their primes!
According to TheSportster.com, Johnny Bench was the #6 defensive player of all
time, regardless of position.
On the Ranker list of all-time greats regardless of position, Rose is #17,
Bench #24 and Morgan #57.
In the Ranker top ten players of the 1970s, Morgan is #1, Seaver #4
and Bench #5.
According to Ranker,
Foster is the #23rd left fielder, Rose the #24 left fielder, and Griffey the #29 left
fielder! So the Reds had three of the best left fielders of all
time, on the same team! Talk about an embarrassment of riches!
Also according to Ranker, Bench is the
catcher, Pérez the #22 first baseman,
Morgan the #3 second baseman, Concepción the #11
shortstop, Rose the #7 third baseman,
Gerónimo the #42 centerfielder, and Rose the
#8 right fielder.
So according to Ranker, every starter on the 1975-1976 Reds was an all-time
great, and Rose was all-world at three different positions!
On a more amusing note, the Reds also had some of the greatest nicknames of all
time. Pete Rose was "Charlie Hustle." George Foster was "the Destroyer"
and his ebony bat was "The Black Death." Manager
George Anderson was "Sparky" and "Captain Hook" (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
How good were the 1976 Reds offensively? Well, they were
the only team MLB history to lead their league in every major
hitting category. And they not only led the NL, they also led every team in the
AL as well, despite the huge advantage of designated hitters. The Red led all major league teams
in plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs,
RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage,
OPS, OPS+ and total bases. How amazing! No other team in baseball history has
ever led all these categories in their own league, much less all of major league
baseball. As we will see, when comparing teams against teams of their own
eras (to adjust for obviously inflated batting statistics in baseball's past),
the 1976 Reds were the most dominant offensive team of all time. And that's
before we consider things like defense, athleticism and base-stealing.
The 1976 Reds also led the NL in the power/speed combination of team
batting average, home runs and steals. And while Oakland and Kansas City stole
more bases in the AL, the Reds were much more efficient, with an 79% success
rate compared to KC's 67% and Oakland's 73%. So the case can be made that the
Reds were the best base-stealing team in all MLB as well. Oh, and they also led
in fielding percentage.
In 1976 all eight Reds starters were in the
NL's top 30 for slugging percentage and OPS. Has any team in major league baseball history ever had
all its starters rank in the top 30 for an entire season? (The 1927 Yankees had only five players in the AL top 30, and
there were fewer teams and players competing back then. I recently heard someone speculating that the
2016 Red Sox may have been 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 that ultra-impressive 79% success rate.
Meanwhile, Bench allowed only 32 stolen bases
by opposing baserunners while throwing out 46% of attempting stealers. So the Reds
had a huge advantage on the basepaths. One obviously cannot say such things about lumbering Yankee teams of the
How did the Great Eight rank against their NL peers in 1976? The Reds
had four of the top five NL players in runs created (Morgan #1, Rose #2, Foster
#4, Griffey #5). Only Mike Schmidt prevented a clean sweep by the Big Red
Machine. The Reds swept the top three positions in offensive win percentage
(Morgan #1, Griffey #2, Foster #3) with Rose giving
them four of the top six. They had three of the top four in runs scored (Rose 130, Morgan 113, Griffey 111)
and four of the top nine (Foster had 86). All eight Reds starters ranked in the
top 35 in runs scored. The Reds had the league
leaders in RBI (Foster 121, Morgan 111) and Pérez was sixth with
91. They had nine of the top 45 base stealers (including super sub Dan
Driessen). They had three of the top eight in
walks (Morgan 114, Rose 86, Bench 81), and all eight starters
ranked in the top 45. They had five of the
top eleven NL batting averages (Griffey .336, Rose .323, Morgan
.320, Gerónimo .307, Foster .306). They had three of the top four
in OBP (Morgan .444, Rose .404, Griffey .401) and four of the
top six (Gerónimo .382). All eight starters were in the top 35.
The Reds had the top two sluggers (Morgan .576, Foster .530), and
all eight starters were in the top 30. They had four of
the top seven in OPS (Morgan 1.020, Foster .894, Rose .854, Griffey .851), and
all eight starters were in the top 30. They had three of the top five in total
bases (Rose 299, Foster 298, Morgan 272). All Reds starters
had more than 200 total bases and ranked in the top 35, other than the injured
Bench who still garnered 183 (second among NL catchers and still in
the top 45). They had four of the top six in extra-base hits (Rose #2, Foster #3,
Morgan #5, Pérez #6) and all eight starters ranked in the top 45. They had three
of the top four in times on base (Rose #1, Morgan #2, Griffey #4). They had three
of the top six in stolen base percentage (Morgan #2, Foster #4, Gerónimo #6).
They had four of the top ten position players in WAR (Morgan #1, Rose #3,
Foster #6, Bench #10). Has there ever been a
team that dominated all the major offensive statistics so thoroughly, from the
top to the bottom of the lineup? Not the 1927 Yankees with Dugan, Collins and
Grabowski. Not the 1961 Yankees with Richardson, Kubek and Boyer. Not the 1939
Yankees with Crosetti, Dahlgren and Henrich. Not the 1997 Mariners with Wilson,
Sorrento and Davis. Not the 1996 Yankees with Girardi, Duncan and Sierra. Not
the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers with Gilliam, Amoros and Jackie Robinson having a very
poor year. Not the 1970 Orioles
with Johnson, Belanger, Hendricks and Etchebarren. Not the 1929 Athletics with
Bishop, Hale and Boley. Not the 1998 Yankees with Curtis, Posada and Knoblauch.
None of the other great lineups compare with the 1976 Reds from the top of the
lineup to the bottom, when considering batting, defense and baserunning.
What happens if we throw in the whole American league as well? The Reds still
have a clean sweep of the top three in offensive win percentage; four of the top
ten players in extra-base hits, OBP, OPS and runs created; four of the top
twenty in batting average; three of the top four in runs scored; three of the
top ten in batting average (and five of the top twenty); three of the top ten in
total bases and stolen base percentage; the top two in RBI and slugging
percentage; two of the top ten in homers, six of the top fifty in runs, RBI,
OBP, total bases, slugging percentage and OPS; seven of the top 100 in hits and
homers; and eight of the top 100 in extra-base hits, total bases, walks and
To show how strong the Reds lineup was, from top to bottom, every Reds starter
had 200 or more total bases and slugged .400 or higher, with the exception of
the injured Bench, who
still came very close by slugging .394 with 183 total bases.
And despite having a down year according to his ultra-high standards, Bench
still had a 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.
1976 Batting Statistics (bold italics indicates the league leader; bold
indicates top ten NL or top fifty MLB)
-G- PA AB
-R- -H- 2B 3B
HR RBI SB CS BB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB WAR MVP
215 42 6 10
63 9 5
.404 .450 .854 141 299
144 627 562 86 172
21 9 29
17 3 52
.306 .364 .530
.894 150 298
141 599 472 113
30 5 27
111 62 9 114
.320 .444 .576 1.020 186
148 628 562 111
28 9 6
74 34 11
.401 .450 .851
140 253 4.6
139 586 527 77 137
19 91 10 5 50
.260 .328 .452 .779
636 576 74 162
10 49 .281
.335 .401 .736 107 231
555 486 59 149
24 11 2 49 22 5 56 .307 .382 .414
.795 125 201 2.7
135 552 465 62 109
24 1 16 74 13 2
81 .234 .348 .394 .741 109 183
As an indication of the Red's hitting dominance in 1976, their eight-place
batter, Cesar Gerónimo, was in the top ten for OBP and the top thirty for OPS
(both leagues included).
Bill Madlock of the Pittsburg Pirates edged out Ken Griffey Sr. for the NL
batting championship on the last day of the season.
George Foster led the NL in RBIs and was second to Morgan in slugging
Johnny Bench and Tony
Pérez had off years in 1976. If they had produced typical results, the team's
offensive numbers would have been even more off the charts. Bench was battling
physical problems, particularly bad shoulders. But Bench hit .385 in the NLCS
against Philadelphia, and when New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson hit .529
in the World Series, Bench rose to the occasion, hitting .533 with two home
runs, for which he was awarded the World Series MVP award. When Sparky Anderson
was asked to compare Munson to Bench, he demurred, saying: "You don't compare
anyone to Johnny Bench. You don't want to embarrass anybody."
Dan Driessen was the DH in all four World Series games. In fact, 1976 was the
first year the DH was allowed the the Series. At that time, the DH was allowed
on an every-other-year basis and in ALL games (until 1986 when it became yearly
and only in the AL parks). In 1976, Driessen DH-ed in both Yankee Stadium &
Riverfront. He went 5 for 14 (.357) with one homer and two doubles.
Raw slugging averages aren't everything; 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
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
Here's an indication of how good the best offensive
baseball team of all time was defensively: Bench and
Morgan were selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team, while Concepción
was a finalist whose career defensive WAR puts him in the top 40 defenders of
all time, regardless of position. Cesar Gerónimo was good enough to be
considered for the Rawlings finalists, with four consecutive Gold Gloves. Thus
where it matters most, up the middle, the Reds had four defensive immortals! Can
that be said about any of the other "murderers' row" offensive teams? (The
question is rhetorical.)
In Ed Winkler's article "The Best Fielders of the 1970s," Johnny Bench had the most votes for any position and was a
runaway winner at catcher. Joe Morgan had the second-most votes for any position
and was the runaway winner at second. Cesar Geronimo was second only to Garry
Maddox in the outfield, in a virtual dead heat, and Pete Rose and George Foster
were both in the top ten. Concepción was second only to Larry Bowa at short, and
was far ahead of defensive specialists Don Kessinger and Buddy Harrelson. Tony
Perez was fourth at first base. Thus seven of the
Great Eight were voted as being among the best NL defenders for a decade.
According to SABR Matt in a Baseball Fever series of articles about the best
defensive players of all time by position, Tony Perez was the #6 defensive first
baseman in his prime, and saved Joe Morgan quite few errors on wild throws,
helping Little Joe's defensive numbers! Perez was ranked above Joe Olerud, Mark
Grace, Bill Terry and George Sisler, among many others.
SABR Matt had Dave Concepcion as the #12 shortstop, above Phil Rizzuto, Robin
Yount, Pee Wee Reese, Dave
Bancroft and Lou Boudreau. Ruth May Bond rated Concepcion #4, after Ozzie Smith,
Joe Tinker and Mark Belanger. Matt Souder ranked
Concepcion #15 based on GI and #14 based on PCA.
Bill Burgess rated Johnny Bench as the #2 defensive catcher of all time, after
Buck Ewing. Ruth May Bond rated Bench #2 after Ivan Rodriguez. SABR Matt rated
Bench #4, but probably #1 or #2 if not for his chest injury. Three other critics
either picked Bench #1, or said he was #1 before his chest surgery.
The 1976 Reds led the NL and all MLB in fielding, with the fewest errors
and the highest fielding percentage. So they were the best defensive team by the numbers. This can be backed up by the fact that four Reds starters won
gold gloves in 1976: Bench (C), Morgan (2B), Concepción (SS) and Gerónimo
(CF). Furthermore the Reds won Gold Gloves at these four key defensive positions
four straight years, 1974-77. Altogether, members of the
"great eight" accumulated 26 Gold Gloves. The Reds who didn't win gold
gloves weren't exactly slouches, either. Tony Pérez (1B) had
a stellar .996 fielding percentage and only five errors in 1976, but Steve
Garvey won the gold glove with an even-more-stellar .998. Pete Rose (3B) won two
gold gloves in other seasons, and ranks close to Alex Gordon in left-field Total
Zone metrics at +11 per season. In 1976, Rose was playing out of position at third base, where he was a
decent-but-not-great defender. 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.
Sparky Anderson was impressed enough
with Rose's fielding at third to mention "some real fielding gems" that he
came up with. Foster was a good outfielder with above-average speed
and a strong, accurate arm in his prime years; he had been used as a late-inning
defensive replacement early in his career. As an example of Foster's speed and
athleticism, in 1976 he stole 17 bases and was only caught three times. Ken
Griffey Sr. was also a good outfielder with excellent speed and a strong
arm. He defended well enough to play 203 games at center during his
career. So there you have it: the 1976 Reds were one of the all-time great
defensive teams as well!
How good were the Reds on defense? Well, Bench is number one among catchers
all-time with ten Gold Gloves and was the number one catcher on the
Rawlings all-time Gold Glove list with 59% of the vote (more than Ozzie Smith!).
In his prime, playing in the steal-happy NL of the 1970's, Bench had eight
seasons in which he threw out 46% of runners or higher (1969-1970, 1972-1975),
twice topping 56%. Morgan earned five Gold Gloves and was the number one defensive second baseman
on the Rawlings list. Concepción also garnered five Gold Gloves and was one of
six finalists at shortstop on the Rawlings list. (Concepción would almost
certainly have won more Gold Gloves if a young defensive whiz named Ozzie Smith
hadn't started gobbling them up.) Gerónimo won four consecutive
Gold Gloves and thus qualifies as one of the best defensive centerfielders of
all time. Pete Rose won two Gold Gloves and has the 35th highest fielding
percentage of all time among outfielders at .991. Pérez had his best fielding year at first base
in 1976. Griffey and
Foster were above-average defenders, with excellent speed and athleticism, and strong
arms. Dave Schoenfield mentioned the 1975-1976 Reds in his discussion of the
best defensive teams of all time, naming Foster along with Bench, Morgan,
Concepción and Gerónimo as the key defenders. The 1975 Reds had a +61 runs Total
Zone defensive rating. Schoenfield commented: "Bench is probably underrated
here, rating at just +10 runs even though he had a 46 percent caught stealing
rate and just 32 steals allowed in 132 starts." In any case, with four Gold
Glove winners at the key positions up the middle, great team speed, and the best
fielding percentage in the NL, the Reds were certainly in the running as one of
the best defensive teams of all time.
What is the single most amazing 1976 Reds stat? It may be the fact that a
35-year-old Pete Rose only committed 13 errors while playing out of position at
third base in order to allow Foster to play full-time in left. It was the
"genius" idea of Sparky Anderson to move Rose to third in the middle of the 1975
season. But it took the all-world talent of Rose to pull it off.
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. First, Rose was 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 player, ranking in the top 60 at three different
defensive positions (it may be four, but I couldn't find separate percentages
for left and right fielders). Third, it's interesting
to see how close Pérez and Killebrew were to each other at first and third; they
are also very close in career RBI.
OF Rose (.9911, #35, 2 Gold Gloves) ≈ Mike
Trout, Alex Gordon, Mickey Stanley, Torrii Hunter, Andruw Jones
(.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
3B Pérez (.9456, #171) ≈ Phil Garner, Home Run Baker, Harmon
OF Foster (.9845, #242) ≈ Carlos May, Eric Davis, Kenny Lofton
OF Griffey (.9808, #392) ≈ Bill North, Ken Landreaux, Vada Pinson, Willie Mays
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.
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
"Bullet" Don Gullett (5.96, #293) would have won if he and his near-100-mph fastball had
been transported back in time? After all, Gullett is comparable to Feller in SPG
and he's comfortably ahead of Whitey Ford (5.55, #393), Johnny Vander Meer
(5.53, #395), Hal Newhouser (5.40, #417), Walter Johnson (5.34, #437), Dizzy
Dean (5.32, #442), Lefty Gomez (5.28, #455), Ed Walsh (5.27, #457), Lefty Grove
(5.17, #479), Chief Bender (5.10, #505), Tim Keefe (4.57, #637) and Rube
Marquard (4.34, #690). I think it's safe to say that the average pitching speed
in the past was far from spectacular, just by examining the innings and
strikeouts of the top pitchers. Some of the famous aces of the past were
pitching 300 to 400 innings per year, and striking out 120 or fewer batters,
even though the hitters were using heavier bats. For instance, Cy Young
(3.43, #919) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (3.81, #822) were obviously not
throwing extreme heat. Young must have been slower than Christmas, because a
typical season for him was close to 400 innings and around 120 strikeouts, and
that was true even when he was in his prime. Many pitchers of
yore with lots of career strikeouts got them only because they threw
beaucoup innings. For instance, Christy Mathewson,
Carl Hubbell and Eddie Plank were under 4.5 SPG and out of the top 600. There
was obviously a dearth of pitching speed, aside from a few blazing exceptions.
When a flameballing strikeout artist like Rube Waddell or Dazzy Vance
appears, he really sticks out in the pitching statistics because strikeouts were
so few and far between back then. For instance, in 1927, the year of
the famous Yankees "murder's row" led by Ruth and Gehrig, only two pitchers
struck out as many as 174 batters: Vance and Grove. Hell, only nine pitchers had
100 or more strikeouts! Either all the batters had the eyesight and coordination
of Ted Williams, or the pitches were relatively slow and easy to make contact
with. The statistics obviously suggest the latter, and explain why Ruth and
Gehrig hit so many homers that year. I believe my compilation here is a
reasonably complete list of the main strikeout kings from 1900 to 1950. There is an obvious
connection between velocity and HPG, because the leaders in HPG were speed
merchants: Herb Score, Nolan Ryan, Clayton Kershaw, Sid Fernandez, J. R.
Richard, et al. Even among the elders the strikeout kings were generally the best in HPG:
Ed Walsh, Smokey Joe Wood, Bullet Bob Turley, Walter Johnson, Rube Waddell, et
al. In conclusion, it is my opinion that if the 1976 Reds pitching staff were
transported back in time to 1950 or earlier, they would suddenly have become a staff
of all-time aces. Don Gullett (5.96, #293) compares with Bob Feller; Fred Norman
(6.05, #272) with Dazzy Vance; Gary Nolan (5.58, #386) with Whitey Ford; Pat
Zachry (5.11, #499) with Lefty Grove; Jack Billingham (4.6, #629) with Tim
Keefe. So in any comparison to teams of the first half of the 20th century, the
fireballing Reds would have a staff equivalent to Feller, Grove,
Vance, Ford and Keefe. If we pair those five
Hall of Fame pitchers with the Great Eight, I think it's safe to say they
would blow away the 1927 Yankees, or any other team they might face! Of course
there are pitching factors other than speed, but let's be honest ... what made
Rapid Robert Feller a legend? Obviously, the speed of his fastball. What made
Herb Score a sensation? Ditto. What made Walter Johnson a legend? Ditto. So it
stands to reason that if we sent Bullet Gullett back
in time, his fastball would make him a legend. Gary Nolan also had a blazing
fastball; at age 18 he struck out Willie Mays four times in a game and averaged
nearly a strikeout per inning for his rookie season. Fred Norman's fastball was
described as "electric" and topped out around 94 mph. Pat Zachry threw a mean
fastball in the 90-92 mph range. The real difference is that in the past only a
few rare pitchers could really bring the heat, whereas in modern times many
talented pitchers can.
Bench, Pitching and Coaching
While the Big Red Machine was legendary for its starting eight players, the 1976
Reds also had a productive bench. Dan Driessen played first base and left
field, slugging .402 with an OPS+ of 116, driving in 44 runs, and stealing 14
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
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
Other coaches included Ted Kluszewski, Russ Nixon, George Scherger and Larry
The Best Manager Ever?
Sparky Anderson was called "Sparky Who?" in headlines that announced his hiring
by Reds general manager Bob Howsam. But "Sparky" had immediate success as a
manager, winning 102 games in his inaugural 1970 season. He became the first
manager to win the World Series with teams in both leagues. He won two with the
Reds, then another with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. He was also the
first manager to win 100 games with two different teams. Known as "Captain Hook," Anderson was famous for yanking pitchers for
relievers. His 2,194 wins are sixth highest in MLB history
and he's in 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 the most about his players.
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 have been heavily favored over an NL all-star team of Bob Boone, Steve
Garvey, Dave Cash, Bill Russell, Mike Schmidt, Cesar Cedeno, Greg Luzinski and Dave
Reds have seven Hall-of-Fame-caliber players with four immortals (Bench, Pérez,
Morgan and Rose), while the all-stars have only one "lock" in Schmidt. (I based the
opposing all-star team on the 1976 NL all-star team
after removing the Reds who made the team that year.)
Key: BA=Batting Average, DWAR=Defensive WAR, OWAR=Offensive WAR, 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
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
The Great Catcher Debate
There really isn't much―if any―debate about the greatest catcher of all time.
(#1) Johnny Bench, career WAR 75.0, OPS+ 126, HR 389,
(#2) Roy Campanella, projected WAR 70.0, OPS+ 123, projected HR 386 and RBI
(#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
(#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,
(#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
The Great Leadoff Debate
I believe it's child's play to prove that Rose is either the best
or second-best leadoff man of all time. First, let's ask: "What is the main goal
of hitting leadoff?" Isn't the goal to get on base and score or create
runs? Yes, stealing bases is a factor, but would you rather have a leadoff
hitter who steals bases, or one who scores runs in bunches? I think any baseball
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
Times on Base: Pete Rose #1, Rickey Henderson #4, Craig Biggio #19
Total Bases: Pete Rose #8 (just 41 less than Babe Ruth!), Craig Biggio #36,
Rickey Henderson #45
Runs: Rickey Henderson #1, Pete Rose #6, Craig Biggio #15
Runs Created: Pete Rose #10, Rickey Henderson #11, Craig Biggio #34
WAR: Rickey Henderson 110.8, Pete Rose 79.1, Lou Brock 45.2, Tim Raines 69.1,
Kenny Lofton 68.2, Craig Biggio 65.1, Billy Hamilton 63.3, Ichiro Suzuki 59.0
What these numbers tell us is that there is a considerable gap among leadoff
hitters, after Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson. Rose leads all leadoff hitters in
four categories. Henderson leads in runs and WAR. If you claim
Henderson was the best leadoff man ever, 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 or
the top slot.
The "eye test" gives me the following ranking: Rose #1, Henderson #2, Biggio
#3, Brock #4, Raines #5
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).
Babe Ruth (1920-1924) 56.9 WAR
Willie Mays (1962-1966) 52.3 WAR
Barry Bonds (2000-2004) 51.1 WAR
Roger Hornsby (1921-1925) 49.9 WAR
Mike Trout (2012-2016) 47.8 WAR
Mickey Mantle (1954-1958) 47.7 WAR
Joe Morgan (1972-1976) 47.7 WAR
Lou Gehrig (1927-1931) 47.2 WAR
Stan Musial (1948-1952) 44.7 WAR
Albert Pujols (2005-2009) 44.5 WAR
Joe Morgan was one of the
all-time greats and a challenger to Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie
for the title of the best second baseman ever. Bill James ranks Morgan first,
with Collins ahead of the great Hornsby. Other analysts have dropped
Hornsby below Lajoie. Why? I can think of three compelling reasons.
First, Hornsby was an indifferent defender with limited range. He had seasons
with 52, 46, 34, 34, 30 and 30 errors. His career fielding percentage was .959.
Conversely, Morgan and Collins were superior defenders. Collins had a career
fielding average of .969 and Morgan's was .981.
Why was Hornsby's range so limited?
Apparently, he was a plodder. In the years that his times caught stealing were
recorded, Hornsby's stolen base record was a hideous 56-64, for a
"success" rate of .467. And while Collins stole a lot of
bases (741), he got thrown out a lot too, with seasons of 58-30, 46-30, 48-29
and 12-10. Morgan was the first MLB player to retire with 600 steals and a
success rate above .800, so he wins this contest hands down.
Third, Hornsby did not seem to be a positive influence in the clubhouse. Harlond Clift said 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 they gave Veeck an engraved
trophy to thank him!
Here are my personal rankings, for whatever they're worth: (1) Joe Morgan, (2)
Eddie Collins, (3) Rogers Hornsby, (4) Nap Lajoie, (5) Jackie Robinson, (6)
Charlie Gehringer, (7) Rod Carew, (8) Ryne Sandberg, (9) Frankie Frisch,
(10) Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio (tie).
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
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
Orlando Cepeda 1,365 RBI, 1,131 Runs, 2,496 Total Runs
Al Oliver 1,326 RBI, 1,189 Runs, 2,515 Total Runs
1,314 RBI, 2,165 Runs, 3,479 Total Runs
Steve Garvey 1,308 RBI, 1,143 Runs,
2,451 Total Runs
Obviously, there are many exceptional names on this list. But Pérez leads in the
most important stat for an RBI position. Only two HOFers have more
total runs produced―Pete Rose and Ernie Banks―and they
accumulated many of those runs playing other positions.
Pérez ranks fourth among HOF first basemen in the critical category of RBI,
excluding those who padded 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
Ernie Banks 1,636
Harmon Killebrew 1,584
Ranking the Reds by MPV, All-Star and Gold Glove Awards
In the MVP column, the first number is the times winner, and the second number
is the times in the top 25 in the MVP voting. The second number may be the more
meaningful. Every member of the Great Eight was in the MVP race at least once,
and average players do not get votes for MVP. All-Star is abbreviated A/S, and
Gold Glove is GG. The stats below are the players' career-best numbers. The
Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame is designated by "Reds." Every member of the Great
Eight is in the Reds Hall of Fame.
Pos Name HOF MVP A/S GG -BA-
SLG -OPS- -R- 2B 3B HR RBI TB SB
3B Pete Rose
Reds* 1/14 17 2 .348 .512 .940 130 51 11 16 82 321 20
C Johnny Bench Yes 2/10 14 10 .293 .587 .932 108 40 4 45
148 355 13
2B Joe Morgan Yes 2/7 10 5 .327 .576
1.020 122 35 12 26
111 284 67 (twice)
1B Tony Pérez Yes -/7 7 - .328 .589 .990 107 38 7 40
129 346 10
LF George Foster Reds* 1/5 5 - .320 .631 1.013 124
31 9 52 149
SS Dave Concepción Reds* -/3 9 5 .319 .433 .767 91 33 8 16 84 245
RF Ken Griffey Sr. Reds -/2 3 - .336 .503 .855 117 35
10 21 85 273
CF Cesar Gerónimo Reds -/1 - 4 .307 .471 .795 73
25 11 10 54
* 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 compares well with half the shortstops in the HOF.
* George Foster was better than most HOF outfielders for a ten-year period from
1975-1984, averaging nearly 100 RBI per season. In a five-year span, he averaged
35 home runs and 116 RBI per season.
Interesting Facts and Statistics about the Big Red Dynasty
The 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds were the first NL team to win back-to-back World
Series since the 1921-1922 New York Giants.
The 1975 Reds started 18-19, then won at a .667 clip after manager Sparky
Anderson shifted Pete Rose to third base on May 3, 1975, allowing George Foster to play left field.
They won 108 regular season games, then went 7-3
in the postseason.
They compiled two notable streaks: winning 41 out of 50 games in one
stretch (.820), and going a month without an error. They were the last NL team to score 100+ runs more than their
competitors, other than two altitude-aided Rockies teams.
The 1976 Reds went 109-60, including a perfect 7-0 record in the postseason.
They had the only perfect
postseason since the League Championship Series started in 1969.
From 1975-76 the Reds won 224 of 351 games including the postseason, a .638
In the peak years of the dynasty, from 1972-1976, the Reds averaged 100 wins per
season, a .626 winning percentage.
From 1970-1976 the Reds won 683 games, an average of 98 wins per season.
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 (the Frank Robinson trade comes close). But those 87 games were enough to stamp the signature of the Great Eight on
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.
In 1976, seven of the eight Reds starters made the NL All-Star
The one who didn't—Cesar Gerónimo—hit .307 with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 201
total bases and 22 steals, while winning the third of four straight Gold Gloves
and finishing 25th in the MVP voting.
The 1976 Reds hit .280 and slugged .424 as team.
Remove the pitchers and the team slugging percentage rises to .444, while the team
batting average climbs from .280 to .291.
The 1976 Reds led both major league divisions in every major hitting category: runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, batting average,
total bases, slugging, OBP, OPS and OPS+.
The 1976 Reds also led the major leagues in fielding average.
No other team has ever led all these categories in their own league in one
season, let alone all MLB.
Furthermore, the 1976 Reds led the NL with 210 steals while being caught only 57
times, for a very impressive
.79 success rate.
By comparison, the list of stolen base leaders with more than 200 career steals
and a success rate of .80 or higher is short and contains names like Henderson,
Lopes and Raines.
So as a team, the 1976 Reds were elite, Hall-of-Fame-caliber base stealers as
The 1976 Reds 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.
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.
Related Pages: All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team,
The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time,
Cincinnati Reds Trivia,
Reds Virtual Trades,
Is Mike Trout the GOAT?,
Best Baseball Nicknames,
Mike Trout Nicknames,
Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia,
Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates,
Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame,
Big Red Machine Chronology,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season,
Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7,
Weird Sports Trivia,
Who is the NBA
All-Time PPG Leaders,
NBA Greatest Scorers,
The Best All-Time SEC Basketball Players by Position,
The Best Tennessee Vols Basketball Teams and Players of All Time