The 1976 MLB season ushered in a new era for baseball—the era of free agency, which had previously appeared only in snippets, but now loomed over the entire sport. But before the new era could begin, the old order had to get a fitting conclusion, and so it was the Big Red Machine, the great Cincinnati Reds teams rolled to a second World Series title.
Cincinnati won 102 games and coasted to the NL West title, and then swept through October—quite literally, going 7-0 in what was then a two-tiered playoff format with a best-of-five League Championship Series.
The Reds weren’t without occasional challenges, but they never became life-threatening and were always turned back, with MVP second baseman Joe Morgan leading the way in the regular season, then Pete Rose and Johnny Bench coming up as postseason heroes.
Three fresh faces joined Cincinnati on the postseason stage. Before you raised an eyebrow at the New York Yankees being a fresh face, remember that everything is relative. The Yankees had yet to make the postseason in the era of two divisions per league—the 1964 pennant was their last October appearance.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals would become postseason fixtures over the next several years, and they each won their first division titles of the expansion era. Kansas City and New York then staged a dramatic American League Championship Series that provided baseball its October excitement, going the full five games and being settled by Chris Chambliss’ walkoff home run in the ninth inning for the Yanks.
But for the re-emergence of the Yankees and MVP catcher Thurman Munson, and the arrival of the Phillies and Royals, the 1976 MLB campaign was ultimately the celebration of the Big Red Machine and the closing down of an era in 1970s baseball.
The complete stories of the four division winners, and game-by-game narratives of both the classic ALCS and the Reds’ sweeps of both postseason series are all available for download on Amazon.