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The Greatest Baseball Team of All Time: the 1976 Cincinnati Reds versus the 1927 New York Yankees and other Contenders and Pretenders

When the greatest baseball teams of all time are considered, how do the 1976 Cincinnati Reds compare with the 1927 New York Yankees? After we have addressed that question, how do the other great baseball teams of the past compare with the Big Red Machine and their Great Eight?

The 1927 New York Yankees had a star-studded lineup that included the immortal George Herman "Babe" Ruth and the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig. An asterisk means the player is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A plus sign means the player was  above average for his position. A minus sign means the player was below average for his position:

*LF Babe Ruth, the "Sultan of Swat" hit .356 with a then-record 60 homers and 164 RBI
*1B Lou Gehrig, the "Iron Horse" hit .373 with 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 homers and 175 RBI
*CF Earl Combs hit .356 with 137 runs scored, but according to Bill James had the weakest arm at the centerfield position in baseball history
*2B Tony Lazzeri hit .309 with 102 RBI, but combined with his backup to commit 45 errors at second base and went only 22-14 on stolen base attempts
+RF Bob Meusel hit .337 with 103 RBI and led the team in steals, but went only 24-10 on stolen base attempts and committed 14 errors in the outfield
-SS Mark Koenig hit .285 with 62 RBI, but committed 47 errors and was a meager 3-2 on stolen base attempts
-C Pat Collins hit .275 with only 36 RBI, and had a lame arm and a psychological problem (according to his manager) that rendered him incapable of throwing out base stealers
-3B Joe Dugan hit .269 with only 43 RBI, slugged an anemic .362, and was 1-4 on stolen base attempts

The 1927 Yankees had some prodigious hitters, especially Ruth and Gehrig, but they were ponderously slow afoot and terrible defenders. The Yankees committed a staggering 196 errors, with 47 at short, 45 at second base, and 41 in the outfield. The team's best pitcher, Waite Hoyte, had only 86 strikeouts in 256 innings but somehow led the Yankees in that category. The Yankees were 90-64 on stolen base attempts, for a woeful 58.4% success rate. This was a team that required spectacular hitting to cover its considerable defensive and baserunning flaws. And if its slowballing pitchers and lame-armed catchers were put up against the Reds, then George "the Destroyer" Foster might have hit 60 homers, and Joe Morgan might have set the all-time stolen base record!

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 are considered. Members of the Great Eight collected six MVP awards, four home run titles, three batting titles, 26 Gold Gloves and 65 All-Star selections. Seven of the Great Eight made the 1976 NL all-star team. The only starter who didn't make the all-star team, Cesar Gerónimo, won his third of four consecutive gold gloves in center field and finished 25th in the MVP voting, despite the handicap of hitting eighth in the lineup!

The "slash lines" below are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/OPS. An asterisk means the player is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, or should be. A plus sign means the player was well above average for his position. A minus sign means the player was below average for his position, but you won't find any weak spots in this stellar lineup:

*C Johnny Bench was quite simply the greatest catcher ever in his prime years, both offensively and defensively, and he remains the Reds' all-time leader in home runs, RBI and Gold Gloves with ten
*1B Tony Pérez was one of the best run producers ever, finishing with 1,652 RBI (ahead of legendary sluggers like Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew)
*2B Joe Morgan was the greatest all-round second baseman of all time; 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
*SS Dave Concepción was the most complete shortstop of his era, with speed, a great glove, an outstanding arm, and a potent bat for his position (slugging .401); he was an all-star nine times and won five gold gloves
*3B Pete Rose is the all-time hits leader; 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!
*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
+RF Ken Griffey Sr. was a .336 hitter with speed (34 stolen bases) and power (.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
+CF Cesar Gerónimo was a great defensive player with a cannon-like arm and outstanding speed; in 1976 he hit .307/.382/.414/.795 with 201 total bases and 22 steals; he also won four gold gloves

The 1976 Reds were obviously much better athletes, defenders and base runners than the 1927 Yankees. So in a comparison of the teams, the question becomes: could the 1927 Yankees out-hit the Reds by a considerable margin?

When the batting records of the two teams are adjusted for the very different eras in which they played, the answer is "no." The OPS+ records of the teams are very similar. The ponderously slow, portly Babe Ruth would not hit .356 against modern pitching. The much more athletic Reds would hit for higher averages against the slow-balling Yankees pitchers and poor defenders and throwers. The hitting would probably be about even. But the Redsbeing much better athletes, defenders and base-runnerswould then have a huge advantage over the slow-as-molasses Yankees.

Position-by-Position Comparison on a 10-Point Scale

C Johnny Bench, the best catcher of all time according to many rankings, blows away the lame-armed, anemic-hitting, psychologically-challenged Yankees catchers (Reds +10)
1B Lou Gehrig is the clear winner at first base, but if the hitting statistics are adjusted for eras, Tony Pérez is a very worthy competitor with 1,652 career RBI (Yankees +6)
2B Joe Morgan blows away Tony Lazzeri  at second base, but give Lazzeri credit for a plus bat if not a great glove (Reds +6)
SS Dave Concepción is a clear winner over Mark Koenig, especially defensively and on the basepaths (Reds +6)
3B Pete Rose blows away Joe Dugan (Reds +10)
RF Ken Griffey Sr. edges out Bob Meusel; they were about even as hitters, but Griffey was better in the field and on the basepaths (Reds +2)
CF Earl Combs was the better offensive player, but Cesar Gerónimo was the better fielder, faster on the basepaths, and had an infinitely better arm (Yankees +2)
LF Babe Ruth was an offensive juggernaut but not so great in the field and a liability on the basepaths; George Foster "the Destroyer" was a far better athlete and a great power hitter (Yankees +6)

By my tally, the Reds win 34 to 14. Ruth and Gehrig were great players, but Foster and Pérez were also great players and better athletes. Combs was a great hitter but no match for Gerónimo on defense. Meusel and Griffey had similar batting statistics, but Griffey was hitting against better pitchers and was a much better player overall. At the other positions the Reds dominate. The comparisons at catcher, second base, shortstop and third base are almost comical. How about pitching? Well, in 1927 the pitchers seems to have been throwing slowballs rather than fastballs. A glance at the strikeout numbers of the "ace" pitchers suggests that after Dazzy Vance and Lefty Grove, strikeouts were virtually unknown. The 1976 Reds had a staff of fireballers led by Bullet Don Gullet, Gary Nolan, Pat Zachry, Fred Norman and Rawly Eastwick. If they had taken their heaters back in time, they would have been beyond compare. The sluggish Yankees would have been unable run on the canon arms of Bench, Concepcion and Geronimo. The Reds would have run wild on the pitiful arms of the Yankees catchers and Earle Combs. The Reds were the much better team, hands down.

Pitching

It is very difficult to compare pitching staffs from different eras, so I am going to limit my discussion to non-pitchers, except for this paragraph by way of explanation. The statistics cited here are strikeouts per nine inning game (SPG) and the pitchers' all-time ranking in this category. We have to drop out of the top 125 strikeout pitchers of all time to find the first great early fireballers. I believe Rube Waddell (7.04, #130), Smokey Joe Wood (6.21, #243), Dazzy Vance (6.20, #245) and Bullet Bob Feller (6.07, #260) would have been great pitchers in any era, but what would have happened if an average pitcher of the past started tossing 80-85 mph "fast balls" to George Foster, Johnny Bench and Tony Pérez? They may have all hit 60+ home runs in the same season! Conversely, who is to say how many games Don Gullett (5.96, #293) would have won if he and his near-100-mph fastball had been transported back in time? After all, Gullett is comparable to Feller in SPG and he's comfortably ahead of Whitey Ford (5.55, #393), Johnny Vander Meer (5.53, #395), Hal Newhouser (5.40, #417), Walter Johnson (5.34, #437), Dizzy Dean (5.32, #442), Lefty Gomez (5.28, #455), Ed Walsh (5.27, #457), Lefty Grove (5.17, #479), Chief Bender (5.10, #505), Tim Keefe (4.57, #637) and Rube Marquard (4.34, #690). I think it's safe to say that the average pitching speed in the past was far from spectacular, just by examining the innings and strikeouts of the top pitchers. Some of the famous aces of the past were pitching 300 to 400 innings per year, and striking out 120 or fewer batters, even though the hitters were using heavier bats. For instance, Cy Young (3.43, #919) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (3.81, #822) were obviously not throwing extreme heat. Young must have been slower than Christmas, because a typical season for him was close to 400 innings and around 120 strikeouts, and that was true even when he was in his prime. Many pitchers of yore with lots of career strikeouts got them only because they threw beaucoup innings. For instance, Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell and Eddie Plank were under 4.5 SPG and out of the top 600. There was obviously a dearth of pitching speed, aside from a few blazing exceptions. When a flameballing strikeout artist like Rube Waddell or Dazzy Vance appears, he really sticks out in the pitching statistics because strikeouts were so few and far between back then. For instance, in 1927, the year of the famous Yankees "murder's row" led by Ruth and Gehrig, only two pitchers struck out as many as 174 batters: Vance and Grove. Hell, only nine pitchers had 100 or more strikeouts! Either all the batters had the eyesight and coordination of Ted Williams, or the pitches were relatively slow and easy to make contact with. The statistics obviously suggest the latter, and explain why Ruth and Gehrig hit so many homers that year. I believe my compilation here is a reasonably complete list of the main strikeout kings from 1900 to 1950. There is an obvious connection between velocity and HPG, because the leaders in HPG were speed merchants: Herb Score, Nolan Ryan, Clayton Kershaw, Sid Fernandez, J. R. Richard, et al. Even among elders the strikeout kings were generally the best in HPG: Ed Walsh, Smokey Joe Wood, Bullet Bob Turley, Walter Johnson, Rube Waddell, et al. In conclusion, it is my opinion that if the 1976 Reds pitching staff were transported back in time to 1950 or earlier, they would suddenly have become a staff of all-time aces. Don Gullett (5.96, #293) compares with Bob Feller; Fred Norman (6.05, #272) with Dazzy Vance; Gary Nolan (5.58, #386) with Whitey Ford; Pat Zachry (5.11, #499) with Lefty Grove; Jack Billingham (4.6, #629) with Tim Keefe. So in any comparison to teams of the first half of the 20th century, the fireballing Reds would have a staff equivalent to Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Dazzy Vance, Whitey Ford and Tim Keefe. If we pair those five Hall of Fame pitchers with the Great Eight, I think it's safe to say they would blow away the 1927 Yankees, or any other team they might face! Of course there are pitching factors other than speed, but let's be honest ... what made Rapid Robert Feller a legend? Obviously, the speed of his fastball. What made Herb Score a sensation? Ditto. What made Walter Johnson a legend? Ditto. So it stands to reason that if we sent Bullet Gullett back in time, his fastball would make him a legend. Gary Nolan also had a blazing fastball; at age 18 he struck out Willie Mays four times in a game and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning for his rookie season. Fred Norman's fastball was described as "electric" and topped out around 94 mph. Pat Zachry threw a mean fastball in the 90-92 mph range. The real difference is that in the past only a few rare pitchers could really bring the heat, whereas in modern times many talented pitchers can.

Back to the Future

Suppose we sent the 1976 Reds back in time to play the 1927 Yankees. What would happen to their batting statistics when adjusted for slower fastballs, all-white teams that were slower with more limited range, and a general lack of top-notch relief pitching that kept struggling starters in games longer? Quite obviously, the much faster, more athletic, more powerful Reds would go offensively berserk! Here are my attempts at projections for the results of the time tunnel trip:

1927 Big Red Machine Batting Statistics (bold indicates the projected MLB leader)

Pos   Name                 -G-   AB    -R-    -H-  2B  3B    HR   RBI     SB    BB     BA   
3B    Pete Rose          152   650   195   261   60   15     15      80      30   100    .402
RF    Ken Griffey        148   600   155   223   40   20     30    130   100     80    .372
2B    Joe Morgan        141   575   180   210   50   20     45    160   120   150    .365
LF    George Foster    144   600   150   210   30   20     60    180     40   100    .350
1B    Tony Pérez         139   580   110   185   40   15     50    145     20     80    .319
C     Johnny Bench      135   500     90   145   30  10      45    130     25   110    .290
SS    D. Concepción   150   600   100   200   40   20     18      95     50     60    .333
CF   Cesar Gerónimo  149   550     85   180   35  25      10      85     45    75     .327

That's 1,065 runs, 1,005 RBI, 273 home runs, and 430 steals! If my projections seem "extreme," please consider the fact that in 1927 the ponderously slow Yankees scored 976 runs. Nearly 50 MLB players hit .300. Twenty-one players hit ten or more triples, even though the all-white teams were slower back then, and there were fewer teams and players. And even if my projections are discounted, the Reds would have had, far and away, the best team speed, defense and relief pitching of all the teams in 1927. Also, as I mused above, I think they would also have had by far the best starting pitching. How do the Reds compare with the best 1927 team? As I will explain in more detail when the teams are compared directly, the 1927 Yankees had three catchers who couldn't hit, and two of them had lame arms. They had a centerfielder who, according to Bill James, had the worst outfield arm in the history of baseball. They committed 196 errors as a team and were weakest on defense where the Reds were strongest, up the middle, having a shortstop with 47 errors and two second basemen who combined for 45 errors. They also had two of the worst base stealers of all time, in terms of success on a percentage basis. If my projections are anywhere close to accurate, the Reds would have made mincemeat of the mighty 1927 Yankees.

What about the 2016 Cubs?

Now that the Cubs have finally won the World Series, after a drought of 108 years, how do the 2016 Cubbies compare to the 1976 Reds? Puh-lease! No one is going to mistake any of the Cubs catchers for Johnny Bench, ever. Anthony Rizzo is a nice first baseman, but he trails Pérez by more than 1,200 RBI. Check back if he averages 100 RBI per year for the next twelve years. Neither Javier Baez nor Ben Zobrist come close to Morgan at second. Addison Russell is a promising young shortstop, but he hit .238 with 135 strikeouts, while Concepción hit .280 or better eight times and had ten consecutive seasons in which he was either an all-star or won a Gold Glove (usually both). Kris Bryant is another very promising player, and he only trails Pete Rose by around 4,000 hits! It may take him quite awhile to catch up. Jorge Soler was another .238 hitter in left, and no competition for "the Destroyer." Jason Heyward was even worse in right, hitting a woeful .230 and slugging an anemic .325. Dexter Fowler had a nice year in center, and might match up fairly evenly with Gerónimo, giving the Cubs one potential tie or win, in eight head-to-head matchups. And even when it comes to versatility, the Cubs were better than most teams, but not the Reds. Pete Rose was all-world at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF, and even played CF and managed while playing! Pérez was an all-star at 1B three times and an all-star at 3B four times. Bench played C, 1B, 3B, LF, RF and even CF! Morgan played 2B, 3B, LF and CF. Foster played LF, CF, RF and 1B. Griffey played RF, CF, LF and 1B. Gerónimo played CF, RF and LF. Concepción played SS, 1B, 2B, 3B, and even pitched 1 1/3 shutout innings (he started out as a pitcher in his youth). Dan Driessen played 1B, 3B, LF and RF. The Reds were extremely versatile; they were loaded with gold gloves at the most important defensive positions; they were superior baserunners; and they had six or seven players who were hall-of-fame caliber. Even if Rizzo and Bryant prove to be all-time greats, the Cubs have a LOT of catching up to do, especially at catcher, second base, shortstop, in the outfield and on the basepaths.

But don't lose heart, Cubs fans ... because as we are about to see, the fearsome "murderers' row" teams of the past don't stack up so well against the 1976 Reds either, when all facets of the game are considered. If you stick with me, on this page I will compare the 1976 Reds position-by-position with the 1927 Yankees, the 1939 Yankees, the 1961 Yankees, the 1998 Yankees and other candidates for the mantle of the all-time greatest baseball team.

How good was Rose at the different positions he played? Well, he was an all-star 17 times at five different positions. He is the only player in major league history to have more than 500 plate appearances at five different positions. From 1963-1966, he was Rookie of the Year, an all-star, and twice a top ten MVP candidate at second base. In 1967 and from 1972-1974, he was a three-time all-star and won the 1973 NL MVP award in left field. From 1968-1971, he was a four-time all-star, won two Gold Gloves and was a three-time top ten MVP candidate in right field. From 1975-1978 he was a four-time all-star and five-time top fifteen MVP candidate at third base. From 1979-1986 he was a five-time all-star and two-time top fifteen MVP candidate at first base. There has never been a major league player who played so many different positions at such a high level, and for such long periods of time. When Matt Snyder published his picks for the Reds All-Time Single Season Team, Rose wasincrediblya contender for the best season ever at four different positions: 3B from 1975-1978, LF in 1973, RF from 1968-1970, and UT in 1969. He might have also been a contender at 1B in 1979, but that was his first year with the Philadelphia Phillies!

Contenders or Pretenders?

Were the 1976 Reds the best team ever? Let's take a look at the other main contenders ...

Does the most famous "Murder's Row" lineup compare? No, I don't think so. The 1927 Yankees had "weak sister" hitters in Joe Dugan and the catching platoon of Pat Collins, Johnny Grabowski and Benny Bengough. They also had some truly terrible fielders including an outfield with 41 errors, a shortstop with 47 errors and two second basemen who combined for 45 errors! They had 196 errors as a team, two catchers and a centerfielder with lame arms, and two of the all-time worst base stealers. Would any sane person pick Dugan (.321 OBP) over Rose, Collins (unable to throw) over Bench, Tony Lazzeri (29 errors!) over Morgan, Mark Koenig (47 errors!) over Concepción, or Earle Combs (14 errors and the worst outfield arm in baseball history according to Bill James) over Gerónimo? Half the "murder's row" is gone in an eyeblink, as soon as the honest comparisons begin. And while Ruth and Gehrig might possibly have been stars against modern pitching, does anyone really think the portly Ruth could hit .393 today, or steal 17 bases (his career highs)? That team's offensive statistics were obviously inflated by its era. And even if the 1927 Yankees were the superior offensive team, which I think doubtful, the 1976 Reds were still worlds better at defense, baserunning and athleticism. And to be honest, Foster in his prime was probably competitive with Ruth, if we adjust Ruth's staggering statistics to the modern era. Ditto for Gehrig and Pérez, or at the very least they would have been a lot closer, statistics-wise. Conversely, if we sent great modern athletes back to 1927, who can guess what they might have accomplished? Foster might have hit .350 with 60 home runs, or more. Morgan would surely have run wild, literally, hitting around .400 with 100+ steals and 40+ home runs. Bench would have made the other catchers' eyes boggle, with his prodigious arm and his incredible skills behind the plate. The Reds might have stolen 500 bases, while Bench gunned down anyone foolish enough to run against him! And really, come on ... Ruth and Gehrig were two of the worst base stealers of all time. The year Ruth managed to steal 17 bases, he was thrown out 21 times! In his career Gehrig stole 102 bases and was caught 100 times. Ruth stole 123 bases and was caught 117 times, and some of the failures were agonizing to watch. Bench would have pissed himself laughing as they lumbered toward second, out by a country mile! On the other side, Pat Collins was not only an "offensive afterthought," but his arm was described as "lame," "weak" and "terrible." His manager Miller Huggins described Collins as a basket case harboring "the delusion he can't throw to second." The Yankees' backup catcher, Benny Bengough, also had a bum arm. The only Yankees catcher with any kind of arm was Johnny Grabowski, but he had a slugging percentage of .328 and zero home runs in 1927. And he was far from the standards of Johnny Bench, as in 1927 the Yankees threw out only 29% of much slower base stealers (33 of 114). What would happen when Collins and Bengough were forced to sit and stow their bats because they couldn't throw, and the base stealers on the other side were Morgan, Griffey & Co.?

I will make a similar argument regarding the 1961 Yankees. Even if Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had the same unbelievable seasons, the rest of the lineup simply doesn't compare to the 1976 Reds. Who picks Bobby Richardson (.295 OBP) over Morgan, Tony Kubek (.306 OBP with 30 errors) over Concepción, Clete Boyer (.224 BA, .308 OBP) over Rose, Elston Howard over Bench, Bill Skowron (.318 OBP) over Pérez, or Yogi Berra (.330 OBP) in left field over Foster? The honest comparisons become comical, almost preposterous. And if we match Foster against Maris, in a tie or near-tie when we adjust for eras, the only player on the 1961 Yankees who really stands out is Mickey Mantle. And once again the Reds were far better in other areas. For instance, Mantle led the 1961 Yankees with 12 steals. The Reds would have run rings around them. There is really no comparison. Give me Mantle and I'll take the rest of the Reds.

Ditto with the 1939 Yankees, who were ponderously slow on the bases and had two starters who hit .235 or lower with OBPs barely above .300. The 1939 Yankees were the only team other than the 1976 Reds to have seven of eight starters in one All-Star Game: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Frank Crosetti, Red Rolfe, George Selkirk and Lou Gehrig. But Gehrig was at the end of his illustrious career, and only played in eight games, hitting and slugging .143 with just one RBI, so he doesn't count for our purposes here. Crosetti was an all-star in an era when shortstops weren't expected to hit. And who picks Dickey over Bench, Babe Dahlgren over Pérez, Gordon over Morgan, Crosetti over Concepción, Rolfe over Rose, or Selkirk over Foster? We are left with the incomparable DiMaggio in center, a possible stalemate with Griffey versus Charlie Keller in right (although Griffey's superior speed wins the tie in my opinion), and a bunch of "no ways." Dickey was an outstanding catcher, but he was no Johnny Bench. Toss out Dahlgren with his anemic .235/.312/.377 because he doesn't come close to Pérez. Gordon had a great year and an excellent career, but he was no Morgan with 11 steals and 10 thrown-outs. Crosetti is no contest at shortstop with his anemic .233/.315/.332. Rolfe had a splendid year but was no match for one of the all-time greats (Rose more than tripled Rolfe's career hits). Selkirk also had a nice year, but was never going to be called "the Destroyer" like Foster. Looking at the 1939 Yankees' statistics, and the other teams' statistics that year, I suspect that the ball was "juiced" or all the pitchers had off seasons at the same time. That year 41 players hit over .300, compared to 24 in 1976 with more teams and players. But even if the numbers hold up, give me the immortal DiMaggio and I'll take the rest of the Reds.

But what about the other best team of modern times, the 1998 Yankees? Give a big edge to Derek Jeter having a fabulous offensive year at short. Perhaps give a smaller edge to Tino Matrinez at first, although Pérez was not far behind and was better over the long haul. Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neil were comparable to Foster and Griffey in the outfield; call it a tie or close to a tie. But Jorge Posada was no match for Johnny Bench at catcher. Chuck Knoblauch was no match for Morgan at second. Scott Brosius had a nice year but cannot compare to Pete Rose at third. In the third outfield position, Chad Curtis hit .243 and Darryl Strawberry hit .247. The Yankees had fewer steals and a much lower success rate at base stealing. They had one Gold Glove winner (Bernie Williams) to the Reds' four. They had one probable hall-of-fame player (Derek Jeter) to the Reds' four to six. The Yankees came close to the Reds in slugging (116 OPS+ versus the Reds' 120 OPS+), but they had the advantage of the DH and if we subtract the Reds' pitchers, their team OPS+ rises to 129. So it seems the Reds were better in every respect. I rank it 4-2-2 for the Reds.

Other Contenders and Pretenders ...

The 1997 Seattle Mariners were strong with Ken Griffey Jr., Aurelio Rodriguez and Jay Buhner, but get blown away at C, 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, team speed and defense.
The 1996 New York Yankees were competitive with Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams, but they were blown away at C, 2B, 3B, LF and in team speed and defense.
The 1977 Boston Red Sox were competitive with Fisk, Scott, Hobson, Yastrzemski, Rice and Lynn. But they were overmatched at 2B, SS and tremendously outclassed in team speed and defense. And Fisk is not Bench, Scott is not Pérez, Hobson is not Rose, Doyle is not Morgan, Burleson is not Concepción.
The 1970 Cincinnati Reds stack up well with Bench, Rose, Lee May (1B), Pérez (at 3B) and Bobby Tolan (CF) having great years. But they drop off at 2B, SS, LF, team speed and defense.
The 1970 Baltimore Orioles were strong with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Paul Blair and Gerónimo were about even. There was no comparison at C, 2B, SS, LF or in base stealing.
The 1966 Baltimore Orioles were strong with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Luis Aparicio and Concepción were about even. There was no comparison at C, 2B, CF, LF or in base stealing.
The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers were strong with Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Pee-Wee Reese, but it was close to a draw at 1B, SS and two outfield spots, while the Dodgers were overmatched at C, 2B, 3B and one OF position with Sandy Amoros. And they could not compete in team speed or defense.
The 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers were strong with Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson (playing in the outfield), Carl Furillo and Pee-Wee Reese, but are close at C, 1B and SS, and were vastly overmatched at 2B and 3B. Only Snider is a clear winner in CF; the other outfield positions look like draws. The Dodgers could not compete in team speed or defense, and did not even win the World Series that year.
The 1936 New York Yankees had Gehrig, DiMaggio and Dickey having a phenomenal season at C, but were overmatched at every other position and in team speed and defense.
The 1932 New York Yankees had Ruth and Gehrig but were outmatched at C, 2B, SS, 3B, CF and LF. Only Ben Chapman could run; most of the agonizingly slow Yanks were thrown out as much or more than they succeeded!
The 1932 Philadelphia Athletics had superstars in Jimmy Foxx and Al Simmons but were weak at 2B, SS and 3B and had no player with 10+ steals. And there is the "inflation" factor with 36 players hitting .300 or higher that year.
The 1929 Philadelphia Athletics had superstars in Jimmy Foxx and Al Simmons but were weak at 2B, SS and 3B and had only one player with 10+ steals. Again there is the "inflation" factor with 20 players hitting .339 or higher.
The 1906 Chicago Cubs had great pitching, speed and the famous Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield trio. But they had five players who hit .255 or lower, and three who slugged .315 or lower (including Tinker and Evers).
The 1907 Chicago Cubs won 107 games with great starting pitching, but the starters hit .250 with an anemic slugging percentage of .311.
The 1902 Pittsburg Pirates had the great Honus Wagner at SS, but come up short at every other position.

By now you should be laughing with me at the thought that these other all-time-great lineups compare with the 1976 Reds ... unless you're a fan of the other teams, in which case you may prefer to ignore actual evidence. And that's okay. If I were a Yankees fan, I would probably choose to live in denial too, insisting that Babe Ruth could still attempt 48 steals (as he did in 1923), bat as high as .393, and crush 60 home runs against modern pitching. But somewhere deep inside, we know that it isn't true. And somewhere deep inside we also know that Joe Dugan, Clete Boyer and Mike Pagliarulo don't compare to Pete Rose; that Pat Collins, Elston Howard and Don Slaught don't compare to Johnny Bench; that Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Richardson and Willie Randolph don't begin to hold a candle to Joe Morgan, and so on. The simple truth is that in 1976 every Reds starter was Hall-of-Fame caliber, or had, at the very least, an all-star year. Not only as hitters, but as baserunners and defenders. There were no weak links, no weak sister hitters. There were only ascending orders of excellence. And that cannot be said about any other starting lineup in the history of baseball. Show me your team, and I will show you weak sister hitters, slowpokes on the basepaths, mediocre defenders, inflated statistics ... but the 1976 Reds starters all excelled as hitters, defenders and baserunners.

So which other team comes closest to the 1976 Big Red Machine? Well, duh, the 1975 Big Red Machine, with the same cast of characters and very similar results. The 1975 Reds led all MLB teams in plate appearances, runs, RBIs, walks, OBP, OPS+ and stolen base efficiency. They had the same four gold glove up the middle. They had the same ultra-efficient base stealers. They won a staggering 108 games against some very stiff competition. First, there was a loaded Pittsburg outfit (David Parker, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Richie Zisk, Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Rennie Stennet, Frank Taveras, and a very talented pitching staff with a 3.01 team ERA that was a third of a run better per game than the Reds could muster). Second, there was an equally loaded Los Angeles team (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Jimmy Wynn, Willie Crawford, Bill Buckner, Lee Lacy, Steve Yeager, and an even better pitching staff with a league-leading 2.94 ERA headed by Don Sutton, Andy Messersmith, Burt Hooten and Mike Marshall). Then there was a star-studded Philadelphia roster (Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Dick Allen, Dave Cash, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Garry Maddux, Jay Johnstone and a pitching staff headed by Steve Carlton, Gene Garber and Tug McGraw). To win 108 games against that sort of competition was no small feat. But the 1975 Reds were not quite as good as the 1976 Reds, because Foster, Concepción and Gerónimo were not quite as good as they were in 1976. And the 1975 Reds didn't run the table in the postseason.

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