The Big Black and Purple Machine?
Rox's 7-0 start to postseason rekindles memories of 1976 Reds
CINCINNATI -- It was already a remarkable feat for the Rockies to get into the postseason. Once they got in, the kids from Colorado have traversed a bridge only one other team had crossed before.The Rockies' 7-0 record in the 2007 playoffs matches the 1976 Reds as the only teams to do it since divisional play started in 1969. That '76 Cincinnati team ran the table in the playoffs to become back-to-back World Series champions. The involvement of Wild Card teams has added an extra round to the Major League playoffs since 1995, which means the Rockies still have one more round to go to reach the finish line of a World Series title -- and perhaps stand alone with an 11-0 record in the postseason. "It's not the same thing. They are playing so many more games," said former Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Sr. "For us, you won the championship series in a best-of-five and you're in the World Series." Colorado, winner of 90 games during the regular season, won 14 of its final 15. During this epic run, now 21 of 22, it had to play a one-game tiebreaker vs. the Padres just to get the Wild Card spot and then swept the through the East champion Phillies in three games in the National League Division Series and West champion Diamondbacks in four in the NL Championship Series. Sparky Anderson, the Reds manager in the 1970s and a member of the Hall of Fame, marveled at the Rockies' run. He doesn't discount Colorado's success because of how it got into the playoffs. "The rules are set up that if you get in, you have a chance to win," Anderson said by phone from his home in Southern California. "I am so kind of enchanted in how you can win seven in a row like we did. You look at each game, there hasn't been any luck involved. They won it. They had no luck. To me, that's more important. Sure, you're not the best club by the records, but you're winning." "It's pretty special to do that," said former second baseman Joe Morgan, working in Cleveland with ESPN during the AL Championship Series. "That's what makes baseball such a great sport. It's tough to win every single day in baseball. It's easier to do that in basketball, where the best team doesn't always win. You have to give them credit for maintaining their confidence and just getting to the playoffs in the first place."
The 1976 season was the zenith of the "Big Red Machine," which remains in the pantheon of baseball dynasties. Cincinnati's "great eight" of regulars included future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Morgan; future all-time hits leader Pete Rose; and Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Griffey. They dominated the NL West with a 102-60 regular-season record and cruised into the playoffs."We knew before it started that we were going to win it," Anderson said. Why was that? "The regulars played in all seven games in the postseason," Anderson said. "They only played 57 games together in the regular season. Yes, the team won seven in a row. But it was seven in a row by the most dynamic team in history." In the NLCS, the Phillies had home-field advantage but Cincinnati won Games 1 and 2 at Veterans Stadium. The most dramatic battle in the series was Game 3 at Riverfront Stadium. Trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth, the Reds used back-to-back homers by Foster and Bench to score three runs and advance to the World Series. The Yankees, who were playing in their first postseason in 12 years, were dispatched in four games in the World Series. After a 5-1 win in Game 1, Anderson couldn't hide his confidence to Dayton Daily News reporter Si Burick in the tunnel to the clubhouse. "We're going to win it in four," Anderson recalled telling Burick, off the record at the time. Sure enough, Cincinnati trailed for only three innings in the entire series, and that came in Game 4. The Reds batted .313 while posting a 2.00 ERA in the four games. "When we got to the Yankees, we knew we had a better team," Griffey said from his home in Florida. "Our way of playing was different than most. We were very businesslike on the field, but we had fun also. No one talks about it, but we had excellent pitching. Our offense and defense was there every night. We didn't make any mistakes. But our pitchers kept us in the games and gave us an opportunity to win every night. "After we thought about it, sweeping seven games in a row -- no one thought we'd do that. We thought we might lose one to the Phillies and one to the Yankees. There was a lot of personal pride in what we did to win and how we went about it." With all due respect to Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and the Cinderella Rockies' special feat this year, the 1976 Reds will always remain in the elitist of classes, regardless of what Colorado does next. "The '76 team, to me, was the best team ever," Morgan said. "That's just my opinion. It's not just because I played on it, either. They were so good. It wasn't a team of Phi Beta Kappas off the field, but everyone knew his role, and together that made it a very special team. We were on a roll at the right time, as Colorado is now." "The Rockies deserve everything they get, no matter what happens in the World Series," Anderson said. "Some day, [manager] Clint Hurdle, the coaches and players, they will be looking at their children and grandchildren and hear them say, 'Look at what Grandpa did.' Can you imagine that?"
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.