In his typical quiet demeanor, Dan Driessen accepted his place among the Cincinnati Reds legends. To me, it was overdue.
During his 11+ seasons as a member of the Reds, Driessen was the unsung, unappreciated and unasuming member of the Big Red Machine. Being on a roster with guys such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Cesar Geronimo, George Foster and Ken Griffey, Drieseen just as soon let those guys have the spotlight.
It’s Dan Driessen. What else should we expect?
This past Saturday, Driessen finally received his honor. Not only does he hold the distinction of being the first ever National League player to be a designated hitter, it’s a distinction that will never change or be challenged.
I recall a game from 1977. The Reds were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. As were most Reds/Phillies games throughout the 70’s, it was a typical tight contest. Entering the 9th inning, the game was tied at 4 a piece. Legendary manager Sparky Anderson looked to Jack Billingham to keep the Phillies close. Yes, Jack Billingham was brought into a game in the 9th inning. We know how Sparky was with his staff. This occasion would be one that would bite him. These days, Twitter would have shut down due to overload of tweets based on that single decision.
The Phillies scored the go-ahead run in that half inning. With one out and Larry Bowa on third, Billingham allowed a sacrifice fly to Richie Hebner to give the Phils a 5-4 lead. That’s when the Reds, and in particular Driessen, provide an exciting finish.
Tug McGraw entered the game for Philly. All looked bleak for the Good Guys. The inning did start off in promising fashion as Ken Griffey singled. George Foster came to the plate. After Foster struck out, Griffey was thrown out attempting to steal second on a “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out” play. Two outs and little life was left among the 46,139 gathered at Riverfront Stadium.
Driessen represented the last chance. He was wearing an 0-4 up to that point of the game. A pair of ground outs, a fly out and a line out was on the scorecard by his name. Driessen would take a McGraw offering a send it into deep center.
Hey, that was a lefty-lefty matchup…
For those that remember, Driessen possessed decent speed. Maybe even a tad above. In that 1977 season, he stole 31 bases, the most he would ever post in a season.
The ball was bounding around out in center and Phillies center fielder Jerry Martin had difficulty in retrieving the bouncing ball. Driessen was rounding third and heading for home. (Yes, I can still hear Nuxy saying that today.) The throw was late and Driessen had a stand-up, game-tying, inside-the-park home run. Game tied at 5-5.
You know, 1977 could have been an extremely taxing and difficult one for Driessen. He was replacing the ever popular Tony Perez as the Reds starting first baseman. The previous December, Cincinnati had dealt Perez along with Will McEnaney to the Montreal Expos for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray. Instead, Driessen made the absolute best of the situation. His slash was .300/.375/.468 with those 31 thefts, 17 HR and 91 RBI. He also scored 75 runs. 1977 would be Driessen’s best all-around year as a member of the Reds.
…Johnny Bench. He would send a Tug McGraw pitch sailing over the left field wall and deliver a 6-5 Reds victory.
I know this happened not because I can go to a number of sites and retrieve this information. I can speak of this because I was one of those in attendance. Another event from that game that still stands out in my mind.
A Phillies phan was walking around saying “We are Phil-ly” (always with an adult beverage in hand, too). My brother was becoming miffed at this guy. He approached that man and asked him “Who won the World Series last year?”
That’s my bro…
Driessen was quick to receive accolades for his defensive prowess. While with the Reds, he led the NL in fielding percentage among first basemen on three occasions (’78, ’82, ’83), yet he never was honored with a Gold Glove. In each of those three seasons, some dude named Keith Hernandez was awarded the Gold Glove. The Reds knew of his defensive value. Reds fans knew of it as well.
What may surprise some is that Driessen is 9th as far as games played by a Reds player (1,480). Th eonly memeber of the Big Red Machine that played more were Rose (1st-2,722), Concepcion (2nd-2,488), Bench (4th-2,158), and Perez (6th-1,948). He also ranks 10th in plate appearances (5,487), 9th in walks (687), 5th in sacrifice flies (58), and, this one surprised me a bit, 8th in intentional walks (79).
Yes, Dan Driessen has finally received his due. One aspect of Driessen was his quietness. That may have hindered this process.
I always thought of Driessen as an integral cog of the Big Red Machine. Thank goodness the Veterans Committee did, too.