Friday, November 1, 2013

A half century of memories

by: Dan Howard
Staff Writer

First of all, congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, 2013 World Champions – Boston Strong!

It wasn’t smoke that delayed the trophy ceremony Wednesday night; that was steam from World Series MVP David Ortiz cooling off.

Soooo, this is what old age feels like. Funny, it doesn’t feel much different than my youthfulness of yesterday.

Today I start a new chapter of my life, the beginning of my next half century. Chances are real good I won’t live long enough to see 100, but I’ll give it my best shot.

I didn’t know what I was going to write about this week. I thought of expressing my joy that former Reds Jonny Gomes, David Ross, and Ryan Dempster have won a world championship with the Boston Red Sox. Say what you will about the 2010 Reds, but in my humble opinion, Brandon Phillips may have brought the “swag”, but Jonny Gomes was the heart. Then I thought what the heck, this is my fiftieth birthday and I’ve been a Reds fan since 1970, why not write about what I’ve seen during those years.

The 1970 World Series is the first baseball event I remember, how Brooks Robinson almost single-handedly beat the Reds. Yeah, Baltimore had a pretty good pitching staff too.

I watched a small portion of the 1971 World Series sitting across from the principal’s office at Cedarwood Elementary School in Columbus Ohio. I earned a trip there compliments of my first grade teacher. I don’t remember why I was sent there, so I still maintain my innocence!

My family moved from Columbus to rural Martin County KY in 1972. Like most Reds fans, I was on the edge of my seat during game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Johnny Bench dramatic home run tied the game, and then a wild pitch scored George Foster to give Cincinnati the pennant. I watched the Reds battle the A’s on a black and white television in my grandparents’ house while my parents were building the home my mother still lives in. (My dad passed away in 2011) I cried when the Reds lost game 7.

1973 was another disappointment, falling to the Mets in the N.L.C.S. That series had a few of bright spots, Johnny Bench’s walk off homer in game 1, Pete Rose extending the series to a deciding fifth game with a home run, and Rose’s fight with Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson.

Two years later the Reds would win the first of three World Championships during my lifetime. A thrilling seven game series win against Boston, followed the next year by a four game sweep versus the New York Yankees. That sweep, in 1976, was by far, the most satisfying since it was against those blasted Yankees.

Useless Trivia; during the 1976 season, Cincinnati had a losing record against one team; the N.L. East champs Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds won five and lost seven, but if you count the three game sweep in the N.L.C.S. (and I do) then Cincinnati finished with an 8 – 7 record.

After the trade sending Tony Perez to the Montreal Expos, the Big Red Machine fell on some tough times. Consecutive second place finishes in 1977 and 1978, led to the firing of Sparky Anderson. The Hot Stove season of 1978 also saw Pete Rose sign with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent.

Under new management, the Reds won the N.L. West in 1979, only to be swept by the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve got to admit, losing that playoff series hurt, a lot.

The decade of the 80’s started pretty well for the Reds, beginning the 1980 season with an eight game winning streak, along with winning twelve of the first fourteen games. The Reds didn’t fare so well the rest of the season, finishing third. It marked the first time since 1971 the Reds finished below second place.

Aside from having the best record in the strike shortened 1981 season, the remainder of the decade wasn’t too good. Cincinnati’s lost a franchise record 101 games in 1982, followed by back to back losing seasons. In August 1984 the Reds hired, via a trade, Pete Rose as player manager. Rose brought his energetic style to the clubhouse and the Reds responded with four consecutive second place finishes. The decade concluded with the1989 investigation concerning Pete Rose’s betting on baseball, allegations Rose would later admit to years later.

Lou Piniella was hired to take Rose’s place and the 1990 Reds got off to a sizzling start winning a season opening franchise record nine straight games en route to a 23 – 7 record. Cincinnati struggled after the All – Star Break but hung tough, winning the division on the last Saturday of the season. The Reds remained in first place for 178 days, a National League record. The 1990 N.L.C.S. versus Pittsburgh arguably may have been the best ever, with tremendous defense, outstanding pitching and clutch hitting. Cincinnati won game six, 2 – 1 on a combined one hitter, but had it not been for right fielder Glenn Braggs robbery of a Carmelo Martinez home run bid, the series may have ended a bit differently.

We all know what happened next, the Reds swept aside the Oakland A’s to win the 1990 World Championship. I was in Cincinnati for game 1 although I was just passing through going from Louisville KY to Columbus OH for an advertising company I worked for. The city was electric. I stopped at a Kroger off Interstate 71 and bought a couple of souvenirs to mark the occasion. I still have them.

More Useless Trivia; did you know that Carmelo Martinez ended his career in 1991 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds?

The rest of the 1990’s Cincinnati had some good years, 1992, 1995 losing to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, and 1999 falling to the Mets in a Wild Card playoff. The other years were not so good.

The new millennium began with Ken Griffey Jr. coming to the Reds and the 2000 season started with high hopes, only to place second to the St. Louis Cardinals in the N.L. Central. The remaining years of the first decade were, for lack of a better word, horrible, with nine straight losing seasons, the most consecutive losing seasons since eleven straight from 1945 to 1955.

The 2010 Reds had a different look than the previous teams of the 2000’s. This team had attitude, confidence, and that intangible, swagger. Jay Bruce sent the Reds to the playoffs with a dramatic walk off home run, only to get swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Divisional series, but we fans in Reds Nation knew that the winds of change were starting to blow in our direction. The disappointments of 2012 and this season will only make this team better for 2014 and under the direction of Bryan Price I firmly believe we Reds fans can expect great things for the future.

All this reminiscing has made my fifty year old brain tired; I’m taking a nap now.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving; I’ll be returning December 7th.

Dan Howard

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