Tony Perez was an understudy going into the 1967 All-Star Game, an emerging young third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds who hadn’t yet made his mark as one of the all-time greats. By the time it was over, he would be its hero.
In the top of the 15th inning, Perez smashed a home run off Catfish Hunter, propelling the National League to a 2-1 win over the American League in what was, at the time, the longest All-Star Game.
“I was a slow runner, but I looked like I was flying around the bases because I didn’t feel nothing,” said Perez, who was named Most Valuable Player. “I was just so happy.”
On July 11, when the All-Star Game is played at Marlins Park, it will be 50 years to the day of Perez’s extra-inning heroics. Now a special assistant to Marlins president David Samson, Perez remembers vividly the moment a half century ago that put him on the big-league map.
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“I have to remember that game,” Perez said. “It was my first All-Star Game, my first full year in the big leagues.”
Perez was a reserve — almost an afterthought — on an NL squad that was comprised of greats such as Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda and Ernie Banks. It was only because the game lingered into extra innings that Perez played at all. Walter Alston, who managed the NL, waited until the 10th inning to insert Perez.
“When it went late, into the ninth inning, I [figured] somebody would hit one out and end the game,” Perez said. “When the manager, Walter Alston, said you’re in and took [Richie] Allen out, I said ‘I’ve got a chance now.’ ”
The score was 1-1. Solo homers — one by Allen and the other by Brooks Robinson — accounted for both runs. When Hunter struck Perez out in the 12th inning, he was hoping he would get another chance.
“Catfish, he pitched about three or four innings that day because they ran out of pitchers,” Perez recalled. “He struck me out with a fastball. So I went to the plate [in the 15th] thinking if he throws me another fastball, I’m going to be ready. He did [on] the first pitch, and I hit the ball out.”
After circling the bases, he was greeted on the dugout steps by Clemente, Cepeda and Aaron. Perez has kept a photo of that moment.
Perez would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, much of it spent with Cincinnati as a key cog in the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s. But it was the 1967 All-Star Game when he first made his name.
The All-Star Game on July 11 will remind Perez of that moment.
“It’s going to be a great moment for me,” Perez said of the 50th anniversary. “It took me 15 innings to end that game. It was something very, very special.”