November 18, 1970: Reds catcher Johnny Bench wins the first of his two Most Valuable Player Awards.
The 22-year-old batted .293 with 45 home runs and 148 rbi, 35 doubles, 97 runs, and a .932 OPS (141 OPS+). Bench led the league in homers and rbi and won his third consecutive Gold Glove for defensive excellence in leading the Reds to a 102-60 regular season record and a World Series appearance. He would win the MVP Award again in 1972 and finished fourth in both 1974 and 1975.
Bench’s best months of the seasons were June and July. He hit 11 home runs in both months with OPS figures of 1.208 and 1.015, respectively The Reds moved stadiums mid-season; in 43 games at Crosley Field, Bench batted .317 with 15 homers and a 1.092 OPS; at Riverfront Stadium, Bench batted .289 with 15 homers and a .973 OPS.
For more information on Bench and a list of quotes about the catcher, click here. In the book “Big Red Dynasty” by Greg Rhodes and John Erardi, the authors make a case for Bench being the “real Mr. October” rather than Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson:
1972 Playoffs vs. Pirates: In the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding fifth game, Bench homered off Dave Giusti to tie the score, 3-3. The Reds won the game, 4-3, and the pennant.
1973 Playoffs vs. Mets: In the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game, Bench homered off Tom Seaver to win the game, 2-1.
1975 World Series vs. Red Sox: In the top of the ninth inning of Game Two, with the Reds trailing, 2-1, Bench started the winning rally with a double off Bill Lee and scored the tying run. The Reds won, 3-2.
1976 Playoffs vs. Phillies: In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the Reds trailing, 6-5, Bench homered off Ron Reed to tie the score, 6-6. The Reds won the game, 7-6, and the pennant.
1976 World Series vs. Yankees: In the top of the ninth inning, with the Reds ahead, 3-2, Bench hit a three-run homer off Dick Tidrow to clinch the Series victory.
November 18, 1976: The new age of free agency hits home as the Reds lose their first player to to the player’s newly found freedom when ace Don Gullett signs with the New York Yankees, the team they had just swept in the 1976 World Series.
Gullett was a lefty pitcher that Sparky Anderson enjoyed predicting future Hall of Fame enshrinement. As a 19-year-old rookie, he struck out six Mets in a row on August 23, 1970, to tie a relief record. In seven seasons with the Reds, Gullett had gone 91-44 with a 3.03 ERA and 13 shutouts. In postseason play with the Reds, Gullett had gone 4-3 with a 2.99 ERA in 17 appearances allowing opponents a .598 OPS.
I suppose the best way to show how much Anderson trusted Gullett is to consider the 7th game of the 1975 World Series that the Reds won over the Boston Red Sox, four games to three. Anderson, nicknamed Captain Hook for his quick “hook” in taking pitchers out of the game, allowed Gullett to continue pitching even as he forced in two runs with bases-loaded walks in the third inning, giving the Red Sox a 3-0 lead in the seventh and deciding game. Anderson made 23 pitching changes in the seven game Series (in game Six, Anderson had used five pitchers through six innings with the Red Sox only having scored three runs in the first inning).
Gullett filing for free agency was a blow to the Reds’ management team. The Reds and General Manager Bob Howsam were not hyper active in free agent market dealings and didn’t sign a free agent until 1981 and that was for a lefty pinch hitter, Larry Biittner. Their first major free agent signing was for Dave Parker in December of 1983. They did try to sign free agents, but did not pursue to the degree of other teams.
In the meantime, the Reds allowed some stars to leave through free agency (Gullett, Pete Rose, and Joe Morgan) and dealt others away (Ken Griffey and George Foster) in an attempt to get some replacement talent rather than lose them altogether. Unfortunately, the farm system which had been so fruitful for the Reds dried up and the talent dearth ground the Big Red Machine to a halt in the early 1980’s.
Unfortunately for Gullett, arm injuries prematurely shortened his career. After helping pitch the Yankees to the World Series in 1977 (Gullett’s fifth World Series appearance in only only eight seasons), an arm injury stopped his career during the 1978 season. In all, Gullett pitched in nine major league seasons, going 109-50 with a 3.11 ERA. He has the seventh highest winning percentage of any pitcher all-time (.686), leading the league twice and finishing second twice in his nine seasons. He later served as a long-time pitching coach for the Reds, known for his pitching talent reclamation projects.