Editor's Note: Read the related story about Carlton Fisk's career and induction into the Hall of Fame, click here.
They were a part of what many consider the best team of the second half of the 20th century. Their statistics weren't that much different and they both tried -- and failed -- to manage their clubs back to glory.
But ask a collector who is the more valuable member of the Cincinnati "Big Red" machine and the answer will inevitably be Pete Rose, not Tony Perez.
Yet, it will be Perez who will walk to the microphone and make an acceptance speech this summer as he is enshrined in Cooperstown at the baseball hall of fame. It will be a good bet Rose will again be next door, signing memorabilia and giving out autographs, just as he has done in recent summers during hall of fame weekend.
Of course, Rose is still banned from baseball for gambling on the Reds, an accusation he has denied more publicly in recent weeks. If the ban is lifted, it's expected that Rose would immediately be voted into Cooperstown.
It took Perez nine appearances on the ballot to finally win entry this week along with Carlton Fisk. It remains a mystery why it took so long.
Teammates Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan had little trouble getting elected on their first year of eligibility. Bench set the standard for modern day catchers; Morgan was a two-time MVP on those great Reds' teams of the 70's, and was considered the best second baseman of that decade. Another member of the Big Red machine, Sparky Anderson, is expected to be named to the hall later this winter by the Veterans Committee.
A Bench, Morgan or Rose baseball card, jersey or autograph, would command significantly higher bids than comparable Perez items, on any on-line auction or at any trade show, even though they all retired in the mid 1980's. That isn't likely to change much even with Perez' entry into Cooperstown. In a sense, Perez was the Rodney Dangerfield of those great Reds' teams, he just didn't get much respect.
Perez, who came up to the big leagues as a third baseman before shifting to first, filling the Reds' glaring need on the right side of the infield, didn't have the eye-catching statistics, the flair for publicity, nor was he good at making himself available for commercials and endorsements. Some suggest the Cuban native was even a recluse, especially when compared to players like Rose, Bench and Morgan, all of whom have appeared at more than their share of card and memorabilia shows.
A careful examination will find, however, that Perez was just as valuable a member of those great Reds' teams as were the two who are in the hall of fame and the third who has been lobbying to get in.
Just compare Perez' stats to Rose, both of whom broke into professional baseball in 1960. Despite impressive minor league stats, Perez didn't become a regular with the Reds until 1965 while Rose had already been a starter for three seasons by then. Perez was a durable competitor, playing 23 seasons, just one less than Rose. He amassed 379 homers, 219 more than Rose.
Okay, critics will say. Rose was a better singles and doubles hitter. Generally, he was a better hitter for average, but that's not what the Reds were paying Perez to do.Perez had 964 extra base hits, about 95 fewer than Rose. But Perez had 5,000 fewer at-bats, due mostly to some injuries that limited his post-Reds' career with the Expos, Red sox and Phillies.
There is no question that Rose, baseball's all-time hit leader, had a better on-base average than Perez and his lifetime batting average is .303 compared to .279 for Perez. That was Rose's job as a lead-off man; to get on base so players like Perez and Bench could drive him in. Driving them in was what Perez did best.
Perez, who drove in 1,652 runs (300 more than Rose), has to be considered the most consistent RBI performer of his generation. Perez drove in 90 or more runs 11 straight seasons. Many of those RBI's came in clutch situations with the game on the line in the late innings.
The RBI production carried over to the post-season. In six league championship series, including the Phillies pennant-winning season(again with Rose as a teammate), Perez knocked in 13 runs. In five World Series, he tacked on another 11 RBIs.
Only in all-star competition did Perez struggle, managing only one hit, a 15th inning homer in the 1967 all-star game, earning the win for the National League in extra innings. It was to be his only all-star RBI. Perez had but one other failure, when Marge Schott tabbed him to be manager of the Reds in the late 1980s. He didn't last through the all-star game in his first season. Rose followed, but couldn't translate his magic as a player in the managerial role either. Ofcourse, it takes more than a great manager to bring home the pennant in the business of baseball.
Perez was there to pick up the Reds on those occasions when Bench, Morgan or slugger George Foster went into a rare slump. He was slump proof as evidenced by the consistency of his RBI total.
Bench belonged in the hall of fame on the first try, as did Morgan. Had Rose not shot himself in the foot so many times with his off-the-field antics, he, too, would have been an obvious choice as a first-time hall of fame winner.
It's Possible that Perez didn't merit first ballot entry based on his career statistics in comparison to other first basemen who currently have their plaques in Cooperstown. At the same time, Perez shouldn't have had to wait this long. Nine years of ballot attempts is a rarity for a player to get into the hall -- usually the numbers start to drop off if a player hasn't earned the required 75 percent by the fourth or fifth year. Perez may have concluded that the Hall of Fame was not to be for him based on past trends.
Perez and his fans can breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate now that the injustice will finally be remedied in upstate New York this summer.
Here are a few examples of curent prices for Perez-related items that will surely increase in value with his HOF induction:
- Rookie Card: 1965 Topps in EX5: $25
- Rookie Card: 1965 Topps in NM7: $65
- Rookie Card: 1965 Topps in MT9: $275
- Autograph: Framed, with COA, $9