Sunday, July 22, 2001
Perez same as ever, and he's winning
By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MIAMI For 31 seasons, Tony Perez held his tongue. Whenever he disputed an umpire's decision, he did so delicately.
If a dubious strike was called against him, he reasoned he still had another one coming. If it was a second strike, he resolved not to leave the issue to chance.
I didn't strike out a lot, the Hall of Fame slugger said. But I struck out swinging.
Perez suited up for more than 3,800 major-league games before he finally was ejected from a game, Wednesday night in New York, for arguing a call with an umpire. He never saw the advantage in watching the game from the club house. Still doesn't.
I don't want to watch the game on TV, the manager of the Florida Marlins said. I used to watch the games when Sparky (Anderson) ran for me, and I never liked it.
His one ejection notwithstanding, managing the Marlins has not changed Perez's personality. It has only influenced perceptions of him. He is still the same dignified presence who gave the Big Red Machine its ballast. But now his leadership skills carry statistical proof.
Eight years after his abrupt firing by the Reds, Perez will return to Cinergy Field Friday night in triumph.
The Marlins were 22-26 when Perez replaced John Boles May 28. Their subsequent reversal of fortunes has moved them over .500 and into playoff contention. Perez was 28-21 after Friday's 5-3 victory over the Reds. He already has held this job longer than his 44-game tenure in Cincinnati and swiftly has established himself as a leading contender for National League Manager of the Year.
He's been an inspiration to us, All-Star outfielder Cliff Floyd said after Friday's 5-3 victory over the Reds. Just him being a Hall of Famer makes us want to go out and play 100 percent for the guy. We just feed off of him.
Hired initially on an interim basis, Perez has stayed on through popular demand and the improved performance of his players. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of his induction into Baseball's Hall of Fame, Perez soon may be in line for another form of vindication: a long-term contract.
I'm more comfortable managing now, he said. I think I'm more prepared to manage. ... The first day I took the job, they asked me if I'm going to stay next year. I said, "I don't know.' Now I like it. I might want to stay.
To Reds coach Ron Oester, who resigned in protest when Perez was fired in 1993, the Marlins' surge was predictable. Oester says players were bound to respond to Perez's honesty, his knowledge of baseball and his ability to deal with people.
No one's happier than me, Oester said of Perez's success. I thought at the time that it wasn't right what happened to him (in 1993), and I still think it wasn't right. I'm so happy to see him get in a situation where he's managing again and people appreciate him.
He's the only person I never heard get booed in Cincinnati. I heard Johnny Bench booed there, Pete Rose booed there. That tells you something right there.
Watching Perez manage Friday night was revealing, too. His frequent moves to the bullpen and his willingness to abandon conventional strategy were reminiscent of Sparky Anderson.
With two on, two outs and a two-run lead in the seventh inning, Perez ordered an intentional walk of Reds rookie Adam Dunn a hunch move that violat ed the baseball commandment never to put the winning run on base. But it worked. The Elias Sports Bureau could not identify the last time a player had been walked intentionally in his first major-league game, much less while representing the go-ahead run.
The one thing I told the guys the first day I took the job was that I will do anything to win a ballgame, Perez said. I don't care what it is.
Getting ejected from a game was not Perez's intention. But it helps to prove his point.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.
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