Friday, December 28, 2012

The curious case for Tony Perez

by: Dan Howard
Staff Writer

OCTOBER 21, 1976 – The Cincinnati Reds, behind Johnny Bench’s two home runs, finish off the New York Yankees for their second straight World Championship. During the post-game celebration, Reds President and GM Bob Howsam made a profound statement to the media. With the advent of free agency he did not know how he would have the ability to keep the Big Red Machine intact. Through my happiness I had no idea what he was talking about. I soon found out.

DECEMBER 16, 1976 – I had returned home from school, with Christmas Break days away and was looking forward to the weekend’s NFL playoff games. My beloved Minnesota Vikings were set to play Washington in the Divisional Round that Saturday. I was watching the 6 o’clock news when WSAZ sportscaster Bob Bowen broke the news that broke my heart. The Reds traded first baseman Tony Perez along with reliever Will McEnaney for pitchers Woody Fryman and Dale Murray. WHAT! HUH! WHO? I was stunned, to the point of tears. “Is this the end of the Big Red Machine? “I thought, “Nah, we’ll be alright.”

Sparky Anderson would later say on many occasions that Tony Perez was the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine. The 1977 and 1978 seasons saw the Reds finish second to the L.A. Dodgers in the N.L. West. In 1982 the Reds suffered their first 100-loss season in club history (61-101).That was followed by losing records in 1983 and 1984.

Tony Perez was a bridge, a six-foot-two granite bridge between the regular players and the superstars that comprised the Big Red Machine. Perez could convey his leadership unlike no other. I’m sure high level corporate managers would pay top dollar to learn the skills Tony Perez seemed to be born with. Egos didn’t matter with Tony, if you had a bad game, he’d let you know. I remember Johnny Bench told the story that one game, Joe Morgan committed an error or two, in the clubhouse at the end of the game Tony flung a garbage can Joe’s way and told him to use it in the next game. In Chicago, Dave Concepcion wanted to get hot and start hitting. Tony, along with other teammates, promptly put little Davey into a clothes dryer. It worked; Concepcion went on a hitting tear. I have never EVER heard anyone in baseball say anything negative about Tony Perez.

In the last five World Series the Reds have played in there has been one common denominator, Tony Perez. Perez was also in the framework of the Montreal Expos success leading them to an East Division second place finish in 1979, his last year on the team. The seeds were sown; a couple of years later, during the strike shortened year of ’81, the Expos came within a Dodgers Rick Monday ninth inning home run from the World Series. He was reunited with Pete Rose and Joe Morgan in 1983, guiding the Phillies to the World Series only to lose in five games to the Baltimore Orioles.

Tony Perez came back to the Reds as a free agent before the 1984 season. Pete Rose became manager in August 1984, and right away you could see the impact. With Perez as player, and later coach, the Reds enjoyed four straight second place N.L. West finishes from 1985 to 1988 which made us soon forget the 101 loss stain of 1982.

After the 1989 fiasco, Lou Piniella brought a renewed sense of hope, with Tony Perez alongside as bench coach. The Reds rolled through the 1990 season going wire to wire to a division title carrying over to an impressive sweep of the Oakland A’s in the World Series.

When Piniella was let go at the end of the ’92 season, Marge Schott gave Tony Perez a chance to manage. It was very short lived. On May 25, 1993, general manager Jim “Leatherpants” Bowden, for unspecified reasons (except maybe to give the job to Davey Johnson), fired Perez after 44 games. Yes, he woke him up and fired him over the phone! "44 games into the season, I don't think it's fair," Perez said. ''But it has happened. It is a raw deal, but what are you going to do?” Tony Perez left the Reds organization.

The Florida Marlins hired Tony Perez to help their fledgling franchise achieve success. All he did was assist the Fish to two postseason appearances in 1997 and 2003, both ending in World Championships, and develop players like Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera, last year’s A.L. Triple Crown winner and M.V.P. who wears number 24 as a tribute to Perez. How many World Series have the Reds won since 1993 – none. Have we forgotten the nine straight losing seasons from 2001 to 2009? For what it’s worth the Reds have made three unsuccessful trips to the post season since 1993, swept by the Braves in the N.L.C.S. in 1995, swept by the Phillies in the N.L.D.S. in 2010, and the 2012 N.L.D.S collapse.

I don’t believe in curses, I refer to Curt Schilling’s comments during his press conference when he joined the Red Sox in 2004. I do believe in righting a wrong, the Reds organization owes it to Tony Perez to apologize to him for his abrupt dismissal -- publically. I would love to see Mr. Castellini offer a front office job, something like Special Assistant to Player Development, or some position so he may impart some of his wisdom to the current Reds players. We need to bring Tony back home!

Be sure to follow Dan on Twitter (@DaHermit16)!

1 comment:

JK said...

I agree. Following the Big Red Machine as a kid, Tony Perez was always my favorite player. I too was devastated when he was traded. While there at least was some logic behind that move, when he was fired as manager it was both unfair and ridiculous.