The 1976 Cincinnati Reds came to spring training having found redemption the previous October. After World Series losses in 1970 and 1972 and an upset loss in the 1973 National League Championship Series, the Reds had gotten over the top in an epic seven-game World Series against the Boston Red Sox, a Series that ranks high on the list of the best ever. The offensive juggernaut known as the Big Red Machine was looking to build on a championship legacy securely established.
The Machine was going through some transition, as future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench was in offensive decline. He would hit only .234 in 1976. Another Hall of Famer, Tony Perez also saw his numbers dip. Fortunately, there was plenty of talent to pick up the slack. Pete Rose was still going strong and hit .323, with 42 doubles that easily led the team and led the NL with 130 runs scored.
George Foster was becoming one of the great power hitters in the National League and his 121 RBIs were tops in the NL. Ken Griffey Sr. delivered an on-base percentage of .401 and above all, second baseman Joe Morgan was an all-around dominating offensive force. Morgan’s .444 on-base percentage and .576 slugging percentage each led the league and he won the MVP for the second straight year.
Cincinnati rounded into form slowly, jousting with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros throughout April. The Astros fell by the wayside in May and the old NL West (Cincinnati, Atlanta, LA Dodgers, San Diego, San Francisco, and Houston) was a two-team race by May. The Dodgers nudged out to a 2 ½ game lead, but in late May the Reds took a weekend series from their rivals, pulled even and after several days of trading the top spot, Cincinnati took it over on June 4 and never looked back.
The lead grew as high as seven games before the All-Star break. When the All-Star Game was played at the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, five Reds—Bench, Rose, Morgan, Concepion and Foster were voted in as starters.
Anderson’s powerhouse team wasn’t all hitting. The manager never had a dominating staff the way teams like the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles did during this period, but he got the most out of the arms he had.
Sparky made regular use of six starters, getting them all at least 20 starts. Gary Nolan was the best of the group, winning 15 games and piling up 239 innings, but he was more first-among-equals rather than a true ace. Pat Zachry won 15 and young fireballer Don Gullett won 11 in his twenty times to the post.
The bullpen was mostly a two-man show with Rawly Eastwick winning 11 games and saving 26 more, while Pedro Borbon worked over 120 innings with a 3.35 ERA. With Anderson adroitly handling his staff, Cincy continued to pour it on in the second half with their lead over the Dodgers reaching a peak of 13.5 games, never getting closer than seven and finally ending at ten, with the Reds winning 102 games. It was a little off the 108-win pace they’d set a year earlier, but still more than enough.
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Cincinnati met up with the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series. The Phillies had won 101 games and were the second-best team in baseball. They played the Reds competitively in the games individually, but Cincy consistently found a way to get the key hit or the big out. Games 2 & 3 in what was then a best-of-five LCS round were tight, but the Reds won both and swept their way into the World Series.
The New York Yankees were waiting in the World Series. It sounds strange to say today, but it was the Yankees who were the up-and-coming upstart, while the Reds were the grizzled veterans of October. New York had made it to the postseason for the first time since 1964 under the management of Billy Martin and they won a thrilling five-game ALCS over the Kansas City Royals on Chris Chambliss’ ninth-inning walkoff home run in the decisive fifth game.
Cincinnati again swept their way through. Game 2 was tied in the ninth inning before the Reds scraped across a run. Bench put his poor season behind him with a fantastic Series, hitting .429 and homering twice in the Game 4 clincher. The Big Red Machine was a champion again.