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Yeah, Chris Perez wouldn't have minded a ticket out of town hypothetically from the sounds of it, but he'd play his ass off if he didn't. This guy had to go, though. If nothing else.
"Losing the clubhouse is different for every team," says Perez. "For our team, the way we were constructed, we had a really young team. The manager's job is to, in my opinion, to make players feel more at ease and comfortable. It's the little stuff, the little stuff the public wouldn't think about. Stuff like maybe telling a bench player, 'You're going to start tomorrow.' It was just that type of communication. It all builds up over time, and it all came crumbling down in the second half. He's a great guy, he just wasn't a great manager. No fault to him. He's a young guy. I wasn't relieved, but more like okay, they've come around to making a change and now we can look forward."
There had to be some high points so far. If last year was rock bottom, something in the previous seasons had to be better.
"I've had some personally and some as a team," he says. "Two years ago we were the best team in baseball for the first 45 games. I got my 100th career save last year, which was great. But as a team, besides one particular moment maybe, it hasn't happened yet."
"Sometimes I see them doing cardio. Paul lifts weights."
Perez wasn't done talking yet. Not even close.
Late in the season, with the Tribe playing out the string in a dismal, depressing year, he returned after a brief absence from the team to be with his wife for the birth of their child to unleash hell on the front office and the folks that sign his paychecks.
In an interview with Foxsports.com on the struggle of small-market teams trying to compete against the economic landslide of richer organizations, Perez gave a very non-PR-friendly answer to question about the success of the Detroit Tigers.
"Different owners. It comes down to that. [The Tigers] are spending money. [Ilitch] wants to win. Even when the economy was down [in Detroit], he spent money. He's got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don't. But most of the time you do."
"Josh Willingham would look great in this lineup. They didn't want to [pay] for that last year. ... That's the decision they make, and this is the bed we're laying in."
Willingham would sign a three-year, $21- million contract with the Twins.
And it wasn't just free agent talk; Perez targeted the front office for bungled trades and decisions.
"You can't miss. You have to be right. That's why I say it's not just ownership. They don't make the trades. It's the GMs. It goes hand in hand. The GMs can only spend the money the owners give them, but they pick who they spend it on or who they don't. They pick. The owners don't pick."
Perez doesn't take back much, but that's one he'd like to have back. Sorta. And he basically gave up giving interviews for a while afterward. No comments here, a brief comment there, but not much more.
"I thought it was not really an interview, just a conversation," says Perez now. "He asked me interview questions at the end, but I had nothing premeditated. It was my honest opinion and the first thing that came to mind. Looking back, yeah, I regret it. That's not the place and time, not my job. At the same time, that's how I was feeling, that we needed to go in a different direction."
And that the club did this offseason, committing over $100 million to first baseman Nick Swisher (which Perez found out about, like everyone else, on Twitter), center fielder Michael Bourn, pitcher Brett Myers, and outfielder Mark Reynolds. They also shipped Shin-Soo Choo, Tony Sipp and minor leaguers to Cincy and Arizona to land outfielder Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer. And new manager Terry Francona. It was a bankrolled mic drop by the Dolans.
What say you now, Mr. Perez?
"It's a combination of Tito [Terry] and the players," he says. "He's a great manager, but at the same time you need to make more moves. [The Dolans] have backed it up. If it was just Tito and no Swisher, Bourn, or Reynolds like previous years, it would have been a half-hearted effort. But they brought the free agents in to help him win."
If you're wondering whether he's chatted with the owners of the big pocketbook, or if they've chatted with him -- not really. They might meet with the team after the season, but mainly he'll catch them working out.
"They or the front office has never come to me and said to play good soldier," he says. "They want my personality to come through."
"It's a complete 180 degree change in mindset from last year -- a complete 180."
You think you're happy the Indians retooled on the field and in the dugout? You're not as happy as Chris Perez, trust us. Especially with the addition of Terry Francona.
"The first big thing, honestly, was Francona," says Perez. "That signaled a different change in the organizational mindset. And then when Swisher came on board, that cemented it. The first step, though, was getting Tito. We missed out on Victorino, so it was nice for the front office to commit money to secure free agents. It was nice, not like in years past. And we didn't stop there."
Acta was distant, and at least a few players grumbled about his lack of interaction with the squad. More telling, however, was that you could count on one hand how many players reached out to him after he was fired.
Tito is different. You'll find Francona chatting with players and telling stories, maybe about the time he was Michael Jordan's manager in Birmingham when No. 23 retired from basketball and decided to pick up a bat. Doesn't matter what it's about, really, just that he's talking, teaching, bring the team together.
"He's just more open," says Perez. "He really cares about how you're doing as a person instead of just how you're playing. Baseball is such a small part of everyone's life in the grand scheme of things. Other things matter. You get caught up in the season in winning and losing, but we're people, we go through ups and downs. We're all men. You have to get personal. He's one of the guys, but at the same time, he's my manager, my boss, and I have that respect factor that, hey, you need to start doing this."
The Indians finished 68-94 last year.
"I think we can get to 88 wins this year," says Perez. "I don't think enough to win the division. The Tigers, on paper, they're better. But 88 wins though."
"I'm not going to miss the extra limelight."
Chris Perez is a good quote. And on a team with few veterans and more than a few quiet types, he was a lightning rod and a consistent voice through the 2012 season.
Yeah, there were some slips, but as the de facto voice of the players, someone had to talk.
This year, there are more veterans and more personalities -- Nick Swisher might not stop smiling, talking and charming the room until well past the season ends.
And that's just fine with Perez. He doesn't need to always be talking. He'll say something when it matters.
"It kind of got old after awhile last year," says Perez. "Guys like [Jason] Giambi and [Scott] Kazmir, we got more guys that are more vocal. There's plenty of time for me. There will be a lot more stories this year and a lot more about winning and hopefully all the good stuff will write itself."
If not, you can be sure Chris Perez will have something to say.
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