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Man's Best Friend:

TONY PEREZ

         

They called him "Dog" or "Doggie."

   Not as in, "man, he's a real dog," or "man, he really dogs it."

    He was known as Dog as in, "man's best friend."

It not man's best friend, Tony Perez certainly was the Cincinnati Reds best friend during a standout career from 1965 through 1976.

 

Tony Perez was a popular favorite of the fans when he played in Cincinnati. An even-tempered, always-smiling big Cuban, Perez earned the fans' love with his ability to get runners home.

 

"If the game goes long enough," said Dave Bristol, the Reds manager from 1967 through 1969, "Tony Perez will find a way to win it." And many, many times he did. For 11 consecutive years he batted-in at least 90 runs each season, and in one nine-year

stretch he averaged 104 RBI. Much of that time he was batting behind Johnny Bench who led the National League three different times in RBI during the 1970s.

 

Perez was a genuine superstar when he played in Cincinnati, but for some unexplainable reason he ranked behind Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan. Perhaps Bench summed up Perez's demeanor and easy-going manner best when talking one day about the Reds publications which featured pictures of the top players.

 

"They've got me on the cover of the media guide," Bench said. "They've got Pete on the score book and Joe on the yearbook. And Tony ... he really doesn't care." 

 

While Bench, Morgan and Rose all competed for "ink" in their own ways, Perez sat back and watched. He said it never bothered him.

 

"It was tough in the beginning," Tony said. "But I didn't care. Rose is big, then Bench and Morgan. Am I jealous? No, it never hurt my feelings.

 

"Whatever the fans think, I never think of myself as fourth or as any number."

 

Asked once how he thought of himself, his answer was consistent with his stylish manner.

 

"Just happy to be part of baseball," Tony said. "And proud. Proud of my runs batted in. And because I think I do my job. It was never important to me to be number one."

 

While he may have played fourth fiddle in some respects, there was no doubt how his teammates felt about him.

 

"With a man in scoring position, and two out, whom would I want up there?" Rose asked himself. "Perez."

 

"More than anybody else on the team?" he was asked.

   "More than anybody else in baseball," Rose replied.

   "More than yourself?" "More than myself." Indeed, that is high praise. Tony Perez will long be remembered for many home runs and many runs batted in with the Reds, but the three home runs he hit during the 1975 World Series stand out in a big way.

 

    He went into Game No. 5 hitless in 15 times at the plate. But suddenly, the sure out in the middle of the Reds lineup blasted two big shots out of the park.

 

"He finally joined the people he belongs with," wrote Jim Murray, the nationally syndicated columnist from Los Angeles, "the Ruths, Gehrigs, Mantles, Berras ... "

 

Then in the seventh game he hit his biggest. The Reds had blown Game No.6 and, after a couple of innings of Game No.7, it looked like Boston would win the World Series.

 

But in the fifth inning with a man on base, Perez got the Reds back into contention. Down 3-0 at the time, Perez wasn't fooled by Bill Lee's bloop ball. Instead, he jumped all over it, rifling a shot over Fenway Park's Green Monster in left center field. The Reds were on the way back thanks to Perez, and they went on to win the game in the ninth inning.

 

After the 1976 World Series it was time for the Reds to make a decision. Danny Driessen, a young infielder, was challenging for a chance to play. By now Perez was 35 years old and the Reds couldn't guarantee him he would play regularly in 1977. So he gave his approval and the Reds traded Tony to the Montreal Expos. He had three good years there and then moved on to the Boston Red Sox.

 

When Perez returned to Cincinnati for the first time as a member of the Expos, he was given a five-minute standing ovation. There was no doubt for what his nickname stood.

  

 

         
       

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