We often write off criticism of lineups, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t much matter whether Zack Cozart bats 6th or 8th. But what does matter, quite a bit, is which players are in the lineup. Sometimes a manager can shuffle the deck in a way that makes a historical difference.

That happened 39 years ago today, when Sparky Anderson shook up his 12-12, third place Reds, with the cooperation of his biggest star.* Sparky moved Pete Rose from left field to third base to open a lineup spot for 26 year old George Foster. While the Reds’ offense had actually been hitting well (averaging 5 runs/game), Foster was off to a hot start (.320/.346/.800 in 26 April plate appearances), and Sparky saw the potential for more.

From that point through the rest of the 70s, Foster hit .302/.370/.558, with 171 HR, an MVP trophy (3 top tens), and, of course, 2 World Series rings.

* Rose’s sacrifice here was tremendous. First, he was off to a great start at the plate (.320/.407/.417). But he also had basically no experience at 3b. Before 1975, Rose had played 16 of his 1,860 major league games at 3b — and had a lousy .931 fielding percentage there. But Sparky saw Rose taking grounders at 1b (breaking in his daughter’s softball glove), and had an idea. Marty Brennaman described Pete’s first chance at 3b: “He looked like a monkey playing with a football. It was incredible.”

** The real odd man out was nominal 3b John Vukovich. He’d started 14 of the Reds’ first 24 games, hitting only .219/.306/.313. Sparky had so little faith in Vukovich that he once pinch hit for him in his first plate appearance – in the top of the second inning, with the score 0-0. Vukovich broke every light bulb on the way back to the clubhouse.

*** Technically, the move was designed to get more at bats for both Foster and Dan Driessen.  But while Foster took off after the move (SLG .511 for the rest of May), Driessen flopped (.158/.267/.211), and Foster became a fixture in LF.

Anyway, here’s George Foster.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

I usually make the same face when I listen to Joe Morgan.

Joe Morgan talks with George Foster, two of the Cincinnati Reds from the Big Reds Machine that came to the Millennium for a sports memorabilia show. November 20, 2005 The Enquirer/Tony Jones

And while it’s from his post-Reds days, I can’t leave this one out. It’s just beautiful.

Embed from Getty Images