Q&A: Tony Perez, an RBI approach to the HoF

Tony Perez was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, a reward for 23 years of productivity, the first 16 of which were spent with the Cincinnati Reds. A respected hitter from 1964 through 1986, the native of Cuba was a renowned run-producer. A .279/.341/.463 lifetime hitter, and 7-time All-Star, he ranks 28th all-time with 1,652 RBIs. Now 70 years old, he serves as a special assistant to the president for the Miami Marlins.

Perez talked about the approach he employed as an RBI machine, and what it was like hitting in his era, when the Marlins visited Fenway Park in June.


Tony Perez: “I see the ball, I hit the ball. That was my approach. When I started out, we didn’t have a hitting coach. You had to be your own. I made my adjustments through the years, but I was always a good hitter, so I didn’t have to make too many.

“We didn’t have a batting cage in the stadium, or anything like that, into the 1970s. By the 1970s, I already had six or seven years in the big leagues. Really, I didn’t hit as much as the guys do now, but I never had a problem with not hitting a lot. I had my regular batting practice, and that was it.

“I’d learn about the pitchers. I’d learn how they were trying to get me out, and I’d see the ball. The [data] is valuable to the guys who are playing now, but in my time we didn’t have that. We just picked it up from the other players. We talked a lot. We talked to the veterans. When I came up, I had Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tommy Harper and guys like that. I did my asking about pitchers.

“With two strikes, we used to say that we had to protect the plate. You make the plate bigger and anything close that you can get, you swing at it. I struck out a lot, but I never took too many third strikes. I would swing at anything close that I could hit.

“If I could [do it over], maybe I’d be more disciplined. Now I would have more information about pitchers and about hitting. We just went out there and played, and hit. I never heard about mechanics when I played, only later.

“The year I hit 40 home runs [1970] was the year I got more bases on balls [83]. I got on base more that season, but that was because the pitchers were being more careful. They weren’t pitching to me that year. I never walked a lot. I was a free swinger. Anything I could reach, I’d swing at. Sometimes that gave me troubles and sometimes that helped me. That’s the way it was. I was that type of hitter.

“The guys in front of me got on base a lot. My philosophy on that was, when I had men on base, I’d concentrate more on the pitch I‘d swing at. I knew the pitcher was in trouble when he faced me. He had to give me a pitch with nobody out, or one out. He had to get me out, and the next guy out, and we had a pretty good lineup. I was looking for a good pitch to hit and most of the time I’d get it. And I’d hit it.

“I loved having guys on base in front of me. I never cared about my average. I never cared about strikeouts. I just cared about my RBIs. When I saw men on base, I saw a chance for an RBI and I wanted to get it, no matter what. I didn’t care if it was with a ground ball. I wasn’t trying to get a hit. I just wanted to get the run in.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

7 Responses to “Q&A: Tony Perez, an RBI approach to the HoF”

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  1. Rob says:

    Sometimes I wonder if we ought to be judging the previous generation of Hall of Fame candidates by the way they judged themselves, rather than by the way we judge baseballers today.

    They didn’t care about walks, and they didn’t think walks were valuable, so why should we penalize a guy for failing to walk? Sure nowadays they don’t have any excuses, and we can apply those standards to Cano and Pujols and this generation. But I wonder about applying it to the past.

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    • shoewizard says:

      Lots of guys walked and lots of guys valued walks. But players, managers, coaches and GM’s also valued RBI, and what Tony is talking about is his role. He understood his role to be a guy to put the ball in play, and hit it hard, so that he could get the runner home. Based on his understanding of what his role was, he came through pretty big, and did what he was trying to do. Thats what we should be judging him on.

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    • Brandon T says:

      Because some players DID understand the value of the walk, even back then — or at least working the count to try to get an advantage over the pitcher — apropos, Ron Santo. Despite the fact that most hitters didn’t think walks were that important, pitchers certainly didn’t want to give them up! So at least THEY knew.

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      • Marty says:

        And somehow, Ron Santo gets into the HOF more than a decade after Perez, despite being the far better player. Bizarre.

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      • Jackalope says:

        Funny how that works. I think about that in terms of the Twins’ philosophy. They want all their pitchers to be strike-throwing machines who never walk a batter, but traditionally haven’t valued their hitters taking walks.

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  2. mcbrown says:

    I don’t think we need to grade Perez on a curve – the peak and length of his career are very strong by both traditional and advanced metrics. The issue with people like Perez raise is comparing them to players that had similar production WITHOUT that gaudy counting stats. Those players already are not flattered by the kind of approach you propose, and arguably they should be judged as the equals of Perez. Or does Dwight Evans really deserve to be kept out of the hall just because he had about 300 fewer RBI than Perez?

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