Halt right there, Mr. Mayor

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan with Cincinnati mayor John Cranley.

Spare us, please, the political (lack of) class and its hyperbolic weigh-ins when sporting events transcend the particular sport itself, for better or worse. Or, when a sport legend passes on to the Elysian Fields. Mourning the death of a Reds legend, Cincinnati’s mayor proclaims concurrently a standing for the Reds’ arguable greatest team that the evidence rejects.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan’s death Sunday provoked an outpouring of loss and grief to be expected of a player whose performance equaled his gifts and who was at least as good a man as he was a baseball player. It also provoked Cincinnati mayor John Cranley to amplifying knowledge and wisdom by standing athwart both.

“We all know the Big Red Machine was the greatest baseball team of all time,” Cranley tweeted upon the news of Morgan’s death, accompanied by a photograph of himself and Morgan at an outdoor event. “Joe Morgan was the MVP of both back-to-back ‘75 and ‘76 Reds World Series wins, making him the greatest second baseman of all time. This is a devastating loss to the MLB and Cincinnati. RIP to a legend.”

What do you mean we, white man?

Let’s get the second hyperbolic out of the way first. Back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards are staggering achievements in their own right. If those alone illustrate a player’s cumulative greatness, Roger Maris (1960-61)—whose greatness was short-enough lived, thanks to six parts injuries and half a dozen parts the searing the 1961 Babe Ruth home run chase left upon him—would have reached Cooperstown in a walk. So would Dale Murphy (MVP, 1982-83), if injuries hadn’t hastened and turned his decline phase into a cliff dive.

Back-to-back MVPs alone didn’t leave Morgan as the arguable greatest second baseman in Show history. His all-around play at the plate, on the bases, and at second base, to say nothing of the most wins above replacement-level player for any second baseman playing a truly integrated game, accomplished that. You could remove Morgan’s MVPs and he would still shake out as being that great.

Now to the first. The Big Red Machine was the greatest team in the National League in its time. No questions asked. If you measure by consecutive World Series wins, the 1970s Reds were the only NL team to do it. Two American League teams did it, too: the Bronx Zoo Yankees (1977-78) and the Oakland Athletics earlier in the decade.

Oops. The Swingin’ A’s won three straight Series (1972-74) in the middle of winning five straight American League Wests. Including their beating the Machine in seven in 1972.

If you’re going by Hall of Famers on those teams, be careful. The Machine had three Hall of Famers (Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez) and might have had a fourth (Pete Rose) if he hadn’t had a problem with, you know, all that other stuff. Oh, all right, let’s give the Machine the four Hall of Famers just for argument’s sake.

For much of the 1960s the San Francisco Giants had five Hall of Famers in their ranks: Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Willie Mays. One of them (if you have to ask) is considered the arguably greatest all-around player who ever walked the face of the earth when fellow Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle isn’t. Here’s how many World Series those great Giants teams won: none.

They only reached one World Series and lost in six games to the last of the vintage Yankee teams. Those Giants had a little problem on their hands known as the Los Angeles Koufaxes to thwart them at their peaks. They weren’t the only Hall of Fame-packing team of that time to fall short, either.

Quick: Name the team with four Hall of Famers and not even a single shot at the Promised Land. Hint: Their manager burned them out down the stretch in the one season they almost won the National League East. Since you had to ask: the four Hall of Famers in question are Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams.

Let’s remove the Machine’s should-have-been Hall of Famer now and leave it with three. Well. The 1967-68 St. Louis Cardinals had a trio of Hall of Famers. (Cepeda, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson.) They went to back-to-back Series and won one of them. The 1969-74 Baltimore Orioles packed a trio Hall of Famers. (Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson in 69-71.) They won five of six American League Easts and one World Series in three straight trips. The Seattle Mariners of the mid-1990s had a Hall of Fame trio, too. (Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez.) They’re still looking forward to their first World Series appearance, never mind conquest.

A few days before Morgan’s passage, Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford passed away while watching his Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays in an American League division series. Ford could have told Cranley plausibly that several generations of Yankee teams, including the ones for which he pitched, make the Big Red Machine resemble the Little Red Caboose.

Ford became a Yankee smack dab in the middle of their five-year World Series-winning streak. That provokes me to compare the first seven seasons of those Casey Stengel Yankees to the first seven seasons of the Machine. Allowing for the lack of divisional play in those Yankees’ time and the shorter seasons (by eight games), this is the result:

Team Won Lost Pennants World Series Titles
New York Yankees (1949-55) 686 389 6 5
Cincinnati Reds (1970-76) 683 443 4 2

The Machine is almost dead-even in the wins column but 54 ahead in the loss column. If you were to add eight games a season to the 1949-55 Yankees, it’s not implausible that they’d have totaled 700 wins or better and 400 losses or better.

Those Yankees do have a claim the Machine wouldn’t have wanted: a 103-win season in which they finished second—by eight games, yet, to an Indians team that picked 1954 to have their career year, so to say. (The Machine had three 100+ win seasons and won the NL West in all three.)

Did I forget to mention that those Yankees had four Hall of Famers aboard at a time a few times? The 1950 Yankees (Ford’s rookie season) included Ford, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and Phil Rizzuto. When Ford returned from military service in 1953, they had Ford, Berra, Rizzuto, and Mickey Mantle. Don’t go there, Mr. Mayor. They’ll match their questionable Hall of Famer Rizzuto to your questionable Hall of Famer Perez.

(Their primary National League rivals, the Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers, had to settle for three, too: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Duke Snider. Sandy Koufax was a beyond-marginal 1955 rookie.)

Fair enough. It’s not entirely fair to compare the Machine to the Berra-DiMaggio-Ford-Mantle Yankees. It’s a lot more fair to compare the Machine to a more contemporary aggregation:

Team Won Lost Pennants World Series Titles
New York Yankees (1996-2002) 685 445 5 4
Cincinnati Reds (1970-76) 683 443 4 2

The Machine is almost dead even to the Derek Jeter-Mariano Rivera Yankees. (They, too,  might have packed three Hall of Famers, if Roger Clemens hadn’t been considered persona non grata from Cooperstown because of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance suspicions that have yet to be proven once and finis.) Almost.

Those Yankees, however, won five pennants and four World Series—including three straight—playing in slightly more difficult postseason conditions. I don’t need a lot of convincing that the Machine would likely have done just as well if they’d played in a three-division league having to plow through two postseason sets to reach the World Series. But the Yankees did have to play in such conditions to win one more pennant and two more leases on the Promised Land.

There are lots of teams who would kill for a piece of the Machine’s five division titles, four pennants, and two World Series conquests in seven years. There are also teams who would kill for a .686 single-season winning percentage. The Machine teams never posted a winning percentage quite that large. (Its best: 1975’s .667.) But one of their ancestral teams did.

Wait for it—the 1919 Reds. The ones who could damn well have beaten the infamous Black Sox in a straight-no-chaser World Series. There’s a cause for you if you’re interested, Mr. Mayor. How about a little agitation on behalf of removing the Black Sox taint from the 1919 Reds’ claim on the Promised Land? Your forebears wuz robbed.

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