Baby boomers selling you rumors of their history
Forcing youth away from the truth of what's real today
The kids of today should defend themselves against the ‘70s
CINCINNATI — We’re getting closer to a definitive answer. If we are led to believe anything after three games of the NLDS, it’s that the Phillies have the pitching to win the World Series. In fact, the Phillies pitching is so good it doesn’t even matter if they don’t hit a lick.
The Phillies didn’t hit a little bit in the NLDS and cruised to the sweep, but does that tell us how good they are? If there is one question we came looking for during the first round of the playoffs it was that one.
Really, how good are the Phillies?
OK, that’s a loaded question because, obviously the team is good enough to win it all. However, because we are at the point in this era of the Phillies’ Golden Age that nothing less than a World Series title will suffice, we have to think of the question in the historical sense. In that regard there are two measuring sticks for National League teams—the 1940s St. Louis Cardinals and the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.
The Cardinals were the last National League team to go to the World Series three seasons in a row. From 1942 to 1944, the Cardinals won the World Series twice and added a third title in 1946. With Stan Musial, perhaps the greatest hitter in history, the Cardinals are the benchmark for which all National League teams should be measured. Sure, the Dodgers of the 1950s and 1960 were juggernauts, as were the Braves teams that won 14 straight division titles. But the Cardinals won three titles in five seasons.
The Phillies should equal the Cardinals three straight trips to the World Series this season, but the team they are most compared to are the Reds.
The Big Red Machine sprang to life in 1970 when they lost the World Series to the Orioles. They lost it again in 1972 to the Oakland A’s, fell short in the NLCS in 1973 and 1979, but came through with back-to-back titles in 1975 and 1976. No National League team has won back-to-back titles since and only the 1921-22 New York Giants and 1907-08 Chicago Cubs have won two World Series in a row from the senior circuit.
So, are the Phillies as good as The Big Red Machine? It probably won’t be a question that truly gets answered with some authority until after the World Series, but make no mistake that folks are talking about it. In fact, resident team baseball historian Jimmy Rollins had called his group The Little Red Machine as a homage to the Reds and gave a nod to both team’s power hitters and speed games. Both teams also had strong bullpens and played great defense with multiple Gold Glovers on both clubs.
Fortunately there are a lot of guys around from the days who both covered and played for The Big Red Machine. In fact, 1976 MVP Joe Morgan attended all three games of the NLDS with Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty and said that the comparisons are fair.
“If you're a good team, you’re a good team,” Morgan said. “You’re supposed to win. That’s the way you look at it. The experience doesn’t really factor into it. When I was with the Reds, we saw ourselves as the best team, so we felt like we were supposed to win.”
Listening to their words and watching the body language at Great America Ball Park for Game 3 on Sunday night, it was clear that the Phillies believe they are the best team in the league. It’s a cliché, but the Phillies have an aura and an intimidation factor that often overwhelms teams. During pregame stretch before the Reds finished up their BP rounds, Phillies’ players stood along the baseline and watched the opponents go through their paces. Typically, teams tend to quietly go about their business and ignore the other team, but the Phillies seem to be staring them down like a basketball team settling on the half court line while the opposition goes through its lay-up line.
Maybe the intent isn’t to intimidate, but these Phillies have a definite swagger. Sure, they are pretty good guys who enjoy being together, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some cockiness when they step on the field.
“With our pitching and our lineup, we match up well against anybody,” Jayson Werth said. “We feel confident whoever we face the rest of the way. Don't get me wrong—we still have to play the games and win them, but we are where we need to be.”
Listening to Morgan speak about the Reds of his day, the sentiment is exactly the same.
“If you think you have the best team, then you have blinders on and you just go play,” Morgan said. “You don’t care who you’re playing. Now, if you’re the 1927 Yankees, and you know [as the opponent] that they have the best team, then you have to have a different approach.”
The consensus amongst some of the old-timers who watched the Reds play and were at the ballpark to cover the series break it down this way… The Big Red Machine had better hitters, but the 2010 Phillies have better pitching.
And pitching wins, right?
Then again, the Reds lineup had Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher ever; Morgan, arguably the greatest second baseman ever; and Tony Perez, a veritable RBI machine and the leader of the club.
But don’t forget Pete Rose, the all-time hit king and bona fide Hall-of-Famer if his lifetime suspension hadn’t fouled things up. Don’t forget guys like Davey Concepcion, the best shortstop in the National League before Ozzie Smith’s emergence; Ken Griffey Sr., a three-time All-Star; slugger George Foster, the one-time owner of the record for most homers in a season by a National League player; and Cesar Geronimo, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner and a .306 hitter in 1976.
Obviously it’s tough to counter a starting pitching staff made up of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and the Reds didn’t have a standout ace until they traded for Tom Seaver in 1978. However, in winning 102 games in 1976, the Reds had seven guys win at least 11 games and a team-wide 3.51 ERA. Meanwhile, the bullpen saved 45 games and turned in a 3.15 ERA. The Phillies’ strength, obviously, is in the rotation, which is the nexus of that swagger.
But whether the Phillies get to the status of The Big Red Machine is still to be determined. There are two more rounds of playoffs to get through, which is something the Reds never had to contend with. In the meantime, the Little Red Machine moniker works… for now.
Needless to say, the Phillies are working to get into that rarified plateau of greatness.
“We’re a veteran group of guys,” Werth said. “We weren’t always that way. As much time as we spend together and the type of guys we have on this team, I would say that’s what you can expect from us, you know?”
 Here it is… Stan Musial was the most underrated player in Major League Baseball history. That’s right. Sure, it’s tough to slip under the radar with 3,630 hits, 475 homers and a .331 lifetime batting average, but Musial hardly gets the due as his contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Unlike Williams, Musial’s teams won championships, and frankly, winning matters. Of course Williams lost years of his prime to military service and there is no telling what could have happened in those seasons—reasonably, Williams could have hit 700 homers and got 4,000 hits. However, the sense from the scores of books and stories written about Williams indicates he was more concerned with his own stats instead of what was good for the Red Sox. Williams’ notable moments were when he hit a home run to win the All-Star Game and went 6-for-8 on the last day of the 1941 season to bat .406. Musial’s best days were all the times he showed up at the ballpark. To this day Musial is known by everyone in St. Louis and regarded as one of the nicest men ever to grace a uniform. Maybe it has something to do with playing in St. Louis instead of Boston, but the point remains… if I was putting together a team and had to choose between Williams and Musial, give me Stan the Man.