The great baseball town of Cincinnati had seen their team knock on the door repeatedly in the first part of the 1970s. The Big Red Machine came together and won division titles in 1970, 1972 and 1973. They won pennants in the first two of those years.
But the city’s first World Series title since 1940 was still missing. The 1975 Cincinnati Reds rectified the omission with an extraordinary regular season and then winning one of the greatest Fall Classics ever played.
Future Hall of Famers dotted the Cincinnati lineup—Joe Morgan at second base, Tony Perez at first base and Johnny Bench at catcher. And third baseman Pete Rose did, of course, have a Hall of Fame career as baseball’s all-time career hits leader, but is barred from Cooperstown for gambling on baseball.
Morgan had an MVP year in 1975, posting a stat line of .466 on-base percentage/.508 slugging percentage and stealing 67 bases. Bench hit 28 home runs and had 110 RBIs, while Perez had 20/109. Rose’s OBP was .406.
Nor was the Cincinnati lineup top-heavy. Ken Griffey played rightfield and had a .391 OBP and great speed on the basepaths. George Foster, who would eventually win consecutive NL MVP awards in 1977-78 was coming into his own and hit 23 home runs in 1975. Cesar Geronimo in centerfield and Dave Concepion at shortstop weren’t big offensive threats, but each could run and each was a superior defender at a position where that was the most important quality.
The Big Red Machine wasn’t known for its pitching, and lacked a clear ace, but they had good staff balance. Gary Nolan won 15 games with 3.16 ERA. Jack Billingham won 15 more at 4.11. Don Gullett, the 24-year-old who was seen to have a bright future and he went 15-4 with a 2.42 ERA.
It was depth though, that ultimately characterized the Cincy pitching staff in 1975. In an era when starting pitchers routinely piled up season-long workloads of 250-plus innings, the Reds’ numbers look more like our age today, with Nolan topping the staff at 210 and Billingham being the only other arm to clear 200.
The bullpen made up for it. Pedro Borbon took on a big workload, threw 125 innings and posted a 2.95 ERA. Clay Carroll and Will McEnaney were similarly effective and Rawly Eastwick saved 22 games, a fairly high total in an era when the complete game was still expected from starters.
Cincinnati’s pitchers collectively finished third in the National League in ERA. That was more than enough for an offense that dominated the league. The Reds not only led the NL in runs scored, but the margin between them and #2 was greater than the margin of the offenses ranking 2 thru 9.
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The Los Angeles Dodgers had won the NL West in 1974, and the Reds opened the ’75 season with a series sweep of the Dodgers in old Riverfront Stadium. A week later though, Cincinnati made a return trip west and got swept right back. It set the tone for an up-and-down couple months, in which the Reds were 18-19 in mid-May and didn’t get over .500 for good until May 21.
Starting on May 21 though, the Reds won 14 of 16 and were a game and a half up at the end of that streak. And they were off to the races. Cincinnati won 108 regular season games in 1975. They ended the season twenty games ahead of the Dodgers, and never had to break a sweat in cruising back into the National League Championship Series for the fourth time in six years.
October glory was finally ahead for Cincinnati. They continued their dominance of the National League with a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS (League Championship Series play was best-of-five from 1969-84).
Then the World Series against the Boston Red Sox would be one of the most memorable ever played. It went the full seven games, five of which were nail-biters. That includes an epic Game 6 in which the Reds got close enough to taste the title before it was temporarily denied them. And it includes Cincinnati ultimately winning the Series in the ninth inning of the decisive game.