They were fiercely competitive and had huge egos that lead to internal conflict, but the starting eight of the storied Big Red Machine came together to honor a valued teammate.
Pete Rose, who is still banned from baseball for gambling, made a rare appearance to complete a group that had not been on the field together since they swept the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the 1976 World Series.
The starting lineup of those Cincinnati Reds' back-to-back World Series champions finally reunited on the field Friday and Saturday as the team honored Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan with the unveiling of a bronze sculpture.
There was a press conferenc after the unveiling of Morgan's statue before Saturday's game. Shortstop Dave Concepcion said during the conference that the "Great Eight" were together on a baseball field for the first time after Friday's game for the first time since the last game of the 1976 World Series. By permission of Major League Baseball, the group included career hits leader Pete Rose, whose 1989 lifetime ban from baseball for gambling usually prevents his participation in such events.
"I want to thank Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing us to have the 'Great Eight' on the field last night," Morgan said Saturday before the bronze sculpture _ which depicts him just starting to steal a base _ was unveiled near the main gates at the northwest corner of the ballpark complex. "It's an unbelievable experience to be with all of my teammates."
The location was no accident, said team owner Bob Castellini, who described the 5' 8" Morgan as a "little guy with a big heart."
"We're going to draw about 2.5 million people here," he said. "This is the busiest corner in Cincinnati. Who better to preside over our gateway. I can think of no one better than you, Joe, to make a first impression on our visitors."
Morgan was named the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1975 and 1976. He also won five Gold Gloves and was an All-Star in each of his eight seasons (1972-1979) with the Reds.
Morgan's is the sixth sculpture at the ballpark, joining Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski and Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Ernie Lombardi and Morgan's Big Red Machine teammate, catcher Johnny Bench.
Morgan recalled the unveiling of Bench's sculpture two years ago.
"I remember him saying, 'This is the greatest day of my career,'" Morgan said. "I started fiddling with my Hall of Fame ring, because as a player, the ultimate goal is to get to the Hall of Fame."
He paused and looked at Bench, seated behind him and to his right.
"Johnny, you were right," Morgan continued. "Today is a better day. The Hall of Fame is about numbers and playing on great teams. You only get a statue or a sculpture if they want you to be remembered."
The ceremonies concluded with an on-field celebration before the Reds-Dodgers game that ended with Morgan throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Bench with their former teammates manning their old positions, delighting a sellout crowd.
Tony Perez was traded by general manager Dick Wagner before the 1977 season, breaking up the eight players, three of which, (Morgan, Bench and Perez) are in Baseball's Hall of Fame. Rose, the all-time hit leader, is banned and ineligible for the Hall.
Current Reds' manager Dusty Baker competed against the Big Red Machine.
"They had silver and gold all over the field. (Silver slugger and gold glove awards)," Baker said. "When they came out to play they had this look like they were expecting to win."
Dodger manager Don Mattingly grew up in Evansville, Indiana, halfway between Cincinnati and St. Louis. Most of his friends were Cardinal fans but Mattingly followed the Reds.
'I followed them," Mattingly said. "Mostly because they were winning. You know how kids are. I was the Reds in our wiffle ball games. We had to bat from the same side of the plate as the real player. I was Joe Morgan a lot."
Mark Schmetzer graciously and unknowingly contributed to this post
|Professionally edited by ML Schirmer|
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