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.'"
Excerpted from The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series—The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, by Joe Posnanski. On sale in hardcover on Sept. 15, 2009, from William Morrow
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