2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started earlier today with the Buckeyes Final Four trip . Number nine is something that happened just a short two weeks ago. The Shin-Soo Choo trade came in at number nine. The Ohio State perfect 12-0 season was number eight. Up next was an incident that started on the field, and exploded off of it.
It started innocently enough and came out of nowhere.
After saving a 2-0 win against the Miami Marlins on May 20th, a few days after having a shaky outing in front of the home crowd, Perez got in front of reporters and let loose.
The commentary was shocking, honest, and true. But the way it came out stunned everyone, including his teammates, manager, and especially his bosses in the front office.
Let us recap some of the highlights…
“I’m tired of getting booed at home, so I figured I’d throw some strikes today,” said Perez, who has been treated roughly at home after suffering his only blown save on Opening Day and during his previous outing Thursday.
“You can quote that. It doesn’t bother me. It (ticks) me off. I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a baserunner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It (ticks) me off.
“I’m not calling out the fans. It’s just how it is. That stuff is reserved for road games. We don’t want to deal with that crap. Here, good fans are supposed to help you try to get through the inning and say, ‘Hey, you’re only one pitch away,’ or ‘Hey, it’s all right.’ And then after I struck out (Seattle’s Jesus Montero), the mock standing applause just adds to it. You see their true colors.”
Then, in an obvious swipe at the front office and the city, Perez claimed he knew why the Indians were an unattractive franchise:
“Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why,” Perez said. “Why doesn’t Carlos Beltran want to come over here? Well, because of that. That’s part of it. It doesn’t go unnoticed — trust us. That’s definitely a huge reason. Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the weather (stinks), but people see that. Other players know that.
“You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 (fans) like Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland. It’s going to take more money to get him to come to Cleveland. That’s just how it is. That’s another thing that you have to go against. It’s not only the payrolls of the (American League) East teams, but that kind of stuff.”
Perez’s timing was a bit odd, considering the Indians had just drawn their largest crowd (29,799) since Opening Day and had 29,378 in the park the night before. The right-hander has sympathy for the down economic times in Cleveland that may be contributing to the poor attendance, but he thinks fans should see both sides.
“I understand. I completely understand, but the fans can’t take it personal when the players don’t want to stay here or players don’t want to come here,” he said. “It’s a business. You didn’t choose to get drafted by Cleveland. I’m in it for my family. Who knows? I could throw my last pitch tomorrow.
“At the same time, I’m here. I’m here to win. I’m here for my teammates and I want to bring a championship to Cleveland, to do my job and help the team win. I think I do a pretty good job of showing that on the field. I don’t think I bring any undue attention to myself. I’m out there for the team. In big wins, I get excited and I’m like a kid again, because it’s fun.”
Team President Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti immediately sat down with Perez to discuss his comments and obviously disagreed with them, at least publicly. It was a stunning development. How many times do you see a player call out his own fanbase and bosses to the media and not care what the consequences would be? A day later, Shapiro made a statement:
I, myself, and we, as an organization, have a lot of respect and appreciation for Chris. I understand the emotion and the passion and the competitiveness that drives his performance. I mean he’s been one of the more dominant closers in baseball this season. What drives him to succeed in that role is his emotion and his competitiveness. I think a lot of that was what behind he said yesterday. Talking to him with Chris Antonetti, it’s clear that what’s behind that emotion is how great he feels our situation is. How incredible he feels the team is, the ballpark is, and his desire for more people to experience that. That’s the root of it.
We as an organization clearly disagree with him. We appreciate our fans, we respect our fans. We certainly want more to come and we’re working extremely hard to make that happen, but it’s our underlying belief that if the team continues to play the way it plays and we continue to win, then more fans will come out. It was about this time last year that more and more fans began to come.
Sunday morning also gave Perez a chance to expand on his comments, which he refused to back down from, despite the fact that he had reprimanded by Shapiro and Antonetti. He said he wouldn’t take back anything from the night before and went even deeper:
It’s not a good atmosphere. It’s not fun to be here. Especially when you’re not playing well or not getting that many hits or you’re not pitching well. Baseball is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s a child’s game, I understand that. But if you have the choice to go an atmosphere where it’s fun every day, like Philadelphia or some place like that where every day it’s fun just to go there, that helps you get through some seasons sometimes, some games. In August, when it’s 100 degrees out and you come back from a West Coast trip and you’re tired, that energy can help you push through a couple of games. Maybe it gets you a couple wins here or there. It makes a difference, it really does.
“I’m here to win. I want to win here. I care. … We want to win. But right now, we’re winning for ourselves, basically.”
Throughout the ordeal, there were two camps; the “screw him” camp and the “he speaks the truth” camp. It was hard to disagree with some of the things he was saying, but the way the comments were made and the timing of them were odd to say the least. What everyone was waiting for at this point, was Perez’s next home save opportunity. How we he be received?
On May 23rd, with the hated Detroit Tigers in town, Perez took the field nursing a two-run lead. I wrote the following about that big night:
After some stellar relief work from Tony Sipp, Joe Smith (one pitch, one out), and Vinnie Pestano (who looked absolutely dominant in the eighth), the stage was set for what all Tribe fans were anxious to see. Chris Perez running out of the bullpen for the first time since his controversial commentary. As I said on Twitter last night, this was the most compelling Tribe ninth inning since 2007.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” the Tribe closer said.
The doors opened. “Firestarter,” the ironically named song that plays as Perez enters a game, blared through the Progressive Field speaker system, and out he jogged. The 15,000-plus Indians fans all rose to give Pure Rage a standing ovation. The place just erupted. Kudos to the crowd for reacting the right and smart way.
“That’s the loudest I’ve ever been cheered here. It didn’t go unnoticed, trust me. I’m humbled. That was really nice,” he said.
Now he just had to do his job. Easier said than done.
As he has done in the past, Perez didn’t make things easy on himself. With one out, he walked Ramon Santiago. Andy Dirks followed up with a single, putting the tying runs on base. Perez was now in the exact situation he called for Sunday morning.
First was Cabrera. Perez dug in and K’d the hitting machine for the second out. Next was Fielder, in his first big at-bat in this rivalry. After falling behind 3-0, the Tribe’s closer got Prince on a true “Fielder’s choice” to end the game. Everyone in the stadium and watching at home was relieved. Perez did the job for his 14th save as the Tribe took this one 5-3.
A fired up CP was all smiles after the game.
“That’s why we play the game,” Perez said. “I like to face those guys. I told you guys on Sunday I wanted a one-run game with Fielder and Cabrera coming up. They were the winning runs, so I got what I wanted. Luckily, I made some pitches and got out of it.”
Perez kept doing his job, and the more he pitched, the more fans cheered him. The Dolan Family was now taking shots from its own players and nothing (as far as we knew) was going to be done about it. Even as we sit here today, Chris Perez is still the Indians closer.
We thought this would all go away quietly, but it didn’t.
A June 26th interview with the New York Times had Perez questioning the blind loyalty of Cleveland fans to their beloved Browns, called out Indians fans for not supporting his (at the time) first place team, and stated he couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get past LeBron bolting for Miami.
“I don’t get the psyche,” said Perez. “Why cheer against a guy that’s not even in your city anymore? Just to see him fail? Does that make you feel good? I could see if the Cavs were in the championship, but that’s their mentality. They’ve had a lot of years of misery. They say, ‘You just don’t understand because you don’t live here.’ O.K., maybe I don’t. But that doesn’t mean it has to keep going.”
“That’s what I don’t understand,” Perez said. “Their whole thing is, ‘We want a winner.’ Well, why do you support the Browns? They don’t win. They’ve never won. They left. You guys blindly support them. I don’t understand it. It’s a double standard, and I don’t know why.
“It’s head-scratching. It’s just — they don’t come out. But around the city, there’s great support. They watch it in the bars. They watch it at home. They just don’t come.”
It had become par for the course. While those in the know claimed otherwise, it seemed obvious that CP was trying to talk his way out of town. It wouldn’t be the last time we heard from him either. Once the Indians front office decided to fire Manny Acta as manager, Perez tossed him right under the bus, leaving tire marks on his back as Acta walked out the door:
“They don’t know the whole story,” Perez said. “A lot of frustration from those comments, a lot of that walked out the door last week. I’ll just leave it at that.”
“The Manny you guys (reporters) saw and the Manny we saw were different guys. He’s not a very confrontational person. In this game we’re men. We can handle it. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt. He did it this year, but it was a couple of weeks too late.”
“Last year we didn’t get it at all. He only gave us two speeches, one at the start of the season and one at the end and we were playing for first place up until September.”
It sounds like a cliche, but a team does follow its manager, good or bad. If a manager has no activity on the field. If he doesn’t argue calls or get upset, why would his team?”
Ah Chris Perez, our close who spews fire from both his right-arm and his mouth. He may not be long for this club, but he certainly is a colorful character. Say what you want to say about his big mouth, but you cannot deny that he is great at his job.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)