The Yankees do not subscribe to the notion that, while they are but flesh and blood, the Reds are precision parts in some kind of mechanical device. Even after the Big Red Machine had rolled over them 5-1 in the opening game of the 1976 World Series, the Yanks remained unconvinced that they were competing against indestructible automatons. Consider the reaction of the all-too-human Yankee catcher, Thurman Munson, to the suggestion that the Red Machine seemed to "execute" well. "You talk about execution," he said. "If some of the balls we hit in the alleys had fallen in like theirs, you'd have to say we executed well."
Alas, balls hit by Yankees found only culs-de-sac in the indifferently played and strangely undramatic opener at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The Reds, chastised afterward by Manager Sparky Anderson for nonaggressiveness, did execute, and the Yanks for the most part did not. The events of the sixth inning, when Cincinnati was nursing a 2-1 lead, were representative. In the New York half of the inning, Fred Stanley led off with a walk. He was forced at second when Reds starter Don Gullett made a fine play on Mickey Rivers' bunt try for a base hit. Cincinnati Catcher Johnny Bench then easily threw out Rivers on an attempted steal. Roy White hit a drive to left center that should have been the third out, but it was dropped by the ordinarily impeccable Cesar Geronimo for a two-base error. When Munson singled to right, White was wisely held at third in deference to Ken Griffey's formidable throwing arm. Lou Piniella finally ended the inning by blooping to Joe Morgan near second. The scorecard showed that the first four batters all had reached base—and that none had scored. In the bottom half of the inning the Reds worked with typical economy. Griffey reached first on a fielder's choice, stole second as Morgan struck out and scored the Reds' third run on Tony Perez' third straight hit.
The Reds rarely waste a scoring opportunity, and at least in this regard they were their usual selves. In the first inning Morgan hit one of surprise Yankee starter Doyle Alexander's infrequent fastballs into the right-field stands; in the third Dave Concepcion tripled down an open Yankee alley in left center and crossed the plate on Pete Rose's sacrifice fly; and in the seventh George Foster singled and scored on Bench's triple off the right-field wall. Bench came in with the fifth run when Yankee reliever Sparky Lyle wild-pitched. The mechanized win was not without its human consequences. Pitching to Rivers in the eighth, Gullett twisted an ankle and left the game after White's subsequent single. The injury was diagnosed as a tendon dislocation, and Gullett's leg was placed in a cast. He was through for the Series. That Gullett, who has been the Reds' best pitcher in the last month or so, would not work again was the one encouraging result of the opener for New York, which had reached him for only five hits.
The lone Yankee run, scored in the second, was efficient, if insufficient, Piniella led off with a double to right and was advanced to third when Chris Chambliss grounded properly to the right side. Graig Nettles then brought Piniella home with a sacrifice. At that point the Yankees—in years past the team everyone wanted to break up—seemed on the verge of earning for themselves some modern technological appellation.
It was ironic that the only machine the New Yorkers employed all day was shut down by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It had been the Yankees' practice in the American League playoffs against Kansas City to place one of their functionaries in the stands with a walkie-talkie, the better to advise Manager Billy Martin on the positioning of his outfielders. The "audio communications system" was approved for the Series by the commissioner after the Reds had agreed that it could do no appreciable harm. Unfortunately, the grandstand communicators on this day, Scouts Clyde King, Birdie Tebbetts and Karl Kuehl, did not seat themselves among the paying customers. Instead they moved into a CBS booth, far too close, the commissioner decided, to television monitors. Even though skulduggery was never seriously alleged, the scouts were taken off the air just in case the temptation to pick up Bench's signs on TV and relay them to Yankee hitters became impossible to resist.
The silencing generated a predictable squawk from the contentious Martin. It also produced some rare humor in this otherwise solemn event. Bench, who often is heard on the airwaves around Cincinnati using the handle Sidewinder, suggested that he might bring his own CB to succeeding games, tune Martin in and inquire of his "good buddy" what traffic conditions were like around second base. And Martin allowed as to how the next time the commissioner was on the premises, he would advise his broadcasters, "There's a Smokey on the line."
The matter was resolved later when all parties conceded that the Yanks could take the air if their men sat in locations away from the press box.
The Yanks needed a lot more than a walkie-talkie in the stands on a day in which they played listlessly. It was agreed even by the most spirited among them that their frantic clash with the Royals in the playoffs had sapped them of much World Series pizzazz. "This game didn't seem like anything compared with the last one [the 7-6 playoff climax two days earlier], and that wasn't all that long ago," said Munson. "This game was flatter. There was a lot of pressure in the last one. This was my first Series game, but it was not what I felt it would be. The last game of the playoffs is what I thought this Series game would be like."
Indeed, no fan demonstration comparable to the one that had all but dismantled Yankee Stadium accompanied this match at Riverfront. The Cincinnati papers had devoted much space before the opener to scolding New York fans for their destructiveness and applauding the Reds' fans for their mannerliness, GOOD THING SERIES OPENS HERE!, headlined
The Cincinnati Post
. And fans at Riverfront responded to the opening win with commendable decorum. Oh, there were incidents. Rose observed that disorderly spectators had tossed two hot-dog wrappers onto left field late in the game. "But," he hastily added in their defense, "the hot dogs weren't in them."