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What if Tony Perez was not traded?

What if Tony Perez was not traded?

This is the second in a series of articles that will explore intriguing 'What If?' scenarios in Reds history.

Tony Perez

What Happened? On December 16, 1976, the Reds trade first baseman Tony Perez and relief pitcher Will McEnanay to the Montreal Expos for pitchers Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray.

The Background: The Reds were only two months removed from winning their second consecutive World Series when this stunning trade was announced. For over a decade, Tony Perez had been one of baseball's most consistent run producers, driving in 90 or more runs in each of the previous 10 seasons. He also happened to be one of the most popular players to ever wear a Reds uniform, having been dubbed "The Mayor of Riverfront" for his popularity. The deal was prompted by the Reds seemingly endless need for quality pitching as well as the play of 26-year-old Dan Driessen.

Driessen had played parts of each of the previous four seasons with the Reds, shifting from third base to the outfield to first base, his best position. Driessen had been productive in part-time duty and his performance in the 1976 World Series (.357 AVG) had been exemplary. The Reds felt that he was ready to assume a starting position.

As Driessen emerged so too did free agency. Reds general manager Bob Howsam was an ardent opponent of the free agency system. Reds left hander Don Gullett was eligible for free agency after the season and the Reds did not intend to bring him back. The loss of Gullett coupled with the aging of starters Jack Billingham and Fred Norman left Howsam concerned about the club's pitching for 1977. With the younger Driessen ready to go, the decision was made to try to deal Perez for pitching depth.

In Montreal, 36-year-old Woodie Fryman had managed to win 13 games for an Expos team that won only 55 in 1976. Dale Murray was a 26-year-old right-hander who had saved thirteen games for the same dismal Expos club. Seeing a solid starter in Fryman and a talented relief pitcher in Murray, Howsam offered Perez for the two of them and the trade was completed.

The Aftermath: After winning back-to-back World Series, the Reds finish a distant second, 10 games behind the Dodgers in the Western Division. Dan Driessen excelled at first base, however, hitting a solid .300 with 17 home runs, 91 RBI and 31 stolen bases. In Montreal, Tony Perez posted a .283 batting average with 19 home runs and 91 RBI for an Expos club that improved by twenty games over the previous year.

What if Tony Perez isn't traded?

Based on pure production alone, the Reds were a better offensive team with Dan Driessen at first base in 1977 than they would have been if Tony Perez had remained in Cincinnati. But the numbers don't tell the whole story about the Perez trade. Nearly every key member of the Big Red Machine (along with many fans) blames the Perez trade for ending the dynasty. Perez carried with him leadership skills that were not fully appreciated until after he departed. While it is all but impossible to quantify any intangibles, the players remain convinced that if Tony Perez had not been traded, the Big Red Machine would have rolled to at least one more championship. Even the late Bob Howsam, the man responsible for the trade, later admitted that, while he had "good practical reasons" for making the trade, he would not make the deal if he had it to do over again.

Regrets aside, it is difficult to see how Tony Perez could have cured the Reds' pitching woes in 1977. Statistically, the Reds pitching staff was the third worst in the league. Gary Nolan was lost for most of the year to injury, Jack Billingham suffered through his worst year as a Red and the newcomers Fryman and Murray contributed little. Even the mid-season acquisition of Tom Seaver from the Mets could not overcome the weaknesses throughout the staff.

The numbers can never tell the whole story of the Tony Perez trade, however. He was part of the Great Eight lineup that won back-to-back titles. After he was traded, it took the Reds 14 years to get back to the World Series. And when they did, Perez was there, coaching at first base.