Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1975 World Series. The 1975 season was actually rather stressful for Sparky Anderson and the Cincinnati Reds. They were arguably the most talented team in the entire National League, but in 1970 they lost the World Series in five games to the Baltimore Orioles (Brooks Robinson’s legendary performance). In 1972 they lost to Oakland in seven games. In 1973 they were upset in the NLCS by the 82-win Mets. And then in 1974 they finished four games behind the Dodgers in the NL West despite winning 98 games. Despite averaging 95 wins for the first half of the decade, the Reds didn’t have a World Series to show for it. Things didn’t help when they got off to a sluggish start to the season. After splitting a two-game series with the Mets Cincy stood at 21-20, five games behind the Dodgers and in third place.
They won six of seven to close out the month of May. After sweeping a double header from the Cubs on June 8 the Reds had a game and a half lead in the division. They would never trail again. After that 21-20 start the Big Red Machine motored to an 87-34 record the rest of the way, finishing with a 108-54 record, 20 games ahead of the Dodgers. For more details about their season I highly recommend “The Machine” by Joe Posnanski.
Even most fans my age know that this team was about scoring runs. That season they score 840 runs (5.2 runs per game), 105 more than any other team in the league. They finished third in homeruns and slugging percentage (ironically behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in both – all three played in virtually the same ballpark. The three slugging percentages: Philly .402, Pitt .402, Cincy .401). They also led the league in stolen bases and stolen base percentage (the Mets were caught stealing 10 fewer times, but only stole 32 bases as opposed to the Reds’ 168). The lineup that made the team famous (and gave them the nickname):
|RF||Ken Griffey, Sr.|
That’s three Hall of Famers, one would be if not for his transgressions, 65 total All-Star appearances, 26 total Gold Gloves, six guys with over 2,000 career hits, three guys with over 300 homeruns, five guys with over 1,000 runs (and Concepcion and Foster fall just short), including one of only seven guys with 2,000.
But with all that, the team still finished third in the league in ERA. The team did it as a full staff, though. Sparky Anderson had earned the nickname “Captain Hook” since he pulled his starters at the slightest sense of trouble. The Reds were dead last with 22 complete games*. Only two starters cleared 200 innings while their top four relievers combined for nearly 400 innings. Not a big deal today, but 40 years ago this was a drastic shift.
*-To put that number in perspective the NL average in 1975 was 36 complete games. This past season the Giants were the only team with 10 complete games and the two leagues combined for 83.
After taking the first two games of the NLCS handily the Reds needed two runs in the top of the tenth to sweep the series.
The Red Sox were a somewhat different story. While compiling winning records, they had cleared 90 wins only once since 1951. In 1975, though, things started to click. First off, the lineup featured five players under 25, and they produced. Designated hitter Cecil Cooper (25 years old, .311/.355/.544, 143 OPS+), right fielder Dwight Evans (23, .274/.353/.456, 120), and left fielder Jim Rice (22, .309/.350/.491, 128) all played key roles, but were overshadowed by another youngster. Fred Lynn got a brief cup of coffee as a September call-up in 1974 and rapped 18 hits (12 for extra bases) and six walks in 51 plate appearances. He carried that over and earned the everyday job in 1975. In 145 games he hit .331/.401/.566, led the league in doubles, runs, slugging, and OPS, becoming the first player ever to win MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season, making the All-Star team and winning a Gold Glove as well. Another spark was former Rookie of the Year Carlton Fisk coming back. In June of the previous year he was severely injured in a collision at home plate, ending his season. He needed reconstructive knee surgery and the common thought was that his career was done. Well, 12 months later he was back, hitting .331/.395/.529 in 79 games. This team led the American League in runs, average, OBP, slugging, and OPS.
Unlike the Reds, though, the Red Sox were very dependent on their hitting. The pitching staff was ninth in the league in ERA (their 3.96 FIP was right in line with their 3.98 ERA). Also, they relied heavily on their starters, particularly veterans “Spaceman” Bill Lee, Luis Tiant, Rick Wise, and Reggie Cleveland. While their ERA was four percent better than the league average they allowed a league high 145 homeruns.
In the ALCS the Red Sox swept the three-time defending World Champion Oakland A’s, trailing for only three innings, to make it back to the Fall Classic.
Game 1 was in Boston as the 34-year old Tiant went against Don Gullett. Gullett got into an early jam in the first when Dewey Evans led off with a single, was bunted over (34 points) by Denny Doyle*, and then Yaz walked. Carlton Fisk then popped out to Joe Morgan (infield fly rule), bringing up Fred Lynn.
*-This should be noted about Sawx middle infielders “hitting”
Lynn hit a dribbler past the pitcher that came to Morgan just as Yaz was running past him to second. Morgan didn’t field it cleanly and the ball kicked towards the bag. Dave Concepcion picked it up and an alert Morgan called out to Davey to throw home as he saw Evans trying to score. Concepcion’s throw was on target, and Evans was out at the plate to end the threat. The Sox put another threat together in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. Cecil Cooper then to shallow center. Cesar Geronimo circled under it, caught it, and fired a strike to Bench, who tagged Fred Lynn who tried to tag up (for some inexplicable reason), ending the threat.
Then in the seventh, the scoreless tie was broken. Luis Tiant led off with a single (the pitcher batted in this entire series – 1986 was the first year they based the league rules on home ballpark). Then Dwight Evans went to bunt him over, but Gullett’s throw was late and went into center. Lynn then singled to left to load the bases. Yastrzemski then singled to right to score Tiant and break the tie. Clay Carroll came in to relieve Gullett and promptly walked Carlton Fisk for the second run. Will McEnaney came in and struck out Lynn for the second out. Rico Petrocelli then singled to score a pair. Rick Burelson then singled to score a fifth run. Cecil Cooper added a sac fly and the game was over. Luis Tiant went the distance, allowing only five hits as the Red Sox took Game 1, 6-0.
Game 2 pitted the Spaceman against Jack Billingham. Boston struck first when Fisk’s RBI single scored Yastrzemski for a 1-0 lead after the first. It remained that way until a Tony Perez ground out scored Joe Morgan and the score was tied through four. Then in the sixth, Yastrzemski singled with one out then Concepcion misplayed Fisk’s grounder and men were on first and second. After Lynn flied out to shallow right it looked like Billingham might get out of it. But Rico Petrocelli singled up the middle on a full count to score Yaz and the score was 2-1.
The Reds came up for their last chance in the ninth against Bill Lee and Bench led off with a double into the right field corner. That was all for Lee. Dick Drago came on in relief and got Perez and Foster while Bench could only get to third. With two out the potential goat Dave Concepcion came to the plate. With the count at 1-1 Concepcion bounced one up the middle while second baseman Denny Doyle could do nothing but hold onto it and the game was tied. Then after several tosses to first Concepcion stole second, sliding in just under the tag. Then after fighting off a couple of pitches Ken Griffey lined a double into left-center and the Reds had the lead. Rawly Eastwick finished off Boston in the bottom of the ninth and the series was tied heading to the Queen City.
Game 3 started off all about the long ball. Fisk homered to lead off the second, then Rick Wise hit a two-run shot in the fourth. The Reds led off the bottom of the fifth with back-to-back homers from Concepcion and Geronimo (the two combined to hit 152 in over 14,000 plate appearances). The Reds added another run and it was 5-1 after five. The Red Sox got a run back in the sixth, then the former Red Bernie Carbo homered to make it a two run game. Then in the ninth Rawly Eastwick came on with one on and one out to finish off the game, but the first hitter was Dwight Evans and he launched a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall to tie the game at 5-5.
Now understand, this game was goofy. I mentioned the aforementioned lack of power from Concepcion and Geronimo, but you have to understand that George Foster and Tony Perez each stole a base. Those two were a combined 100 for 164 in their combined over 6,300 times on base. So naturally in a game where a World Series record was set for most combined homeruns in one game, the most remembered play was a bunt.
Cesar Geronimo led the bottom of the tenth off with a single to right past the diving Doyle. Then Ed Armbrister pinch hit for Eastwick to bunt. Why? Because he was an excellent bunter according to Tony Kubek*.
*-If I was a GM and a manager wanted a guy on the roster because he was a good bunter he would be a former manager.
Anyway, Armbrister bunted and then everything went crazy. The bunt was right in front of home plate and Armbrister took a couple of steps and was in the way of Fisk, who ended up throwing the ball into center field. Home plate umpire Larry Barnett ruled that Armbrister was not in fair territory, therefore was not guilty of interference. Barnett was clearly wrong on this call, but it stood, so instead of a runner on first with one out the Reds had second and third with nobody out. Pete Rose was intentionally walked to load the bases and after Merv Rettenmund struck out Joe Morgan singled up the middle and the Reds had a 2-1 series lead.
(Quick side note: In watching all of these games from 30-40 years ago you realize that the umpires were much worse than now. It makes me wonder how bad they were 50, 60, even 100 years ago.)
The Reds got the scoring started in Game 4 right away. Rose singled to lead off the bottom of the first then Griffey laced a double into the left-center field gap. Rose was running on the pitch and scored easily (though knowing how Rose was he probably would’ve score anyway. Griffey tried to stretch it into a triple but was thrown out at third. They scored another run in the inning when Joe Morgan singled and later scored on a Johnny Bench double.
It remained that way until the fourth. Carlton Fisk lined a single into left-center to lead off the inning, followed by Fred Lynn singling to right. After a pop out, Fred Norman threw his first pitch to Dwight Evans in the dirt. Bench failed to stop it and the runners advanced. Evans made the Reds pay with a triple to right-center*. That was followed up with a hustle double (with a close call at the bag) from Rick Burleson and Norman was done for the night.
*-By the way, as I do this research, I find out just how underrated and overrated a ton of players are. I believe Dwight Evans belongs in the Hall of Fame and Fred Lynn falls short, both are criminally underrated.
Pedro Borbon came in to face El Tiante, who lined a single to move Burleson to third. Borbon then jammed Juan Beniquez, but Tony Perez couldn’t field it cleanly and the Red Sox got another run. Yaz added a two-out single and the score was 5-2.
The Reds got a rally going with two outs in the bottom half of the inning. George Foster lined a ball up the middle. Denny Doyle nabbed it on one hop and threw to first, but it pulled Yaz off the bag and he couldn’t handle the throw cleanly and Foster beat the throw, otherwise Doyle would’ve gotten him. Oh, and the throw went into the dugout, so Foster moved to second. Dave Concepcion then hit a high, high fly ball into left-center. Somehow, Beniquez, Burleson, and Lynn didn’t collide, but the ball did drop and Foster scored to make it a two run game. Cesar Geronimo then tripled to score Davey, but that was as close as the Reds got. The Reds threatened in the ninth, when Geronimo singled to lead off then the Reds wasted an out with a sac bunt* so Pete Rose could draw a walk, putting the winning run on with one out. Ken Griffey then lined a ball that was still in Fred Lynn’s reach, who caught it over his shoulder on the warning track. Morgan popped out and the series was tied at two apiece.
*-Before anyone wants to yell and scream that my logic is stupid, read this part. The pitcher’s spot in the order was up, and if Rawly Eastwick was sent up to bunt, fine. Pitchers can’t hit, so bunt him over. Instead, Sparky put in a pinch hitter to bunt. Why waste a roster spot? Just plain stupid.
The pivotal Game 5 started with Red Sox getting the early lead, then Big Dog took over. With two out in the bottom of the fourth, Tony Perez blasted the first pitch Reggie Cleveland threw his way over the left-center field fence to tie the game. Then in the sixth Morgan drew a walk. After 17 throws to first (including seven before Cleveland threw a pitch to the plate – trust me, I counted) Bench singled to right, and Morgan darted for third. The throw took off, and Bench took second. Then, Big Dog was at it again.
Tony Perez came up and took a ball. Then he fouled one off into the seats. Fisk went after it like a rabid dog. He then fouled another one off. And then another. This one was closer, to being in play, though, and Fisk again was all over it. He threw the mask, chased, and dove into the Reds’ dugout, but the ball was just out of his reach. When he returned back to home plate Perez had Fisk’s mask and handed it to him. Perez then launched the very next pitch into the left field seats for a three-run homer and the game was over. Cincy was heading back to Beantown with a 3-2 series lead.
I would say that Game 6 deserves its own chapter, but it already has about 100,000,000 chapters written. Still, here we go. . .
The Red Sox opened up the scoring in Game 6 when after Yaz and Fisk singled Fred Lynn* blasted a three-run homer to give the Sawx an early 3-0 lead. It would stay that way until the fifth.
*-For what 15 games are worth, Fred Lynn in 15 postseason games hit .407/.450/.593 with two homers and 13 RBI.
Cesar Geronimo flied out harmlessly to lead off the inning, then Ed Armbrister – the one Sparky used as a pinch bunter – drew a walk. Yes, a guy who drew five walks and struck out 19 times in 72 plate appearances in 1975 drew a walk. And yes, he was pinch hitting for the pitcher. Pete Rose followed with a single, then Ken Griffey Sr. stepped up to bat.
Griffey blasted a 2-2 pitch to left-center . . . Actually, more center than left. As baseball fans know, that’s a long run in Fenway. Fred Lynn ran back and leapt into the air to catch it. He also leapt right into the wall. The ball deflected off of the wall – as did Lynn – and rolled into center field. Both Armbrister and Rose scored as Lynn laid against the wall. He later said that he couldn’t feel anything from the waist down, but stayed in the game anyway. Bench hit a one-out single and the game was tied.
Then in the seventh, Griffey and Morgan led off with back-to-back singles. After fly outs from Bench and Perez, George Foster blasted a shot off the top of the center field wall, scoring both runners and giving the Reds a 5-3 lead. Then in the eighth, Cesar Geronimo yanked the ball just inside the Pesky Pole in right to make the score 6-3 and the Big Red Machine looked like they just might have their World Series victory.
But then in the bottom of the eighth Fred Lynn singled off the mound/Pedro Borbon’s foot to lead off. Rico Petrocelli followed with a walk and Borbon’s night was done. In was Rawly Eastwick, who struck out Dwight Evans and got Burleson to fly out harmlessly to left. This brought up Bernie Carbo, pinch hitting for the pitcher’s spot. Bernie Carbo had a good major league career (126 OPS+, second in the 1970 Rookie of the Year voting, .264/.387/.427 slash line), but this at-bat defined him.
He worked Eastwick to a 2-2 count, then fouled off a couple of pitches (including what he considered the worst swing of his career), and then hit a long fly into center field. It was long enough for a three-run homer and the game was tied at 6-6. The former Red had just bit them.
The top of the ninth was uneventful, then in the bottom of the ninth Denny Doyle drew a walk and Yaz singled to get him to third with nobody out. Will McEnany was brought in to replace Eastwick and Fisk was intentionally walked to load the bases* and Fred Lynn came to the plate.
*-This is one of those few times that I justify an intentional walk. The runners on second and first don’t matter and now you have a force at any base.
Lynn hit the first pitch towards the third base line seats. It stayed in play, Foster caught it in foul play, then launched a one-hopper to Bench, who applied the tag just in time to get the tagging up Doyle. Petrocelli grounded out and the threat was over.
The next bit of excitement came in the 11th. After Pete Rose took a ball and fouled a couple of pitches off Dick Drago threw a pitch up and in. Rose turned away and went to first because home plate umpire Satch Davidson declared that the pitch hit Rose. The pitch clearly missed Rose, but the umpires were better back then and so Rose was on first with nobody out. Then Griffey bunted in an attempt to move Rose to second, but Fisk pounced on it and threw to second in time to get Charlie Hustle. Joe Morgan came to the plate and hit a 1-1 pitch to deep right. Dewey Evans caught it just short of the short wall, staggered, threw wide of first, but Yastrzemski was able to get to it and toss it over to Burleson to get Griffey, who was off from the word go. The ball may or may not have been out, but Evans’ catch clearly prevented Griffey from scoring.
Then comes the bottom of the 12th. Pat Darcy was brought in to pitch and Carlton Fisk came up to bat. Fisk took the first pitch up around the eyes, then launched a knee high fastball right down the left field line. Fisk jumped, watched, jumped, watched, waved, jumped, watched it go over the Green Monster, raised his arms, and there was going to be a Game 7. NBC decided to place a camera inside the scoreboard for the series, and because of their decision, we have Fisk’s memorable urgings to keep in baseball lore.
The other famous moment came afterwards, when Pete Rose went up to Sparky Anderson and said, “Wasn’t that a great game?!” Sparky was obviously put off by this. “How can you say it was a great game when we lost?!?!” Rose responded, “Don’t worry, we’ll win tomorrow. But wasn’t that great?”
Everyone knows my stance on Pete Rose, but no one can ever question his passion for the sport of baseball.
Game 7 featured the Spaceman, Bill Lee against Don Gullett. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third. Spaceman struck out then Bernie Carbo drew a walk and went to third on Denny Doyle’s single to right. Yaz then came up and singled to right to score Carbo, then Yaz took second as Griffey tried to throw out Doyle at third, but was late. Fisk was intentionally walked to load the bases, then Gullett struck out Lynn for the second out. Gullett lost the strike zone, however, and back to back walks to Petrocelli and Dewey Evans made the score 3-0.
It would remain that way until the sixth. Rose led off with a single to right, but Morgan flew out harmlessly to right and Bench hit a double play ball to short. Doyle’s throw, however was almost into the seats and Bench went to second.
We all know the old adage about giving a team extra outs. The Lee then decided with the count 1-0 to Tony Perez to throw his “Space Ball” – a high lob. Perez timed it and blasted it over the Green Monster, over the netting, over everything. The game was now 3-2.
Then in the seventh Griffey drew a one-out walk and Roger Moret came in to replace Spaceman. Moret got Cesar Geronimo to pop out to the shortstop. Griffey then stole second and pinch hitter Ed Armbrister drew a walk*. Rose then lined a 1-0 pitch to center field, bringing Griffey around to score. Jim Willoughby came in and got Bench to foul out to end the inning, but the game was tied at 3-3.
*-Ed Armbrister had 89 career pinch hit at-bats and had a .236 average with no homers and five RBI. I love Sparky, but some of his decisions leave me scratching my head.
It remained tied until the top of the ninth. Griffey led off with a walk and Geronimo bunted him to second, giving away an out despite the fact that Rico Petrocelli threw from the seat of his pants. Dan Driessen came on to pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot and grounded out, moving Griffey to third with two outs. Rose drew a walk, bringing up Joe Morgan. With the count 1-2 Morgan hit one off the end of the bat that dropped right in front of Fred Lynn in center. Rose took third (one of the iconic scenes from this series is his head-first slide at that moment) and Morgan went to second and Lynn’s throw to third wasn’t in time. Reggie Cleveland came in to finish the inning but the Reds were ahead 4-3.
Will McEnaney came on to close out the game for the Reds. When the Sawx’s last home Yaz flied out to Cesar Geronimo, the Big Red Machine finally had their World Championship. For the Reds it was their first since 1940. The Red Sox would take another 11 years until reaching the Fall Classic again, but it would be another 29 until they finally got over the hump. Pete Rose was the Series MVP, hitting .370/.485/.481 in the seven games.
Widely considered the best World Series of all time, the 1975 World Series was the most important World Series of its time. Football was rapidly surpassing baseball in television popularity (as well as overall popularity). The series featured crazy moments, controversy, fantastic plays made by big names and small ones. Five of the seven games were decided by one run. Two games went to extra innings, and in five of them the winning run was scored in the final inning. Much like 1986, 1991, 2001, 2011, and 2016, the 1975 World Series was a constant drama.
Baseball was starting to make more news off the field than on, as later that year Peter Seitz would rule in favor of the MLBPA, bringing forth the dawn of free agency. This series brought the attention back to the field.
In 1976 the Reds would run the table again, winning 102 games and sweeping the postseason, going 3-0 against the Phillies and 4-0 against the Yankees, and leading the National League in every single major offensive category. Reds’ GM Robert Howsam described them as the last perfect team. Within time age and money took the Big Red Machine apart. But from 1970 through 1978, the Big Red Machine went 863-586 (.595 winning percentage), won five division titles, three pennants, and two World Series championships. As for that starting lineup, here is how they rate in my Hall of Fame Rating:
|Ken Griffey, Sr.||40.73|
The average for that lineup was 57.65. I haven’t done a whole lot of lineup data yet, but that team will rank among the best of all time. Overall in this series, besides the Machine, you had Evans (60.02 HOFR), Lynn (52.56), Fisk (62.69), and Yaz (81.56).
A lot has been written about this series, but it is well deserved.