I was a nearsighted nine-year-old who spent a month in the hospital in the summer of 1965 with rheumatic fever, a wimpy kid with no sports talent.
1965 was the year Frank Robinson, "an old thirty," wore out his welcome and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles where he won the Triple Crown and the World Series in 1966.
It was Pete Rose's third year, and his first .300 season, Tony Perez was a rookie who hit a ball completely out of Milwaukee County Stadium and Jim Maloney pitched the greatest game not in the record book, a ten-inning, 18-strikeout no-hitter, lost to the Mets in the eleventh on a home run by Johnny Lewis.
Johnny Bench should have been the first pick in baseball's first draft, but the big kid from Binger, Oklahoma fell to the end of the second round.
I was hooked on baseball.
Five years later, they would make their first playoff appearance, one of six in the '70s, against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Orioles. They would win the World Series in '75 and '76. They had only two losing seasons from 1961-81.
1999 ended with a one-game playoff and they acquired Ken Griffey, Jr., which began a decade of frustration.
Hope returned to the team in 2010 when they made their first playoff appearance, but they were embarrassed by the Philadelphia Phillies. They were no hit by Roy Halladay and extended their playoff losing streak, dating back to 1995, to seven games.
Tonight they face another tough challenge in Matt Cain on the road.
Let the Unfair Comparison begin.
How They Are Alike
1. They stole the Cardinals' general manager.
Bob Howsam was the architect of the 1960's Cardinals, and Walt Jockety was GM of the Cardinals in their mid-2000's run. Howsam was offensive oriented, believing you "never traded an every day player" for a pitcher. Jockety built the team around starting pitching.
2. They both have good defense.
One could not help but notice that former Reds Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion were hitting a lot of home runs. Both are DH's who were defensive liabilities when with the Reds.
The acquisition of Scott Rolen in his later years showed the team's renewed commitment to not beating themselves with poor defense.
Brandon Phillips could end up with as big a collection of Gold Gloves as Joe Morgan.
Drew Stubbs is a good center fielder like Cesar Geronimo.
Zack Cozart is an up-and-coming shortstop like the young Dave Concepcion in 1970. Both Geronimo and Concepcion became better hitters as the decade progressed.
Joey Votto works very hard on his defense, and Jay Bruce is no slouch in right field.
Nobody is Bench, but Ryan Hannigan has proven himself very good at handling pitchers.
3. They both have strong bullpens.
Probably the most stunning move of Jockety's tenure is winning the bidding war on Aroldis Chapman. His midseason dominance was legendary. Giving him a break when the team didn't need him, like they will in the playoffs, shows Dusty Baker's maturity.
Jockety got Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton for Travis Wood and prospects.
The rest of the bullpen is solid.
Sparky Anderson was known as "Captain Hook," using his bullpen early and often in his nine-year stint with the Reds. Clay Carroll, Rawly Eastwick and Will McEnaney could all close games. Pedro Borbon was an unsung hero in middle innings. In those days, you never turned off a game, no matter how far behind they were. The '76 team was the only team to sweep the LCS and the World Series in the same season.
How They Differ
1. The Big Red Machine's lineup is superior.
The biggest concern going into the postseason is the Reds' offense. Their hitting in September was anemic.
They were called the Big Red Machine in the 70's because they had the best top-to-bottom lineup. Bench only hit .234 in '76 with back problems. They didn't need him until he put away the Yankees with four home runs in the World Series. Geronimo hit .307 batting eighth. Perez drove in at least 90 runs from 1967 to 1976 and was traded away in what Howsam called "my worst trade."
Ken Griffey, Sr. and George Foster became regulars when Rose was moved to third base without warning in early 1975. In 1977 Foster would be the only player to hit 50 home runs in the decade.
Joe Morgan went from a good player for the Houston Astros to a Hall of Famer. His huge leads and base-stealing abilities are legendary. He could hit home runs, and his elbow flapping drove pitchers crazy. Morgan well deserved his back-to-back MVPs. Billy Hamilton, if he hasn't already, needs to become Morgan's next best friend. If he does, look out.
Joey Votto is the only guy in the current lineup who would could start for the Big Red Machine. Too often, opponents pitch around Votto. My motto for the current team is "As goes Jay Bruce, so goes the Cincinnati Reds." If he can get on one of his hot streaks, the chances of the Reds succeeding increases exponentially.
2. The current starting rotation is the stronger.
Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake are the most formidable rotation, top to bottom, in Reds' history. All but Arroyo are young. Cueto gets the ball tonight. A strong showing by the starters could make the difference in this being a championship run or another frustrating early playoff exit.
This could be another decade-long run of success if they continue to improve. Only time will tell. But unlike 1990, which was an incredibly fun summer, I hope the new Reds are in it for the long haul as I enter my old age.