The Cincinnati Reds' "Big Red Machine" was one of the most dominant and successful teams in baseball history. It was also one of the first Major League dynasties with a significant Latin American contingent.
Venezuelan shortstop Dave Concepción, Cuban first baseman Tony Pérez, and outfielder César Gerónimo and pitcher Pedro Borbón, who both hailed from the Dominican Republic, each played key roles for a team that won five National League West Division titles, four National League pennants, and two World Series titles over a seven-season stretch from 1970-76. Cincinnati's combined record over that span was 683 wins and 443 losses, an average of nearly 98 wins per season.
Other teams, such as the New York Yankees (who won five consecutive World Series titles between 1949 and 1953 and four between 1936 and 1939); the St. Louis Cardinals (who captured four titles between 1942 and 1946); and a couple of great Oakland Athletics sides (especially those who won five division titles and three World Series between 1971 and 1975) have surpassed or equaled Cincinnati's run. But the big difference between those teams and the Big Red Machine was the diversity of its composition and the significant roles played by its Hispanic players.
When Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, he not only opened the major leagues to black players from the United States, but also to the majority of Latin American talent, which until then had been limited to playing in the Negro Leagues and on the Caribbean summer and winter circuits.
Robinson's arrival, on the other hand, did not change the fact that American society was still in the midst of a significant and often tumultuous transformation that would continue to play out over the next two decades. To a certain extent, the '70s marked another watershed for minorities in many aspects, including major league baseball.
And Cincinnati's Big Red Machine was a microcosm of those changing times. Manager Sparky Anderson presided over a group composed of white superstars, including outfielder/Pete Rose and catcher Johnny Bench; African-Americans such as second baseman Joe Morgan and outfielders George Foster and Ken Griffey Sr.; and Hispanics such as Concepción, Pérez, Gerónimo and Borbón. This made it as pluralistic as any American pro team at the time.
"That was a very special team,” Pérez told ESPNdeportes.com during the MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati in July. "We were all brothers. Black and white Americans, Latin Americans from different countries. A band of brothers."
Several members of that band were elected to the Hall of Fame: Anderson, Bench, Morgan and Pérez. Rose, MLB's all-time leader in hits and one of the most popular American athletes in history, would have joined them in Cooperstown had he not been banned from baseball in 1989 after it was discovered that he had gambled on baseball games while managing the Reds.
Concepción was not elected by the baseball writers during his time on the Hall of Fame ballot (1994-2008) nor by the Veterans Committee in 2010, when he was first eligible. But he will have a third chance in 2017 when the Expansion Era Committee (which considers players who played from 1973 to the present) gets its turn to send overlooked veterans to Cooperstown.
"I'm disappointed," Concepción said. "I think I should be in the Hall of Fame. I have similar or better numbers than 12 shortstops who are in Cooperstown, but it's something I have no control over."
Concepción and the Big Red Machine won the 1975 World Series in seven games against the Boston Red Sox and swept the Yankees in 1976. While those teams may have been surpassed by other “dynasties,” their lasting impact on the game is still apparent. The number of Latino players on Opening Day rosters increased again in 2015, rising from 28.4 percent in 2014 to 29.3 in 2015.