Cincinnati got a new statue Saturday. There was a big unveiling ceremony with an estimated 3,000 people in attendance. Most of those 3,000 people were standing directly in front of me. I’d heard of the planned unveiling some time ago and probably even considered attending some time ago. But it never really made it onto my agenda until Friday night.
The statue is of Joe Morgan, second baseman of the Big Red Machine. If you didn’t already know that, I’m not sure I even want you reading this but maybe you just forgot so here’s a little refresher. The Big Red Machine was the remarkable Cincinnati Reds team of the 1970s. Between 1970 and 1976 they won their division five times, their league four times, and the World Series twice. Those World Series wins were back to back in 1975 and 1976. In both of those years, Joe Morgan was the National League MVP. So seeing a statue of him unveiled would certainly be a cool thing but, on the other hand, I didn’t think it cool enough to fight a crowd to see something I could probably have all to myself on most afternoons in a month or so.
Then, on Friday, I’m out playing trivia with the Reds game on TV. It’s live trivia so the TV sound is off. It is the start of a Joe Morgan weekend and there is a pregame ceremony. I’m watching it out of the corner of my eye and eventually realize that, one by one, Joe’s old teammates are trotting out on the field. Soon the entire Big Red Machine starting lineup is there. The most astonishing thing about this is that it includes Pete Rose who has been banned for life from participating in any aspect of Major League Baseball. He was being permitted on the field so that Joe’s celebration could be complete. Seeing the Great Eight, as that group was called, was cool enough to justify dealing with a crowd.
So I fought the crowd and the crowd won. My resolve to go wasn’t nearly as strong when I woke up as when I went to bed. I alternately talked myself into and out of going until it reached the now-or-never point. It once again sunk in that seeing the Great Eight together just might not ever happen again. I left home with just enough time to get there before the unveiling. The first picture is what I saw when I arrived. The second is what I saw after I had worked myself to the other side of the crowd. When things actually started, I realized that, not only were all those heads between me and the speakers, so was the tent. I had incorrectly assumed they would be in an open space to the left. I could, every once in a while, see one of the speakers under the tent covering and over the bobbing heads and I’ve included a picture of Joe to prove it.
Drat! I had not actually seen the Great Eight. However, there would be another ceremony of some sort preceding the afternoon game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The game was sold out but I got a ticket for a bad seat for a so so price from a scalper. I walked around the area and grabbed a sandwich. The crowd that initially hid the statue (shown at right) eventually thinned out so I could take the picture at the top of this article.
I misjudged the time and the ceremony was already underway when I entered the stadium. I made it just in time to see Pete being introduced and Joe soon followed. The other six were already on the field. There was, of course, more to the Big Red Machine than these eight players but they were the heart of it. Of the 88 games that all of the Great Eight played in 1975 and 1976, they won 69 or nearly 80%.
When it was time for the ceremonial first pitch, all eight players moved to their positions. The 69 year old Morgan had no trouble getting the ball to the plate and the 65 year old Johnny Bench had no trouble catching it. Then, as they walked toward each other, Bench flipped the ball back to Morgan who casually one-handed it. Then the Big Red Machine gathered for one more meeting by the pitcher’s mound.
At the end of the day, when I looked through the pictures I had taken, I noticed that Bench’s star, in the line where the Great Eight had stood, was turned sideways. Had someone goofed when they laid them out? Had it been accidentally kicked around as the players waved to the crowd? Nope. A check of earlier photos revealed the truth. Bench had turned the star himself when the players moved to their chairs. Johnny is a joker.
There is an awful lot of Cincinnati history in these two murals at Great American Ball Park. For one thing, the mosaics are reminiscent of those that once hung in Union Terminal and have since been moved to the airport. Sadly, those are once again in danger as the building they are in is slated for demolition. Secondly, there is the suspension bridge in the background. The bridge officially opened January 1, 1867. It’s still there and can be seen from the current ball park. One mural is of the 1869 Red Stockings, the world’s first fully professional baseball team. Note that the bridge is correctly shown without the steel trusses that were added in the 1890s. The other is of the Big Red Machine, the same eight men who were on the field today. The Red Stockings had a 65-0 record in 1969. In the seven seasons between 1970 and 1976, the Big Red Machine had a record of 683-443.
With the game tied 3-3, I left after eight innings. The Reds won in the tenth. That’s when the Reds latest speedster, Billy Hamilton, scored from second, which he had stolen, on a Todd Frazier single. Today was the thirty-ninth anniversary of another Reds win over the Dodgers. During the 1970s, the Reds-Dodgers rivalry was one of the biggest in baseball. Joe Morgan was playing with a sprained ankle on September 7, 1974 so wouldn’t be stealing any bases. Instead, he beat the Dodgers with a two-run eighth-inning homer.