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

In the States, he is Tony Pérez; in the Caribbean, Tany Pérez. He was inducted in the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996; Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 1998; and, Cooperstown, in 2000. Part II ended with the February 6-11, 1971 Caribbean Series, won by the Licey Tigers. Tony had a .429 AVG (6-for-14) in this series. Part III focuses on:

  • Tony’s 1972-73 Santurce season
  • 1973 Caribbean Series
  • 1972 and 1975 World Series
  • 1974-75 NL All-Star seasons
  • 1971-75 NL seasons with 90+ RBI
  • Becoming a U.S. Citizen in 1971.

Phil Cola’s  SABR bio of Tony, at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tony-perez/ has other details.

1971 NL Season and “The Trade”

Johnny Bench and Tony Pérez

Tony became a U.S. citizen in 1971, 11 years after leaving Cuba to play pro baseball in the U.S. minors. Joe Gibbon, LHP from Hickory, Mississippi, enjoyed “pitching to Johnny Bench; having Hall of Famer Tony Pérez as a teammate; and, pitching for Sparky Anderson,” whom he had pitched against, 1958 International League. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/joe-gibbon/ The Reds faltered at 79-83, tied for 4th with Houston, NL West, 11 games behind San Francisco. Tony, .269, 25 HR, 91 RBI, posted his fifth-straight season of 90+ RBI, en route to 11 straight.

At the Winter Meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, November 29, 1971, Cincinnati acquired Joe Morgan, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, César “The Chief” Gerónimo and Denis Menke from the Astros for Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart. Heavy criticism followed via [Cincinnati] Enquirer sports reporter Bob Hertzel, who wrote: “If the United States had traded Dwight Eisenhower to the Germans during World War II, it wouldn’t have been much different than sending (Lee) May and (Tommy) Helms to Houston.”  https://baseballhall.org/discover/inside-pitch/blockbuster-trade-sends-morgan-to-reds

Lee May played versus Tony in Puerto Rico, when San Juan faced Santurce. May led the Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) with 59 RBI, 1967-68, when Tony and Johnny Bench hit 20 doubles for Santurce and San Juan, respectively. May played LF for San Juan (1969-70); Ellis “Cot” Deal was his manager. “Tony and I were close, coming up through the Reds system,” said May. “In Puerto Rico, we were (San Juan-Santurce) rivals but friends. Tony and [also] Roberto Clemente—my San Juan teammate—invited me to their homes for meals…” May’s 39 HR and 98 RBI for 1971 Cincinnati made it appear that Houston got the better part.

1972 NL Pennant and Misses in 1973 and 1974

The “Big Red Machine” was an appropriate nickname for the 1972-to-1976 Reds. Morgan jump-started the 1972 club with 58 steals and a .417 OBP. Bench (.270, 40-125) was League MVP. Tony’s 21 HR and 90 RBI came in 136 games. Cincinnati bested Pittsburgh (three game-to-two)

in the NLCS but lost to Oakland, four games-to-three, in the World Series. Gene Tenace’s four HR and nine RBI single-handedly sunk Cincinnati. “That was special,” noted Tenace (by phone) to the author. “I played [1971-72] winter ball with Arecibo, due to my friendship with Cookie Mangual—who treated me to seafood meals and showed me around the Island.” Tenace  got beaned shortly after New Year’s Day and, a wealthy doctor in Arecibo, took good care of him, after leaving the hospital. Tenace gave credit to all countries [Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela] where he played winter ball.

Cincinnati was defeated by the New York Mets, three-games-to-two, 1973 NLCS. Tony’s .314 AVG, 27 HR and 101 RBI helped the Reds post a 99-63 record. Bench (.253, 25-104), Morgan (.290, 26-82, 67 SB), plus NL batting champ Pete Rose (.338) and 25-year old SS David Concepción (.287 and 22 SB in 89 games) were the nucleus of the Big Red Machine.

The 1974 Reds (98-64-1) trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers (102-60) in the NL West. Two Dodgers—3B Ron Cey and RF Willie Crawford—were Tony’s 1972-73 Santurce teammates. Dan Driessen emerged as a solid 3B; Ken Griffey Jr. and George Foster split time in RF. Morgan (58) and Concepción (41) combined for 99 SB. Tony’s AVG dipped to .265; yet he cracked 28 HR; drove in 101; and, was a NL All-Star. Bench (.280-33-129) produced. LF Pete Rose had an off-year (.284).

1972-73 Santurce Crabbers

Tony’s .284 AVG—season’s last month—was in 26 games for manager Frank Robinson, who played for the 1972 Dodgers. Thus, Cey and Crawford reinforced Santurce, unusual, since most Dodgers prospects, then, played with Licey in the Dominican Republic (LIDOM), managed by Tommy Lasorda. Santurce (45-25) won the PRWL pennant by seven games over Caguas, led by Crabbers SS Juan José Beníquez’s .338 AVG (second-best after Arecibo’s Rich Coggins’s .352); Don Baylor, Cey, Crawford, Jerry DaVanon, etc. Cey was called “The Penguin” (El Pinguino) by Santurce fans. He produced .298 AVG, 7 HR and 43 RBI. Crawford (41) and DaVanon (39) were fourth-and-fifth in runs scored. Baylor and DaVanon stole 14 bases apiece, to tie Ponce’s José “Cheo” Cruz, for third, behind Arecibo’s José “Pepe” Mangual (17) and Rich Coggins (15).

DaVanon recalled the fans were great and most fun when Santurce played San Juan (Santurce won nine of 14) before full houses at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. “We had a great team that could score a lot of runs,” said DaVanon. “When you win, not too many things go wrong.” DaVanon, his wife, and daughter lived in an Isla Verde condo next to the ocean; it had a pool and tennis court. (Most league Imports lived in Isla Verde, Condado section of Santurce, where Tony lived; or, Dorado, except for Mayagüez and Ponce Imports.)

The Crabbers pitching staff was anchored by 10-game winner (23, in a 162-game season) LHP Juan “Terín” Pizarro. RHP Doyle Alexander’s 2.17 ERA was fourth-best, behind San Juan’s Brent Strom (1.65); Ponce’s Chris Zachary (2.00) and Caguas’s Fred Beene (2.09). Alexander was part of the Orioles-Dodgers trade which sent Frank Robinson to the Dodgers. Mike Strahler and Rogelio “Roger” Moret rounded out Santurce’s starters. Lloyd Allen was later inserted in the rotation. The bullpen quartet was Ramón “Mon” Hernández, Bob Reynolds, Dave Leonhard and Rubén Gómez.

Santurce’s march to the 1973 Caribbean Series was tempered by the passing of Roberto Clemente, in a December 31, 1972 plane crash. Pre-game ceremonies at the January 6, 1973 league All-Star Game were conducted in Clemente’s memory. Caguas’s Mike Schmidt was  MVP with three RBI in the 4-2 Imports’ win, versus the Natives. The Crabbers’ ninth title came before a packed house of 20,473 fans at Bithorn. Winning pitcher Lloyd Allen squeezed home Cey with Santurce’s second and decisive run, in their 8-1 win over Ponce, Game Six. Cey drove in the first fun with a second-inning single. Crawford’s two-run HR in the third and Tony’s two-run double in the fourth sent Zachary to the showers. Alexander pitched 19 final series innings without allowing an earned run, with one win. Pizarro hurled a SHO; Moret got a win, too.

1973 Caribbean Series

The Crabbers, with reinforcements Cheo Cruz and Fernando González, flew to Caracas for the February 1-6, 1973 Caribbean Series, dedicated to Roberto Clemente, Tony’s third one. He homered off Mexico’s Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky, pitching for Yaquis de Obregón, Santurce’s second game (February 2), a 3-2 win, post-Crabbers opening night loss to Licey, 8-2, managed by Lasorda. Licey (5-1) won it over Santurce (3-3), Caracas (3-3), and Obregón (1-5). Veteran Elrod Hendricks caught for Santurce; Julio Gotay was a utility IF.

Licey had five players voted to the Series All-Star Team: Steve Yeager-C, Steve Garvey (3B), Bobby Valentine (SS), Jesús Alou (LF) and Manny Mota (CF). Lasorda was named All-Star manager. RHP Diego Seguí, with Caracas, and LHP Pizarro were All-Stars. Tony went six-for-17 (.353) AVG, but outvoted by Caracas 1B Gonzalo Márquez. Gustavo Gil (2B) and César Tovar (RF) were Caracas All-Stars. Seguí blanked Santurce, 2-0, on February 3, with 15 strikeouts—devastating blow to Crabbers chances.

“That [1972-73] Santurce team was a big-league line-up,” said Seguí. “They had Tony Pérez, Willie Crawford, Ron Cey…would have struck out more if I knew I had 15. I also struck out Garvey and one other Licey hitter, in relief.” Seguí still holds most strikeouts for at least nine innings pitched in a single Caribbean Series, per nine IP: 15.82; followed by Pizarro: 15.66, 1958 Caribbean Series.  https://beisbol101.com/diego-segui-oakland-as-to-seattle-pilots-oakland-st-louis-and-caracas-lions-part-ii/

Lasorda called Licey “a great ballclub and a good experience for me,” adding “I enjoyed working with our owner, Monchín Pichardo.”

Cey remembered this about Lasorda and that Caribbean Series: “Tom Lasorda would talk to me the whole game while I was playing 3B. He was coaching from the 3B coaching box telling jokes and trying to distract me the entire game. We had a good laugh.”

Frank Robinson was not laughing. In 1993, he expressed his disappointment, to the author, during a conversation in his Camden Yards office. Santurce had the talent to win with Tony, Baylor, Cey, Cheo Cruz and Cookie Mangual—who played on great Oakland A’s teams, 1971-75. Robinson smiled when the author reminded him that two Caribbean Series trips in his first four seasons as Santurce’s manager were something to be proud of.

In three Caribbean Series (1970, 1971 and 1973), Tony was 23-for-61, a .377 AVG, five doubles, three HR, nine RBI and .607 SLG, pending 1979.

1975 World Series

Tony Pérez, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose.

Eight 1975 Cincinnati regulars played 132+ games, with 3B Rose (.317 AVG) in 162. Bench edged Tony—who batted .282 and hit 20 HR—in RBI, 110-109. Morgan was NL MVP with a .327 AVG and .466 OBP. He (67) and Concepción (33) stole 100. Foster (.300) and Griffey Sr. (.305) gave the Reds four .300 regulars. Six primary starters won 10-15 games. Tony hit .417 with a HR and five RBI in their NLCS sweep of Pittsburgh, including a first-inning two-run HR off LHP Jim Rooker, Game Two, a 6-1 win. Tony faced Rooker when Santurce bested Caguas, four games-to-three, 1970-71 PRWL finals. He had good recall regarding opposing pitchers.

Tony opined, June 3, 2021, with Raúl Ramos and Jorge Colón Delgado, on Baseball Ahora: our “Big Red Machine” had speed, power and defense, [but] Sparky did not want to manage 20-24 players; he knew how to handle a pitching staff…and wanted to win.” Sparky called Tony “Mr. Clutch,” for opportune hitting. The best blog the author read on Tony Pérez was Miguel Dupouy Gómez’s one:

http://beisbolinmortal.blogspot.com/2020/07/tany-perez-un-bateador-decisivo-y.html 

Game Seven, 1975 Fall Classic, took place at Fenway, October 22. Boston led 3-0 in the sixth, when Tony faced LHP Bill Lee, who pitched in Puerto Rico (1970-71 Mayagüez). With Bench on second with two outs, Tony crushed a “blooper pitch” over the Green Monster. Home plate ump Art Frantz had worked in the PRWL 1966-67 season, when Tony was League MVP. The Reds won, 4-3, for their first World Series title, in 35 years. Tony’s five series hits included three HR and seven RBI. Seven of nine Reds in the starting line-up had played Caribbean winter ball.

Table I: Cincinnati Line-up, Game Seven, 1975 World Series, October 22, 1975, Fenway Park

CINCINNATIPOSWINTER BALL EXPERIENCE: LEAGUE-TEAM-SEASONS
Pete Rose3BVZA-Caracas Lions, 1964-65
Joe Morgan2BNone
Johnny BenchCPRWL-San Juan Senators, 1967-68
Tony Pérez1BPRWL-Santurce Crabbers,1964-68; 69-71; 72-73; 78-80; 82-83
George FosterLFLIDOM-Águilas Cibaeñas, 1972-73; Estrellas Orientales, 73-75
David ConcepciónSSVZA-Aragua Tigers, 1967-68-1989-90; Lara Cardinals, 70-71 finals
Ken Griffey Sr.RFPRW-Bayamón Cowboys, 1974-77
César GerónimoCFLIDOM-Licey Tigers, 1967-68 to 1984-85
Don GullettStarterNone
Merv RettenmundPHVZA-LaGuaira Sharks, 1967-69; Magallanes Navigators, 1974-75; PRWL-Santurce Crabbers, 1969-70
Ed ArmbristerPHLIDOM-Estrellas Orientales, 1973-75
Dan DriessenPHPRWL-Bayamón Cowboys, 1974-77
Jack BillinghamRelieverLIDOM-Escogido Lions, 1967-68
Clay CarrollRelieverLIDOM-Estrellas Orientals, 1964-65
Will McEnaneyRelieverNone

Sources: http://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/temporadas.php https://en.winterballdata.com/

https://beisbol101.com/indice-de-jugadores/ https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS197510220.shtml

Special thanks to Tony Pérez; to Tony Piña Campora, for Tony’s Caribbean Series stats; Miguel Dupouy Gómez, July 2020 blog; Germán J. Rivas; Ron Cey, Jerry DaVanon, Joe Gibbon, Tommy Lasorda, Lee May, Frank Robinson, Diego Seguí, Gene Tenace and Jorge Colón Delgado, official historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.

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