- The Great Eight: The 1975 Cincinnati Reds ed. by Mark Armour
Few baseball fans doubt the credentials of the mid-1970s’ Cincinnati Reds as one of the great baseball teams ever to take the field. The Big Red Machine won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976 in dominant fashion and produced a slew of Hall of Famers, plus Pete Rose. This anthology dissects the team to shed light on the individual pieces of the machine and examine exactly how it was constructed.
The book contains forty-eight articles written by different authors. Most of the articles deal with individual players, coaches, and front-office executives, with biographies and the background of how they came to be part of the Reds. Interspersed within the biographical sketches are chapters that serve as a narrative of the season. Several chapters are timelines of each month of the season, highlighting the major wins and close games and tracking individual player trends. Concluding chapters capture the thrilling World Series win in seven games over the Boston Red Sox, considered by many to be the greatest World Series ever.
For fans of the Reds, there is much to offer in a book such as this, but what can it offer to the more casual fan of the game? Quite a bit, as it turns out. First, the concentration of talent on the 1975 Reds has rarely been matched in baseball history. The title is taken from the starting lineup not including the pitchers: Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Ken Griffey, Cesar Geronimo. Three ended up in the Hall of Fame (Bench, Morgan, Perez), as did manager Sparky Anderson, plus Pete [End Page 406] Rose, who is not eligible due to his lifetime ban from baseball. The chapters on the team’s stars are familiar to close observers of the game, but the stories behind the rest of the roster provide rare insight into the inner workings of a major league team.
The team was assembled by general manager and president Bob Howsam. This initial chapter of the book traces Howsam’s path from southern Colorado, remote in the world of baseball, through the minor leagues and eventually to the general managership of the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1966, he was lured to take over the Reds, a team that had been competitive but won just seventy-eight games that year. Howsam found a healthy farm system, and the team soon moved from aging Crosley Field to Riverfront Stadium. Howsam made a series of good moves, but perhaps the best was the hiring of manager Sparky Anderson, a coach with the Padres, after the 1969 season. Anderson assembled an able staff and orchestrated the immense talent with great skill.
The biographical chapters provide a sense of the nomadic life of a player. Many bounced around the minor for years before finding a temporary home with the Reds, and this book provides a strong sense of the baseball life: uncertain, fleeting, and uprooted. Despite having multiple authors, the articles are remarkably even in quality. Some might quibble that the bit players and backups get the same ink as the pivotal players, but therein lies the significance of the work. To understand how a complete organization in baseball works, a full treatment of all parts of the team must be considered, and this lively volume fulfills that task.