The Glory Days: The Original Big Red Machine
The 1956 Cincinnati baseball team was the original Big Red Machine.
Of course, Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati clubs of 1970-76 were given that nickname, the ’75 and ’76 teams steamrolling through the National League on the way to 210 wins and back-to-back World Series championships.
But the ’56 Redlegs (that’s what they were called back then) were big boppers for sure. They did not win the NL pennant, finishing in third place, two games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers and one back of the Milwaukee Braves.
The Redlegs did hit home runs by the bushel, though. They blasted 221 of them, equaling the 1947 New York Giants’ major league record. It remains the record for a 154-game season. Eight Redlegs had at least 10 that year, with five belting 28 or more.
Here are Cincinnati’s 1956 power numbers:
Frank Robinson 38 HR, 83 RBI
Wally Post 36 HR, 83 RBI
Ted Kluszewski 35 HR, 102 RBI
Gus Bell 29 HR, 84 RBI
Ed Bailey 28 HR, 75 RBI
Ray Jablonski 15 HR, 66 RBI
Smoky Burgess 12 HR, 39 RBI
George Crowe 10 HR, 23 RBI
Robinson, who was named the NL Rookie of the Year that season, scored 122 runs and batted .290. He surpassed his 1956 home run total only twice in 20 more big league years. However, he belted 30 or more eight additional times (11 overall) and ended with 586 for his career.
The point is to show that Frank Robby had one of his better long ball years in 1956, as did other teammates. Bailey’s total was a career high. It was the second-best homer season for Bell, Jablonski and Post. (Post had hit 40 the previous year.)
And then there was Big Klu. He of the massive arms, the bulging biceps that made a traditional uniform shirt so uncomfortable that he cut off the sleeves. As a result, the Redlegs designed sleeveless unis for the whole team.
Klu was the main mauler in terms of a slugger’s reputation. Not only was he built for the job, he put up the stats: 40 home runs in 1953, 49 in ’54 and 47 in ’55 – 136 in three years! He did not fit the power hitter’s stereotype because he never struck out more than 40 times in a season and he batted .298 for his career.
The 1956 Redlegs had 1,406 hits – 221, or 15.7 percent, were home runs; 454, or 32.3 percent, went for extra bases.
The Cincinnati lineup usually looked like this:
Johnny Temple, 2B
Roy McMillan, SS
Burgess was a part-time catcher and Crowe a backup first baseman. Both were exceptional pinch-hitters throughout their careers. Crowe hit 31 home runs in 1957 when he filled in at first base for the injured Kluszewski.
The 1956 Redlegs do not rank among the top 14 all-time single-season team home run leaders, all of which played in the 162-game-season era. The 1997 Seattle Mariners slugged 264, the 2005 Texas Rangers hit 260, the 1996 Baltimore Orioles and the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays slammed 257 apiece. Fifth-place Houston holds the National League record with 249.
A couple of footnotes: Cincinnati totaled 181 homers in 1955 and had 187 in 1957. Five years after they set the big league record, the Reds (shortened from Redlegs for good in 1961) won the National League pennant. The 1961 club hit 158 home runs before losing in the World Series to the New York Yankees, who hit 240 homers in 162 games.