Anyone out there want to be Chris Perez’s buddy? Give him a hug, pat him on the back, assure him that you’re in his corner?
Didn’t think so.
Perez is finished with the Indians.
He has alienated the sporting public, placed other Tribe players in precarious positions by giving the media the silent treatment and come off as selfish for putting his apparent need for weed ahead of his responsibilities as a member of the team.
Last year, many fans applauded when Perez decided to become campus agitator and forego the niceties of public-speaking diplomacy.
They enjoyed his candor about the failure of the fan base to support the team; they chuckled when he said the Browns get a free pass from their partisans. But he wouldn’t stop.
He got sucked into an obscenity-laden screaming match with a man who baited him at Oakland Coliseum, a juvenile display that ended up on YouTube. Then he yanked the chain of owner Paul Dolan.
It was all very refreshing for the first 30 minutes, but it went on and on and on.
This season, after getting busted for receiving a relatively small amount of marijuana in the mail (addressed to his dog, no less), Perez told two local reporters that he wasn’t speaking to them (Yes, I was one).
I asked why, and he wouldn’t say, but it was obvious that his minor brush with the law was at the root of his reluctance. A few days later, he announced a blanket boycott of the media for the rest of the season, but several weeks later, he accommodated a Florida writer with a connection to the University of Miami, where Perez attended college.
That didn’t exactly endear him to the media around here. Perez didn’t even follow his own rules. If an athlete says he’s not talking, he should shut up, not selectively give interviews to friendly reporters.
But even in this, his most frustrating season as the Tribe’s closer, Perez has been more proficient than most of his thousands of critics would admit. Bad ERA (4.43 ERA) to be sure, but he saved 25 games in 30 chances, 83 percent, a number that is unassailable in terms of competency.
Since he returned from the disabled list in late June, a visit precipitated by a shoulder injury, he has succeeded in 19 of 22 save situations.
Perez certainly is not the best closer in baseball, but his numbers are beyond satisfactory, far above mediocrity and light years better than, “Get him out of here before I puke,” which is the new Perez Sabermetric as expressed by Northeast Ohio fans.
So it doesn’t matter what the numbers say, Perez must go. It is time and for a number of reasons.
The biggest obstacle to keeping Perez is his prospective 2014 salary of close to $10 million, if not more. Fans here have a difficult time comprehending how his performance could possibly merit that kind of reward, but it’s not really far-fetched.
He already is making $7.3 million, and he is eligible for arbitration, where all that counts is service time and statistics comparing him to other similar closers and what they earn. Consequently, a $2.7 million raise probably is within normal parameters.
The Indians’ deep thinkers haven’t whispered to me their intentions for Perez, but I believe I can safely say that General Manager Chris Antonetti is not willing to pay Perez, or any reliever, $10 million. He doesn’t have to.
I know all the mythology surrounding closers and how stressful the job can be. All of that has been created by a self-fulfilling prophecy that began in the late ’80s, when GMs and managers would describe the attributes of a closer: superhuman, possessed of great stuff and a great mindset.
Three decades later, their words have the ring of truth. But check out some of the Tribe’s most successful closers.
Ernie Camacho, who threw hard but really had only one pitch, and was a failed starter; Jose Mesa, another unsuccessful starter with a big arm, had the wrong makeup to save games.
Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski were near the end of their careers. Neither had the kind of live arm that many middle relievers possess, but each had a strong will. Doug Jones was a right-hander laboring in the minors for years, because he threw 84 mph fastballs (88 on today’s “fast” radar gun) and a wicked change-up.
The Indians wouldn’t give Jones a chance until they ran out of options. He became one of the more reliable closers in the majors for several years, in Cleveland and elsewhere, finishing his career with 303 saves.
None of these pitchers was groomed to be relievers, let alone closers. Only Camacho had a big arm; Wickman, Borowski and Jones had the kind of short memories that enabled them to do the job without allowing past failures to affect their confidence.
The point is that Perez can be replaced. Maybe the next Tribe closer will be Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano or Joe Smith. Candidates are plentiful.
Perez wore out his welcome in Cleveland long before Thursday night, when he turned an easy 6-1 win over the Twins into a 6-5 four-alarm blaze.
How or why did Perez become such a volatile personality, a loose cannon whose idiosyncrasies no longer could be tolerated? Because he no longer was able to perform.
My hunch is that the shoulder injury that sidelined him earlier might still be a factor. If not, Perez’s in-your-face personality got in the way of his job.
If he doesn’t like reporters asking questions about his use of recreational grass, don’t use it, or at least don’t be dumb enough to have it delivered to your house by the mailman.
If you think the fans suck, don’t be surprised when they reciprocate your feelings. If you blow a save, own it. Don’t force teammates to explain your bad outing because you are nowhere to be found.
But maybe Perez knows all of this. Maybe he courted disaster intentionally, not because he wanted to fail, but because he wanted out. It’s not official yet, but surely if that is his wish, it’s about to come true.
Perez’s reputation will wear a little tarnish when he moves on to his next team, but nothing he can’t overcome. Unless he lets his past get in the way.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.