1. Joe Morgan and Company
Entering the 1971 season the Cincinnati Reds were coming off a National League pennant winning season and seemed poised to return to the Fall Classic. The team featured veterans such as Pete Rose and Tony Perez paired with young stars like Johnny Bench and Don Gullett. Success seemed inevitable. As we all, know success can be fleeting. The 1971 Reds stumbled to a 79-83 record and a fourth place finish in the NL West. Changes would be made.
On November 29, 1971, the Cincinnati Reds franchise was changed forever. It was on that day that Reds General Manager Bob Howsam pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal with the Houston Astros. A total of eight players would have a change of address.
The Reds would acquire infielders Joe Morgan and Denis Menke, outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister, as well as right-handed starting pitcher Jack Billingham. Heading to the Lone Star State would be Reds first baseman Lee May and infielders Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart.
Morgan, Geronimo and Billingham would prove to be key pieces in making the Big Red Machine an unstoppable force for the rest of the decade. This group would capture four NL West titles, three NLCS titles, and two World Series titles. Morgan and Geronimo would be members of arguably the greatest lineup in baseball history, and Billingham is the proud owner of a career 0.36 ERA in the World Series over the course of 25.1 innings.
Individually, Morgan is the most decorated of the group. He captured back-to-back MVP Awards in 1975-76 while leading the Reds to World Series titles in each year. Geronimo would spend nine years in Cincinnati and collect four Gold Glove Awards. Billingham would win 87 games over 6 seasons in the Queen City, while collecting two Top 10 finishes in Cy Young Award voting.
Ed Armbrister played 5 seasons for the Reds and never had more than 91 plate appearances in a single season. But, little used Ed will always have a place in baseball history. It was his bunt attempt in the 10th inning of Game 3 that lives in infamy. Armbrister, pinch-hitting for pitcher Rawly Eastwick, attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move Cesar Geronimo to second base following his single to open the bottom of the 10th inning.
As Armbrister got the bunt down directly in front of home plate he collided with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, which resulted in a throwing error and allowed Geronimo to move all the way to third base and Armbrister to second. Fisk was furious and wanted Armbrister ruled out due to interference. After a lengthy discussion between Fisk, Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson and the umpires, the play stood. One out later Morgan singles in Geronimo and the Reds were victorious.
The trade of 1971 between the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros continues to be one of the big “what if’s” in baseball history. Would the Reds return to their 1970 glory or would that season be an outlier? If the Astros held onto their core and paired them with young players like Cesar Cedeno and JR Richard, would they have controlled the NL West? Luckily for the Cincinnati Reds and their fans, we’ll never know.