Atanasio “Tony” Pérez: A .400 Caribbean Series Career Batting Average (Part I)

Tany Pérez

In the States, he is Tony Pérez; in the Caribbean, Tany Pérez. He was inducted in the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 1998, featuring the best-ever .400 career batting average in this event’s history, two years before becoming a 2000 Cooperstown Inductee. On June 3, 2021, Tony Pérez conversed with Raúl Ramos and Jorge Colón Delgado, on Baseball Entre Amigos (Baseball Among Friends). He was “OK with either nickname,” affirming: “Tony [Stateside] was more common and a masculine-sounding name.” It is Tony in this blog.

The author became a fan of Tony, 1964-65 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) season,  age 10, when he witnessed his walk-off HR for the Santurce Crabbers, off Arecibo LHP Mike Cuéllar, at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.  Clutch hits were Tony’s trademark in a 10-year PRWL career; 23 MLB seasons; U.S. minors; four Caribbean Series; 1975 World Series, for the “Big Red Machine.” Part I covers Tony’s first four seasons with Santurce (1964-68); his game-winning HR off Jim “Catfish” Hunter in the July 11, 1967 MLB All-Star Game; and minor-league summary.

Tony was born in Ciego de Avila, Camaguey Province, Cuba, May 14, 1942, but never played professionally in his home country. By the mid-1960s, he made Puerto Rico his home, before relocating to Miami, Florida. Eduardo, one of Tony’s two sons, graduated from Robinson School—author’s Alma Mater—in 1987. (Eduardo is Robinson’s only graduate to play MLB.) Víctor, his other son, played for the Reds’ Billings farm club, 1990 Pioneer League, per Phil Cola, who authored Tony’s SABR bio: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tony-perez/ Tony Pacheco signed Tony for Cincinnati, in 1960, due to the connection between the Reds and Havana Sugar Kings, owned by Bobby Maduro. Tony cut sugar cane, age 14-18, at Central Violeta, where his father worked for many years.

Table I: Tony Pérez Hitting Stats, Minor Leagues, 1960-64

SeasonLeagueGABRH2B3BHRRBIKBBAVGSLG
1960^NY-Penn104384821072146436845.279.401
1961^NY-Penn121460110160327271328661.348.624
1962>Carolina1003847211220818746168.292.526
1963<SAL-PCL77285489022412536029.309.535
1964&PCL124479961482083410710245.309.597
TotalsMinors52619924086171153197409377245.310.545

Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=perez-001ata; ^Geneva Reds, Class D; >Rocky Mount Leafs, Class B; <Macon Peaches, South Atlantic League, AA; and San Diego Padres, Pacific Coast League (PCL), AAA; &San Diego Padres, AAA, PCL.

Santurce Crabbers (1964-67)

Preston Gómez, a native of Cuba, was Tony’s first manager with Santurce, 1964-65, except for two weeks, when IF/OF Joe Morgan (future Red Sox manager) became interim manager. Santurce (41-28) finished first and won both playoff series: four games-to-two, semi-finals, versus San Juan; and, four more wins against Mayagüez, in a six-game finals. Tony’s series-winning HR versus arch-rival San Juan, off Bob Priddy, January 26, 1965, 10th inning, was a three-run blast. Priddy and other San Juan/Santurce players stayed at Bithorn for two hours to discuss the game. Priddy—summoned into Game Six by player-manager Roberto Clemente—told Clemente he “only had two good innings left” after pitching seven frames two days earlier. Marv Staehle, Santurce’s 2B, asked Tany if he had tried to hit a homer.

“No, man, I was just trying to meet the ball,” said Tony. “I knew Priddy had to come in with a fastball.” Priddy agreed, stating that his curve wasn’t breaking and he didn’t want to risk the slider, so he shook off catcher Jerry McNertney. Duke Carmel, San Juan CF, joked he would have caught Tany’s HR if he hadn’t run out of room. Tany noted there wasn’t any wind blowing in, as often happened at Bithorn. Carmel put it best: “We gave you guys [Santurce] a battle. All the games were close and the fans couldn’t ask for more.” This decisive three-run HR by Tony, at age 22, in a competitive league, was a harbinger of greater things to come. Arturo López, an OF with the 1964-65 Caguas Criollos, knew Tony “rather well in Puerto Rico,” noting: “He was

considered a dangerous hitter and a [Orlando] Peruchín Cepeda wanna-be. He appeared to copy Peruchín’s closed stance and follow-through in hitting. If you were to compare them (on film), both of their swings, you may have a difficult time ascertaining who was whom.”

Orlando Cepeda, injured early in the 1964-65 season, with Santurce, became a lifetime friend. “You could tell Tany was going to have one heck of a big-league career after he helped us [Santurce] win the 1964-65 league title. We both hit the same number of major-league homers [379],” said Cepeda.

A 1965-66 last-place finish (29-41 under skipper Luis R. Olmo) featured Tony’s club-leading nine HR and 38 RBI, and placement as the League’s All-Star 1B. The Crabbers went 45-26 in 1966-67, with Earl Weaver at the helm, one game behind first-place Ponce. Santurce bested the Lions, four games to two, in the finals, after sweeping Arecibo, in the semis. Tony copped League MVP honors as the League’s All-Star 3B; batting champ (.333 AVG) and RBI king (63). His nine HR trailed Ponce’s Dick Simpson (12), San Juan’s Reggie Smith (11) and Ponce’s Roger Repoz (10). Tony’s 18 doubles led the league; ditto for .536 SLG. He tied Repoz for the lead with four triples. Santurce posted a league-leading 1.93 ERA and .244 AVG, a pitcher’s league. Santurce’s “Magnificent Seven” pitchers were:

  • Juan “Terín” Pizarro, 12-3, 2.08 ERA
  • Dick Hughes, 11-2, 1.79 ERA
  • Darrell Osteen, 5-7, 1.83 ERA
  • Rubén Gómez, 6-7, 2.11 ERA
  • Ted Davidson, 7-3, 1.72 ERA
  • William de Jesús, 2-4, 1.76 ERA
  • José “Kindo” Geigel, 2-0, 2.45 ERA

LHP Davidson was “recruited to pitch for Santurce” by Tony, his 1966 Reds teammate. Davidson gave Santurce an edge based on his 1964-65 winter experience as a teammate of Pete Rose with the Caracas Lions. Tony was aware that Davidson had pitched for Licey in the Dominican Republic (LIDOM), and had started a contest against Escogido’s Juan Marichal. Per Davidson, “Hiram Cuevas [Santurce owner] was making his annual swing to the States and was going to be in Cincinnati after Tony asked me if I wanted to go down there [to Puerto Rico]…”

Table II: Tony Pérez Hitting Stats, Santurce Crabbers, 1964-68

SeasonGABRH2B3BHRRBIKBBAVGSLG
1964-656926437711247325625.269.424
1965-667124940711249384324.285.474
1966-67!7126143871849633122.333.536
1967-686825738792037532520.307.490
Total279103115830862153218615591.299.481

Source: https://beisbol101.com/atanasio-tany-perez/ !Led league in AVG, RBI, hits, doubles and triples—only league player to accomplish this in a single-season.

Table III: League MVP Seasons for Santurce Crabbers Players

Player-PositionSeasonHighlights
Luis R. Olmo OF#1942-43Four HR and 11 doubles led league; .299 AVG (5th).
Willard Brown OF##1947-48Triple Crown: .432 AVG, 27 HR,  86 RBI (60-game season).
Willard Brown OF1949-50Triple Crown: .354 AVG, 16 HR, 97 RBI (80-game season).
Bob Thurman OF-P1950-513rd: AVG (.362), HR (13), RBI (66); 1st hits (112), doubles (22).
Rubén Gómez P1951-52Most wins (14). 25 G, 14-7, 175.1 IP, 107 K, 3 SHO, 2.78 ERA.
Sam Jones P1951-52Pitching Triple Crown: 14-4, 168 K, 1.77 ERA.
Orlando Cepeda 1B1958-59Batting champ (.362); 3rd HR (11 tie); 2nd RBI (46); most doubles (15); 3rd SB (11-tie).
Orlando Cepeda 1B-OF1961-62Most HR (19) and RBI (53 tie); 19 HR most by a Santurce Native (Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands born or bred) player.
Tony Pérez 1B-3B1966-67League-leading .333 AVG and 63 RBI. Most hits (87), doubles (18), triples (4-tie).
Elrod Hendricks C1968-69Second in runs (44), HR (12) and RBI (35).
Rogelio “Roger” Moret1971-72Most wins (14): 14-1, .933 PCT, and 89 K; 2nd in ERA (1.81).
Jerry Willard C1983-84Most HR (18), runs (51), RBI (48); 4th .338 AVG; 201 AB. Most HR by Santurce catcher. 2nd: Josh Gibson (13), 1941-42, 123 AB.
Juan “Igor” González OF1992-93Led league with 7 HR, 66 AB; one HR per 9.43 AB.

Source: https://beisbol101.com/lideres-por-temporada/  #Co-MVP was “Pancho” Coímbre, Ponce. Josh Gibson (1941-42): one HR per 9.46 AB; ##Willard Brown (1947-48), one/8.67 AB.

May 15, 1967 Cincinnati-Pittsburgh Game and July 11, 1967 MLB All-Star Game

Tony recalled his 10th inning, game-winning, two-run double off Terín Pizarro, May 15, 1967. “Terín was a special friend for many years. Roberto [Clemente] drove in all of Pittsburgh’s runs.” Clemente clubbed three HR, two off Milt Pappas and one off Gerry Arrigo. Darrell Osteen pitched in relief for Cincinnati; Pizarro—his Santurce teammate—did likewise for Pittsburgh.

https://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=196705150CN5

Tony’s 15th inning, game-winning HR off Jim “Catfish” Hunter, for the NL, July 11, 1967 MLB All-Star Game still resonates much more. It was the game-winner in a 2-1 NL win. And Tony’s 1967 NL season with 26 HR and 102 RBI was his first of 11 straight NL campaigns with 90+ RBI. When he took the 3B position for the 15th frame, Cepeda was at 1B; the NL OF was Hank Aaron (LF), Willie Mays (CF) and Clemente (RF). Rookie Tom Seaver got the save. The NL All-Stars had players with more Caribbean League experience.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/allstar/1967-allstar-game.shtml

Table IV: Winter-Summer League Teams of 1967 MLB All-Star Game Participants

ALPositionSeasonsTeam(s)
Tommie AgeeOFPRWL, 1963-65Ponce Lions
Ken BerryOFVenezuela, 1966-67Magallanes Navigators
Rod Carew2BVenezuela, 1971-73Aragua Tigers
Jim FregosiSSPRWL, 1969-70Ponce Lions MGR
Joel HorlenPPRWL, 1961-62Mayagüez Indians
  1963-64San Juan Senators
Jim “Catfish” HunterPVenezuela, 1965-66Caracas Lions
Tony OlivaOFPRWL, 1963-64Arecibo Wolves
Gary PetersPLiga Occidental, 1960-61Rapiños
  PRWL, 1962-63Ponce/Mayagüez Indians
Brooks Robinson3BColombia, 1955-56Willard Blues
  Cuba, 1957-58Cienfuegos Elephants
    
NLPositionSeasonsTeam(s)
Hank AaronOFPRWL, 1953-54Caguas Criollos
Gene AlleySSPRWL, 1964-65San Juan Senators
Orlando Cepeda1BPRWL, 1955-62, 63-65,Santurce Crabbers
  1966-68, 1971-72, 74-75 
Roberto ClementeOFPRWL, 1952-56Santurce Crabbers
  1956-58Caguas Criollos
  1959-62, 64-66, 67-68, 69-71San Juan Senators
Mike CuéllarPNicaragua, 1956NA
  Cuba, 1957-59, 1960-61Almendares Scorpions
  Venezuela, 1961-62Valencia and Oriente
  Mexican League, 1962Monterrey Sultanas
  PRWL, 1963-66;Arecibo Wolves
  1966-67 and 1969-72;San Juan Senators
  1973-74Santurce Crabbers
  1976-77Caguas Criollos
  1979-83Bayamón Cowboys
  Mexican League, 1979Coatzacoalcos Azules
Bob GibsonPLIDOM, 1958-59Licey Tigers
  Venezuela, 1960-61Oriente and Valencia
  PRWL, 1961-62Santurce Crabbers
Tommy Helms2BVenezuela, 1964-66Magallanes Navigators
Ferguson JenkinsPNicaragua, 1962-64Boer Indians
  PRWL, 1964-66Caguas Criollos
Juan MarichalPLIDOM, 1957-60, 63-65, 67-68, 1973-74Escogido Lions
Willie MaysOFPRWL, 1954-55Santurce Crabbers
Bill Mazeroski2BLIDOM, 1955-57Águilas Cibaeñas
Tony Pérez3BPRWL, 1964-68, 1969-71, 72-73, 78-80, 82-83Santurce Crabbers
Pete RosePH-2BVenezuela, 1964-65Caracas Lions
Jim WynnOFPRWL, 1963-64San Juan Senators
  Venezuela, 1964-66LaGuaira Sharks

Caveat: May not be a complete list.

Santurce Crabbers (1967-68)

Earl Weaver managed Tony, 1966-68; Crabbers were a combined 92-48, .657. “I got along with Earl,” stated Tony. “There was a respect factor between us.” It was mutual. Weaver mentioned—to the author—that “Hiram Cuevas put together good teams” and he [Weaver] got to manage talented big-leaguers, including Cepeda, Tany, Paul Blair, Larry Haney… Santurce lost their 1967-68 final series to Caguas, in six games, after a 47-22 regular season. Tony’s 20 doubles tied him for the league lead with San Juan’s Johnny Bench.

Special thanks to Tony Pérez, Orlando Cepeda, Ted Davidson, Arturo López, Bob Priddy, Marv Staehle, Earl Weaver, and Jorge Colón Delgado, official historian, Roberto Clemente Baseball League.

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