|Book Review: The Machine|
Written by Richard Coreno (Contact & Archive) on September 11, 2009
Click here to read an extensive excerpt of Joe Posnanski's new book, which is due out September 15.
"Bunch of losers," (Pete) Rose shouted. "We can't lose this game. We will not lose this game!"
It was the top of the sixth inning in the seventh game of the 1975 World Series, and the "Big Red Machine" was running on fumes in Fenway Park. Trailing 3-0 to the Boston Red Sox, the club was lucky to still be batting, since Pete Rose broke up a possible double play by sliding hard into second base. With Johnny Bench on first, Tony Perez stepped into the batter's box to face Bill "Spaceman" Lee; the same Perez who -- months earlier -- was nearly traded to Kansas City, Boston, Oakland or the Yankees.
"Pete turned from his yelling to watch Tony Perez hit," writes Joe Posnanski, in The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the (September 15, 2009; William Morrow: An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers). "Bill Lee began his windup, and then unleashed it one more time, his slow curveball, and Perez saw it, his eyes widened, and he did something funny in his swing. He buckled like a car trying to jump into second gear."
And as the batted ball arced into the sky, a World Series for the ages was poised to take yet another dramatic turn, which already included "The Armbrister Incident" in Game Three, the iconic pose of Red Sox star catcher Carlton Fisk as he watched his Game Six winning homer in the 12th inning at 12:34 a.m. in Fenway Park and three days of rain that only created more intrigue and excitement as both clubs stood toe-to-toe and landed incredible haymakers from October 11 to 22.
Posnanski goes into the clubhouse, dugout and executive offices, while covering each base on the diamond, to tell a story of fun, feuds and friends, with a neat dose of drama that could have torn average teams apart. Though the Reds ultimately dominated the National League -- winning the West Division by 20 games, while notching an incredible 108-54 record, and besting the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 for the NL crown -- the team was muddling along at 12-11 on May 2 when manager Sparky Anderson asked Rose to move from left field to third base.
"And Pete said three words: 'Tomorrow? Damn. Okay,'" Posnanski writes. "More than thirty years later, Pete Rose thought back with wonder to that moment. 'Who else would just agree to play third base in the middle of the season?' he asked. 'Just like that. Who else? You name one star who would do that. I was an All-Star in left field.'"
On June 8, the Reds had a 32-22 record and a slim 1 1/2-game lead in the division. The club pushed the advantage to seven games on June 30 -- 48-28 -- and turned the race into a solo victory march by August 25; upping the advantage to 16 1/2 games, while sporting a record of 84-44. And there were changes happening in other aspects of the game as the team was being paced by NL Most Valuable Player Joe Morgan, Rose, Bench and pitchers Don Gullett, Gary Nolan and Clay Carroll.
"Baseball players - most of them anyway - did not lift weights in 1975," writes Posnanski. "Still, the Reds had one of the first Nautilus pullover machines. It was a gift from Arthur Jones, the inventor. Jones had this idea that he could create a machine that would help everyday people build up their muscles without going to a dark gym and lifting enormous barbells for hours.
"He wanted to say that his machine pumped up the Big Red Machine. Of course, none of the players used the thing except to hang jockstraps on it."
And the heavy weight of free agency was about to be hoisted by each player: "The baseball players' union (after the 1975 season) would use a couple of pitchers -- Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally -- to challenge baseball's 'reserve clause,'" writes Posnanski. "The clause basically came down to one sentence that stated if the player and team could not come to terms, then the 'club shall have the right by written notice to the Player to renew this contract for the period of one year on the same terms.'"
But none of that mattered as the ball hit by Perez refused to stay inside the field of play. "And it was a home run, a long home run that sailed over the Green Monster, into the black of night, and nobody ever saw it land," Posnanski writes. "After (Perez) hit his home run, the Reds trailed by a run (3-2), but the Machine arrogance had returned."
The Reds tied it in the seventh when Ken Griffey, Sr., walked, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Rose, who would be named World Series MVP. It was a bloop single by Morgan in the ninth that scored Griffey, Sr., from second which gave the Reds a 4-3 win. After reliever Will McEnaney got the final out in the bottom of the inning -- Carl Yastrzemski flying out to centerfielder Cesar Geronimo -- a wild celebration ensued on the field, but it was missing perhaps the most crucial member of the club, a shrewd strategist who had been with the franchise since 1970.
"(Sparky) walked back into the clubhouse," writes Posnanski. "He did not want to be on the field - that was for the players. He wanted his moment alone. There were tears in his eyes. The Reds were what he had always hoped. Winners."
AHP Rating: 4 Balls
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Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.