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"They Beat The Hell Out of Us" - The Big Red Machine - Part 9


(Photo: Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson)


Before any discussion of the 1976 World Series can be undertaken, we have to look at the individuals on the two teams and how they were viewed by the people who allegedly knew what they were talking about. Bob Matthews of the Gannett News Service did an analysis of both the Reds and the Yankees to try to figure out and predict which club might emerge victorious.


In terms of batting average, as a team, the Reds hit .280 while the Yankees batted .269. Remember that the Yankees (and the American League) had the designated hitter, so they SHOULD have had the advantage when it came to hitting the ball. The Yanks scored 730 runs, while the Reds tallied 857. When it came to power, Cincinnati was superior when it came to doubles (271-231), triples (63-36), homers (141-120) and stolen bases (210-163). Not only did they have more stolen bases than the Yanks, they were caught on the basepaths fewer times as well (57-65).


As Bill Carter pointed out, the Yankees’ outfielders were weaker defensively than the Reds’ group. And though the infielders on New York were decent, Cincinnati could boast a gold glover at catcher, shortstop, second base and centre field. When it came to the men managing the teams, what could one think or say about either Billy Martin or Sparky Anderson that either of the men hadn’t already said about themselves? That’s a bit facetious, of course, but neither men seemed to mind a microphone or a television camera.

About Martin, Matthews said that he was “a notorious bench jockey and got under the skin of several Kansas City players in the American League playoffs. The Reds aren’t likely to let Martin get to them. Pete Rose has been called a hot dog so many times that he wears an Arpeako emblem on his belt buckle.” Arpeako was a meat company and one of their specialties was apparently frankfurters.


Matthews did a position-by-position breakdown of the two teams, and he found the following:


At catcher, 28-year-old Johnny Bench had been battling a shoulder issue for a while and while his numbers were down, he was still a guy who could come through when it mattered most. That said, 29-year-old Thurman Munson was at his physical best and his season showed it. His 17 homers and 105 runs batted in outpaced Bench’s numbers. Matthews gave a slight edge to Munson.


Over at first base, the 34-year-old Tony Perez had a typically good year with 19 round-trippers and 91 RBIs. But 27-year-old Chris Chambliss had just come off a great performance in the ALCS and batted .293 over the course of the season. His power numbers were similar to those of Perez. Chambliss had 17 homers and drove in 96 runs. The slight edge here went to Chambliss.


Willie Randolph had a great rookie season as the Yankees’ second baseman, but at 21-years-old, his time had not arrived just yet. In 1976, he had a single homer and 40 RBIs with a .267 average. Joe Morgan, at 32, was one of the game’s best players and with a .320 average, 27 home runs and 111 RBIs, was one of the best hitters as well. One does not need to be a scientist to be able to figure out which of these two was better at this stage of their careers.


Perhaps the Yankees’ weakest link was at shortstop. Fred Stanley, like his double play cohort, Randolph, had just one home run in 1976. He added just 20 runs batted in and hit .238. Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion was as good as Stanley defensively but his .281 average, nine homers and 69 RBIs gave him a decisive edge at the position between the two.


The battle of the third basemen was tight between Pete Rose and Graig Nettles. Nettles was a defensive stalwart at the position. But Pete Rose, with an average of .323, was an outstanding hitter. Nettles was no slouch at the plate either having hammered 32 homers and driven in 93 runs. That position may have been a draw even though Matthews gave the slight margin to Rose.


At 32, Roy White was the oldest of the Yankees main starting nine. That said, he was pretty much an institution in left field for the Yankees. He batted .286 in 1976, hit 14 dingers and drove in 65 runs. He was a great second place hitter allowing leadoff man Mickey Rivers many opportunities to get into scoring position. However, George Foster had been one of the most feared hitters in the game until going cold in September. Against Philadelphia, he looked to be getting back to being that masher again. Foster was the better of the two.


The Yankees engine needed an igniter to make it go and that element was Mickey Rivers, their centre fielder. Rivers and Roy White were the key players when it came to scoring runs and Rivers’ .312 average and his .760 OPS made up for his miniscule eight home run total. Cesar Geronimo had the much better arm though. But given Rivers’ importance and the Yankees’ reliance on him in getting their offense going, Matthews gave a slight edge to the Yankees.


The Yanks employed a platoon of Oscar Gamble and Lou Piniella in right field, but in this case, two heads were not better than one and these two men combined were not better than the Reds’ Ken Griffey. Griffey’s .336 average looked amazing compared to the two men offered by New York.


The designated hitter was implemented in the American League just before the 1973 season. Sparky Anderson had nothing but disdain for the rule. But he had a couple of guys that had been bench players in Bob Bailey and Dan Driessen who could have made a case in changing his mind when it came to using a DH. They were better than the choices for the Yankees, Carlos May and Elliott Maddox.


When it came to pitching, the Yankees had more depth both in their starting rotation and in their bullpen than the Reds. That said, Don Gullett was a better starter in 1976 than anyone the Yankees had, and that included Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman. Also, Rawly Eastwick was a superior reliever to anyone the Yankees had. Overall, though, the Yankees had the better pitching and that might have been their biggest and most necessary advantage in this meeting of the two clubs.


The series was scheduled to start at 1 pm Eastern time on Saturday, October 16. The weather was predicted to be “fair”. The Reds were attempting to win their second consecutive World Series championship. No National League team had won two straight titles since the New York Giants accomplished the feat in 1921 and 1922. The last time the Yankees had appeared in a World Series was the last time they had won one – 1964.


Those Yankee teams succeeded on their power and their pitching. General manager Gabe Paul had built this New York club on speed, and one could look at the Reds as appearing more like the old Yankee teams with their power and ability to score runs almost at will. Las Vegas had installed Cincinnati as 9-5 favourites to win this edition of the October Classic.


Since the designated hitter had come into existence, it had never been used when it came to the World Series. In 1976, the DH was installed. That meant the pitchers could focus strictly on their jobs on the mound. A pair of impending free agents were to be the starters in the first game of the series. Lefty Don Gullett would be going for the Reds and right-hander Doyle Alexander, a surprise choice, would be pitching for the Yankees against the righty-heavy Reds batting order.


Looking at these two franchises, had they ever faced each other in a World Series before? Why, yes, they had. Back in 1961, The Yankees, with Mantle, Maris and company, dumped Cincinnati in five games. In a couple of the games at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, the powerful Yankee bats almost threatened to break the old scoreboard! Well, well, well….pass me my neck tie and find my fedora. We’re off to see the World Series.

**


Given what we had seen 52 weeks earlier, there was a lot of anticipation in the air for the 1976 World Series. No one expected this one to live up to that instant classic that the Reds and the Red Sox put on a year previous, but this was the best of the National League against the New York Yankees – the best team in the American League. How would Don Gullett fare against this band of Bombers?


The left-hander would be staring at Mickey Rivers, Roy White and Thurman Munson to start the first game. Fourteen pitches later, Gullett had notched a pair of strikeouts and was walking back to his dugout having retired the Yanks in order. Now it was the Reds’ turn to get a look at Doyle Alexander. Pete Rose worked the count to three balls and a strike before lofting a fly ball to Rivers in centre for the first out. Alexander got ahead of Ken Griffey no balls and two strikes before the Reds’ right fielder hammered a ball directly to Roy White in left.


Joe Morgan was the next man up for Cincinnati. He got to a three balls and one strike count before quickly depositing an Alexander delivery well beyond the right field wall for the first run of the game. Tony Perez worked himself into the same count before he dropped a single into left-centre. On the second pitch to DH Dan Driessen, Perez cheekily decided to test the arm of Thurman Munson. Perez was out on the vain steal attempt. But the Reds had delivered a little message. And they saw twenty Alexander pitches in that first frame and they emerged with an early 1-0 lead.


In the top of the second, a lead-off double by Lou Piniella turned into a Yankees’ run after he was moved over to third on a Chris Chambliss ground-out and scored on a Graig Nettles sacrifice fly. But Gullett was efficient again using thirteen pitches to get out of the inning. The score was tied though at 1-1. Alexander was much tidier in his second inning of work as he retired the Reds Driessen, George Foster and Johnny Bench on just seven throws. Could we have a ball game on our hands?


Gullett was looking at the 8-9-1 batters in the Yanks’ order in the third. He got Willie Randolph, Fred Stanley and Mickey Rivers on just five pitches. Stanley was retired on three straight tosses. It was Alexander’s turn to pitch again. Cesar Geronimo swung at his first pitch and popped it up to Nettles at third. But Davey Concepcion’s liner to left-centre went to the wall and allowed him to get all the way to third. The lineup card turned over and Pete Rose hit a flyball to centre that Rivers caught. It was deep enough to score Concepcion and Gullett and the Reds had a 2-1 lead.


After this it was the Don Gullett show. Roy White, Thurman Munson and Lou Piniella all went down in order in the fourth. That made it nine in a row for the Reds’ left-hander. Neither team was able to score in the fourth or the fifth. The Yankees made Gullett work in the top of the sixth though and left a couple of men on base but were unable to score. It was still 2-1 for the home team heading into the bottom of the inning.


The top of the Cincinnati order was coming up against Alexander. Pete Rose took the count full before taking ball four for a walk. Ken Griffey then hit a grounder to Stanley at short. He made the toss to Randolph to get Rose at second, but they could not get the double play. Joe Morgan also worked the count full before swinging and missing on the third strike for the second out. On the pitch though, Griffey stole second. That brought Tony Perez up.

The Big Dog was hunting and swung at the first delivery from Alexander. He drove the ball to left and it landed enabling Griffey to come home with another Reds’ run. Driessen then popped up to Munson to end the inning. But Perez’ single made it 3-1 for Cincy.


For Gullett, the seventh inning may have been an indication that he was tiring. The first man he faced was Chris Chambliss. Gullett quickly threw two strikes past him. Then he plunked him with the third pitch to put him on. But then Nettles went first-pitch swinging and hit into a 4-3 double play. Then Gullett went full count on Elliott Maddox before walking him. He did the same to Randolph, going full count before losing him with a base on balls. Billy Martin brought Otto “The Swatto” Velez in to pinch hit for Stanley, but Velez went down swinging to end the inning.


Alexander was still out there working as the Reds came to the plate in the seventh. But, like many of his teammates, George Foster went ripping at the first pitch he saw, and it paid off as he singled to left. Johnny Bench took the first pitch he saw for a ball but then he pounded the next one the opposite way to right field. He scurried around the bags for a triple and brought Foster home. That was it for Alexander.


Sparky Lyle came in to replace him. The first man he faced was Cesar Geronimo. He unleashed a pitch that went to the screen and allowed Bench to score with the Reds’ fifth run of the game. Then Geronimo went on to split Rivers and Piniella and allowed the Cincinnati hitter to reach second with a double. He would be stranded there as Lyle got Concepcion, Rose and Griffey without giving up any further damage.


The top third of the order was coming up for New York in their half of the eighth against Gullett. Mickey Rivers popped up to Bench for the first out. But when Roy White drove a Gullett pitch to left for a single, something happened with the pitcher’s ankle, and he had to come out of the game. Pedro Borbon came on to face the Yankees’ catcher Thurman Munson. Munson lashed a comebacker to Borbon who tossed over to Perez for the second out of the inning. Carlos May lined out to Griffey in right to end it.


(After the game, it was disclosed that Gullett suffered a dislocated tendon in his ankle, and he would be out for the rest of the series.)


Neither team was able to score the rest of the way and it ended 5-1 for the Reds. It was played in two hours and ten minutes. The fans at Riverfront Stadium were happy, but the folks watching from televisions in New York and in other places in America were upset and shocked by what they saw from this Yankees team. The feelings of fans of the Bronx Bombers were summed up in a column by Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times.


“This team looks more like the 1934 St. Louis Browns than the 1927 Yankees,” Murray wrote at one point in his piece. But don’t tell that to the actual Yankees. They would have none of it. Doyle Alexander, for one, wasn’t overly impressed by the Reds.


“We certainly didn’t get blown away,” Alexander told reporters. “They stole a couple of runs with speed. I certainly think we can beat this club. They threw their best pitcher today, and I had only the fourth best record on our team. Today was their day. We’ll have our days too.”


Someone asked Billy Martin if the Reds were an amazing team. “Hardly,” replied Martin quickly. “We hit the ball hard, but it was always at someone. I didn’t think he (Gullett) was anything special.” Those were the opinions of the team that lost the game. Don’t try to convince anyone in the Reds’ clubhouse of any of that though.


“They’re a fine club. We’re an exceptional club. That’s the difference,” Joe Morgan said when was asked about the Yankees.


“Alexander lets you hit the ball,” Pete Rose told the press. “And we did. All over the place.”


Okay.


*

Something that might have all the haters of the Houston Astros thinking came out of that first game of the World Series. It turned out that the Yankees were using a man with a walkie-talkie on the press level to communicate with the dugout in order to position the team’s defense in optimal spots to try to stifle the Reds’ hitters.


According to published reports, the Yankees had used the communications system in the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals as well. The way the plan was supposed to have worked, according to the commissioner’s office, Yankees’ scout Clyde King would be upstairs in the seats and would be able to talk with the dugout. But the Reds complained that the eyes upstairs could also see the signals from the catcher via a monitor and relay the pitches to the hitters.


Yankees’ manager Billy Martin was upset that they couldn’t use their “agreed upon” system. “The commissioner first agreed to let us use it. Then he went back on that and stopped us. Bob Howsam (the Reds’ president and general manager) was the reason. There were no instructions on how we could use it. We know you’re not supposed to be where you can watch video tape and see signals. But hell, we were using it when they were up, not when we were up.”


Clyde King felt that more was being made of the situation than should have been. “I think they’re making a big issue out of this. There was nothing clandestine or, as far as I know, illegal.” I’m trying to imagine what the reaction might be if a team, like maybe the Astros, offered these explanations today. It’s interesting to try to ponder.


*

The second game of the series would be played on Sunday evening in prime time. It would be the first World Series game that would be played on a Sunday night. The initial forecasts called for it to be quite frigid around game time. The high temperature for the day was expected to be in the 40s (Fahrenheit) in the afternoon but there were to be frost warnings issued as the day went deeper into the night.


Normally the game would have started just after 1 pm and at that time, according to Dave Anderson of the New York Times, it was 49 degrees. Far from warm but still playable. But, according to Anderson, Bowie Kuhn wanted higher television ratings for baseball and that could only come at night. Actually, the game was played after dark at the behest of NBC, who had the rights to the series. They didn’t want the game to interfere with (or be interfered by) the NFL broadcasts on Sunday afternoon.


The way Bowie Kuhn phrased it was similar but framed in a slightly different way. “We initiated night games for the World Series because it brings the game to more people. We did not initiate the idea of the Sunday night game, the television network did, but it was agreed to after a joint discussion. It is strictly experimental. We must see what the reaction is.”


By the time the first pitch was thrown, the temperature had dropped below freezing and would drop as the hour grew later. NBC may have been happy but none of the players were. Nor were the managers or front office people.


“Naturally, I’d like to sell baseball,” Reds’ GM Bob Howsam told the Associated Press. “But not at the inconvenience of the game. Let’s not let the tail wag the dog.” When asked why baseball approved the move from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night, Howsam was succinct. “There’s only one reason – we got paid for it.” Sparky Anderson asked that people consider the players and the quality of the games. “I understand the reason – to let more people see the games – but I wish they would think about us too.”


Throughout the game, players were blowing on their cold fingers. Most of the players were wearing layers under their uniforms. The fans had to dress for the weather too. “Look at all those people up there in overcoats and blankets,” Mickey Rivers said as he looked up into the stands, “and we’re down here freezing our behinds off.”


It was cold as the game started and it just got colder. And when the Yankees led off the game in the top of the first inning, it looked as though they had just taken their bats out of the freezer. Reds’ pitcher Fred Norman, all 5-foot-8 of him, stymied the New York hitters in the first inning on just five pitches. Mind you, maybe Mickey Rivers, Roy White and Thurman Munson just wanted to swing and get the heck out of the cold! However you might want to think of it, the game started briskly.


It took Catfish Hunter a little longer to get warmed up – both figuratively and literally. Pete Rose, like his Yankee counterparts, went up hacking at the first pitch he saw. He hammered a liner to left but Roy White made the catch for the first out. Ken Griffey waited until the third pitch of his at bat, but he flew out to White in the left-centre field gap. Then Joe Morgan singled and stole second on Hunter’s first pitch to Tony Perez. Hunter then got Perez to pop up to Nettles at third. The inning was over.


After that, the teams appeared to settle in a little more. After a Lou Piniella single to lead off the second, Norman took Chambliss to a full count but got him to fly out to Geronimo in deep centre field. He got Nettles the same way and he managed to get Elliott Maddox to swing and miss on the third strike to bring the inning to a close.


The bottom of the second saw the Reds get to Hunter. Like Rose back in the first inning, Dan Driessen led the inning off by swinging at the first pitch. He drilled Hunter’s initial offering deep to centre and wound up on second with a double. George Foster came up next and got ahead with a three ball and one strike count. He singled up the middle, plated Foster and it was 1-0 for Cincinnati.


That brought Johnny Bench to the plate. On Hunter’s first pitch, Foster broke for second, but Munson was equal to the task, and he threw the Reds’ runner out trying to steal. It was a shame for the Reds and their fans because a couple of pitches later, Bench doubled to the left-centre field gap. Hunter then walked Cesar Geronimo after taking him to a full count.


That brought Dave Concepcion to the plate. He singled, scoring Bench, and moved Geronimo up to third. Immediately, Concepcion pilfered second. That forced Hunter to intentionally walk Pete Rose. There was still only one out with the bases loaded for Ken Griffey. Griffey lofted a ball to centre that Rivers snagged, but it was deep enough to bring Geronimo home and make it 3-0 for Cincy. Finally, Joe Morgan popped up to Munson to end the ugliness for the Yankees. This game was far from over though.


Norman allowed an eight-pitch, one out walk in the Yankees’ third to Fred Stanley, but that was all they would get. Hunter was still trying to acclimate himself to the mound….and the temperatures. He found the dirt on the Riverfront Stadium mound too hard. He couldn’t dig a hole for his foot. But he almost dug a real metaphorical hole for himself in the bottom of the third.


The first two Cincinnati hitters in the inning, Tony Perez and Dan Driessen, led off with back-to-back singles. But Hunter got George Foster swinging and he induced Bench to hit an easy enough fly ball to left field that White caught. After walking Geronimo, he retired Concepcion on strikes to wriggle out of the jam. After that, he was on point for most of the night. That inning also gave his Yankee teammates a boost.


In the top of the fourth, New York’s batters went up hacking. Thurman Munson singled. Lou Piniella hit a fly ball to George Foster for the first out. But Chris Chambliss singled and Graig Nettles followed with another single as well to give the Yanks their first run of the game. Maddox and Randolph were both retired to finish the inning, but at least the New Yorkers were now on the board.


Hunter kept the Reds from scoring in their half of the fourth. Neither team was able push anything across in the fifth and sixth as well. Both starters were still working and were still looking good. That is, until the Yankees came up in the top of the seventh. Randolph led the inning off with a single. Fred Stanley then worked the count full before hitting a double down the left field line. Randolph scored.


Mickey Rivers flied out to Geronimo in centre, but then White singled and moved Stanley up to third. Anderson then made the decision to pull Norman and bring Jack Billingham in to pitch. Thurman Munson was the first man to face the new Reds’ pitcher. He hit a ground ball to the right side. Morgan got the ball and made the play to first in time to get the Yankees’ catcher, but it also enabled Stanley to score and tie the game. Lou Piniella grounded out to end the inning, but it was all knotted up at 3-3 now.


By this point, Catfish Hunter was absolutely dealing. And in the bottom of the seventh, he was about to face the 2-3-4 hitters in the Reds’ order. Ken Griffey went first-pitch swinging. He hit an easy fly ball to centre field. Mickey Rivers put it away for the first out. Joe Morgan then popped out to Munson. Tony Perez came up next and he popped up as well to Randolph at second.


Billingham came out to the mound for his first full inning of work in the eighth. Chris Chambliss went to a full count before hitting a grounder to Morgan for the first out. Graig Nettles also worked the count full before slamming a liner into the glove of Tony Perez for the second out. Elliott Maddox was due up next, but Carlos May went in to pinch hit for the designated hitter. May hit a grounder to the right side. Perez scooped it and made the toss to Billingham for the force at first.


In the bottom of the eighth, Hunter retired Driessen and Foster before allowing a single to Bench. But he then got Geronimo to hit a comebacker to the mound for the final out of the inning. In the Yankees’ ninth, Billingham used eleven pitches to strike out Randolph and get Stanley and Rivers without a ball leaving the infield.


To the bottom of the ninth and given the way Hunter had been pitching the last few innings, all indications showed that we might be heading for extra innings on this cold, cold night. It continued to look that way after Concepcion hit a fly ball to Rivers for the initial out on Hunter’s first pitch. Then Pete Rose lofted a fly to Roy White for the second out of the inning.


Hunter’s first pitch to Ken Griffey was a strike. His second pitch also went for a strike. Griffey then swung at his third delivery and got on top of the pitch. He drove the ball down into Riverfront’s artificial turf and it bounded high over the mound. The shortstop Stanley had to come in hard and get the ball and fire it over to first almost all in one motion. He did that but his throw missed the target, and it went directly into the Reds dugout along the first base line. Griffey was told by umpire Bill Deegan to move to second on the missed throw.


Joe Morgan was the next hitter, and he went to first on an intentional walk. That brought Tony Perez to the plate. “Catfish was having pretty good luck with Perez,” Billy Martin said after the game, “and I’d rather pitch to him (Perez) than the other guy (Morgan).” Perez was one for four on the day. “Three other times, he’d gotten me out with the fastball,” Perez said. “And the more he throws, the stronger he gets.”


Hunter talked about the situation with Morgan and Perez. “He (Martin) had it in his mind to walk Morgan and I wanted to do the same thing.” Perez went to the plate looking for a fastball. Hunter threw him a fastball. With a flick of his wrists, The Big Dog sent the ball into left field. It fell for a single and Griffey sped home with the winning run. The game was over.


For the Yankees’ manager and his pitcher, it was almost a Sophie’s Choice. Pitch to Morgan? Pitch to Perez? Pete Rose talked about that dilemma. “You’ve got to walk the best hitter in baseball to get to the best clutch hitter in baseball.” Morgan was a little down about not being able to hit, but was, at the very least, realistic. “I wanted to hit, but I’m glad Tony was up there. He delivers.”


Hunter talked about that last pitch after the game. “I just got it in the wrong place – belt high and not out away from him enough.” As soon as Griffey saw the ball land in left field, he was on his horse. “I knew Roy’s arm wasn’t that strong. As soon as I saw the ball was hit, I was gone.”


Griffey was gone, and for Hunter and the Yankees, so was this ball game.


The Reds were now leading the series 2-0. The Yankees were in a tough situation. Everyone knew it. Griffey was evaluating the series when he talked to the press after the game. “Being down two, I don’t think they can win four of the next five.” Billy Martin was trying to rationalize it all. “We’re down, but we have a very good chance of bouncing back. It’s happened before and it can happen again.”


The Reds had had the chance to blow this game wide open back in the third inning, putting a pair of runners on base with no one out and then having the bases loaded with two men out but they couldn’t bring a man home. “When he got away from us in the third, I thought he had us for the rest of the night,” Sparky Anderson said of Hunter, giving credit to the opposing pitcher.


Eventually it all came down to that one play in the bottom of the ninth inning. Stanley talked about it with reporters, explaining that he was well aware of the entire situation as the scenario involving Griffey unfolded. “He’s got 38 infield hits. I know he can run. He would have been out on a good throw. His speed had everything to do with the play. If I don’t hurry, he’s safe anyway. The best thing I can do is get the ball, get rid of it and hope I get off a good throw.”


Alas, Stanley’s throw was not a good one. But, at that moment, there were still two out and all they needed to do was retire Perez and the inning would have been over. They couldn’t do that. The series would go back to the Bronx. The Yankees were down by two.


*


For the third game of this series, the pitchers would be Pat Zachry for the Reds and Dock Ellis for the Yankees. This was a study in contrasts. Zachry was a 24-year-old rookie who, a year previous in October of 1975, was nowhere near a baseball diamond. He was “in Venezuela, sitting in the sun, watching on TV while my present teammates were making all that money” in Boston, winning the World Series.


Zachry had made the progression from Rookie ball at 18 in 1970, through the levels of A, Double-A and Triple-A. 1976 was his first season at the major league level and he managed to stay up with the Reds the entire year. In a lot of ways, he was still just a kid. When asked what he would do with his World Series bonus if Cincinnati won it all, he answered that he would “buy Bronko (his German Shepherd) some dog biscuits and then spread all the money on the bed and fall down in the middle of it.”


He was 6-foot-5 and 175 pounds and still young enough to not be able to gain any weight. “I eat like a horse, but nothing happens.”


Dock Ellis was 31 in 1976 and in his ninth year as a major league pitcher. He had spent eight years with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being traded to the Yankees in December of 1975. There was some trepidation in adding the volatile Ellis to the team but, according to Billy Martin, there should no longer have been any concerns. “When he joined us, I asked him if he wanted to be a Yankee. He said he did, and we talked about it, and we have got along fine.”


But why would there be concerns? Ellis and Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh had had some issues. On one road trip, Ellis said the bed in his hotel was too short and when nothing was done about it, he threatened to quit the team. Another time, he wore curlers in his hair at the ballpark to annoy his general manager. Also, in a game against Cincinnati on May 1, 1974, he plunked the first three Reds hitters he faced in the game. On purpose.


According to an Andy McCullough story in the Athletic from May 1, 2020, Ellis was jogging in the outfield in spring training in Bradenton back in 1974 and he stopped to have a quick talk with infielder Kurt Bevacqua. “Hey Rook. I bet you a Chateaubriand I don’t get out of the first inning when I face the Reds.” Bevacqua was not a rookie at the time, although he was new with the Pirates, but he did wonder what Ellis was even talking about.


Bevacqua’s first thought was “What the f*** is it with this guy?”


Eventually, in May, Ellis got his chance to pitch against the Reds and he fulfilled the obligations of his alleged wager. But the thing most people seem to associate with Ellis was the day in June of 1970 that he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while apparently under the influence of LSD. “I can only remember bits and pieces of the game,” Ellis told the Associated Press in a 1984 story.


“I was zeroed in on the (catcher’s) glove. But I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times.” Pittsburgh won the game 2-0 and according to the stats on baseballreference.com, he walked eight men and struck out six. He did only hit one Padres’ batter, Ivan Murrell, in the fourth inning and contrary to Ellis’ memories of the game, the Padres failed to load the bases in the game.


But his past was certainly colourful, some might even say checkered, and by the fall of 1976, he had certainly been around the proverbial baseball block a time or two.


*


It seemed as if the weather through this series was no one’s friend. Once again, it was a cold evening in New York. But once again, the teams managed to complete the game. This game wasn’t the cliffhanger that the second game had shown itself to be on the Sunday night. It was just another game along the road for The Big Red Machine.


Neither team was able to score in the first inning, despite each team getting runners on base, but in the second, the Reds were able to puncture the armour of Dock Ellis. Dan Driessen started things off with an infield single that contacted Ellis’ glove on its way past him. He stole second on the first pitch to the next batter, George Foster. Foster then hammered a ground rule double bringing Driessen home.


Johnny Bench smacked the first Ellis offering for an infield single, moving Foster to third. Cesar Geronimo then hit a ground ball to Randolph who made the toss to Stanley for the force out at second. That brought Dave Concepcion up. Geronimo stole second right away. A few pitches and a Concepcion single later and Geronimo had crossed the plate for the Reds’ third run of the inning. Mercifully, for Ellis, the Yankees and their fans, Pete Rose hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.


The teams put zeroes up in the third but in the fourth, Cincinnati struck again. And again, it was the left-handed hitting Dan Driessen that was doing the damage. With the count at one ball and two strikes, Driessen launched the next Ellis pitch over the wall in right-centre field. Ellis and his reliever, Grant Jackson, then pitched around a Johnny Bench single to keep the score at 4-0 for the visiting Reds.


In the bottom of the inning, Zachry gave up a leadoff single to Chris Chambliss and a one-out walk to Graig Nettles. A line drive single by Oscar Gamble scored Chambliss for the Yankees’ first run of the game. That would be the only run of the inning for the Yankees, but at least they were now on the scoreboard. Zachry and Jackson managed to post zeroes in both the fifth and the sixth. Jackson got Bench, Geronimo and Concepcion in order in the seventh as well.


Jim Mason had come in to replace Fred Stanley at shortstop in the fifth inning and his presence in the Yanks’ order paid off in the bottom of the seventh. After Zachry struck out Willie Randolph, Mason swung at a Zachry pitch and lashed it rope-style over the right field wall to make it a 4-2 game and provide a dash of tension into this game. Then, when Zachry gave up a walk and a single after Mason’s dinger, Sparky Anderson decided to replace the rookie with Will McEnaney. The reliever got out of the inning without any further damage being done.


In the top of the eighth, Jackson gave up singles to Pete Rose and Ken Griffey and then a double to Joe Morgan to push Rose across the plate. That ended Grant Jackson’s evening. On came Dick Tidrow to try to get out of this inning. A George Foster liner for a single later in the inning brought Morgan home with the Reds’ second run of the inning, making the score 6-2. That was how the game ended.


The Reds were victorious once again. They led the series now, three games to none. If the Yankees were in a chasm before, they were “Timmy stuck down the well” now. This was the first time in the series that Billy Martin was not his usual combative self with the press.


“We’re not in a very good position. Their bloopers have been falling in throughout the series. I do like their base running. They are very aggressive on the bases,” Martin said. When asked about the performance of the youngster they faced on the mound, he was somewhat conciliatory. “Zachry is the best pitcher they have shown us,” he said.


His Yankees definitely had their backs to the wall now. There was absolutely no room for error anymore. Someone asked Martin about his team’s chances at this point. “I think we can come back. We’ve been that type of club all season. My players aren’t quitters, and neither am I.”


Over in his office in the visitor’s clubhouse, Sparky Anderson was taking nothing for granted. “The Yankees are perfectly capable of winning four games in a row. But I’ll be the most shocked man in the world if they do.” One of the Reds who contributed most to the victory in Game Three was their designated hitter, Dan Driessen. He went 3-for-3 with two runs scored and another one driven in. And while Anderson hated the idea of the designated hitter, he talked about how good Driessen could be.


“It (the designated hitter) has no place in baseball. It is not right that a team should be able to send up one of their big bombers to swing the bat when it should be the pitcher’s turn. It’s not right. It’s a disgrace to the game. I’ll never be for it.” But what about the guy who was your DH tonight? “Driessen is one of the finest hitters in baseball.”


“I’m sorry that we can’t play Driessen more often because if we could, he would hit over .300 and would be greatest as one of the better players in the game. I’m extremely happy with the way that our players have performed so far in this series. I was disappointed last year. We won but we did not play well against Boston,” Anderson said.


“Many people feel that it was a fluke last year. That’s why I’m so pleased that our fellows are playing in the way that they can right now. I want them to prove to everybody that they are indeed one of the greatest teams of all time.”


Reporters asked Driessen what he thought of the DH rule. “Well, after a game like tonight, I have to say that I like it, but I’d much rather play every day. It gets kind of boring. You have nothing to do. I walk back and forth and drink coffee – lots of coffee. On a cold night like tonight, I must have drank a whole pot.”


“They told me I can drink all I want as long as I don’t touch no liquor. I just hope that I can come through and help The Big Red Machine win again. It’s hard to concentrate but I’ll keep thinking about the money that we are going to earn. That keeps me busy.”


*


Growing up in Waco, Texas, Pat Zachry was a New York Yankees’ fan. As a kid, in his imaginary games in the back yard, he was always a Yankee. Of course, eventually, reporters would stop by his stall for questions. “I’ve always wanted to pitch at Yankee Stadium, and this was a big thrill. The Yankee hitters are just as tough as any that we face in the National league. You just have to pitch to their weaknesses.”


At this point, it looked like the Reds repeating as World Series champions was a fait accompli. It didn’t look like the Yankees were able to offer much in the way of trying to stop Cincinnati from winning it all. The only thing that could stop them from winning it on Wednesday evening might be Mother Nature. The game was scheduled for the following evening, but rain was on the forecast. Everyone was now forced to play the waiting game.


*


One man who found himself to be an admirer of the Cincinnati Reds and the way they played was none other than Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the third game of the series and Will Grimsley of the Associated Press had the opportunity to talk with The Yankee Clipper afterward to get his thoughts on the Reds, the designated hitter and artificial turf.


DiMaggio described Rose, Morgan, Perez et al very simply. “A hell of a team.” He then went on to elaborate. “They do everything. They hit the ball. From the top of the order to the bottom, they can hurt you. They run. They are tough in the field. Maybe they could use a little better pitching, but who are we to say? So far, it’s been sufficient.”


There were quotes floating around at that time in 1976 that Ralph Kiner, the former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger, had proclaimed The Big Red Machine as a better club than the great Yankees’ teams that won all those World Series from the 1940s and 1950s. But DiMaggio wouldn’t take that bait. “You can’t compare eras. Connie Mack once said baseball changes every fifteen years. I agree. This is not the same game I played.”


When pressed on that point, Joltin’ Joe expanded. “The gloves are bigger. The equipment is better. But the biggest difference is in the artificial turf. In my day, the emphasis was on the big inning. We went for the long ball. Now, speed is the thing. The reason is Astro-Turf. That’s what you saw at the Reds’ park, Riverfront Stadium. I think there are six teams in the National League playing on the stuff.”


“You saw what happened at Cincinnati. When a ball was hit, it flew like a rifle shot. Balls hit to the outfield that would have been held to singles on regular turf went for triples. Take the ninth inning of the second game. This kid, Griffey, hit a high bounder to shortstop and wound up at second base. It was scored a two-base error, but it was his speed that set up the play. They tell me he has beaten out 37 or 38 infield hits this year. That could never have happened when I was playing.”


A couple of the Reds’ players that DiMaggio enjoyed watching were Joe Morgan and Pete Rose. “Morgan’s statistics are really impressive. He hits the ball well enough to be an outfielder. He is a great fielder. He does everything well.” His comments about Rose were equally effusive. “A real hustling ball player, never gives an inch. A battler, fights for every edge. He’s a hard out – a hard out at bat and a hard out in the field.”


He was asked to compare the Reds and the way they play with speed on the basepaths with his old Yankee teams. “Those old Yankee teams didn’t lack for speed. It was just that they didn’t need it. The big thing was home run output. Ben Chapman, Jake Powell, George Selkirk, they could run. And I never heard anyone say Mickey Mantle was slow.”


One thing that DiMaggio really didn’t care for was the fact that so many of these games were being played at night in October. “We always dreaded cold weather. I remember those exhibition games in April before the season started. We played in near-freezing weather at times. It isn’t fair to the players, and it isn’t fair to the fans.” And then he lamented, “But money dictates….”


And unlike Sparky Anderson, Joe didn’t hate the DH rule. “The American League did it because hitting was going down. That’s the reason they lowered the mound and cut the strike zone. Baseball has to have movement to survive.”


But the thing he went back to was the fact that he really didn’t like the artificial turf. “Yes, I would do away with the artificial surface. Have nothing but grass. Let me tell you, if they had played on Astro-Turf in my day, no team could have finished the season with 25 players. Some of these shots through the infield would have killed somebody.”


*


The fourth game, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday, October 20, had to be postponed because of rain. It would now be played on the Thursday. If a fifth game was necessary, it would be played on Friday. But a start time would have to be determined. There was a presidential debate scheduled for Friday evening between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and a game could be scheduled for Friday afternoon or perhaps a late afternoon start.


Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had scheduled his decision time for Wednesday for 2 pm. Shortly after 2, he decided to postpone the game and his office received a call from a fan asking why he chose to put the game off. The hope was that the game could be played on Thursday. There was probably another faction of folks who were hoping the Reds would win the game and the series would end. For many television viewers, as exciting as the 1975 Series between Cincinnati and Boston was, this 1976 confrontation was quite the opposite.


Had the game taken place on the Wednesday night, the pitchers would have been Gary Nolan for the Reds and Ed Figueroa for New York. The one-day delay gave Billy Martin the option to instead come back with Catfish Hunter. What was that someone once said about ‘idle hands’? We would all find out as game time approached on Thursday night, wouldn’t we.


*


Before the series, Pete Rose said that Ed Figueroa was a pitcher that he had not seen before. He added that he always had a certain discomfort when he encountered pitchers that were unfamiliar to him. Well, when Rose stood in to face Figueroa in the top of the first inning of the fourth game, he didn’t look very uncomfortable. He took the second pitch he saw from Figueroa and hammered it down the left field line for a ground rule double.


Ken Griffey was the next batter and he hit a hard grounder to Fred Stanley at short. Stanley nailed Rose who had tried to go to third. Seeing that the play was going to third, Griffey tried to grab an extra base and headed for second, but he ended up being tagged out on for a strange double play. Figueroa got out of the inning when he got Joe Morgan to ground out to Chambliss unassisted at first base.


In the bottom of the frame, Nolan retired both Mickey Rivers and Roy White to start off. But Munson got on base with a single to right-centre field. Chambliss then hit a double to left-centre field that brought Munson home. Nolan got Carlos May to ground out to end the inning but, hey, the Yankees were coming out firing. They held an early 1-0 lead! Their fans were enjoying that.


Neither team was able to put a run on the board in the second or the third innings. In the fourth, the heart of the Reds batting order was coming up. Morgan, Perez and Driessen were on the sheet. Morgan worked Figueroa for a walk to lead things off. Perez lined a pitch out to left-centre that Rivers was able to track down for the first out of the inning. On the first pitch to Driessen, Morgan took off and stole second.


Driessen got ahead with a two ball count, but he popped the ball up and Munson caught it in foul territory for the second out. George Foster was the next Reds’ hitter. He managed to get a base hit to left and Morgan came all the way home to tie the game up. That brought Johnny Bench to the plate. He got all over a Figueroa delivery and pulled it over the wall down the left field line and off the fair/foul pole to score a couple more runs. Very quickly, it was now 3-1 for the defending champions.


“Ya, I knew it was out,” Bench told the press after the game. “But at first, I didn’t know if it was going to be fair. The way I hit it, though, as soon as it started straightening out, I figured it was good. I stood watching it at the plate, not because I didn’t want to have to walk back, but just to make sure.”


In the bottom of the inning, Graig Nettles led off with a single and Oscar Gamble managed to reach when Dave Concepcion made an uncharacteristic error. But Nettles was picked off at second. Next, Willie Randolph struck out looking at strike three. And Fred Stanley lined out to Ken Griffey in right field to end the inning.


As he came out for the top of the fifth inning, Figueroa looked determined, and he went after the Reds as he got Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose and Ken Griffey in order on just nine pitches. He was doing what he could to give his team a chance in this game. And in fact, it might have rubbed off on his teammates.


The Yankees came out with their guns a-blazin’ in their half of the fifth as Mickey Rivers led the bottom of the inning off with a single to right. Roy White hit a ball to short left field. Foster came in and put it away for the first out. As Thurman Munson stepped in, Rivers took off on Nolan’s first pitch to the Yankees’ catcher. On Nolan’s next offering, Munson singled to centre field and Rivers would not be caught. He scored to bring his team to within a run of the Reds at 3-2.


But Nolan got Chambliss and Carlos May and stopped the Yankees’ threat right there. Figueroa did not allow the Reds anything in the top of the sixth. Gary Nolan surrendered a single to Graig Nettles to lead the bottom of the inning off. But then none of Oscar Gamble, Willie Randolph or Ellie Hendricks, who was pinch hitting for Fred Stanley, were able to get a ball out of the infield. After six complete innings, the score was still 3-2 in favour of the Reds.


Then neither team was able to push anything across the plate in the seventh or the eighth. For the Yankees, they were running out of opportunities to put runs on the scoreboard. For the Reds, they were running out of chances to deliver the knockout blow. It was down to the ninth inning of this elimination game. Cincinnati was coming up with the middle third of their lineup against Ed Figueroa.


He had looked good coming into this inning. In the previous four frames, he had allowed just a pair of singles. But the count went full on Tony Perez, and Figueroa walked him. With Dan Driessen up on a 2-2 count, he fired a ball to the screen and Perez was able to walk to second. Then he couldn’t find the plate and walked Driessen. That was it for Ed Figueroa. Dick Tidrow came in to try to hold the Reds here.


The first batter Tidrow faced was George Foster. Foster hit a ball to centre field. Rivers was able to run it down, but his catch was deep enough that Perez was able to tag up at second and make it to third. There was one out and runners on the corners in a 3-2 game. Johnny Bench was up at the plate. The first pitch he saw from Tidrow was a slider and it looked quite juicy. Bench slammed it on a line over the wall in left and just like that, a game that was within reach for the Yankees was now a lot farther away.


Bench spoke about his second home run of the day after the game. “Tidrow had gotten me out in the third game with a slider. He got me to hit into a double play with it. So, I’m thinking slider. That’s what he threw, and I really got into it.”


The next man Tidrow faced was Cesar Geronimo. Geronimo hit a ball down the right field line that was interfered with by a fan, and he was awarded a ground rule double. Dave Concepcion came up and did a similar thing. A ball he hit down the left field line was interfered with, and he was also awarded a ground rule double. That scored Geronimo and it was now 7-2 for the Reds. Sparky Lyle came in for Tidrow and got out of the inning.


That top of the ninth, and in fact the way the entire game had unfolded, had gnawed at Billy Martin so much that he was thrown out of the game by first base umpire Bruce Froemming. He and home plate umpire Bill Deegan had been going at it for much of the night. “I admit I was on him the whole game,” Martin said afterward. “In the regular season, I would have been out in the third inning.”


Before the ninth inning, Martin went out to express his displeasure with Deegan’s work. It was just as Deegan was exchanging baseballs with the ball boy. “Deegan threw three balls at me while he was changing baseballs. One hit me in the chest, and another almost hit me in the mouth. I threw the ball toward him in disgust because I thought he called a brutal game and I got tired of him throwing balls at me. I knew doing that was an automatic ejection, but I didn’t care.”


Will McEnaney, who had come in for Nolan in the bottom of the seventh, retired the Yankees in the ninth in order on nine pitches to sew up the World Series for the Big Red Machine.


It was over.


The 1976 Cincinnati Reds not only swept the New York Yankees. They were the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles since the New York Giants did it back in 1921 and 1922. They arrived at this point by winning all seven of their postseason games – three wins against the Philadelphia Phillies and four straight victories over the New York Yankees.


Thurman Munson’s performance in this game must be noted. In fact, over the course of the final two contests, he collected seven hits in nine at bats. In the final game he went four-for-four. He finished the series with six hits in his last six at bats. Those six consecutive hits over a two-game span tied a World Series record that had been set in 1924 by Goose Goslin of the Washington Senators.


That was of little consolation to the Yankees’ catcher, however. “There are two ways of looking at it. The self-satisfaction is super. We all have big egos, and from a personal standpoint, the hitting is super. But five years from now, all they’re going to remember is that we lost the Series in four straight games. They beat us tonight. They beat us four straight. They beat the hell out of us all the way through. What else is there to say?”


Sparky Anderson was well aware that he was the manager of a great ball team. At the beginning of the National League Championship Series, Anderson had the idea that it could take his team just seven games to complete the journey that would ultimately make his team the World Series champions. The Reds eventually proved him to be correct.

“I said to myself then that if we beat Steve Carlton in the first game, we’d win seven straight.” They did go on to win seven consecutive ball games. But Anderson noted a difference between this 1976 edition of the Reds and the team that won it all in 1975. “This ball club has more class than any other club of the 24 all around the country. Last year when we beat Boston in seven games, they (his team) were like kids. Now they’re men.”


Anderson may have inadvertently started something when he was on the riser set up for television that also acted as the focus for media interview scrums. He had been going on about his catcher, Johnny Bench, and his greatness and what he had meant to the Reds and to the game. A reporter asked him what he thought of Thurman Munson, who had gone 9-for-17 for a .529 batting average and was the best Yankee in the series.


“I think Thurman Munson would hit .300 in the National League, but like I’ve said many times before, gentlemen, don’t ever embarrass a man by comparing him to Johnny Bench.” Munson was standing by the little stage and, as he listened to Anderson’s comments, he seethed. One of the first things Munson said was to reporters but delivered toward Anderson was a rebuke. “This guy talks about class. What kind of class is that to kick a guy when he’s down?”


“I never downgraded Johnny Bench,” Munson continued. “I’m a good ballplayer too, and I’d hit a ton in that ballpark (Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati). I’d do a lot of things Bench don’t do. I’m not going to give him anything and say I’m second best. I’m a good ballplayer, although I’m not saying I’m better than him. I talked to him before the first game and told him I respected his ability and all he has done in ten years. I told him he has been the best personality in the game but that I felt I had done a lot of things for my ball club too. He said some nice things about me as well.”


For his part, Anderson said that he wasn’t trying to denigrate Munson. “You have to look at Johnny Bench every day to understand what I’m talking about. You ever see balls running away from him? Never….Honestly, I’m sorry Thurman Munson took what I said the wrong way.”


Bench had accumulated eight hits in fifteen at bats and he drove in six runs in the four games. Five of those RBIs came in the fourth and final game. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the series. “Last year (the World Series) was certainly exciting, more so than this one,” Bench explained to the press. “And last year might have been more gratifying for me personally.”


He made reference to how difficult this season had been playing with injury the way he had and how that affected his numbers negatively. “I can’t believe what a relief it has been to play like this after having done almost nothing all year. I may have played better games in my career, but, taking into consideration the situation and the magnitude, I have to say this is probably my finest single game.”


In the Reds’ clubhouse, the mood was certainly much quieter than it had been the previous year when they had defeated Boston in that back-and-forth seven-game series. After that final game in 1975, the champagne was flowing, the towels were waving, the hoots and hollers abounded. But the celebrations this time were way more hushed. There was happiness but it was almost business-like this time. Almost as if this championship was expected.


And in a lot of ways, it was. And if you didn’t think so, just go back and ask Bill Carter from the Alexandria (La.) Town Talk newspaper.


*

As soon as the Reds won the game in the Bronx, people began gathering in Fountain Square in Cincinnati for the celebration ceremony that would be taking place the next day. In fact, the plans were that the team would gather at Riverfront Stadium and travel in a parade from there over to the Square. Within an hour of the end of the game in New York, about 2,000 people had gathered at the Square.


TV cameras were also there to capture the crowd which was described as “orderly” in the local papers. Officials with the City of Cincinnati had discouraged people from heading down there for a post-game celebration because a couple of people had been shot and one was stabbed after the Reds had defeated the Phillies to capture the National League pennant the week before. The parade was scheduled to start at 11:30 am the morning after the Series sweep.


25,000 people gathered at Fountain Square for the celebration of the 1975 World Series win and a similar number was expected after this victory as well.

          *

Howie’s new book MORE Crazy Days & Wild Nights, eleven new stories of outlandish and wild events that occurred in sports over the last fifty years, is available on Amazon. It’s the follow-up to his first book of 2023, Crazy Days & Wild Nights! If you love sports and sports history, you need these books!


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