Overrated or underrated: Cincinnati Reds legend Tony Perez

CINCINNATI, OH - CIRCA 1975: First Baseman Tony Perez #24 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - CIRCA 1975: First Baseman Tony Perez #24 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

He’s a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame as well as the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but do all the accolades truly represent the career of the Big Doggie Tony Perez?

To a man, the members of the Big Red Machine will attest to the importance of Tony Perez to the team’s success. Characterized as the glue that held a clubhouse of combustible egos in check, it should be noted the Big Red Machine era Reds did not capture another World Series title after the Cincinnati Reds first baseman was traded on December 16,1976 to the Montreal Expos.

Perez one of the most celebrated players in franchise history. Not only is he enshrined in both the Reds and National Baseball Hall of Fame, his No. 24 has been retired by the club and his statue prominently graces the entry to Great American Ball Park. While it’s impossible to measure his intangibles, we can take a look a the numbers to determine how important Perez was on the field.

During the 1970s, four different Reds won the NL MVP trophy. In fact, Reds’ players took home the coveted hardware in six different seasons throughout the decade. However, Perez was never the beneficiary of the award. As a matter of fact, the Big Doggie never ranked higher than his third-place finish following the 1970 season.

What Tony Perez could do is drive in runs by the bunches. Throughout the 1970s, his 954 RBIs trailed only the 1,013 knocked in by teammate Johnny Bench in the National League. Even more impressive is the fact Perez led the senior circuit in RBIs during a decade stretch from 1967-1976 when he drove 1,028 runners across home plate. To call Perez an “RBI man” is a vast understatement.

Obviously, sabermetrics has made many baseball fans reevaluate, not only today’s players but those of the past as well. Let’s talk WAR. More specifically, WAR according to Fangraphs. During Perez’s decade-long peak from 1967-76, he accumulated 48.3 fWAR, which is good enough for fourth among all NL players. Who were the three players in front of him you ask? Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. That’s how dominating the Big Red Machine was.

If you take a look at his first base contemporaries of the 1970s in the NL, only Pittsburgh’s Hall of Famer Willie Stargell hit more home runs or accumulated a higher fWAR. As a result, Stargell was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1988 and deservedly so. It would lead one to believe that Perez’s name would be called to Cooperstown in the not too distant future.

However, that was not the case. For a player who smacked 379 homers and drove in more than 1,600 runs while playing an integral role on back-to-back World Series title teams, it wasn’t until Tony Perez’s ninth year on the Hall of Fame ballot before he was finally elected to take his rightful place among the game’s best during the summer of 2000 in Cooperstown.

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Even though his mantle may not be filled with the hardware collected by his teammates, Tony Perez has proven to be not only one of the best players in Cincinnati Reds franchise history, but simply one of the best to ever play the game.

Verdict:  Underrated