Even though Cincinnati had the laser-focused egomaniac Pete Rose, the multi-talented and intensely competitive Joe Morgan, and the greatest catcher in history in Johnny Bench, the most indispensable cog in the Big Red Machine was slugger Tony Perez. The Cuban was a run-producing machine, driving in 90 runs or more in eleven consecutive seasons from 1967 to 1977. He batted behind Rose, Morgan, and Bench, cleaning anything they couldn’t get across the plate.
Only two months after winning their second straight World Series title, Cincinnati general manager Bob Howsam traded Perez to the Montreal Expos for two relief pitchers. The deal was widely panned and resulted in outrage in the city. The team never got back to the Fall Classic, and Perez went on to several more productive seasons at the plate. In 1983 he reunited with Morgan and Rose on the Phillies and the “over the hill” trio helped that team to the pennant.
After the ’83 season the Reds purchased Perez, bringing him back to the Queen City for the final acts of his career. By that time, the conservative Howsam had retired and Perez was happy to be back in the right red uniform. He spent three seasons as a part-time first baseman and pinch-hitter, most of it playing under Rose, who took over managerial duties late in 1984. Perez played until he was 44 years old and retired with 379 homers and 1,652 RBIs, the latter figure one of the highest totals in baseball history.
In his ninth try on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, Perez was elected in 2000. He is one of three players from the Big Red Machine in the Hall of Fame, in addition to manager Sparky Anderson.