Saturday, August 20, 2011

#230 - Tony Perez

Tony Perez is in the midst of a '73 season that would be his final one of hitting .300 with over 100 RBI's. Tony, a generally happy guy as a player looks sort of pissed here. Or maybe he's just smirking. Maybe he just got back from a fantastic winter in PR and it's too early to be posing for baseball cards. Maybe I should just write the narrative.

Tony "Doggy" Perez grew up worshiping Minnie Minoso in Cuba where he was headed to life in the sugar cane fields until a Reds scout saw him in a company game. He was then signed for pretty much nothing - about two bucks - and whisked away to D ball in upstate NY in '60 when he was 18. He was originally a shortstop and was pretty thin at only about 160 pounds. That year he did ok playing around the infield but he had almost zero knowledge of English and had a tough time. He stuck in D ball in '61, making third base his home, and banging the ball, hitting .348 with 27 homers. He then moved up, not missing a beat, until his '64 season in Triple A where, splitting time between third and first, he hit 34 out with 107 RBIs while batting .309. Along the way he ran into minor league manager Dave Bristol - who would also later manage Tony up top - who put him on an all meat and beans diet, cranking his weight up above two bills.

In '65 after a couple games up in late '64 Perez came up for good, splitting time at first base and putting up good enough numbers to make the Topps rookie team. After a couple seasons of finding his stroke he broke out in '67, becoming the first official member of the Big Three by belting 26 out and posting the first of 11 straight 90-RBI seasons. It was also his first season where he played primarily third up top, as Tommy Helms had moved to second and Pete Rose to the outfield. By '68 the other two members of the Three - Lee May and Johnny Bench - had joined him as full timers and as a combo they would peak in '70 with 119 homers and 371 RBIs between them. Tony himself was a one-man wrecking crew early that season, with 27 homers and 79 RBIs by the end of June. All that power carried them to the Series as Tony saw his first post-season action. '71 would start off horribly for him as two hurt hands impeded his swing and he needed a strong second half to keep his RBI streak alive. He rallied in '72 as he moved to take May's place at first after the big trade and the Reds returned to the playoffs. The three years following '73 would be All-Star ones - he was named to seven overall - as the last two of those seasons Tony and the Reds would win the whole thing.

Prior to the '77 season Perez would get traded to the Expos in a very unpopular move with Will McEnaney for Woody Fryman and Dale Mitchell. It was both a cost-cutting move and one designed to free up starting time for Dan Driessen at first. Tony went to Montreal and his first season there did as well as he'd been doing in the stronger Cincinnati lineup, hitting .283 with 91 RBIs. The next two years in Montreal the streak ended but he still put up pretty good offensive numbers. After the '79 season he went to Boston as a free agent and had a great 1980, batting .275 with 105 RBIs. After a steep drop in the strike year, Tony's last season in Boston was spent backing up Dave Stapleton at first and as a DH. For the next few seasons he followed old teammate Pete Rose, first to Philly where he had his last stab at the post-season and then back to Cincy where he spent three years backing up first, finishing in '86 at age 44. Tony hit .279 with 379 homers and 1,652 RBIs in 22 seasons. He also hit .238 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 47 post-season games. He was elected to the Hall in 2000.
Perez moved into coaching right away with Cincy in '86 and even managed for a bit in '93. That season he moved to the Marlins organization where he has coached, managed, and currently works as an assistant to the general manager. His record as a manager is 74-84.

'67 was Tony's first All-Star game and he won the damn thing. His best Series may have ironically been '75 when he hit only .179. He did have three homers in his five hits that year with seven RBIs in the seven games. Plus he got to be there for Game Six, although I don't think it resonated for him the same way as it did for a lot of folks. His 30th birthday was during the '72 season, which to a degree was pretty tough for him. Lots of fans thought that he should have been the guy to go to the Astros instead of Lee May, especially due to his poor first half in '71. Guess he proved them all wrong.

I can't even believe this guy was playing back then. We're all getting old:

1. Perez and Dennis Eckersley '80 to 82 Red Sox;
2. Eckersley and Fritz Peterson '75 Indians.

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