Sunday, July 17, 2022

Did Riverfront Stadium hurt the Big Red Machine?

This week in 1970, Sports Illustrated ran the first of what would be many articles on the Big Red Machine in the 1970's.  At the time, Cincinnati was the first National League team since the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers to enter July with a winning percentage over .700.  But SI saw a cloud on the horizon.  On June 30, 1970, the Reds left the cozy surroundings of Crosley Stadium and moved into the more spacious Riverfront Stadium.  SI reported that the Reds' power hitters wouldn't have such an easy time of it in Riverfront.

Now, of course, we know that Cincinnati did very well in the 1970's, so it's easy to wave off these concerns.  But there are good reasons to believe that SI was basically correct.  When Riverfront Stadium opened on June 30, 1970, the Reds were 52-21.  They went 50-39 the rest of the way, and lost the World Series 4 games to 1.  In 1971, the Reds went 79-83 and missed the playoffs altogether.  After 1971, the Reds made a huge trade, picking up Joe Morgan from the Astros.  Morgan's game was perfectly suited to Riverfront Stadium, and in 1972 he was the Reds' most valuable player, putting up an extraordinary 9.3 Wins Above Replacement.  With Morgan at second, the Big Red Machine rolled until 1976, winning three pennants (1972, 1975, and 1976) and two World Series (1975 and 1976).  But they might have done even better if they had stayed in Crosley Field.

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