That was Cincinnati Reds’ record after the first 100 games of the 1970 season. Their fast start wiped out the other five teams in the National League West, blew open the pennant race and the Reds coasted from there.
It wasn’t a wire to wire win; that was reserved for the 1990 Reds. The 1970 Reds were out of first place for just one day in early April. It was as close to wire to wire as you can get.
Why the fast start?
Tony Perez hit 10 home runs in the month of April. Johnny Bench was the MVP for that year. Rookies Bernie Carbo and Hal McRae were platooning in leftfield. Steady as ever Lee May was still the Big Bopper from Birmingham. A rookie named Dave Concepcion was playing shortstop.
And the Reds had a young pitcher most Reds fan have forgotten about. He started the season off with a 13-1 record and had sportswriters comparing him to Bob Gibson. Make no mistake about it. For the first three months of the season, Wayne Kirby Simpson was a dominant pitcher, the best in the National League.
More important was a rookie manager named George “Sparky” Anderson.
After Reds General Manager Bob Howsam fired Dave Bristol following the 1969 season, Howsam called his brain-trust together for a meeting. They kicked around some names, those they thought would be a good hire to take over the Reds on the field.
“Has anyone thought about Georgie Anderson?” asked Tom Seeberg, a publicity man for the Reds. And a light bulb went off in Howsam’s head. History was ready to be made.
Sparky Who? was the headline in the Cincinnati newspaper after Howsam hired Anderson. Reds fans were about to find out..So was the entire world of baseball.
Top 5 Movies of 1970 (according to me)
Best Sports Movie of 1970
The Great White Hope
Top 5 Albums of 1970 (according to me again)
All Things Must Pass (George Harrison)
Tumbleweed Connection (Elton John)
Let it Be (The Beatles)
Led Zeppelin III (Led Zeppelin)
Layla and other assorted love songs (Derek and the Dominoes)
Going into the Season
The Reds were 89-73 in 1969, good for third place and 4 and ½ games behind the Division winning Braves. Atlanta went on a hot streak at the perfect time in September of 1969, passing two teams to win the Division. The Reds could hit a ton but pitching is what derailed the season. Howsam traded talented but moody outfielder Alex Johnson to the Angels for starting pitcher Jim McGlothlin. Anderson named Pete Rose as the Captain for the Reds and liked the spring trainings had by Carbo, McRae and a 19-year old southpaw named Don Gullett. He also liked Simpson and Concepcion. They all went north with the team. Anderson designated Jim Merritt, who won 17 games in ’69, as the Reds Opening Day pitcher.
“We’ll win the division by 10 games,” said Anderson. Reds fans were stunned. Who is this guy? No one knew it was just Sparky being Sparky.
On Opening Day, Merritt tossed a 5-1 win over the Montreal Expos. Carbo hit a home run.The Reds traveled to the West Coast and in Game 3 of the season, Simpson made his Reds debut and tossed a two-hit shutout over Los Angeles. On April 11, the Giants edged the Reds 2-1 and took over first place with a 4-1 record. The next day, Perez hit two homers, went 4 for 4 and Tony Cloninger threw 5 innings of shutout long relief for the win over SF. The Reds never looked back.
The Big Red Machine battered teams behind Perez (.317, 40 HR, 129 RBI), Bench (.293/45/148) and May (.252,/24/84). Bobby Tolan (.316/16/80) reminded Reds fans of Vada Pinson. Pete Rose batted .316 and the platoon combination of Carbo (.310/21/63) and McRae (.248/8/23) was working.
The pitching ills of 1969 disappeared. Merritt and Simpson, along with Gary Nolan and McGlothlin, gave Anderson four solid starters. Cloninger was the fifth starter while Gullett, Clay Carroll and Wayne Granger formed the back end of the bullpen.
Every button Anderson pushed worked. Gullett pitched 75 innings and fanned 76 hitters with a 5-2 record. On August 23 in relief against the Mets, Gullett struck out six batters in a row. Concepcion (.260) was decent enough at the plate and could, Anderson said, “field shortstop with a pair of pliers.” The Reds lost back to back games only twice before the All-Star break. By then they had a 62-26 record.
A product of the Reds farm system and a native of Los Angeles, Simpson was an unspectacular 7-13 with a 4.23 ERA for Indianapolis in 1969. But when the Reds sent him to pitch winter ball in Puerto Rico, something changed. Simpson forged a 1.99 ERA and carried it over to spring training, making the team easily. In his third start of the season against the Giants, Simpson threw a one-hit shutout. Simpson was tall (6’3”, 220 pounds), right-handed and black — comparisons to Gibson came after every start.
Simpson was off to one of the best starts ever by a Reds pitcher with a 13-1 record. Sparky Anderson raved about not only his stuff but also his hard work and competitive spirit. Opposing skippers joined in the praise too. Lum Harris of the Braves said, “If Simpson ever starts getting that fast ball of his over consistently, they can throw water on the fire and call off the dogs because it’ll be all over.”
From Crosley Field to Riverfront Stadium
The Reds played their last game at Crosley Field on June 30, 1970. After the move to Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati’s home record was not as good but this was because of two reasons: Injuries to the pitching staff, Riverfront’s larger dimensions and AstroTurf. Howsam would make another huge adjustment after the ’71 season.
July 30 and September 8
The Reds recovered from the loss of Jim Maloney, their best pitcher in the 1960s, when he tore his Achilles tendon running out a ground ball in April. But then on July 30, Simpson injured his shoulder throwing a fastball to the Cubs Billy Williams. Initially diagnosed as a torn muscle, Simpson suffered a torn rotator cuff and was finished for the year. He had pitched over 400 innings from the beginning of 1969 until July 1970 and that huge workload took its toll on the 21-year old hurler.
On September 8, Merritt heard his elbow pop while throwing a curveball. At that point, he was 20-12. He missed the remainder of the regular season. McGlothlin, sailing to a potential 20-win season, was 11-4 on July 4. He then was struck on the knee by a ball hilt off the bat of Ramon Webster, recovered from that and was then struck in the head by another batted ball. Only Gary Nolan (18-7) and Cloninger (9-7) remained healthy. The Reds called up Milt Wilcox from Triple A for support.
After their 70-30 start, Cincinnati finished 32-30 for a 102-60 record, which won the NL West by 14 and ½ games.
A Few Stats
The Reds had losing records to only two National League teams in 1970: the Cubs (5-7) and the Padres (8-10) which is surprising since it was San Diego’s second season as a franchise. The pitcher who had the most success against Cincinnati was Chicago’s Bill Hands, who was 4-0 against the Reds. The Padres’ Clay Kirby was 3-2. Only 58 runners attempted to steal against Johnny Bench in 1970, and the Reds catcher gunned 29 of them down. Anderson rested Bench by playing him in rightfield, first base and even centerfield. Second baseman Tommy Helms hit the first home run by a Red in the new Riverfront Stadium and it was his only one of the year.
Playoffs and World Series
Despite a crippled pitching staff, the Reds swept Pittsburgh in three straight games by scores of 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2.. Nolan tossed a shutout in the first game, Merritt looked decent in 5 innings of work in Game 2 and Cloninger struggled in Game 3, but lasted five innings as well.
The Baltimore Orioles won the American League easily and were coming off a 1969 Series loss to the Mets. Baltimore finished the way Cincinnati started. They concluded the regular season by winning 18 games in a row, finishing with an incredible 108-54 record. They quickly made it 21 wins in a row by sweeping the Twins in the playoffs. Their starting pitching was tough — Dave McNally, Mike Cueller and Jim Palmer all were 20-game winners. The Reds starters were decimated.
Cincinnati took early leads in both Games 1 and 2 but couldn’t hold them, losing each game by a run (4-3 and 6-5). Nolan and McGlothlin started those games but both were knocked out. The Reds bullpen also melted down in Game 2. McNally threw a complete game win and hit a grand slam home run in a 9-3 Baltimore rout in Game 3. Only Lee May’s majestic three-run homer in Game 4 saved the Reds from a sweep. Cueller threw another complete game in a 9-3 win that wrapped up the Series. Cincinnati scored three in the first off Cueller but Merritt was ineffective in his only start, exiting in the second inning.
Brooks Robinson dominated the Series and was named MVP but Lee May had a sensational Series as well. The Big Bopper was 7 for 16 (.389) with a home run and 8 RBI’s for the Reds. Clay Carroll got the Reds only win and he threw nine shutout innings during the Series.
A healthy Simpson and Merritt would have made this a closer Series.
The Reds made a giant leap in 1970; to a new Stadium, their first World Series in nine years and a legitimate team to win it all. The Big Red Machine was created in 1969 and would be refined with The Trade a year later.
Pitching is where the major changes were to be made. Except for Gullett, Nolan and Carroll, the staff would be revamped. Simpson never recovered; Merritt would be 1-11 in 1971 and released. McGlothlin never made it back, either.
Up Next: The debacle of 1981