If you are a baseball fan — especially one in southwest Ohio — you know the name Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine are inseparable, but what you may not know is how far ahead of the curve Anderson was when it came to managing the game.
One of his most interesting moves occurred near the beginning of the 1975 baseball season. The Reds — filled with a roster of great players — were 12-12 at the beginning of May– hardly the record of a team destined to win one of the greatest World Series of all times just six months later.
Sparky made the decision to move Pete Rose to third, opening up the outfield for players like George Foster, and the Reds became unstoppable, ending the season with a 108-54 record — 20 games ahead of their rival the Los Angeles Dodgers. They went on to win their first World Series in four decades.
But that was not the trend-setting decision that redefined MLB. It was Anderson ‘s use — considered overuse at the time — of the bullpen. He removed starting pitchers at the first sign of trouble — earning himself the nickname Captain Hook.
In 1970, Anderson began relying on relievers to secure a win instead of expecting the starting pitcher to throw a complete game — which was the standard operating procedure at the time. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported,
In Anderson’s first year at the helm of the Big Red Machine, the saves compiled by his bullpen outnumbered the complete games of the Reds’ starting pitchers.
Although that is a common trend for a team’s stats today, it was seven years before the rest of MLB caught up with the concept.
Despite the Reds winning seasons through the early 70s, Anderson’s bullpen approach to preserving a win was not well received in Cincinnati. In fact, in 1974 during a 45-game stretch with no complete games, the paper reported,
… even Reds fans were booing Anderson loudly when he came out of the dugout to remove another pitcher. Anderson on occasion alluded to the reception his appearances were getting from the patrons.
‘One of these days they are going to have Spear Day at Riverfront,’ said Anderson, ‘and the fan coming closest to my heart when I yank a pitcher will win a Buick.’
Americans Who Got It Right
This post is part of an ongoing series that focuses on the various men and women throughout American history — and from all walks of life — who bucked the trend, thought for themselves or, in general, possessed that very American ideal of individualism. You can read previous entries here.