The more-youthful members of the Nation may not know that Al Michaels – now of the NFL and Miracle on Ice fame – was the Reds’ play-by-play announcer before Marty Brennaman. Some of us were reminiscing here yesterday
about Johnny Bench’s dramatic home run in the 1972 playoff series against the Pittsburgh Pirates – and Al Michaels’ call of it.
In 1972, there were only two divisions in each league, the East and West, so there was one five-game playoff before the World Series. In 1970, the Reds had beaten the Pirates in the NL playoffs and then lost in the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles. In 1971, the Pirates won the World Series, defeating the Orioles. In 1972, the Reds and Pirates squared off in a clash of two of baseball’s greatest teams. The Reds were an early version of the Big Red Machine. The Pirates featured Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Bench hit 40 home runs and had 125 RBI that season.
The Reds had won game four to force a decisive game five in Riverfront Stadium, but the team trailed 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Bench had told Pete Rose earlier in the game that if he came up in the ninth inning, he was going to hit one out. He even told Joe Morgan right before his at bat that it would be a rare, opposite field home run, because Bench predicted that the Pirates’ brutal closer, Dave Giusti would pitch him outside. Adding even more to the drama, Bench’s mother made her way down to the railing by the Reds on-deck circle and and signaled to him to hit a home run. (There used to be a video of that, but I can’t find it.)
Bench fell behind in the count against Giusti, but on an 0-2 pitch, the Hall of Fame catcher hit a dramatic, game-tying home run against the defending World Series champions. The Reds went on to win later that inning, with pinch-runner George Foster scoring on a wild pitch.
The reason so many of us remembered Michaels’ call word-for-word was that the Reds made a vinyl album called The New Red Machine that summarized the season and included Michaels’ call. It was a “must own” for every young Reds fan and I was in junior high school. I probably played that album 1,000 times, especially the replay of Michaels call of the ninth inning of Gave Five.
It was surprisingly hard to track down the video of such an important moment, but I eventually found this. The audio doesn’t include all of the Michaels call, but it does have “back goes Clemente … at the fence…”