July 2nd, 2012
The phrase “National League West” rivals fades with each passing decade, but in the 1970s the Cincinnati Reds and Dodgers dominated the competition after Major League Baseball adopted division play in 1969. The Reds won the division six times (1970, 72-73, 75-76, 79) while the Dodgers won three times (1974, 77, 78). The lone exception was the 1971 San Francisco Giants, which edged the Dodgers by one game.
Los Angeles sportswriter Bob Hunter coined the nickname “Big Red Machine” in 1969 and the next season the Reds were rolling to the N.L. pennant under rookie manager Sparky Anderson. When Tommy Lasorda was hired as Dodgers manager at the end of the 1976 season, the Reds were on their way to a second consecutive World Series title. Lasorda’s “bleeding Dodger blue” speeches were used for motivation within the organization, but the Reds represented his biggest challenge.
Prior to the 1977 season, Lasorda announced the days of Cincinnati’s dynasty were over. General manager Al Campanis was surprised to hear such bold talk from a rookie manager, but Lasorda was convinced he had to lead by example and challenge Anderson, who was a teammate with the 1957 Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. “We were friends before, but that had to end because of the Dodgers-Reds rivalry,” Lasorda said. “My job was to win.”
The Reds fired Anderson after the 1978 season, but he enjoyed a second career in the American League with the Detroit Tigers from 1979-1995, including a championship in 1984. Lasorda and Anderson remained friendly over the years until Sparky’s passing at age 76 in 2010.