The team is now the stuff of legends, its nicknames part of baseball lore. The Great Eight. The Big Red Machine. And, depending on who you ask, the best team there ever was. But, even if the greatness of the mid-'70s era Reds may now appear obvious, the path to the first of Cincinnati's back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976 was hardly ceremonious.
In fact, the Big Red Machine may not hold the reverence that it now enjoys had it not been for a single swing by Hall of Famer Tony Perez in Game 7 of the '75 World Series at Fenway Park. And now, as Barry Bonds moves past Hank Aaron on Tuesday night against the Nationals at AT&T Park to assume the crown of baseball's new Home Run King, Perez's home run remains perhaps the most memorable and significant round-tripper in Reds history -- the shot that helped make a great team one of the greatest. "People were concerned with the Reds going into that last game, because they'd let the Series get away the night before [by way of Carlton Fisk's own legendary home run, a 12th-inning walk-off shot off the left-field foul pole]," Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman said. "Then Boston jumped out early, and gets a lead [in Game 7]. "And then the home run by Tony turned the whole thing around. I mean, I don't think the ball has come down yet. It was awesome." Perez's sixth-inning home run off Red Sox starter Bill Lee shifted the momentum in the final game of what had already been a World Series for the ages. Four of the first six, and eventually five of the series' seven games were decided by one run. One hit separated the two teams' totals over the seven games, two of which went into extra innings. Boston took the momentum of Fisk's blast back into Fenway and opened the game well, jumping ahead, 3-0. Lee held Cincinnati scoreless through the game's first five frames. Legendary or not, the Reds looked like they were in trouble. "I think a lot of the people that were in the Reds' traveling party went in to that seventh game very, very concerned about how that thing was going to end up," Brennaman recalled. "In light of blowing a lead late the night before when [Bernie] Carbo hit the pinch-hit home run, and then Fisk hit the homer off of [Reds reliever] Pat Darcy in extra innings, [the Red Sox] were in the driver's seat. They had the bullpen that was considered by most to be the best bullpen in baseball." But, with a runner on base, Perez broke Boston's stranglehold on the game when he sent what Brennaman called a "lob" pitch over the wall and brought Cincinnati within one."[Perez] timed it perfectly," Brennaman said. "From the time it left the bat, it was gone. It was just a question of how far it was going to go. And the home run seemed to energize the entire team. And after that, you know, it was a different deal." That different deal brought about two RBI singles by Pete Rose and Joe Morgan to give Cincinnati its first World Series title in 35 years and ensure that "The Big Red Machine" would be a household name for years to come. Whether or not the mid-'70s Reds would have gone down as the legends that they now are sans Perez's home run is fodder for a fun debate to some, a moot point to others. But, what is certain, is that winning the World Series title placed that particular Reds team above even the most determined of naysayers. "This was a great baseball team, but everybody would qualify the greatness by saying that they haven't won a world championship," Brennaman said. "In order to solidify themselves as one of the great teams of the time -- and in retrospect, the longer we go, the more we realize it was one of the top two or three teams in the history of the game -- they had to win a world championship. And then they won back-to-back championships, and that made everybody realize at that point that there were no qualifications anymore. There was no reason to say, 'Yeah, they're great, but...'" One could argue that the '75 Reds didn't have to win the World Series to prove they were a good team. After all, they won 108 games, including 64 at Riverfront Stadium, both club records. They earned four Gold Glove Awards. They rolled through the Pirates to win the the NLCS in three games. Joe Morgan won the first of his two consecutive National League MVP awards. Obviously, such accomplishments speak for themselves, with or without a title. But, it was Perez's home run that put Game 7 within reach, and sealed the legacy of the Big Red Machine. "So much of this franchise turns on the Big Red Machine," said Chris Eckes, visitor services manager of the Reds Hall of Fame. "It was the high point in this franchise's history. Is the Big Red Machine still the Big Red Machine if they've only got one World Series win, versus winning back-to-back series? You could make a very strong argument that they would not." "The Perez home run, without a doubt, was far more than a home run that got them close in game number seven," Brennaman said. "It put them on their way to becoming one of the truly great teams in the history of the game."
Patrick Allegri is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.