By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
March 26th would have been Opening Day for Major League Baseball this year. Now I have to admit I’m not much of a Major League Baseball fan anymore. My wife and I try to get to one Cincinnati Reds’ game each year but to be honest we don’t always make it.
The Reds are a big tradition for her because her grandfather used to take her to games when she was in her early teens. It was a special time for them and it’s kind of nice to go back and relive the memories.
Now for me, I was a big Cincinnati Reds fan during the 1970s — the heyday of the “Big Red Machine.” I can remember watching a lineup that included Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepción, George Foster, Ken Griffey Sr. and Cesar Geronimo. Now that is an all-star lineup if there ever was one.
I can also remember watching one of my favorite players for the Reds — the “Big Bopper”, Lee May — play in the late 60’s and early 70’s. May was an All-Star in 1969, 1971 and 1972 while playing for the Reds and is now in the Red’s Hall of Fame. I really enjoyed watching Lee May hit the ball and play first base during his time in Cincinnati.
During that time of the 70’s the Reds were a dominant force in Major League Baseball. They had the all-time hit leader in Pete Rose; three Hall of Famers in Bench, Perez and Morgan; six National League MVP selections; four National League Home Run leading seasons; three National League Batting Champions and 25 Gold Glove Winning seasons to go with their four National League Pennants and two World Championships. They could do it all — offense and defense.
There were a lot of great players during that “Big Red Machine” era but my all-time favorite Red (and it is an extremely tough choice) is Concepcion. He was a hard hitting, slick fielding shortstop from Venezuela that played for Cincinnati for 18 seasons from 1970 to 1988 — an unheard of feat today.
Concepción ranks with the best of the best Major League shortstops. His accomplishments — 9 All-Star seasons, 5 Gold Glove Awards, 2 Silver Slugger Awards and 2 World Championships to go with his 950 runs batted in and 2,326 hits while batting .267 over an 18 season career is pretty phenomenal.
But Concepción, for all his baseball excellence, also had a quirky side. He, like most baseball players, was very superstitious. Once when he was in the middle of a batting slump in 1976 the Reds were in Chicago to play a series and Concepción, at the Cubs ballpark, decided he needed to heat up. He climbed into the industrial size dryer to sit and warm up. As rookie pitcher Pat Zachary walked by the dryer he slammed the door shut and hit the on switch. Concepción took a few tumbles around in the dryer before they could get it turned off.
Unfortunately it didn’t work as Concepción went 0-for-5 that day. He was also known to jump in the shower in full uniform while in a slump in an attempt to “wash the stink” out of his game.
As a player he always wore No. 13 — a number the Reds have since retired in 2007 — because he felt like it brought him good luck.
Concepción played in what I consider the golden age of baseball when players stayed with teams for decades and not a season or two, before free agency created this massive bidding war for talent. As a kid I could watch the same guys play for a decade — or in Dave Concepción’s case almost two decades — or more and know that with their talented lineup the Reds were going to be in contention every season.
Times have changed, the game has changed and I have changed so Major League Baseball just isn’t as appealing anymore but as I think back to the 1970’s it sure was fun to sit up in the nosebleed section of Riverfront Stadium and watch the Big Red Machine mow down the competition for so many years.
But if they hit you a foul ball, you had to be careful, because that stadium was straight up and down. If you stood up and leaned out too far you were could end up a few hundred feet below in crumpled heap at the bottom of the upper deck.
All those are good memories and I’m sure if you watched the Reds play in the 70’s you have a favorite player out of that lineup also. If you get a chance add your favorite player in the comments section. I’d love to see who the readers really loved from that era.
One thing is for sure, even though temporarily we don’t have sports to enjoy, the memories of seasons past never go away. At least they don’t for me.