Saturday, February 4, 2017

Red Sox in Cooperstown Pt. 29: Tony Perez

Years in Boston: 1980-1982 (.266/.318/.443, 40 home runs, 175 RBIs, 126 runs, 289 hits)
Best Year in Boston: 1980 (.275/.320/.467, 25 home runs, 105 RBIs, 73 runs, 161 hits)
Tony Perez had a long 23-year career.  He spent 16 of those years with the Cincinnati Reds and that is the team with whom he will be forever identified.  His first 13 seasons and his last three were spent with the Reds, book-ending seven seasons with the Expos, Red Sox, and Phillies.  He rose to prominence with the Reds and was a key member of the Big Red Machine teams that won the 1975 and 1976 World Championships.  He was named to seven All Star teams during his career, all of which were with the Reds.  Of course, this post is about his time with the Red Sox.

After three decent seasons with the Expos, Tony Perez signed a free agent contract to join the Boston Red Sox in November of 1979.  His time with Boston was the only time he played in the American League.  The Red Sox had an opening at first base after Bob Watson, who had been acquired to take over for the traded George Scott, signed as a free agent with the Yankees.  Perez was about to turn 38 early in the 1980 season, but he still had something left in the tank, at least at first.

Perez spent the vast majority of the 1980 season at first base, with just a dozen games at designated hitter.  He was never a very good defensive first-baseman.  He did not have a ton of range, and he made ten errors in 1980.  Nevertheless, Boston already had Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice splitting time at designated hitter.  Yaz was older than Perez and nearing the end of his illustrious career.  But Perez was not acquired for his defensive skills.  He was a hitter, plain and simple.

His 1980 season was his last good season.  He hit 25 home runs, his most since 1974 and drove in 105 runs, his most since 1975.  He also clubbed 31 doubles and three triples for a .467 slugging percentage, his highest since 1973.  He hit a decent .275 with a .320 on-base percentage.  He had lost a step though and led the league in grounding into double plays.  He even received some MVP votes, though he finished 22nd, though much of that may have been because the team was never really in contention and finished fifth in their division.

Unfortunately, his next two seasons were not nearly as good.  In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Perez played in 84 of the 108 games and spent about a third of that time at DH.  He hit just .252/.310/.395 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs.  His legs were done as he managed just 11 doubles, though he still had three triples.  The following year, he played in just 69 games, primarily at DH, with just two games at first.  His hitting improved somewhat, his slash line was .260/.326/.444, but he hit just six home runs and drove in 31 runs.  After the season, he was released.  Having both him and Yastrzemski still was superfluous.  Neither player could play much in the field.

Perez was not done though, despite being 41 years old the next season.  He hooked on with the Phillies for a year before returning to the Reds for three more seasons.  He never played more than 91 games in any of those four seasons and never hit more than six home runs.  He was clearly coming to the end of the road.

Tony Perez was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1992 and received 50% of the vote.  It took him nine years to gain election to the Hall of Fame.  He was a borderline candidate.  He drove in a lot of runs (1,652), but only hit 379 career home runs and hit .279/.341/.463, decent numbers, but not overwhelming.  There was also the fact that the only category he ever led the league in was grounding into double plays, once.  Perez was a big-time hitter for a dynastic Reds team, but was not really one of the greatest players in the league for more than a couple of seasons.  He got in though, and that is what counts.  Despite a good 1980 season, Perez's time in Boston is mostly irrelevant to his Hall status.

No comments:

Post a Comment