The most overrated player in Cincinnati Reds history is also one of the most adorned and beloved
By Scott Boyken
There is no debate. Tony Perez was a very good player throughout his illustrious 23-year playing career with 16 of those seasons donning a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
What is also not open to debate is that Perez benefitted greatly and has been handsomely rewarded following his playing days due to being a member of the Big Red Machine. As far as Reds greats are concerned, the Big Doggie is the most overrated.
Granted, his name litters the Reds history books. He's a member of both the Reds Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall in Cooperstown. Additionally, his number 24 adorns the Great American Ball Park facade, while his statue sits outside GABP. However, the numbers reveal that Perez was more of a compiler as opposed to being one of the greats of all time.
Reds legend Tony Perez benefited greatly from being part of the Big Red Machine.
Yes, the Cuba native drove in a ton of runs while hitting in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup; 1,192 as a member of the Reds to be exact. Nevertheless, we know RBIs are a flawed category based much more on opportunity rather than being "clutch."
And did Perez ever have plenty of opportunities. Let's look at the 1970 season when the seven-time All-Star drove in a career-high 129 runners and finished a career-best third in the MVP voting. The Big Doggie certainly did his part slashing .317/.401/.589. However, the two guys in front of him at the top of the order, Pete Rose and Bobby Tolan, each produced OBPs of .385 and .384 respectively.
That's not to mention when the Big Red Machine truly hit their stride with the likes of Rose, Ken Griffey, and Joe Morgan reaching base at a dizzying pace. As a matter of fact, Morgan led the National League in on-base percentage in four of the five seasons he and Perez were teammates including a ridiculous .466 OBP in 1975. How could you not drive in runs?
Was Reds Hall of Famer Tony Perez truly a clutch hitter?
Revisionist history suggests Perez was a great "clutch" hitter. Unfortunately, the numbers don't support that argument. True, he did hit perhaps the most significant home run in Cincinnati Reds history in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series to draw the Reds within a run of the Boston Red Sox before Cincinnati grabbed the lead for good in the ninth inning, but it was one of his few October highlights.
In 11 postseason series throughout his career, the Biggie Dog was more bark than bite slashing an underwhelming .238/.291/.378 in 172 October at-bats. However, the strongest argument Reds Country will make about Perez is that his trade to the Montreal Expos following the 1976 World Series Championship season precipitated the fall of the Big Red Machine. Again, this is simply not true.
Perez was dead last among the "Great Eight" with a 3.1bWAR during the 1975 campaign and repeated that dubious distinction with a 2.6 mark in 1976. The Reds dynasty crumbled because Joe Morgan stopped playing at an MVP level, and the team's ERA rose from a solid 3.51 in the bicentennial year to a below-average 4.21 in 1977, ranking 10th among the dozen senior circuit staffs. Let's face it, Tony Perez isn't fixing those issues.
Speaking of bWAR, the two-time World Series champ places 166th all-time just ahead of very good, but not great, former Los Angeles Dodger and Chicago Cub third baseman Ron Cey. Many of his contemporaries produced much higher bWAR totals without being enshrined in Cooperstown. The list includes Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Dwight Evans, and current Reds manager David Bell's father, Buddy.
Is Tony Perez a Cincinnati Reds legend? Obviously. Is Tony Perez entering Cooperstown if he played for the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, or any other middling team during his era? Of course not. Let's be honest about the player he was, and that's a very good player who has benefitted immensely by playing for one of the best teams to ever take the field.