Reds Pick Up Steam
During the 1973 and 1974 seasons, the Reds worked their way to the top. In 1973 they overtook the front-running Los Angeles Dodgers in September but lost the Pennant to the New York Mets, 3 to 2. In 1974 they ended the season in second place behind the Dodgers. Then years 1975 and 1976 were stellar for the Reds as they won back-to-back world titles. However, Bench suffered a shoulder injury in mid-April when a player collided with him at home plate. Even though he had severely damaged cartilage at the top of his shoulder, Bench played hurt until the end of the season. The Reds ended the 1975 season with 108 wins and a winning margin of twenty games, a club record. In the post-season the Big Red Machine beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in three games to win the National League Pennant and triumphed over the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series. It was the Reds' first world title in thirty-five years and the third in franchise history. Yet, while winning the world title was satisfying for Bench, his several painful injuries hurt his performance, particularly at the plate, and made him question the wisdom of playing hurt. "I came to realize that the Iron Man philosophy is filled with holes, that today's injured hero doesn't play tomorrow. The body must be understood and catered to. In pro sports, it's all you really have," he explained in his autobiography. After this experience, he determined that he'd no longer play injured.
In 1976 the Reds won 108 games in the regular season. Then they won seven consecutive games in the playoffs and World Series—against Philadelphia, and the New York Yankees. The Reds became the only team in history to sweep the playoffs and World Series. Plagued with muscle spasms in his back, Bench had an off year during the regular season, batting only .234. Yet after discovering that the spasms were linked to a deficiency in potassium, he began taking salt tablets. His performance improved by September and during the National League playoffs and the World Series he rose to the occasion. All told, during the playoffs he batted .333. In the World Series, he went eight for fifteen, with four extra base hits, two of which were home runs, earning six RBIs in four games. Longtime Reds skipper Sparky Anderson has more than once called Bench the best catcher in the business. "Bench was the greatest catcher that ever lived," Anderson wrote in Sparky. "No one ever played his position better than he did. He also delivered key hits all the time."