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

Tany Pérez

In the States, he is Tony Pérez; in the Caribbean, Tany Pérez. He was inducted into the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball Hall of Fame (1996); Caribbean Series Hall of Fame (1998); and, Cooperstown (2000). Part III ended with his clutch HR off Boston’s LHP Bill Lee, Game Seven, 1975 World Series. Part IV focuses on:

  • Tony’s 1976-79 NL seasons
  • 1979 Caribbean Series
  • 1976 World Series
  • MLB managing records in the 1970s—four key skippers in Tony’s career
  • 1978-80 seasons with Santurce
  • Eleven straight NL seasons with 90+ RBI.

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

1976 NL Season, NLCS and World Series

The 102-60 Cincinnati Reds won the National League West by 10 games over the Dodgers; 101-61 Phillies were nine up on Pittsburgh. Cincinnati swept the Phils, in the NLCS, defeating Steve Carlton, four-time NL Cy Young Award winner, Game One; and, Jim Lonborg, 1967 AL Cy Young recipient, Game Two. Carlton pitched two Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) seasons for 1965-67 Ponce in Lions, under Luis “Tite” Arroyo; Lonborg  hurled for 1970-71 San Juan Senators, managed by Roberto Clemente. Tony went 2-for-10 in the 1976 NLCS but drove in four.

Cincinnati’s 1976 squad was more dominant than 1975, with seven regulars, including Tony, as NL All-Stars. (César Gerónimo was left out; Tony and Ken Griffey Sr. were reserves.) Reds won seven straight post-season games, including a four-game World Series sweep of the Yankees. Sparky Anderson used 16 position players and 13 pitchers. Here are some Reds highlights:

  • Scored 857 runs, or 5.3/game
  • Had speed (210 SB) and power (141 HR)
  • Sported a .280 team batting AVG
  • Seven pitchers won 11-to-15 games.

Tony drove in 91—10th consecutive season with 90+ RBI. He drilled 19 HR, one a June 11 walk-off three-run HR against St. Louis’s Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky off St. Louis, an 8-7 win.

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

Part III mentioned Tony’s HR off Hrabosky in the 1973 Caribbean Series hosted by Caracas. He posted a .313 AVG against the Yankees, in the World Series, with two RBI. Cincinnati outscored New York, 22-8, with a .313 AVG, 22 runs (5.5/game), 2.00 team ERA. Pat Zachry, 1976 NL Rookie of the Year, and Game Three World Series winner, later said this to Peter Golenbock: “We beat the Yankees in four straight. It didn’t matter who the Yankees put out there. Everyone on our club had that same feeling—could have been guys in steel helmets carrying five-foot-long swords; we would have kicked their ass. It was something that seemed destined to be…” https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/pat-zachry/

Tony’s Trade to Montreal

Tany Pérez played three seasons with Montreal.

On December 16, 1976, Cincinnati traded Tony and LHP Will McEnaney to Montreal for LHP Woodie Fryman and RHP Dale Murray. Fryman won 13 for the 1976 Expos, who won 55 times; Murray saved 13. A younger Dan Driessen, with a lower salary,  played 1B for the 1977 Reds. Bob Howsam, then-Reds GM, later admitted: he had “good practical reasons” for making the trade but “would not make the deal if he had to do it over again.” https://www.mlb.com/news/what-if-tony-perez-was-not-traded/c-16309910  Tony was called “The Mayor of Riverfront” for his popularity. This trade “put an end” to the Big Red Machine. Tony had leadership skills that were not fully appreciated until the 1980s.

Dick Williams and 1977-79 Montreal Expos

Tony played three seasons for Dick Williams, who managed the 1967 Boston Red Sox to their first pennant in 21 years; 1971-73 Oakland A’s to three Division and two World Series crowns. Williams managed rookie RHP Paul Hartzell with 1976 California Angels. On June 16, 2021, Hatzell e-mailed the author with thoughts on veteran skippers he pitched for: “Dick [Williams], Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver wanted men who know how to play the game and who had the experience to do so under pressure. Some said Frank Robinson was hard to play for in Cleveland [1975-77] because he was so good himself that it was hard for him to understand how players could make simple mistakes; I’m not talking about errors—they happen because it’s still a game played by humans. I’m talking about not hitting the cutoff man, not backing up the right base, not throwing to the right base, etc.” Williams had coaches talk to younger guys because “he knew he was intimidating and the coaches would be less so.” Hartzell benefited from manager Jack McKeon’s wisdom, 1976-77 winter season, pitching for Santurce.

With 1977 Montreal, Tony had a .283 AVG, 19 HR and 91 RBI—11th straight NL season with 90+ RBI. The 75-87 Expos were fifth in the NL East. Per Jorge Colón Delgado, Tony hit .391 lifetime versus Woodie Fryman, and .346 against Nolan Ryan, Hartzell’s 1976-78 Angels teammate. The 1977 Expos primary line-up had three Cooperstown Hall of Famers: Tony, catcher Gary “Cholito” Carter and CF Andre Dawson. (Cholito was Carter’s Puerto Rico nickname with Caguas Criollos, 1973-75, when he enjoyed a seventh-inning stretch announcement jingle: Que to Parece Cholito.) Tony knew Expos 2B Dave Cash from 1970-71, when Cash played for San Juan.

The 1978 Expos (76-86) moved up to fourth in the NL East. Tony’s slash line was .290/.336/.449 with 14 HR and team-leading 78 RBI. Dick Williams’s eight regulars all played 144  or more games, from 3B Larry Parrish’s 144-to-LF Warren Cromartie’s 159! LHP Fryman returned to the Expos (via the Chicago Cubs), to become the team’s fifth starter.

In 1979, Montreal drew 2.1 million fans at home, fourth-best, NL. They went 95-65, in challenging eventual World Series Pittsburgh for the top spot, NL East. Dick Williams again put in a “set line-up” most of 1979. Tony, .270-13-73, played in 132 games and was spelled at times by 35-year old Rusty Staub and 32-year old Tony Solaita, ex-1976-77 teammate of Hartzell with Santurce. Bill “Spaceman” Lee (16-10, 3.04 ERA) was Montreal’s best starter—the same LHP whose “blooper pitch,” Game Seven, 1975 World Series, was crushed over the Green Monster by Tony, who had a positive influence on his teammates, including closer Elias Sosa, from the Dominican Republic (18 saves, 1.96 ERA).

Table I features MLB W-L records in 1970s of four managers Tony played for with Santurce (Earl Weaver and Frank Robinson); Cincinnati (Sparky Anderson); and, Montreal (Dick Williams). All four were inducted in Cooperstown.

Table I: 1970s MLB Managing Records, Tony Pérez’s Key Managers, PRWL and NL#

ManagerTeam(s)W-LPCTHighlights/Titles
Sparky AndersonCIN, DET919-636.591Five division titles, four pennants, two World Series wins
Frank RobinsonCLE186-189.496First African-American MGR, Majors (1975), pre-2020 ruling
Earl WeaverBALT944-656.590Five division titles, three pennants, one World Series win
Dick WilliamsOAK, CAL, MTL681-622.523Three division titles, two pennants, two World Series wins
Totals (1970s)AL and NL2,730-2,103.565Five of 10 World Series titles

#Weaver managed Tony, 1966-68, PRWL; Robinson did so, 1969-71, 72-73, 78-80. Tony had other PRWL managers, 1964-66 and 1982-83, and other AL/NL managers.

Sources:  https://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/robinfr02.shtml                 https://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/willidi02.shtml https://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/weaveea99.shtml

1978-79 Santurce Crabbers

Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson returned to Santurce’s helm, 1978-80, after a 1977-78 winter as player-manager in Mexico. Reinaldo “Poto” Paniagua was the new Santurce owner; Juan “Terín” Pizarro, the Crabbers pitching coach. Orlando Cepeda and Rubén Gómez had retired. Luis “Tite” Arroyo, who managed Ponce, 1966-67, Tony’s MVP season, was Mayagüez’s GM.

Various Imports left early, such as Gorman Thomas, a power hitter in the Brewers organization. Frank Robinson made good use of native players—1B Ismael Oquendo, OF Juan José Beníquez, OF Luis Delgado, LHP Rogelio “Roger” Moret, RHP Esteban Texidor, etc. Oquendo cracked two HR in the League All-Star Game [Natives Team], January 6, 1979, to become the third Santurce player to do so, including Josh Gibson: January 1, 1942—Game Two; and Roberto Clemente: December 12, 1954. Rob Ellis’s grand slam gave the Imports a 7-6 win, in the 1979 contest. Ellis was Santurce’s best regular-season imported batter.

Tony, age 36, suited up at season’s end, and hit a three-run homer versus Bayamón, which knocked them out of playoff contention. Santurce finished third in the league standings.

Table II: 1978-79 PRWL Standings

 TeamW-LPCTGB
Ponce Lions33-27.550
Mayagüez Indians32-28.5331
Santurce Crabbers31-29.5172
Caguas Criollos29-31.4834
Bayamón Cowboys28-32.4675
Arecibo Wolves27-33.4506

Source: The Santurce Crabbers (1999), T.E. Van Hyning.

In the semi-final series, Tony hit a long HR off Mayagüez RHP Jack Morris, a future Cooperstown Inductee, at the Tribe’s Isidoro García Stadium. It came on an 0-2 slider and cleared the LF scoreboard. “He [Morris] fooled me on two sliders and then I waited for it,” said Tony. “IF he throws another slider, I will hit one over the left-center scoreboard.” Jack Morris, via a video clip on Baseball Ahora. June 3, 2021, affirmed: “I got two strikes on him and he hits a 700-foot HR!”

Caguas, led by player-manager Félix Millán after Jim Davenport’s departure as manager, won the playoffs and advanced to the 1979 Caribbean Series at Bithorn Stadium. Caguas chose Tony and three hurlers (Larry Anderson and Tim Stoddard of Santurce; Mayagüez’s Sheldon Burnside) to reinforce them, a common practice for this event.

1979 Caribbean Series

Tony continued his torrid hitting: 11 hits in 24 AB, .458 AVG, third behind Jerry White of Magallanes Navigators and Mike Easler of Navojoa (Mexico). Tony’s Game Three RBI versus Águilas Cibaeñas helped Burnside win 3-0, on February 6, 1979. Magallanes (5-1) edged Águilas Cibaeñas (4-2) for first, followed by Caguas (2-4) and Navojoa (1-5). Caguas featured three Cruz brothers: José (Cheo), Héctor and Cirilo (Tommy), first time in series history that a trio of siblings represented the same country.

Tony was voted DH on the Series All-Star Team, along with LF Rickey Henderson of Navojoa. “That winter in Mexico, plus two seasons with Ponce [1979-1981] were helpful for my big-league career,” noted Henderson.

Table III: February 4-9, 1979 Caribbean Series All-Star Team

PlayerTeamPos
Baudilio DíazMagallanesC
Mitchell PageMagallanes1B
Rodney ScottMagallanes2B
Dave ColemanMagallanes3B
Nelson NormanÁguilas CibaeñasSS
Rickey HendersonNavojoaLF
Jerry WhiteMagallanesCF
Oswaldo OlivaresMagallanesRF
Mike NorrisMagallanesRHP
Sheldon BurnsideCaguasLHP
Manny SarmientoMagallanesRELIEVER
Willie HortonMagallanesMGR

In four Caribbean Series (1970, 1971, 1973 and 1979), Tony was 34-for-85, a .400 AVG, six doubles, three HR, 10 RBI and .576 SLG. He has the highest AVG in Caribbean Series history.

1979-80 Santurce Crabbers

Pedrin Zorrilla

Paniagua brought back Pedrin Zorrilla, the franchise’s first owner (1939-1956), as Executive VP. The Crabbers finished first, 36-24, thanks to Tony’s .365 AVG and .504 SLG in 115 AB. Roy White joined Santurce at the end of the regular season. The Crabbers had the league’s best pitching staff but were defeated by Bayamon, four games-to-one, in the finals. Vern Ruhle, the Cowboys pitcher, recalled Frank Robinson started sore-armed Wayne Garland, Game Five; then, brought in a lefty, in the second. Art Howe, Bayamón’s skipper, chose to “pinch-hit his RH hitters, in the second and third,” per Ruhle. Bayamón’s uniforms were patterned after the Houston Astros. They had Dickie Thon, Dave Bergman and Denny Walling, among others.

Freddie Thon Jr. recalled times when Tony used to jog on the beach with Dickie and Frankie Thon (sons of Freddie Jr.). It is amazing that Tony, who kept himself in good playing shape, never spent any time on the disabled list.

Table IV: 1979-80 PRWL Standings

 TeamW-LPCTGB
Santurce Crabbers36-24.600
Bayamon Cowboys33-26.5592.5
Mayagüez Indians29-31.4837
Arecibo Wolves28-32.4678
Ponce Lions27-33.4509
Caguas Criollos26-33.4419.5

Source: The Santurce Crabbers (1999), T.E. Van Hyning.

Special thanks to Tony Pérez; to Tony Piña Campora, for Tony’s Caribbean Series stats; Miguel Dupouy Gómez, July 2020 blog; Germán J. Rivas; Paul Hartzell, Rickey Henderson, Jack Morris, Frank Robinson, Vern Ruhle, Freddie Thon Jr., Pat Zachry and Jorge Colón Delgado, official historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.

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