How Do Famous Careers End?
Recent conversations about Joey Votto’s baseball future have made me think about the career endings of other fabled Cincinnati Reds players.
This post germinated when I read a comment here on Redleg Nation about Barry Larkin playing out his contract in 2004 and walking away from being an active player without fanfare after 18 seasons. That brought to mind that the man Larkin eventually succeeded as the long term Reds shortstop, Dave Concepcion, also just finished his contract and walked away at the conclusion of his age 40 season in 1988 after 19 seasons with the Reds.
Larkin and Concepcion provided nearly 40 years of the best shortstop play in Reds history. Both were key cogs on Reds World Championship teams. Yet neither was given an official send off despite being a career long Reds player. This sent me wondering how the careers of Concepcion’s other seven fellow members of the 1970’s Big Red Machine Great Eight ended.
Meet The Big Red Machine Great Eight
The players known as the Reds Big Red Machine Great Eight were the position starters on the Reds 1975-76 back to back World Series Champion teams. In addition, 6 of the 8 were regulars on the 1972 Reds team which lost a classic 7-game World Series to the Oakland A’s (* after their names). Of these six, all but Joe Morgan and César Gerónimo were also regulars on the 1970 Reds team which lost a 5 game World Series to the Orioles. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the Great Eight.
Reds Always and Forever
Davey Concepción and Johnny Bench were the only two members of the Great Eight to play their entire MLB career with the Reds.
We’ve already spoken of Davey’s quiet 1988 retirement above.
Bench announced his retirement during his final season, 1983, at age 35. After 17 seasons with the Reds, Bench said it was time to quit because he couldn’t do the things he needed to do to continue playing. The Reds scheduled an official Johnny Bench day near the end of the season. Bench gave the crowd on his day one final reminder of his once greatness by hitting a home run.
Winding Roads Lead Back Home
Two more Great Eight players, Tony Perez and Pete Rose, left the Reds but subsequently returned and retired as Reds.
Pérez was infamously traded away after the 1976 World Series to clear the 1B position for young Dan Driessen who had starred as DH in the Reds 4 game series sweep. After stints with Montreal and Philadelphia where he played in the 1983 World Series, Pérez returned to the Reds in 1984. Tony’s retirement was announced during his final season in 1986, his age 44 season. He was given an official send off day by the Reds as had been done for Bench in 1983.
Pete Rose left the Reds as a free agent following the 1977 season. Rose signed with the Phillies and played in both an additional winning and losing World Series in Philadelphia. He then moved on to Montreal from where he returned to the Reds as playing manager during the 1984 season.
While still the Reds playing manager in 1986, his age 45 season, Rose chose the quiet path to retirement. He dropped himself from the everyday lineup in mid July. Several weeks later Rose quit calling his own number as a sub and part time starter. Through to the season’s end, he declined to answer media questions about his status despite still being on the active Reds players’ roster. After the season ended, the Reds announced Rose had filed the required paperwork to be moved to what was then called the Reserve List.
Perhaps Rose chose this route to avoid casting his shadow on Pérez’s previously announced retirement?
Family Ties Stronger Than Team Ties
Another member of the Great Eight, Ken Griffey Sr, also found his way back to the Reds late in his career. However his career ended in Seattle at age 41 playing alongside his son in 1991.
Griffey had been traded by the Reds to the Yankees in November of 1981 on the eve of achieving free agency. He also played for the Braves before returning for his Reds encore. However, Griffey’s only postseason action came with the Reds.
Not All Roads Lead Back Home
Joe Morgan, George Foster, and Cesar Geronimo never made it back to the Reds for a playing encore or grand departure. Nevertheless, all three have been prominent in Reds recognition activities through out the ensuing decades. Let’s see how their careers wound down after they left the Reds,
Joe Morgan departed from the Reds as a free agent following the 1979 season. Morgan retired at age 40 after spending the 1984 season back in his native area with the Oakland A’s. His retirement followed a reunion and another World Series appearance in 1983 with Pete Rose and Tony Pérez on the Phillies. The Phillies lost that Series to the Orioles. Ironically, a matching 4-1 World Series Orioles victory over the Reds in 1970 had set in motion the events leading to Morgan joining the Reds in 1972.
Joe is the only member of the Great Eight no longer among us having left this realm at the age of 77 in October of 2020.
George Foster’s tenure with Reds ended in February of 1982. He was sent to the Mets in a trade ahead of his free agency season. Do you recognize the names, Greg Harris, Jim Kern, and Alex Trevino? I recalled 2 of 3 names as one time Reds; but not that they came to the Reds for Foster. George called it a career at age 37 following the 1986 season he split between the Mets and White Sox. The statistical records say Foster never made it back to the postseason after leaving Cincinnati.
César Gerónimo finished as a player at age 35 in 1983 after spending 3 seasons with the KC Royals upon leaving the Reds in January of 1981 in a trade for German Barranca. Geronimo did not reach the postseason with KC.
And In The End….
Hopefully we all have memories like those inspired by these eight guys to help us along our way through our own lives. Thank you for your time.