Cincinnati Reds - Franchise History - The Machine Dismantled (1977–1989)

The Machine Dismantled (1977–1989)

The later years of the 1970s brought turmoil and change. Popular Tony Pérez was sent to Montreal after the 1976 season, breaking up the Big Red Machine's starting lineup. Manager Sparky Anderson and General Manager Bob Howsam later considered this trade the biggest mistake of their careers. Starting pitcher Don Gullett left via free agency and signed with the New York Yankees. In an effort to fill that gap, a trade with the Oakland A's for starting ace Vida Blue was arranged during the '76–'77 off-season. However, Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, vetoed the trade for the stated reason of maintaining competitive balance in baseball. Some have suggested that the acutal reason had more to due with Kuhn's continued feud with Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley. On June 15, 1977, the Reds acquired Mets' franchise pitcher Tom Seaver for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman. In other deals that proved to be less successful, the Reds traded Gary Nolan to the Angels for Craig Hendrickson, Rawly Eastwick to St. Louis for Doug Capilla and Mike Caldwell to Milwaukee for Rick O'Keeffe and Garry Pyka, and got Rick Auerbach from Texas. The end of the Big Red Machine era was heralded by the replacement of General Manager Bob Howsam with Dick Wagner.

In Rose's last season as a Red, he gave baseball a thrill as he challenged Joe DiMaggio's 56- game hitting streak, tying for the second-longest streak ever at 44 games. The streak came to an end in Atlanta after striking out in his fifth at bat in the game against Gene Garber. Rose also earned his 3,000th hit that season, on his way to becoming baseball's all-time hits leader when he rejoined the Reds in the mid 1980s. The year also witnessed the only no-hitter of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver's career, coming against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 16, 1978.

After the 1978 season and two straight second place finishes, Wagner fired manager Anderson—an unpopular move. Pete Rose, who since 1963 had played almost every position for the team except pitcher and catcher, signed with Philadelphia as a free agent. By 1979, the starters were Bench (c), Dan Driessen (1b), Morgan (2b), Concepción (ss), Ray Knight (3b), with Griffey, Foster, and Geronimo again in the outfield. The pitching staff had experienced a complete turnover since 1976 except for Fred Norman. In addition to ace starter Tom Seaver; the remaining starters were Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, and Paul Moskau. In the bullpen, only Borbon had remained. Dave Tomlin and Mario Soto worked middle relief with Tom Hume and Doug Bair closing. The Reds won the 1979 NL West behind the pitching of Tom Seaver but were dispatched in the NL playoffs by Pittsburgh. Game 2 featured a controversial play in which a ball hit by Pittsburgh's Phil Garner was caught by Cincinnati outfielder Dave Collins but was ruled a trap, setting the Pirates up to take a 2–1 lead. The Pirates swept the series 3 games to 0 and went on to win the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

The 1981 team fielded a strong lineup, but with only Concepción, Foster, and Griffey retaining their spots from the 1975-76 heyday. After Johnny Bench was able to play only a few games at catcher each year after 1980 due to ongoing injuries, Joe Nolan took over as starting catcher. Driessen and Bench shared 1st base, and Knight starred at third. Morgan and Geronimo had been replaced at second base and center field by Ron Oester and Dave Collins. Mario Soto posted a banner year starting on the mound, only surpassed by the outstanding performance of Seaver's Cy Young runner-up season. La Coss, Bruce Berenyi, and Frank Pastore rounded out the starting rotation. Hume again led the bullpen as closer, joined by Bair and Joe Price. In 1981, Cincinnati had the best overall record in baseball, but they finished second in the division in both of the half-seasons that were created after a mid-season players' strike, and missed the playoffs. To commemorate this, a team photo was taken, accompanied by a banner that read "Baseball's Best Record 1981".

By 1982, the Reds were a shell of the original Red Machine; they lost 101 games that year. Johnny Bench, after an unsuccessful transition to 3rd base, retired a year later.

After the heartbreak of 1981, General Manager Dick Wagner pursued the strategy of ridding the team of veterans including third-baseman Knight and the entire starting outfield of Griffey, Foster, and Collins. Bench, after being able to catch only seven games in 1981, was moved from platooning at first base to be the starting third baseman; Alex Treviño became the regular starting catcher. The outfield was staffed with Paul Householder, César Cedeño, and future Colorado Rockies & Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on opening day. Hurdle was an immediate bust, and rookie Eddie Milner took his place in the starting outfield early in the year. The highly touted Householder struggled throughout the year despite extensive playing time. Cedeno, while providing steady veteran play, was a disappointment, and was unable to recapture his glory days with the Houston Astros. The starting rotation featured the emergence of a dominant Mario Soto, and featured strong years by Pastore and Bruce Berenyi, but Seaver was injured all year, and their efforts were wasted without a strong offensive lineup. Tom Hume still led the bullpen, along with Joe Price. But the colorful Brad "The Animal" Lesley was unable to consistently excel, and former all-star Jim Kern was a big disappointment. Kern was also publicly upset over having to shave off his prominent beard to join the Reds, and helped force the issue of getting traded during mid-season by growing it back.

The Reds fell to the bottom of the Western Division for the next few years. After his injury-riddled 1982 season, Seaver was traded back to the Mets. The year 1983 found Dann Bilardello behind the plate, Bench returning to part-time duty at first base, rookies Nick Esasky taking over at third base and Gary Redus taking over from Cedeno. Tom Hume's effectiveness as a closer had diminished, and no other consistent relievers emerged. Dave Concepción was the sole remaining starter from the Big Red Machine era.

Wagner's "reign of terror" ended in 1983, when Howsam, the architect of the Big Red Machine, was brought back. The popular Howsam began his second term as Reds' General Manager by signing Cincinnati native Dave Parker as a free agent from Pittsburgh. In 1984 the Reds began to move up, depending on trades and some minor leaguers. In that season Dave Parker, Dave Concepción and Tony Pérez were in Cincinnati uniforms. In August of 1984, Pete Rose was reacquired and hired to be the Reds player-manager. After raising the franchise from the grave, Howsam gave way to the administration of Bill Bergesch, who attempted to build the team around a core of highly regarded young players in addition to veterans like Parker. However, he was unable to capitalize on an excess of young and highly touted position players including Kurt Stillwell, Tracy Jones, and Kal Daniels by trading them for pitching. Despite the emergence of Tom Browning as rookie of the year in 1985 when he won 20 games, the rotation was devastated by the early demise of Mario Soto's career to arm injury.

Under Bergesch, from 1985–89 the Reds finished second four times. Among the highlights, Rose became the all-time hits leader, Tom Browning threw a perfect game, and Chris Sabo was the 1988 National League Rookie of the Year. The Reds also had a bullpen star in John Franco, who was with the team from 1984 to 1989. Following the release of the Dowd Report which accused Rose for betting on baseball games, in 1989 Rose was banned from baseball by Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who declared Rose guilty of "conduct detrimental to baseball". Controversy also swirled around Reds owner Marge Schott, who was accused several times of ethnic and racial slurs.

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