Welcome to the Machine (cont.)
"Isn't this great?" he kept asking teammates, opponents, umpires, anyone. "Isn't this great? This is the best game I've ever played in. Isn't this great? People will remember this game forever. Isn't this great?"
Boston won the game in the 12th inning. Carlton Fisk cracked a home run that bounced off the leftfield foul pole. He elbowed his way around the bases through the frenzied and drunken crowd. They rang church bells in small New England towns. But Rose still felt good. He knew the Reds would damn well win the seventh and final game. They were too good to lose it.
"That was their World Series victory," he told teammates before Game 7. "Now it's time to get ours."
They all nodded, pumped their fists, smiled. But did they see it the way that Pete did? Well . . . no, apparently they did not. By the sixth inning of the game they could not lose, the Reds were losing by three runs. They were playing dead. They hadn't scored a run. They were about to blow the World Series.
"How could we come all this way to play like a bunch of losers?" Rose shouted. There were two outs in the inning. There should have been three. Pete had kept the inning going. He was on first base, and Bench hit a routine ground ball -- a double play, for sure. Only Rose would not allow a double play, he could not allow it. He barreled into second base with all the fury and violence he had been raised to unfurl. His beloved father, Big Pete, a savage semipro football player well into his 40s, had taught Little Pete one lesson about fighting: Hit first. Pete raced in with everything he had; he was ready to knock Denny Doyle into leftfield. Doyle was able to jump out of the way, but his throw soared too high to finish off the double play. Pete was out, but the inning was still alive.
"We're not going to lose this game," Rose shouted in the dugout. "No way. You hear me? We are not losing tonight. You know what people are going to say about us? We're nothing. They'll say we're losers."
Pete walked up and down the bench and looked hard at each player's face.
"We're not f------ losers," he shouted.
Tony Perez was standing at home plate, ready to hit. They called him the Big Dog, or Doggie for short. Doggie had grown up in Cuba, before Castro's men came rushing down from the mountains. He had been raised to spend his life lugging bags of sugar at the refinery near his home. That's what his father did, that's what his brothers did, and when he turned 14, that's what he did too. He would never forget the way his body felt at the end of those days. And he would always tell his mother that he wanted something more, he wanted to play baseball in the United States under the bright lights. She told him to grow up and stop dreaming about nonsense.
"You will work in the factory just like everyone else in this family," she told him. He signed with the Reds for two dollars and 50 cents, the price of a visa. While he played ball in America, Cuba fell to Castro. Doggie had not seen his mother in more than a decade.
What made Doggie different was hard to explain... It was a kind of peace. He never made anything too complicated. See the ball, hit the ball. That's what he said. He knew when to joke with a teammate, and he knew when to lay down the law. He knew how to break tension, serving as a sort of peacemaker between Bench and Rose. Inside the clubhouse everyone looked to Doggie. He seemed to have the answers.
"What you so worried about, Skip?" Doggie had said to Sparky just a moment before he went to hit. His manager looked lost. He had jolted awake in the middle of the night, sweating, an unremembered dream still haunting him. He had awakened another dozen times with the uneasy feeling that the Reds had already lost this game. "What do you mean, Doggie?" Anderson said. "We're losing 3-0."
"Ah," Perez said, "don't worry. I hit a home run."
He pronounced hit like heat -- "I heat a home run" -- and Anderson, even in his state of panic, smiled. Doggie went to the rack, grabbed a bat. He watched Rose break up the double play and then heard him cursing and insulting and rousing players in the dugout. Doggie stepped in to face Boston's pitcher, Bill Lee.
"Throw me that slow one," Perez muttered to himself. Earlier in the game, Lee had thrown his slow curve, a lollipop of a pitch that peaked at about 10 feet off the ground and then dropped gently into the strike zone. Batters wait for fastballs -- it is in their nature -- and slow pitches shock the nervous system. Doggie was mesmerized, and he could not unleash his swing. "Throw it again," he muttered now.
Pete turned from his yelling to watch Tony Perez hit. Lee began his windup, and then he unleashed it one more time, his slow curveball, and Perez saw it, his eyes widened, and he did something funny in his swing. He jerked, like a car trying to jump into second gear.
Up in the Fenway Park press box the dean of Cincinnati sportswriters, Si Burick, watched the pitch come in. Burick had been writing for the Dayton Daily News for 50 years. He was the son of a rabbi, and he'd started writing about sports in the paper when he was 16 -- four years before the stock market crashed in 1929. Burick saw the pitch floating in, and he watched Perez double-clutch. Before Doggie even swung the bat, Burick whispered two words he thought nobody else could hear.
He whispered, "Home run."
SUN CITY, ARIZ., March 1, 2008
I promised myself I wasn't going to do this," Joe Morgan said. And then he started to cry. Joe stepped away from the lectern, and he stood silently for a few moments, then he began again. "I shouldn't be crying," he said. "This is not supposed to be a sad occasion."
There were many types of people in the retirement home. There were baseball people, family members and a few old friends. Bob Howsam, the man behind the Machine, had died. Joe was right: No one wanted this to be a sad day. Howsam lived to be 89 years old. He had done everything he wanted in his life. He had run a baseball team, owned a football team (the Denver Broncos); he'd built a stadium (the one in Denver that became known as Mile High); he'd raised a family. Buck O'Neil, the great Negro leagues player, always said that funerals were for people who died too young. Everyone else deserves a celebration.
Joe had stayed around the game. He played until 1984, when he was 41 years old. Then he became a famous baseball announcer. And he believed something had been lost, something we will never get back.
"I remember standing with Bob Howsam after we won the World Series in 1976," Joe was saying, "and we were kings of the world."
There was no drama for the Reds in 1976, no story line. Nothing like '75, when Doggie had hit Bill Lee's Game 7 slow curve over everything to pull the Reds close and Pete had tied it with a single an inning later and Joe had put Cincinnati ahead with a ninth-inning single and Geronimo had caught the final pop-up and reliever Will McEnaney had jumped into Johnny Bench's arms, their team world champs at last. Joe won the '75 National League Most Valuable Player award, and Pete was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, and Sparky spent the off-season talking to clubs and groups. Doggie returned to his adopted homeland of Puerto Rico as a hero.
No, 1976 was at once the same and different. The Reds toyed with the Dodgers for the first two months and then, in early June, moved into first place for good. They led the National League in every offensive category -- they scored the most runs; got the most hits; cracked the most doubles, triples, home runs; stole the most bases. It was a rout. They swept the Philadelphia Phillies in the playoffs, clinching the final game with a three-run rally in the ninth. Foster homered. Bench homered. And Griffey, who always found a quiet way to be the hero, drove in the game-winning run.
The Reds then swept the Yankees in the World Series. Nobody even seemed willing to argue the point anymore: The Big Red Machine, the team that Bob Howsam built, was as good a team as had ever been put together. And it might have been a little bit better than any other.
Joe said he was standing with Howsam in the hotel after Cincinnati had put away the Yankees, and he saw tears building in the old man's eyes. "Then he turned to me, and he said, 'Joe, this is it. There will never be another team like this. Ever again.' "
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