Not long after their triumph of winning back-to-back World Series titles, the sun began to set on the Big Red Machine era of the Cincinnati Reds. The first blow came with the departure of Tony Perez to Montreal following the 1976 season. The popular Perez was traded, along with Will McEnaney, for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray. Fryman played one season in Cincinnati, while journeyman Murray played two seasons in the Queen City before moving on to the New York Mets.\nStarting pitcher Don Gullett was the next to go, signing with the Yankees as a free agent. The Reds did manage to lure Mets ace Tom Seaver to town, but other moves didn’t pan out as well. After the 1978 season, Pete Rose shocked the Reds faithful when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent. That move was even lamented by station manager Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati. “But Philadelphia?” he moaned. \nIn 1977, the Reds finished 10 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and managed to close the gap to two and a half games the following year. In 1979, they returned to the post-season but were swept by Pittsburgh in the League Championship Series. The Reds remained competitive, though, finishing 89-73 in 1980. That, though, was only good for third place in the West, three and a half games behind the Dodgers. \nThe baseball world was turned upside down the following season when the players voted to strike, walking out on June 12. The main issue was free agency and the desire by owners to be compensated for losing star players. The players argued that a system like that would undermine the whole concept of free agency.\nThe strike lasted 51 days. Many players found it curious that 51 days was the same length as the owners' strike insurance fund. In any case, play resumed with the All-Star Game in Cleveland and an adjustment to the remaining schedule. The teams in first place on June 12 were declared the first-half division winners. Under the plan, win-loss records would start at zero after the All-Star Game. The plan, however, shortchanged the Reds, as well as the St. Louis Cardinals. Both had the best overall record in their respective divisions, but neither qualified for the playoffs.\nThe bottom fell out after that. In 1982, GM Dick Wagner got rid of veteran third baseman Ray Knight, as well as the entire outfield (George Foster, Ken Griffey, and Dave Collins). The Reds lost 101 games that year. Pitcher Tom Seaver was traded a year later while Johnny Bench, after an unsuccessful stint at third base, retired. \nThe Reds spent the next few seasons at, or near, the bottom of the standings before turning things around in 1985, finishing second that season. They managed the same feat the next three seasons in a row before stumbling in 1989 and finishing fifth with a record of 75 and 87. However, a series of moves during that time helped the Reds, somewhat secretly, build a championship team that would stun the baseball world.