As a child of the 80s, with the aviator sunglasses and an obsession over rock ballads to prove it, the Big Red Machine was a memory before I even knew it existed. Rooting for the Redlegs through the decade of big hair and music videos left a kid with slim pickings, so with little success from the Cincinnati 9, I heard many stories about the great pedigree the previous generation of Reds’ fans had experienced. Just the starting lineup alone was apparently enough to weaken the steel in your spine and turn your knees to jelly. Rose. Griffey. Morgan. Bench. Perez. Foster. Geronimo. Concepcion. A new age Murderer’s Row, a vaunted lineup that caused lesser men to give up pitching even as a hobby, an eardrum shattering crew of hitters that caused mothers to cover the eyes of their young ones for fear of blindness from their aura alone.
Of course, they weren’t really that great of a team. They really weren’t much more than a decent team in a decade of far better peers. And it was all due to the waving arms of the second best catcher from that generation.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, the Rangers and Cardinals will embark on the sixth game in their series, a game that could decide where the Commissioner’s Trophy will be ensconced behind glass and ogled by the eyes of visiting fans. But when you talk of Game 6, invariably, the mind travels to only one time and destination: October 21, 1975 at Fenway Park in Boston, MA. I can’t accurately reflect the ebb and flow of that game because it took place 4 years before I was born (making our older readers feel real good right about now), but the power and magnitude of that game’s greatness did live on long after the stadium lights went out that night.
One of the first memories I kind of, sort of remember about baseball was when Bill Buckner let a ball roll just to the outside of his glove and the 1986 Mets touched paydirt for a game 6 victory and then an eventual World Championship. Beyond being one of the most memorable plays in baseball history, I remember it more because after the error and the loss in game 7, all the talk was about the Curse of the Bambino, the championship drought, the long history of Red Sox nation’s suffering, etc…
And I couldn’t help but wonder what all the hubbub was about. Hadn’t they just defeated the Reds with the epic drama of a walkoff home run back in 1975? Whenever I saw clips from that series, the image of Fisk maniacally waving his arms and then jumping in exuberance was the only highlight ever shown. I guess it was as adequate an explanation for why I assumed the “Sawks” had been the victors of that Series. Then why so much animosity and anger toward one guy committing one error? It wasn’t like it had been 68 years since the franchise had last won a championship. In my mind, it had only been 11 years, when they faced an almost great Reds team and defeated them in great fashion.
So growing up, the Reds of the Big Machine ilk had never really held a grip on my consciousness as a great baseball team. In fact, they hadn’t even been that good, one championship and a bunch of almost years is nice, but not the stuff of legends, not the performance that demanded people who were prone to poetic prose to reflect upon many years later. They had lost the 1970 World Series to a team whom included one of their best players ever. In ‘72, they were consumed by one of three championships of the true team of the 70s, the Oakland Athletics. They didn’t even make the Series with their 1973 club, one of the supposed best ever. And of course, in 1975, they allowed the Boston Red Sox to walk them off for yet another disappointing end to a season of “almosts” and “ifs.”
Sadly, I must admit that I didn’t learn about the 1975 Championship until somewhere between that Buckner error and the 1990 World Series. I can’t place the exact time or even how I found out, but I know that I figured it out on my own because I felt a twinge of shame for not knowing my Reds’ history and I remember keeping that little tidbit to myself. Until I revealed that dark secret just now, of course. Hooray Blog Red Machine.
When I got the full picture of the 1970s Reds, laden with two championships, not one, how they had swept through the postseason to win their second championship of the decade, how much they dominated the National League in that period and how they had come so close to two, if not three more championships, it wasn’t until then that I realized why the Big Red Machine was so revered and why they were the team of the 1970s. Some games, some moments, some singular swings of the bats could alter the entire image one had in their mind of all that.
While Game 7 always gets the most hype of any game in the Series, with Game 1 being a distant second, sometimes Game 6 will provide enough histrionics and epic tug and pull to nearly overshadow the entire series and the world champions themselves. The current World Series has been tipping back and forth as much as an over-served barfly, from the Texas Rangers being down 1-0, almost down 2-0, fighting to keep it even, to the the St. Louis Cardinals flexing their own lineup muscles, leaving the Rangers again to battle back twice and take the Cardinals to the precarious edge of elimination, from the quirky Albert Pujols error and his subsequent 3 home run exclamation of a game, to the overthinking by managers and the underthinking by players, it’s truly been a great and memorable series.
It’s probably true that in 20 years time, we will remember neither the Rangers nor the Cardinals in the same vein as the ‘27 Yankees or the Big Red Machine, but in this day and age, maybe that’s not all there is. Maybe someone will magically bring a long foul back on the smiling side of the fair pole with the wave of their arms and not only change the course of the series but also the course of some kid’s memory. It’s happened before, much to my chagrin.
So it’s your turn Rangers and Cardinals. I’m returning to when I learned about Game 6, 1975, back in my youth during the 1980s. My aviator sunglasses are all shined up; now take my breath away.
Topics: 1927 Yankees, 1975 World Series, Big Red Machine, Carlton Fisk, Cesar Geronimo, Dave Concepcion, Game 6, George Foster, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Pete Rose, St Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Tony Perez, World Series