Pérez joins Phillies for pennant run
In building their roster for the 1983 season, the Philadelphia Phillies valued experience above all else. That’s why they traded for the 39-year-old Joe Morgan in December of 1982. And on Jan. 31, 1983, the Phillies further enhanced their roster by signing Tony Pérez to a one-year contract.
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“Tony Pérez has joined what is rapidly becoming the Philadelphia Phillies’ refuge for elderly baseball players,” wrote The Boston Globe, reporting the departure of the first baseman and designated hitter who had spent three seasons with the Red Sox.
“And thus does the graying of the 1983 Phillies continue,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer. “With Pérez, the Phils now have seven men on their roster who are 38 years or older.”
In Philadelphia, Pérez reunited with Morgan and Pete Rose, key cogs of the Big Red Machine that won two World Series in Cincinnati. The Philadelphia Daily News labeled the group the “Big Dead Machine,” but each still offered value despite their age.
“Having the chance to again play with Morgan and Rose is another pleasure,” Pérez told the Inquirer.
At 40, Pérez could no longer slug like he had a decade prior, and he was no longer an everyday player. Cleveland and Kansas City had pursued him in free agency, and unlike the Phillies those clubs could offer opportunities in the DH spot. Still, Pérez sacrificed plate appearances for a spot with a contender.
“I know what my role will be with the Phillies, and I can prepare myself for doing it well,” he told the Inquirer. “I know I can still hit, and I’m beginning to learn how to adjust to pinch-hitting. I think I’ll do a really good job for the Phillies and help them win the pennant.
“I want very much to play in another World Series, and I have a good chance of being part of such a team in Philadelphia.”
“He’s just a helluva guy who adds a lot of class to our club,” said Philadelphia general manager Paul Owens. “And the thing was that we felt we needed more power off the bench. We got some guys who get us singles and lead off innings. But we wanted someone who could give us the long ball, and with Tony and Bill Robinson we’ll have a couple of guys like that.”
Owens’ vision wasn’t perfect. Robinson played in just 10 games in 1983 and went 1-for-7. But Pérez would appear in 91 games, entering 25 as a pinch-hitter and sharing time with Rose at first base. He hit .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and six home runs and still flashed his run-producing talent with 43 RBI.
The Phillies’ Cooperstown-bound talent extended beyond Morgan and Pérez, however. Third baseman Mike Schmidt hit 40 home runs with 109 RBI, while ace lefty Steve Carlton won 15 games and posted a 3.11 ERA.
Nicknamed the “Wheeze Kids” for their aging roster, the Phillies overcame a below-average offense by pitching with baseball’s best — their 3.34 team ERA ranked third in the sport behind the Dodgers and Rangers, while their 1,092 strikeouts ranked first.
And Pérez’s dream played out. Philadelphia won the National League East with a 90-72-1 record, then bested the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series to seize the pennant. A five-game World Series defeat versus Baltimore didn’t diminish those Phillies’ accomplishments in 1983.
Pérez would return to Cincinnati for three final seasons before retiring. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Justin Alpert is a digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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