Before The Machine by Mark J. Schmetzer (2011)
Before The Machine:
The Story of the 1961 Pennant-Winning Cincinnati Reds
by Mark J. Schmetzer
Clerisy Press, 2011
When one thinks of great Cincinnati Reds teams, the mind immediately turns to the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. The wire-to-wire winners of 1990 are then considered, and some may reach back to the teams of 1939 and 1940, or even to the 1919 nine that played the Black Sox. Author Mark J. Schmetzer wants the readers of Before The Machine to recall another great Reds team that took the field in 1961, unexpectedly winning the National League pennant and facing the New York Yankees in the World Series.
To say the book is thorough is quite an understatement. At times the style is a bit laborious, but that may be the result of trying to pack so much information into the pages. There are quotes from many of the Reds players of the day (Jim O’Toole, Bob Purkey, Leo Cardenas, and Vada Pinson among them), as well as sportswriters and broadcasters. Schmetzer also explores the fandom that surrounded the team, calling on the memories of Bruce Johnston, a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble who was just a boy in the 1960s, and Dave Parker, who would later go to the All-Star Game as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and twice as a Reds outfielder.
The author highlights the early struggles of the team, including Frank Robinson‘s arrest on gun charges before Spring Training started, and takes the reader on a journey throughout the amazing season and the pinnacle of reaching the World Series. Robinson ended up winning the National League Most Valuable Player award, and Joey Jay might have received more recognition for his excellent season had the Cy Young Award been given to a pitcher in each league (Whitey Ford won on the strength of his 25-4 record).
An excellent selection of black and white photographs are featured throughout the pages of Before The Machine, both posed shots and action photos, bringing the narrative to life.
Certainly, the 1961 club, described by then-Dodgers vice president Fresco Thompson as “castoffs and nondescripts,” deserves more credit than it receives. From management to coaching to on-the-field play, they gave it their all, and hopefully more fans will take note as a result of Schmetzer’s work.