Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Day Big Red Became a Machine

TRIVIA QUESTION:   The Big Red Machine was not known for its pitching. Which Reds long time starting pitcher and twice a 20 game winner, continued to pitch for one more season although his career was pretty much over after the 1969 season? 

On July 3, 1966 Tony Cloninger, batting ninth for the Atlanta Braves, twice came to bat with the bases loaded. On both occasions he hit grand slam home runs. The first off the Giants Bob Priddy and the second off Ray Sadecki. He would end up 3 for 5 with 9 RBI.  He picked up his ninth win in going the distance to win 17-3. He would finish the season 14-11 and led the league in walks issued with 116.

May 20th, 1969 was a famous day in Cincinnati because it can reasonably be considered the day the Reds officially became The Big Red Machine. In 1968 they started to build the future and the future was the arrival of Johnny Bench behind the plate. However, the Reds needed pitching and acquired Jim Merritt from the Twins in the off season to solidify what was a pretty shaky starting staff.

On Tuesday night on the 20th of May, 1969, though the Reds really began what became a mini-dynasty and the hitting prowess to rival the best batting clubs in MLB history. They were mired 8.5 games back of first place when they took the field at home to begin a quick two game set with the Phillies. Only 4191 fans packed tiny Crosley Field. Interestingly enough, 4191 was the same number of hits Ty Cobb had in his career. A number a few years later (as a Phillie) the most famous Reds player of all time, and who started at second base in this game would eclipse. Pete Rose would eventually surpass Cobb's 4191 to become baseball's all-time hits leader.

It should be noted that today Cobb is credited with 4189 hits, but back then before a change was made it was 4191. 

The fans would be treated to a 1:42 minute game this night with Tony Cloninger taking the mound against Rick Wise. It was a magic game for Tony C., facing only 27 batters in allowing a pair of singles and a walk in picking up his second win in seven decisions. A real masterpiece for the former Brave's ace.

Rose would single and score a run, Bench and Alex Johnson added a pair of hits and Tony Perez hit one of his 37 homers on the year. When the dust settled Wise had given up four runs, three earned and the Reds pulled off a 4-0 win. 

The win was the kick off for a nine game winning streak with victories over Montreal, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Cloninger and Merritt each won two games during the streak and Clay Carroll won four more in relief. George Culver picked up the other win. Bench would rack up 16 hits and belt four homers during the nine game streak. 

When the streak was over they had picked up five games in the standings and were now only 3.5 games back of division leading Atlanta. They would go on to finish third on the year but Manager Dave Bristol had built his team into a contender. Turning the corner into the 70's the Big Red Machine had arrived.

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at, or on Amazon.  

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