Legendary slugger compares Giancarlo's power to his '70s contemporaries
By Terence Moore
Nobody associated with the Marlins knows more about home runs than their special assistant to the president of the past 16 years. The guy also managed a few titanic shots himself, usually in the clutch. Not only that, but he played with some of the most legendary hitters of all-time.
Ever hear of Tony Perez and the Big Red Machine? If not, he reached Cooperstown with 379 homers and 11 straight seasons of 90 or more RBIs for Cincinnati teams that won more games during the 1970s than any club in baseball, not to mention consecutive World Series championships, four National League pennants and six division titles.
Just wondering, Tony: If Giancarlo Stanton went back in time to join your Reds -- with his potent bat that has produced a Major League-leading 53 homers for the Marlins -- where would he bat in the lineup? I'll give you Perez's answer in a moment, but for the folks who don't know, the Big Red Machine featured Baseball Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, all-time hits leader Pete Rose, accomplished slugger George Foster and the efficient bats of Ken Griffey Sr., Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo.
"When you think about it, we had a great team, with power and speed and defense, so you know what? Back then, we don't need nobody else," Perez said, chuckling, but then he paused and chuckled some more. "If [Stanton] did play for us back then, I know he couldn't be too far down in the order, and I would like to have him hitting behind me."
Who wouldn't? Then again, Marlins center fielder Christian Yelich couldn't care less, but don't get the wrong idea.
Stanton hits in front of Yelich, who nevertheless has accumulated a .287 batting average, 16 homers and 72 RBIs entering play Friday. Since Yelich is in the on-deck circle for Stanton's at-bats, it gives Yelich more time to watch Stanton up close and personal as he trots around the bases after one of his gigantic shots.
"It's been fun watching him. Just nice to see him healthy," Yelich said, referring to the 27-year-old Stanton, who is on pace to take his spot in right field at least 145 games this season for the first time since 2014.
During Stanton's eight Major League seasons, all with the Marlins, he has battled everything from fractures to his face after getting slammed by a pitch to varying degrees of groin pulls.
"Now that he has a full season worth of at-bats in there, he's showing everybody what he can do," Yelich said. "I've played with him for the past five years, and it's enjoyable to see what happens when he gets going on one of these rolls and really gets locked in."
Like during August, for instance. When the month was mercifully over for pitchers, Stanton had 18 homers. It set an NL record, and he tied the Major League mark established by Rudy York of the Tigers in 1937, five years before Perez was born in Cuba. Eventually, Perez left his job working the sugar mills on the island to sign with the Reds' organization in 1960. Four years later, he was off to a 23-year career that produced seven trips to the All-Star Game and a front-row seat to study a bunch of prolific home run hitters.
Perez didn't have to go further than his own clubhouse. There was Lee May, for instance, who played on the early version of the Big Red Machine before he became part of the Reds' trade with the Astros for Morgan, Geronimo and others during the 1971 offseason. They called the Alabama-born May "The Big Bopper from Birmingham," because he teased pitchers from the right side of the plate with the constant wiggling of his bat before crushing pitches with ease.
"Yeah, the Big Bopper, he hit a lot of home runs, and he had a lot of power, and he hit the ball up as a line-drive hitter," Perez said. "I was the same way, and George [Foster] was the same way. So it's tough to say, but I'd say Foster is the guy we had with the most power during those times."
Not to mention Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, who populated the visiting NL clubhouses during Perez's tenure.
They ripped a few balls a long way.
"No question, but it was Willie Stargell," Perez said. "I mean, when he hit them, they were up and gone. He really hit them far. Now Willie McCovey had a lot of long home runs, but they weren't like the ones of Stargell."
So you know where I'm going. Stargell or Stanton? Consider this before you hear Perez's answer: According to MLB.com's Statcast™ Leaderboard, Stanton has ranked among the top players in home run distance, exit velocity and average exit velocity throughout his career. His farthest shot this season went 477 feet last month in Atlanta, and it came against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. That meant it took a lot of Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton to send a 78-mph pitch from the right-hander into the tunnel beyond center field for the longest homer by 30 feet in the first year of SunTrust Park.
"I've seen [Stanton] since he was in the Minor Leagues, and he was hitting line drives out of sight back then as he's doing right now. So he can hit some home runs farther than Stargell, but not too many," Perez said, with another laugh. "Stargell was special. I've seen Stargell hit one in Montreal, and I can tell you I've never seen anybody hit one like that."
Just wait, though.
Stanton has a few years (and monster blasts) left.
Terence Moore is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.