December 16, 1976: The Reds trade Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez and lefty reliever Will McEnaney to the Montreal Expos for pitchers Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray.

Perez was a fan and clubhouse favorite who had been in the Reds organization since migrating from Cuba in 1960. Considered a great clutch hitter, manager Sparky Anderson was once quoted as saying, “When there’s a runner in scoring position, I can’t think of any batter I’d rather have at the plate than Perez.”

Perez had been with the Reds at the major league level for 13 years at the time of the trade and had driven in 90 or more runs for ten consecutive seasons. Waiting in the wings was Dan Driessen, a line-drive hitting first baseman who had just turned 24 and already had four major league seasons under his belt. Driessen’s first season as starter could have fit right into a Perez career line — .300 with 17 homers, 91 RBI — but it stopped there as he never exceeded 75 RBI again. Perez collected 91 RBI for the Expos in 1977 before dropping into the 70’s twice himself and then rebounding with a 105 RBI season with the 1980 Boston Red Sox. Perez came back to the Reds for the final three seasons of his career, primarily as a part-time player. For his 23 seasons, Perez hit .279 with 379 home runs, 1652 RBI, and an .804 OPS (122 OPS+).

The decline of the Big Red Machine is often blamed on the Perez trade. The Reds offense continued to perform at a high level even without Perez while the pitching failed, but anecdotal evidence seems rather strong that Perez had a calming effect in the clubhouse.

Perez played a total of 16 seasons for the Reds, hitting .283 with 287 homers and 1192 RBI. He’s sixth on the all-time Reds list with 1948 games, eighth in runs scored (936), sixth in hits (1934), fourth in total bases (3246), sixth in doubles (339), third in home runs (287), and second in runs batted in (1192). Perez’s best season was 1970 when he hit .317 with 40 home runs and 129 RBI. He was first in the league in WAR (wins above replacement) that season with 6.7 and finished third in MVP voting.

McEnaney was the reliever who saved the deciding game for both the 1975 and 1976 World Series. However, his 1976 season wasn’t nearly as effective as was his 1975. In 1975, McEnaney was 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA, allowing 92 hits in 91 innings. In 1976, McEnaney was 2-6 with a 4.85 ERA, allowing 97 hits in 72 1/3 innings. With the Expos, McEnaney was 3-5 with a 3.95 ERA before being traded to the Pirates. For his six year career, McEnaney went 12-17 with a 3.76 ERA and 29 saves.

The Reds had realized they needed pitching help and chose to accept 37-year-old starting pitcher Fryman and Expos chief reliever Murray. Murray had appeared in 81 games in 1976, going 4-9 with a 3.26 ERA and 13 saves. He was the kind of reliever that Anderson liked, having pitched 113 innings of relief in those 81 games in 1976. He was used in a similar fashion by Anderson, pitching 102 innings in 61 games in 1977, going 7-2 but with a 4.94 ERA as he walked more batters than he struck out (46-42). The Reds traded him to the Mets early in the 1978 season. Murray went on to pitch 12 seasons, going 53-50 with a 3.85 ERA.

Fryman was a tobacco farmer from Kentucky who didn’t sign his first professional contract until he turned 25. The Pirates had been led to believe he was 22. He had been a six time double digit winner, a consistent performer but rarely dominant. He was coming off a 13-13 season in 34 games (32 starts) and pitching 216 innings. Whatever the cause, he wasn’t happy with the Reds and retired mid-season after going 5-5 with a 5.38 ERA. His walk rate rose to 5.4 per nine innings and he had given up 13 home runs in only 75 innings. He decided to un-retire at season’s end and the Reds traded him to the Chicago Cubs with reliever Bill Caudill for starting pitcher Bill Bonham. Fryman moved to the bullpen and became an excellent short man/closer for the Expos. Overall, Fryman pitched through age 43, going 141-155 with a 3.77 ERA in 18 seasons.