Sparky did not think much about it that day. Nobody did. Seemed like everyone was talking about the upcoming Battle of the Sexes match race between the filly Ruffian, who had won every one of her 10 races going away, and the colt Foolish Pleasure, the Kentucky Derby winner. President Ford went to Fort McHenry and said that the nation's third century should be an era of individual freedom. Johnny Bench's old friend Bob Hope became only the third American (after presidents Hoover and Truman) to receive the Philadelphia Freedom Medal. The Reds beat the San Diego Padres 7--6, and every player in the Cincinnati order got a hit. The new lineup went largely unnoticed.
But this was historic: The Reds almost never lost when Sparky Anderson entered that lineup. They would, in fact, go 57--25 the rest of the season to win the division title by 20 games. The lineup had all the elements. Rose gave it will, Griffey gave it speed, Morgan gave it a little bit of everything. Bench provided power, Perez big hits, Foster home runs, Concepcion great plays at shortstop, Geronimo defensive grace in centerfield.
There had never been a lineup quite like it. Yes, the famed 1927 New York Yankees had four Hall of Famers in their Murderers' Row—including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig—and averaged more than six runs per game. The Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s had Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella and were a beautiful blend of power and speed. But the lineup Sparky Anderson put on the field on July 4, 1975, had something more. The Reds had power and speed too. More, though, there were three African-Americans in the lineup, three Latin Americans and two white Americans—and Bench had Native American blood. They were the Great American Ballclub.
"We had black players on our team?" Johnny Bench would ask many years later, facetiously. "We had Latin American players on our team? I never noticed that. I promise you, none of us ever noticed that. We made fun of each other. We made fun of the way players talked. We made fun of the way players looked. But when it came down to it, we were Cincinnati Reds."
He paused here for emphasis.
"We were," he said, "the Big Red Machine."
TAMPA, FEBRUARY 28, 1975
The players would each remember Sparky Anderson's spring training speech a little bit differently in later years, but everyone recalled his main point. He announced that the Machine was made up of two kinds of players. First, there were the superstars. To be more specific, Sparky said, there were four superstars—Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez. Those four made their own rules. Those four had no curfew. Those four had special privileges. If Johnny wanted to go golfing every so often during spring training, he could go. If Pete wanted to blow off some steam at the dog track, well, Sparky might give him a few extra bucks. If Joe needed to come in late so he could attend college classes, that was all right by Sparky. If Tony needed a little rest, then Sparky would fluff the pillow. Those four were royalty.
"The rest of you," Sparky said, "are turds."