Ask old-time Reds fans when the Big Red Machine dynasty ended, and the answer you’ll hear more than any other is December 16, 1976.

On that fateful day, less than two months after sweeping the New York Yankees in the World Series, Cincinnati traded Tony Perez and Will McEnaney to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray.

Now, on paper, this looked at least somewhat reasonable.

After all, Perez was heading into his age-35 season and had seen his power drop from a peak in 1970 when he clubbed 40 home runs to just so-so by first baseman standards — he managed but 20 home runs in 1975 and 19 in 1976.

At the same time, his playing time had dropped below 140 games in each of those championship seasons, and his batting average slipped to .260 in ‘76.

Big Dog was becoming Old Dog, it seemed.

Why not send him out for Fryman, a 13-game winner for Montreal in 1976 and Murray, who led the majors with 81 appearances out of the Expos bullpen? If there had been one soft area for those great Cincy teams, after all, it had been on the pitching staff.

The Reds gave up runs at a pretty much league-average pace in 1976, for example, and young standout Don Gullett had already left the Riverfront, signing a free agent deal with the Yanks in November.

So, again, on paper, you could justify the thing.

But on the field and in the clubhouse?

That was destined to be a different story, to hear the Reds faithful tell it these days.

Perez was the heart and soul of the team, they say, and not just because of his numbers. He held elder statesman status, even though Pete Rose had been with the team longer, and Perez was certainly more of a warm-fuzzy for his teammates than was Charlie Hustle.

And, whether that’s revisionist thinking at work or not, the truth is hard to ignore — the 1977 Reds fell out of first place on the third day of the season, April 9, and were seven-and-a-half games out by May 1.

They never recovered.

Meanwhile, Perez was doing his thing in Montreal, once again hitting 19 bombs and driving in 91, just as he had done that last year in Cincy, but also raising his average to .283 while appearing in a healthy 154 games.

Would that production have turned the tide for the Reds?

Not likely, but if they had kept Gullett, and if you add in the “heart and soul” component, well …

Hard to say.

What’s easy to say, though, is that Perez’s 1977 Topps baseball card tormented Reds fans all season long, showing as it did Doggie in his final go-round (for awhile, at least) in Cincinnati:

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But you know what probably tormented them more? At least for the (likely) few Riverfront collectors who were lucky enough to get their hands on one?

Yeah, it was that dastardly 1977 O-Pee-Chee Tony Perez card, the one that showed him wearing what must have been some sort of Halloween costume (right?) …

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Perez in an Expos uniform??

Had to have been a joke, and a cosmic-level one at that.

I mean, what would be next — Rose in Montreal togs, too? (Well …)

These days, that first Perez Expos card doesn’t look so bad, and maybe even a little refreshing, seeing as how it doesn’t turn up as often as his last Reds card or his first base Topps card with the Expos in 1978.

It’s a piece of hobby history, if nothing else, and an affordable one at that, with copies in PSA 9 generally changing hands in the $20 range — though you might be hard-pressed to find one.

Just like you might be hard-pressed to find an old-timer who doesn’t know exactly when the Big Red Machine sputtered to a halt.

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