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The Trade that Stalled the Machine

A look back at the still-controversial deal that came to symbolize the end of the BRM era.

Perez goes to ExposThe trade that sent first baseman Tony Perez to the Montreal Expos following the 1976 season remains one of the most reviled in Reds history. Bob Howsam's rationale for the trade was sound. In keeping with his policy not to participate in the free agent drafts that had been instituted that year, the club knew that it was going to lose free agent pitcher Don Gullett. The need to replace Gullett and the presence of Dan Driessen who had shown every indication of being more than able to replace Perez at first were the primary factors that prompted the club to deal Perez for pitchers Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray.

That statistically, Driessen and Perez had almost identical seasons in 1977 mattered little. The only thing that mattered was that the Reds had won back-to-back championships with Perez at first and in his first season away from the team, the club stumbled to a lackluster second place finish in the division. What Howsam and his brain trust had woefully underestimated was Perez's invaluable clubhouse presence. Pete Rose may have been the team captain but every player agreed that Perez was the team's leader. Howsam later admitted that it was the worst trade of his career.

With the departure of Perez and Gullett, the magic of 1975 and 1976 was forever lost. After a second consecutive second-place finish in 1978, Sparky Anderson was fired as Reds manager. Soon after, Pete Rose signed as a free agent with the Phillies. Joe Morgan was the next to depart and in the ensuing years, one by one, the members of the Great Eight were traded away or retired. The last man standing was Dave Concepcion. The longest-tenured member of the Big Red Machine retired after the 1988 season.

But before Concepcion bade farewell to the game, a bit of the glory days of the Big Red Machine returned to Cincinnati. Bob Howsam was the first to come back, returning to his old position in 1983 at the behest of Reds owners William J. and James Williiams who were desperate to resuscitate a team that had plummeted to the bottom of the standings in the early 1980s. Howsam brought back Tony Perez and in an even bigger move, traded for Pete Rose who became the Reds manager/player in August of 1984.

Under Rose's guidance, the Reds rose from the cellar and became contenders once again, finishing in second place in the Western Division four consecutive years from 1986-1988. Many of the players who debuted under Pete's watch formed the core of the team that Lou Piniella led to the 1990 World Championship. And the first base coach for the 1990 team was none other than Tony Perez, back where he belonged; overseeing the position he should have never left.