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Decades before the Boston Red Sox found their Big Papi, the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s found their heart and soul in the Big Dog. Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez somehow managed to get a bit lost in the shadows of the monster that was the Big Red Machine, but many of his teammates would later point to him as the glue that held the team together. With Spring Training bearing down on us, Perez is Number 24 on our Countdown Team.
The Reds signed Perez as an amateur free agent in 1960, and he worked his way through the minor league system to land in Cincinnati in July of 1964. By 1967, he was a regular, both on the field on the Riverfront and in the top-10 of the National League MVP ballots. When the Reds won their first pennant with a new group of stars in 1970, Perez smacked 40 home runs and posted a gaudy .990 OPS.
By the time the Reds peaked in 1975 and 1976, Perez was in his mid-30s and starting to decline, though he still performed at a star level and flirted with 100 RBI every season. The Big Dog was the first of the big-name Reds to be sent packing when the team traded him to the Montreal Expos before the 1977 season. That Cincinnati fell from the mountain top that very summer is telling in terms of the impact that Perez had on his teammates, whether fans and media realized it at the time or not.
Like Pete Rose, Perez returned to the Reds in 1984, but both he and the team were different creatures than they had been in the 1970s. Three seasons into his homecoming, in 1986, Perez retired from baseball.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000 and dons a Reds’ hat on his Cooperstown plaque.