Johnny Bench will be 62 this year. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball 20 years ago. Sparky Anderson is an old man with three rings from two leagues. The team had two losing seasons from 1961-81—six less than they have had since 2000. For a team whose future still seems a ways off, Reds' fans can remember the glorious summer of 1976.
Since going to a League Championship Series in 1969, only one team has swept the LCS and World Series in the same year—the 1976 Reds. And they seemed to do it on cruise control.
Floundering near the .500 mark in early 1975, Anderson put Rose at third base. The team went on a tear and ended the regular season with 108 wins. They swept the Pirates in the LCS.
Then came Luis Tiant. Tiant beat the Reds in games one and four. They had him beat in game six, when the Reds' first draftee (Bench was the second), Bernie Carbo hit a three run home run in the eighth.
Three innings later, Carlton Fisk hits the most over shown replay in sports' history off the foul pole. The next night the Reds score four runs in the last four innings to win their first of nine consecutive World Series games.
In 1976, Bench had a bad back and hit only .234. It didn't matter. Bob Howsam made one of his few bad trades, sending Clay "the Hawk" Carroll to the White Sox. It still didn't matter. They won 102 games and led the league in the following categories: (Baseball Encyclopedia, ninth ed.)
Runs: 857 Doubles: 271 Triples: 63 Home Runs: 141 Batting Average: .280 Stolen Bases: 210 Fielding Average: .984 (13 less errors than No. 2 Philadelphia) and Saves: 45.
George Foster led the league in RBIs with 121, batting sixth. Eighth batter Cesar Geronimo hit 307. Joe Morgan won the MVP, batting .320, scoring 113 runs, batting in 111, drawing 114 walks, and stealing only 41 bases.
No pitcher won more than 15 games—seven won at least 11. Bench, Morgan, Concepcion, and Geronimo won gold gloves. Tony Perez had an ordinary season 19/91/.260 and was traded. The team was not the same without "Doggie."
After sweeping a Phillies team that would win the WS four years later, they embarrassed the Yankees in their first World Series in 12 years. With an offense built around leadoff hitter Mickey Rivers bunting, Rose stood 10 feet in front of the third base bag and charged the plate, daring Rivers to hit the ball down his throat.
Thumb Munson's nine for 17 was offset by Bench's four home runs. They outscored the Yankees 22-8.
Every year, there is always the hullabaloo over the 1972 Dolphins. But for my money, the '76 Reds are the best team in my lifetime.