Big Red Machine crew reminisces on glory

Big Red Machine crew reminisces on glory

CINCINNATI -- One of the most prolific and respected dynasties to step onto a baseball field, the "Big Red Machine" of the 1970s, still resonates in the 21st century.

The Reds teams of that decade, led by manager Sparky Anderson, won five division titles, four National League pennants and back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.

Three members of that team -- Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez -- reunited to talk about those halcyon days with Bob Costas for the next installment of Studio 42 with Bob Costas on MLB Network. It airs on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

"We were a complete team," Morgan told Costas. "We could do more than just pitch and hit. We could run the bases, we could play defense. And I've said it before, we were the smartest team I've ever been around. ... Bob Howsam was the general manager who put this team together. He said to me after we won in 1976, 'Joe, there will never be another team like this.'"

The hour-long interview was taped in July during the Hall of Fame induction weekend at Cooperstown, N.Y., several months before the Nov. 4 death of Anderson.

Known as "The Great Eight" on the field that included Bench, Morgan and Perez but also greats like Pete Rose, Davey Concepcion, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr., Anderson received credit for managing the egos and personalities of the talented group with the right touch.

"Sparky Anderson made sure that not only these three guys [Bench, Perez and Morgan], but everybody on the team knew that we were only a little small spoke in the wheel," Morgan said. "We weren't the wheel. Everybody in here is part of this wheel. And you do your job, and he didn't care whether Johnny Bench drove in the winning run, or Pete Rose or whomever. He just said, 'Get it done.' And we did."

Bench spent his entire 17-year career with Cincinnati and won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1970 and '72. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Morgan, a 1990 Hall of Fame inductee, did not join the Reds until the '72 season after a trade from the Astros. Bench, who had already experienced a losing World Series in 1970 and the Big Red Machine's lone losing season in '71, considered that a turning point.

"Joe Morgan was the one guy that absolutely put our team really over the top," Bench said. "Then we had George Foster come in, Ken Griffey Sr. was as good a two-place hitter as there has ever been in the game, and Cesar Geronimo won four Gold Glove Awards. I mean, how could you ask for a better team?"

Perez had a 23-year playing career and was with the Reds from 1964-76 and 1984-86. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

No member of the Big Red Machine has been more polarizing than Rose, who is serving a lifetime ban from baseball that prevents him from joining his three teammates in the Hall of Fame. Rose received his punishment in 1989 after admitting that he bet on baseball while Cincinnati's manager in the '80s.

Rose's exclusion from the Hall remains controversial and Bench addressed the issue with Costas in the interview.

Said Bench: "If Pete Rose got help and came out and said, 'I have a problem. I realize now that I have a problem.' And if he fell on his knees and said, 'My gosh, I'm sorry to all of America and all of baseball.' I think it would have been two years, three years, five years at most."

Cincinnati's seven-game World Series win over the Red Sox in 1975 is still regarded as one of the best Fall Classics. However, Carlton Fisk's Game 6 home run for a Red Sox 12th-inning win remains the most famous moment from the series and capped what many historians consider the greatest game played in baseball.

"Sparky Anderson was so mad," Bench recalled. "He said, 'Was this great? Was this the greatest game you've ever seen? What the hell are you talking about? We just lost the game. We could have won the World Series.' But we didn't lose that night. We didn't lose the World Series that night."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.