CINCINNATI (AP) — The last time the core members of the Big Red Machine were assembled on a baseball field, they were celebrating their second consecutive World Series championship at the old Yankee Stadium in 1976.
Pete Rose and the rest of the starting lineup of the Reds’ back-to-back champions were together again at Great American Ball Park on Saturday for the unveiling of a bronze sculpture of Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.
Rose, the career hits leader whose ban from baseball usually prevents his participation in such events, was allowed to attend celebrations Friday night and Saturday by Major League Baseball.
“I want to thank Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing us to have the ‘Great Eight’ on the field last night,” Morgan said Saturday before the bronze sculpture — which depicts him just starting to steal a base — was unveiled near the main gates at the northwest corner of the ballpark complex. “It’s an unbelievable experience to be with all of my teammates.”
The location was no accident, said team owner Bob Castellini, who described the 5-foot-8 Morgan as a “little guy with a big heart.”
“We’re going to draw about 2.5 million people here,” he said. “This is the busiest corner in Cincinnati. Who better to preside over our gateway. I can think of no one better than you, Joe, to make a first impression on our visitors.”
Morgan was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1975 and 1976. He also won five Gold Gloves and was an All-Star in each of his eight seasons (1972-1979) with the Reds.
Morgan’s sculpture is the sixth at the ballpark, joining those of Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski and Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Ernie Lombardi and catcher Johnny Bench, Morgan’s teammate on the Big Red Machine.
Morgan recalled the unveiling of Bench’s sculpture two years ago.
“I remember him saying, ‘This is the greatest day of my career,’” Morgan said. “I started fiddling with my Hall of Fame ring, because as a player, the ultimate goal is to get to the Hall of Fame.”
He paused and looked at Bench, seated behind him and to his right.
“Johnny, you were right,” Morgan continued. “Today is a better day. The Hall of Fame is about numbers and playing on great teams. You only get a statue or a sculpture if they want you to be remembered.”
The ceremonies concluded with an on-field celebration before the Reds-Dodgers game that ended with Morgan throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Bench while their former teammates manned their old positions, delighting a sellout crowd.