Originally created 01/12/00

Perez was the 'glue' of the Big Red Machine



CINCINNATI -- Pete Rose had the hustle and headfirst slides. Johnny Bench had the arm and the acclaim. Joe Morgan had the speed and the MVP awards.

Often overlooked on the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s was Tony Perez, who had the clutch RBIs and the game-winning hits. He also had the understanding that in many respects, he was the player who held together one of baseball's greatest teams.

"Bench probably had the most raw baseball ability of any of us," said Morgan, a Hall of Fame second baseman. "Pete obviously had the most determination to make himself the player he was. Perez was the unsung hero."

Perez got his recognition Tuesday, when he was voted into the Hall of Fame on his ninth try. He and catcher Carlton Fisk will be inducted into the Hall at Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 23.

Perez had a long wait for induction because he never had a standout season and was overshadowed by his teammates -- Bench and Morgan already are in the Hall and Rose is barred by his lifetime suspension for gambling.

"Maybe it's because I didn't win any RBI titles, no home run titles or things like that," Perez said. "But I was very consistent over the years at knocking in runs and hitting home runs."

Consistency was his hallmark. He played 23 years and drove in at least 90 runs in 11 consecutive seasons from 1967-77. He finished with 1,652 RBIs, which ranks 18th, and hit 379 homers.

Bench, Morgan and Rose had bigger years, but none matched Perez's consistency in the clutch.

"Nobody drove in more runs than Tony, and he did it when it counted," Bob Howsam, the general manager who built the Big Red Machine, said Tuesday. "You don't see a lot of those hitters."

His biggest hit came in the 1975 World Series, which produced the first of Cincinnati's two consecutive titles.

Fisk's homer won Game 6 for Boston and provided one of baseball's most celebrated moments -- the catcher waving his shot fair. In Game 7, Perez produced another highlight by hitting a homer on a blooper pitch from Bill Lee that started the Reds toward a 4-3 win.

"I knew he had (a blooper) because he threw it to me before that," Perez said. "The first time he threw me one, the ball bounced and I swung. It was embarrassing. Then I faced him again and he threw me another one and I took it.

"I said in the back of my mind if he throws that one again, I'm going to hit it out, and he did. When he stopped his motion, I waited on it. I close my eyes and I can see it today."

The homer started the Reds' comeback and exemplified what Perez was all about. Perez remembers manager Sparky Anderson worrying as the Reds got ready to bat that inning.

"He said, 'We lost in '70, we lost in '72, we're losing now.' I said, 'Sparky, don't worry about it. Give me two men on or three men on, I'm going to hit a home run and we're going to win this,"' Perez said. "I only got one guy on, but I hit the home run and we came back and won."

There was more to the "Big Dog" than the RBIs. His easygoing personality made him a fan favorite and helped the Reds' star-packed clubhouse get through tough times.

"He didn't let you have a bad day," said Bench, who described himself as ecstatic over Perez's election Tuesday. "Tony Perez was everything."

"He was the glue," Howsam said. "When you have a team with as many fine people and with chemistry and balance -- I don't think you win without balance, and he was part of the balance."

Perez realized that he had a role in making the Big Red Machine run smoothly.

"They say I was the glue in getting along with everybody," Perez said. "I was doing jokes to make people relax. We played better, I guess."

The best measure of Perez's value came when he left. Howsam traded Perez to Montreal after the '76 World Series so Dan Driessen could take over at first base. Perez played three years in Montreal, three in Boston and one in Philadelphia before returning to the Reds, who didn't make the World Series again until 1990.

To this day, Howsam considers the Perez trade his worst move.

"I made a decision from my heart rather than my head," Howsam said. "When we traded him away, I feel in my heart that was one of the reasons we didn't win a third World Series title in a row."