Sidelines: ‘Play every game like it might be your last game’

CINCINNATI – Many consider them the greatest starting lineup in the history of major league baseball.

In the five years they were together in Cincinnati, the “Big Red Machine” won two world championships, three national league pennants, and four divisional titles.

All eight were on hand this past weekend for the very first time since they walked off the field together in 1976 at Yankee Stadium after sweeping the New York Yankees as the Reds honored second baseman Joe Morgan with his very own statue.

Joining Morgan in ceremonies after Friday night’s win against the Los Angeles Dodgers and before Saturday’s win were George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, Ken Griffey, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and all-time hit king Pete Rose, who received permission from major league baseball to participate despite his lifetime suspension from major league baseball.

It would be tough to compare the 2013 version of the Reds, or any other team for that matter, to those great teams of the 1970’s, but several members of the “Great Eight” had their opinions on what it will take for this year’s team to bring a world series trophy back to Cincy for the first time since 1990.

“To get through the playoffs, you have to have fun, and you have to realize the only way to have fun is to win.” said Rose, who was the leadoff hitter and third baseman for the 1975 and 1976 Champions. “You are going to win games and you are going to lose games, but you’ve got to play every game like it might be your last game.

“You’ve got to take care of business and try to win your division and if they don’t do that, they’ve got finish second to get the home game and I think they will and then it is all about momentum. Getting to the World Series is the ultimate goal for a baseball player but there is only one winner. As we sit here today this team has an outstanding chance of being that one winner. Its up to them though, its not up to Mr. Castellini, its not up to Dusty (Baker), its up to the players.”

The Reds have had success recently as they have claimed National League Central titles in both 2010 and 2012 only to be ousted in the first round both years.

Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench offered his opinion on what it will take for the Reds to make that next step.

“They’ve got good pitching they just can’t get wrapped up in mechanics,” said Bench who won 10 Gold Gloves and was selected to 14 All-Star teams in his legendary career. “This is about getting the job done when there are men on base and when you start thinking up there or doing things differently, you leave men on base. That’s what we didn’t do and when we left someone on base, the guys behind us picked us up. That was the depth of this lineup, it was all about getting the job done when it was time to do it.”

The 2013 Reds have spent most of the season lurking just behind the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central but after the weekend sweep of the Dodgers now find themselves just two games back of the division lead with a favorable schedule the rest of the way.

Cincinnati plays Pittsburgh six times in the season’s final month but other than that the Reds remaining four series are against teams with losing records.

Last season the Reds appeared to be well on their way to their first playoff series win since 1995 when they jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants, only to drop three in a row to the eventual World Champions.

Perez recalled a game six loss to the Boston Red Sox that he felt may have been the key to the Reds winning back-to-back crowns.

“I think in ’75 when the Red Sox came back in game six, that was the most important thing that happened to us,” said Perez, whose trade by the Reds to the Montreal Expos after the 1976 season is viewed by many as the reason the Reds weren’t able to win even more titles in the seventies.

“We had to win that seventh game and beating the Red Sox and coming from behind and I think we went into 1976 playoffs and World Series thinking that nobody can beat us, nobody.”

This years Reds can surely hope that the “Great Eight” left just a little bit of their magic in Great American Ballpark before they left and if they did, who knows maybe they can stake their place right next to the Big Red Machine as one of the greatest teams in Reds history.

Mike Morrison is a Marietta Times part-time sports writer.