Paul O'Neill 21: Comparing the Big Red Machine to the 1998 Yankees


On September 6th, 2013 at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, the great 8, the starting position players for the Big Red Machine of 1975, all showed up to honor Joe Morgan and the dedication of his statue on a wonderful, touching, perfect evening for baseball. In the endless bantering among baseball people about what teams were superior in which era, it might be fun to compare these two teams since Ohio native, Paul, grew up idolizing the Machine and played the early part of his career with the Reds. Major League Baseball Television ranked the 1975 Big Red Machine as the third greatest team of all time and the 1998 Yankees as the 4th greatest. The 1927 Yankees were first and the 1961 Yankees were second.

At catcher, The Reds’ Johnny Bench was the superior receiver to Jorge Posada. Hall-of-Famer Bench, was a clutch hitter and perhaps the greatest defensive catcher of all time. Posada was a clutch hitter with power and equally slow as Bench as a runner but Bench was the best catcher of his era and clearly holds the position.

At first base, it’s a tie. Tino Martinez hit more homeruns and was clearly a better defender but Hall-of-Famer, Tony Perez, was an RBI machine. Both were slow on the bases and both were great, veteran clubhouse presences. HOF manager, Sparky Anderson remarked on the giant video screen in centerfield that one ingredient of the Reds that contributed to their greatness was “. . . . .they played together, for each other. They picked each other up. The egos did not get in the way.” The same could be said of the 98 Bombers.

At second base, Joe Morgan, the National League MVP that year, was obviously superior to Chuck Knoblauch in 1998. Knoblauch lacked Morgan’s power and glove. Though equally fast on the bases, Knoblauch’s best years were with the Twins while Morgan played at a level he had never experienced after coming over from the Astros.

At shortstop, Derek Jeter far surpasses Dave Concepcion. The slow-footed Concepcion made the plays he had to and then some, but the lightning fast Jeter, a new era of big shortstops ushered in by Cal Ripken, made extraordinary plays on a daily basis, often functioning as a second left fielder. Jeter, the certain HOFer, also had a magnetic personality and had developed as a free-swinging number two hitter while Dave was often buried deep in the lineup. Jeter must also be recognized as one of the great baserunners, not base stealers, of all time. He scored 127 runs in 1998.

At third base, Pete Rose wins hands down. Though not a great pick-and-throw third baseman like Scott Brosius, overmatched by Brosius defensively, Charlie Hustle had more hits than any baseball player that ever swung a bat. He brought a total love for the game to the 1975 Reds which was highly contagious. Not particularly fast, Pete was a great base runner and had one of the best eyes in baseball at the plate.

In left field, George Foster wins easily. An adequate defender, he was an extraordinary power hitter, walloping 23 homeruns and 78 RBI in a platoon situation that cost him over one hundred and fifty at bats before Sparky Anderson realized he had a premier National League slugger on his hands. The Yankees had a merry-go-round in left field. They platooned Shane Spencer, an aging Tim Raines and Chad Curtis.

In center field, Bernie Williams overmatched Cesar Geronimo. Geronimo, a superior glove, had a substantially better arm, but Bernie burned up the acres out there with his closing speed, denying many opponents doubles in the gap and was a perennial .300 hitter with way more power. Cesar could usually be found hitting seventh or eighth while Bernie often hit clean-up as a switch hitter placed between lefties Paul and Tino.

In right field Paul was a superior defender to Ken Griffey senior. O’Neill covered more ground, had a better arm and made dramatic catches on the Yankee Stadium wall with his jumping ability. Griffey was a solid player with plenty of left handed power but Paul’s numbers that year, .317, 24hrs, 116 rbi would make almost any hitter salivate who looks for balance and consistency. The fire to win of the Yankees’ right fielder also seemed to weld the team together as one.

According to this writer, the Reds score four and a half to the Yankees three and a half when comparing the positions but when the pitching staffs are considered, there is little comparison. David Wells, Orlando Hernandez, and Andy Pettitte were stronger 1-3 starting pitchers than very respectable Jack Billingham, Don Gullet, and Gary Nolan. The Yankees bullpen of 6’8”Jeff Nelson, 6’8” Graham Lloyd and the nearly unhittable Mariano Rivera far overshadowed Will McEnaney, Fred Norman and Clay Carroll. The Reds were led by extroverted, animated, HOF manager Sparky Anderson and the Yankees steered by cerebral, hold-your-cards-close to your chest, Joe Torre, a certain, future HOF manager. The Yankees went 125-50 in 1998. The Big Red Machine went 64-14 when the above eight players took the field simultaneously for Cincinnati.

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