Pérez closes out stellar career with Reds

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Tony Pérez was on his way to Hall of Fame.

But at 43 years old, Pérez still had something to leave on the field before he ascended the induction stage in Cooperstown.

On Jan. 20, 1986, Pérez agreed to a one-year deal with the Reds worth a reported $300,000 – returning to Cincinnati for a third season, in his second stint with the team, a part-time first baseman and occasional pinch-hitter. In 1985, Pérez had defied time by hitting .328 in 72 games – the best batting average of his career.

So heading into the 1986 season, Pérez was taking it one year at a time.

“Money was not real important,” Pérez told the Cincinnati Enquirer about this contract. “I just want to play and to keep on playing.”

Pérez debuted with the Reds in 1964 and soon established himself as one of the game’s top clutch hitters.

A natural first baseman, Pérez moved to third base starting in 1967 to make room for the powerful Lee May. Together, they formed one of the most potent corner infield combinations in the game.

From 1967-75, Pérez averaged 27 homers, 104 RBI and 286 total bases while batting .288. The Reds won National League pennants in 1970, 1972 and 1975-76 – capturing the World Series title in each of the final two years.

In Game 7 of the 1975 Fall Classic, Pérez’s two-run home run in the sixth inning transformed a 3-0 Red Sox lead into a one-run game, and Cincinnati went on to win 4-3 to claim the Reds’ first title in 35 years.

Pérez was traded to the Expos following the 1976 season and signed with Boston as a free agent prior to the 1980 campaign. He continued to play regularly through his age-39 season with the Red Sox in 1981 before settling into a part-time role with Boston and then heading to Philadelphia and helping the Phillies win the 1983 National League pennant.

By the time Pérez returned to Cincinnati in 1984, his status as one of the best hitters of his era was secure.

“Two years ago, there was some talk about whether Tony would be back,” Reds general manager Bill Bergesch told the Enquirer. “You can’t talk about that any more.

“Tony had a tremendous season (in 1985). But his value is as a leader. The young players listen to him, even the old players. He’s a steadying influence.”

Bergesch also knew that Cooperstown was calling for Pérez. “Honestly, I think he is Hall of Fame material,” Bergesch said.

Pérez retired after the 1986 season with a .279 batting average, 379 home runs, 1,652 RBI and 2,732 hits. He was named to seven All-Star Games and led his teams to the Postseason six times, winning five NL pennants and two World Series rings.

Pérez was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. A native of Camaguey, Cuba, Pérez became the first major leaguer from the island nation elected to the Hall of Fame.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series