One team was the powerful defending champions, already one of the dominant teams of the decade and looking to secure the legacy of a dynasty. Another was the team making its first World Series appearance in over a decade. It was the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees.But unlike what we would expect today, it was the Reds aiming for a dynasty and the Yankees who were thrilled to be back at the party, when they met in the 1976 World Series.
You can learn more about the paths each team took to their respective division titles and through the playoffs, along with the seasons enjoyed by their key contributors, at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1976 World Series itself.
Cincinnati held homefield advantage for the World Series based on the rotation system that existed up until 2003. There would also be an American League rule in effect for the first time in World Series play—the DH would be used in all games. The DH would alternate opposite homefield—i.e., it would be used in a year where the NL held homefield advantage.
The Yankees’ best starting pitchers were drained after their dramatic ALCS with the Kansas City Royals, and they turned to untested 25-year-old Doyle Alexander. And it took the Reds precisely three batters to get to him. With two outs in the first, Joe Morgan homered and Cincy was up 1-0.
New York was able to quickly counter in the top of the second, as Lou Piniella doubled to lead off the inning and scored on productive outs from Chris Chambliss and Graig Nettles. Cincinnati reclaimed the lead in the third, on a triple by Dave Concepion and Pete Rose’s sac fly.
Alexander settled down, and through the middle innings the Yankees had their chances against the Reds’ staff race Don Gullett. New York had two on with none out in the fifth, before Gullett got a double play ball to escape. And with two aboard in the sixth, speedy Yankee leadoff man Mickey Rivers took a lead off second a bit too long, and was gunned down by Johnny Bench.
The Reds were an aggressive running team and made the first use of their speed in the bottom of the sixth. After Rose walked, he was replaced on the bases by Ken Griffey, who grounded into a force play. Griffey promptly stole second and then scored on a single by Tony Perez.
Gullett, having survived the fifth and sixth, worked a clean seventh and into the eighth inning. Cincinnati got some insurance when George Foster singled, Bench tripled him home and then scored on a wild pitch. Game 1 of the Series had gone to form, with the Reds getting a comfortable 5-1 win.
Cincinnati looked like it might blow Game 2 open quickly against Yankee starter Catfish Hunter. Dan Driessen, the excellent Reds’ utility player who was getting his chance as the DH, doubled to start the bottom of the second, and scored on a single from Foster. Even though the latter was caught stealing, Bench doubled, Cesar Geronimo walked, and Concepion singled to make it 2-0. Geronimo took third on the base hit and scored on a sac fly from Griffey.
It was 3-0, but the Yankees didn’t go quietly into oblivion. Hunter escaped a jam in the third, and then put it on cruise control through eight. It gave his teammates a chance to get back in it, though every Yankee run seemed like pulling teeth.
Thurman Munson beat out an infield hit in the top of the fourth, followed by singles from Chambliss and Nettles. The latter was able to take second on a throw to third, and there was only one out. But Elliot Maddox, the DH, struck out and enabled Cincy starter Fred Norman to get out of the inning at 3-1.
Maddox had a chance to redeem himself with two on and one out in the sixth, but grounded into a double play. The Yankees finally pulled even in the seventh, on a single from Willie Randolph, a double by Fred Stanley and another infield hit from Munson.
Jack Billingham came out of the Cincinnati bullpen and settled things down, keeping the game tied 3-3 I the bottom of the ninth. Hunter was still on the mound and he got the first two batters out. Griffey hit a grounder into the hole at short. Stanley made a bad throw, and Griffey wound up on second. Perez singled him in, and just like that, a strong Yankee effort still ended in a 4-3 loss.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 1976 MLB SEASON
The most consequential teams and each postseason series
It was time for the Fall Classic to return to the Bronx and the newly renovated Yankee Stadium, where the Yanks had returned after spending a couple seasons sharing Shea Stadium with the Mets while the renovations were taking place.
Driessen again made his mark early in, beating out an infield hit in the second inning, stealing second base and scoring a double by Foster. Cincinnati was all over New York starter Dock Ellis. Bench beat out an infield hit. Cesar Geronimo replaced him on the bases after a force out that scored Foster. Geronimo promptly stole second and scored on a Conception single. Two innings later, Driessen delivered again, with a home run that made it 4-zip.
Cincinnati starter Pat Zachry had a strong outing, and though the Yanks scraped over a run in the fourth, it was not until the seventh that New York made its first real threat at winning Game 3.
A light-hitting shortstop, Jim Mason, hit a surprise home run with one out to make it a 4-2 game. Rivers drew a walk, and with two outs, Munson singled. Zachry departed and Will McEnaney came on to face Chris Chambliss, who represented the lead run and had been the hero of the ALCS with a walkoff home run to win it. But there no heroics this time—Chambliss grounded to first.
The Reds got singles from Rose and Griffey in the eight. Morgan knocked in Rose with a double, and then Griffey came around on a base hit by Foster. There were no more Yankee rallies. The Series was but settled after the 6-2 win, but New York still hoped to avoid being swept in their own backyard.
Munson was the Yankee captain and MVP of the American League, and his two-out single in the bottom of the first inning in Game 4 was the first of four hits for Munson. He scored on a double by Chambliss, as they gave 19-game winner Ed Figueroa an early run.
In an ideal New York world—where the rotation was lined up, Figueroa would have pitched one of the games in Cincinnati, but the extended ALCS kept him out until tonight. He kept the Reds quiet through three, but in the fourth inning, the Big Red Machine broke through.
Morgan walked and stole second, and then with two outs, the real damage came. Foster tied the game with an RBI single and Bench unloaded for a two-run homer. It was 3-1 and Cincy starter Gary Nolan had all the runs he would need.
New York had a rally in the fourth, two on and no outs, but this time it was Nettles’ turn to stray too far off of second and be picked off by Bench. The Yanks did crawl to within 3-2 in the fifth when Rivers singled, stole second and scored on a base hit by Munson.
But the game went to the ninth, still at 3-2. In the top of the inning, Cincinnati stripped whatever minimal drama remained in this Series. After two walks, Figueroa was removed and Bench greeted Dick Tidrow by going deep. For good measure, Geronimo and Concepion each doubled to make it 7-2.
We would say the Yankees went quietly in the ninth, but nothing with Billy Martin in the dugout ever happens quietly. The New York manager was ejected for throwing a baseball onto the field, the last fireworks before the Big Red Machine closed its second straight title.
Bench was named 1976 World Series MVP. He went 8-for-15 in the four games, homered twice and had six RBIs, in addition to his defensive prowess. If you want to pick a nit with this selection, it can be pointed out that virtually all of Bench’s power damage—both home runs and five of the ribbies—came in Game 4, when the Series was already all but over. But he also went 6-for-11 in the first three games, and was a worthy selection.
Honorable mention goes to Driessen, for his tone-setting play in Games 2 & 3, along with the .429 average posted by Foster.
But the biggest honorable mention goes to the Big Red Machine itself. With two World Series titles to go with their four NL pennants and five NL West crowns, there was no denying they were a true dynasty.