Media often burdens responsibility for determining which topics receive a platform for discussion. In this case, closer Chris Perez has been the much-ballyhooed focal point for the last 48 hours, despite the Indians’ 18-4 stretch, the club’s best since 2005. I’ve avoided the Perez talk mainly because I didn’t feel it warranted the attention it has been getting. Alas, I felt the need to chime in today, hopefully to serve as a means of closure to the conversation.
There are two entities in play here: Chris Perez the person and Chris Perez the player.
The player doesn’t deserve the hatred that has been heaved his way. He ranks second in the big leagues in career saves among pitchers under the age of 30. He has converted 81 of 91 save chances since the start of the 2011 campaign, an elite mark among closers. Aside from the Yankees, Braves and Reds, there isn’t a team that wouldn’t salivate at the idea of having Perez’s services at their disposal.
Just look at Cleveland’s AL Central nemesis, Detroit. Would you feel more comfortable with Jose Valverde or Chris Perez on the hill in the ninth inning? Few teams have had stable closer situations in recent years. The back end of Cleveland’s bullpen has been its greatest asset.
Perez has surrendered three home runs in his last two outings. He’d be the first to show frustration with his performance. He always faces reporters after games, whether he’s responsible for a win or a loss.
Then there is Perez the person, a polarizing figure who will never shy away from speaking his mind, as portrayed in this behind-the-scenes piece I wrote during the offseason. Whether you agree with what he has to say is a separate argument. There are few fans who feel indifferent about Perez; he’s either loved or hated, fervently supported or vehemently despised by most fans. The negativity has recently outweighed the admiration in such a manner that Perez felt compelled to delete his Twitter account on Monday.
Still, there needs to be a separation of church and state. A fan who disagreed with Perez’s statements last season about ownership and fans must be able to shelve those feelings when the pitcher toes the rubber. You can’t classify someone as a fan if the person is rooting for a player on his or her team to fail. The nature of the ninth-inning beast suggests that a closer will rarely be universally adored. Mariano Rivera is the exception to just about every rule, including this one. Few closers experience longevity in the role; Perez is on his way there.
Those who have been blinded from reality by their hatred of Perez the person have enjoyed the chance to pounce on Perez the player at every opportunity. That’s not very constructive.
Frankly, Perez’s personality is ideal for a closer. He harnesses his rage and passion as a means of motivation on the mound. He prefers to pitch on the road, where opposing fans heckle him, so he can use the taunting as incentive when his manager hands him the ball.
Perez just wants to win. He shares the same goal as every fan (which is why he wants more of them in the seats). And with the team surging, he shouldn’t be — and doesn’t want to be — the focus.