Where Are They Now: The Big Red Machine

The 1972 World Series was called “The Hairs Versus the Squares.” That’s the type of alliterative, delicious turn of phrase we don’t see much in sports journalism these days.

The American League representative in that series was the Oakland A’s, a disheveled group of characters who were distinguished by their mutual hatred for their skinflint team owner and their unshaven faces. They were called “The Mustache Gang.” The National League champions were the Cincinnati Reds, baseball’s most straight-laced team, from baseball’s most conservative town (which locals liked to call CINCANAT-TUH with an emphasis on TUH).

The A’s were draped in bright green uniforms that bordered on neon, with eye-popping white cleats. The Reds wore perfectly-manicured white uniforms with classic, understated red trim and black shoes. Their sideburns were tightly preened and their haircuts were short and trim. The Mustache Gang were the guys your crazy ex-girlfriend loved. The Reds were the team your grandma rooted for.

The Reds lost the 1972 Fall Classic, as they also had two years earlier. That was the season that a cartoonist in a Cincinnati newspaper first used the term “Big Red Machine” to describe the Reds, a term that sportswriter Bob Hertzel coined in 1969. The name stuck for the rest of the 1970s, and it remains one of baseball’s grandest monikers. The Reds weren’t just a winning baseball team: they were a methodical, relentless troop of diamond marauders, a fine-tuned mechanism that pounded opponents into submission, like a machine.

The Machine went to the World Series four times in the 1970s, and finally won titles in 1975 and again in 1976. They were the first NL team to win consecutive championships since the 1920s, and no team in that league has done it since nearly five decades later.

Many of the members of the Big Red Machine are famous, including some of the best players in baseball history. In Cincinnat-tuh, fans worship the 1975-76 Reds. Below I look at where the key members of the Big Red Machine are today.

Pete Rose, third base

With his tight-fitting uniform, thick, muscled body and aggressive style of play, Cincinnati-born Rose was unquestionably the most popular player on the Reds. He rubbed other teams the wrong way with his style of play. The nickname “Charlie Hustle” was originally meant as an insult, but he didn’t care and pushed himself to set the record for most hits in baseball history. He became manager of the Reds in 1984, but he was banned from baseball for betting on the game, and his legacy is controversial. But in Cincinnati, Pete is still beloved. Rose lives in Las Vegas where he works six days a week selling his autograph and posing for photos with his fans on The Strip.

Johnny Bench, catcher

Most experts tab Bench as the greatest catcher in MLB history. He won a pair of MVP awards and several Gold Gloves. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame one of three players in the Big Red Machine to be so honored. He’s retired now, splitting his time between a home in Florida and his native Oklahoma. Bench is still famous enough that nearly 40 years after his last game, he still has endorsement deals, like for Blue-Emu pain relief oil.

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Joe Morgan, second baseman

In many ways, Morgan was the little engine that drove the Big Red Machine. He won the MVP in 1975 and in 1976 when the Reds won their titles. He was a team leader who loved talking baseball in the clubhouse with Rose, his best friend on the team. After he retired, Morgan spent more than two decades as a baseball broadcaster. He was elected to the Hall of Fame and is considered one of the two or three best second basemen ever. He died in 2020.

Tony Pérez, first base

If you asked his teammates, they would have said that Pérez (affectionately called “Doggie”) was the most important player on the Reds. The power hitter was known for his clutch hitting. It’s probably not a coincidence that after he was traded following the 1976 season, the Big Red Machine never won a title again. Pérez stayed in the game as a coach (briefly under Rose in Cincy), and later as a manager. He was elected to the Hall of Fame, and now resides in his native Cuba. Two of his sons became professional ballplayers.

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Ken Griffey Sr., right field

In his prime, Griffey was the fastest player in baseball. He frequently led the league in infield hits, and was consistently a .300 hitter, though overshadowed by his famous teammates. He’s best remembered now for fathering Junior Griffey, who grew up to become one of the greatest players in baseball history. How good were the genes of the Big Red Machine? Five members had sons who went on to become pro ballplayers _ Griffey, Rose, Pérez, Pedro Borbón, and backup catcher Bill Plummer. The elder Griffey is retired in Ohio, where he also enjoyed the success of a grandson (Trey), who became a wide receiver in the NFL.

George Foster, left field

With his famous black-tanned bat and powerful home run swing, Foster was a fearsome slugger for Cincinnati. He is one of four members of the team to win an MVP (with Rose, Bench, and Morgan). Foster is active with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, with which he helps former players and makes appearances. He lives in Connecticut.

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Dave Concepción, shortstop

A nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Concepción is credited with revolutionizing defensive play by an infielder on artificial turf. He was known for his good sense of humor and habit of bouncing his throws off the astroturf. Concepción lives in his native Venezuela, where he helps operate baseball clinics for youth.

César Gerónimo, center field

The starting lineup of the Big Red Machine for the 1975-76 seasons was known as “The Great Eight.” Gerónimo is the least famous of that group, but he was a superb player, especially with the glove. He won four Gold Gloves for his brilliant play in center field, and in the 1975 Fall Classic, he smacked a pair of home runs. For several years after his baseball playing career ended, Gerónimo worked as a coach in the Dominican baseball academy for the Japanese Hiroshima Carp. Gerónimo lives in his native Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He’s one of 17 members of the 1975-76 teams to be inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Gary Nolan, starting pitcher

The pitchers on the Big Red Machine were less famous, but Nolan was arguably the ace. His career ended at the age of 29 due to a serious arm injury. For 25 years, Nolan was employed as a blackjack dealer at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. He later worked for the Mirage and the Gold Country Casino. He retired to his hometown of Oroville, California,

Don Gullett, starting pitcher

Like Nolan, Gullett’s pitching career ended early due to an ailing arm. He was finished at the age of 27, returning to his native Kentucky where he operated a tobacco farm in Lynn. In the 1970s the operation was busted for growing cannabis, but Gullett was not implicated. He still lives there, though no word on what he’s got growing in the fields.

Rawly Eastwick, relief pitcher

For a brief period, Eastwick was the best young reliever in baseball. In both 1975 and 1976, the thin right-hander led the NL in saves. An arm injury limited his success after 1976, and he was done as a pitcher by the age of 30. He worked in real estate after his playing career and is retired now in Massachusetts.

Pedro Borbón, relief pitcher

Today, relievers often throw 12 pitches and one inning an outing and that’s it, racking up maybe 45 innings in a season. But the fastball-throwing Borbón had six consecutive seasons of at least 120 innings out of the bullpen. His rubber wing was a big reason that manager Sparky Anderson was nicknamed “Captain Hook” for his habit of going to the bullpen. Borbón’s son pitched nine seasons in MLB. Borbón died of cancer at age 65 in 2012 at his home in Pharr, Texas.

Sparky Anderson, manager

The greatest manager in Reds history, Anderson guided the Big Red Machine to all four of its pennants and two world titles. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and passed away at the age of 76 in 2010.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.