October 21, 1877: Does the curveball really curve or is it an optical illusion? It’s easy for us to see today with digital graphics, but even when I was a child, I would sometimes come across “scientific” sports articles discussing the physics of how a pitched baseball curved or whether it was actually an optical illusion.

Well, as is the case with most things, the magazine articles I read as a child weren’t exactly full of original ideas. Back in 1877, the folks managing the Cincinnati Reds team of the National League conducted a demonstration to prove that a pitched ball could curve. Unfortunately for the 1877 Reds, this may have been the high point of the season that had concluded on October 2. The 1877 Reds were 15-42 in their second year of existence, 25 1/2 games behind the league champion Boston Red Caps. On the flipside, the 15-42 season was an improvement. In 1876, the team had gone 9-56.

From “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder:

A demonstration is conducted in Cincinnati prior to an exhibition game between the Reds and Boston to prove that a pitched baseball actually curves. A wooden stake was driven into the ground just in front of home plate. Boston’s Tommy Bond, a right-handed pitcher, threw from the right side of the pitcher’s box, and the ball curved around to the left side of the stake. To prove the ball was not influenced by the wind or any other atmospheric condition, Cincinnati’s left-handed pitcher Bobby Mitchell curved a toss around the right side of the stake.

It’s timely that or fortunate that the demonstration took place in Cincinnati in 1877. One of the Reds’ pitchers that year was Hall of Famer Candy Cummings, who is credited with having “invented” the curveball. Cummings was the most commonly used Reds pitcher that season, going 5-14 with a 4.34 ERA (61 ERA+). Cummings (career 21-22) is one of only three pitchers in the Hall of Fame with lifetime records under .500, along with modern day reliever Rollie Fingers (114-118) and Negro League star Satchel Paige who didn’t make his Major League debut until age 41 and went 28-31 (it’s thought his Negro Leagues record was 103-61).

Cummings did pitch in the “National Association,” a precursor to the National League and he was exceptional during that time. The National Association isn’t accepted as a true “major league” and those stats are included in his career records. In the NA, Cummings was 124-72, including a 35-12 season in 1875 with a 1.60 ERA for the Hartford Dark Blues. Cummings claims to have invented the curveball while at the seaside one day and his claim is “substantiated” by other Hall of Famers George Wright, Albert Spalding, and Cap Anson (info from “Total Baseball’s Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia.”). From the Total Baseball book:

“It was in the 1860’s that I discovered the curve ball, and strange to say, it was the idle throwing of half a clam shell that gave birth to such an idea. As I watched the shells sail through their irregular course, the theory developed in my mind that I might apply it in baseball, Cummings said.

“I decided that i would try to see if I could throw a ball in a similar manner. I was laughed at by scientific men and experts, but I finally proved to them that the stunt could be done, and for a long time I was known as the ‘boy wonder.'”

October 21, 1972: The Reds score five times in the seventh inning to route the Oakland A’s, 8-1, in the only game of the 1972 World Series that was not decided by one run. The win evened the Series at three games apiece for each team.

The Reds scored first in the fourth inning when Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench homered off the A’s Vida Blue. The A’s tied it in the top of the fifth when Dick Green doubled home Sal Bando who had singled to lead off the inning off Reds starter Gary Nolan. Facing World Series elimination, Reds manager Sparky Anderson pulled Nolan in favor of the lefty Ross Grimsley with A’s pitcher Blue (.044 batting average) coming to bat. Grimsley walked Blue, but induced leadoff hitter Bert Campaneris to pop up to end the inning.

The Reds took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth when Hal McRae doubled, moved to third on a ground out, and scored on a Dave Concepcion sacrifice fly. They made it 3-1 in the sixth inning when Bobby Tolan singled with two outs and stole second base. Bench was intentionally walked, but Tony Perez singled to score Tolan.

The Reds blew it open in the seventh, sending ten batters to the plate while scoring five runs on four hits, three walks (two intentional), and a wild pitch. Concepcion started the rally with a one-out single and then stole second base. Pitcher Tom Hall struck out for the second out of the inning and the A’s intentionally walked Pete Rose. Joe Morgan singled to center to score Concepcion with Rose moving to third. Tolan then singled to right scoring Rose from third and Morgan all the way from first base. Tolan stole second base and the A’s again intentionally walked Bench. A wild pitch advanced Tolan to third and Bench to second and Perez drew a walk to load the bases. Cesar Geronimo then singled to score Tolan and Bench and give the Reds their final margin of victory, 8-1.

Reds pitchers Nolan, Grimsley, Pedro Borbon, and Hall allowed only seven hits and one walk in the game as the Series went to Game Seven the very next day.

October 21, 1975: Carlton Fisk hits the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning as the Boston Red Sox defeat the Cincinnati Reds, 7-6, to tie the World Series at three games apiece. This game is probably one of the most famous baseball games of all time, mainly remembered for Fisk willfully waving his line drive to remain fair going down the left field line to win the game.

Due to rain in New England, the World Series went five days between games since the last game was played on October 16. The Red Sox were facing elimination, but quickly went to work scoring three times in the bottom of the first inning when Red Sox rookie Fred Lynn socked a three-run homer off Reds starter Gary Nolan with Carl Yastrzemski and Fisk aboard.

The Reds tied it with three runs in the fifth inning of star Red Sox starter Luis Tiant. Reds pinch hitter Ed Armbrister drew a one-out walk. Pete Rose singled to center and both Armbrister and Rose scored when Ken Griffey tripled. Griffey scored one-out later when Johnny Bench singled him home.

The Reds took a 5-3 lead in the seventh when a George Foster doubled to score Griffey and Morgan, and the Reds made it 6-3 in the eighth inning when Geronimo homered off Tiant. The Red Sox tied it in eighth when Pedro Borbon, the fifth Reds pitcher of the night, gave up a leadoff single to Lynn and walked Denny Doyle. Red closer Rawly Eastwick relieved Borbon and struck out Dwight Evans before Rick Burleson lined to left field. However, pinch hitter Bernie Carbo drilled a 2-2 pitch from Eastwick over the wall to tie the game at 6-6.

The Red Sox had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth when they loaded the bases with no one out. Lynn then lifted a fly down the leftfield line that Foster chased down for one out which turned into a double play as Foster nailed Denny Doyle at the plate trying to score on the fly. Rico Petrocelli struck out to end the threat and send the game into extra innings.

The Red Sox won the game in the bottom of the 12th when Fisk hit a 1-0 pitch from Pat Darcy down the leftfield foul line and Fisk immortalized the play by waving his arms as he seemingly willed the batted ball to stay fair. The ball did remain fair and the Red Sox had tied the Series at three games apiece with the 7-6 Red Sox win.

Five different Reds had two hits in the game: Rose, Griffey, Perez, Foster, and Geronimo. Yastrzemski had three hits in the game for the Red Sox. The Reds used eight different pitchers in the game, the Red Sox used four.

October 21, 1976: World Series MVP Johnny Bench hit two home runs and drove in five runs as the Reds defeated the New York Yankees, 7-2, to complete a four game sweep in the 1976 World Series.

The Yankees scored the first run of the game when Chris Chambliss doubled off Reds starter Gary Nolan to score Thurman Munson in the bottom of the first inning. The Reds took the lead for good in the fourth inning when Joe Morgan walked to lead off the inning. One-out later, Morgan stole second, and with two outs, Morgan scored on a single by George Foster. Bench followed with his first homer of the game as the Reds took a 3-1 lead over the Yankees and their starting pitcher, Ed Figueroa.

The Yankees closed to within 3-2 when Munson singled home Mickey Rivers in the fifth inning. The score remained 3-2 until the top of the ninth when Tony Perez led off with a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Dan Driessen walked and the Yankees replaced Figueroa with reliever Dick Tidrow. One-out later, Bench socked his second home run of the game, scoring three runs and giving the Reds a 6-2 lead. The Reds scored their seventh and final run when Cesar Geronimo and Dave Concepcion socked back-to-back ground rule doubles to end the scoring.

Bench, Geronimo, and Concepcion, the Reds 7-8-9 hitters, each collected two hits in the game. Munson went 4-4 for the Yankees during the game. For the Series, Bench was 8-15 for a .533 batting average. For the Yankees, their catcher, Munson, was 9-17 in the World Series. Will McEnaney pitched the last 2 1/3 innings of hitless baseball to seal the Series for the Reds, the second consecutive Series that McEnaney earned a save in the clinching game of a World Series.