Jayson Stark
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Monday, July 24
Perez delivered vital blow in '75 Series

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Twenty-five years after the World Series of a lifetime, and there they were, together again.

Twenty-five years later, and there were Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson, sitting there on a Hall of Fame Sunday -- their Hall of Fame Sunday -- still debating who called the pitch that changed their lives.

Tony Perez
Tony Perez hits his home run off Bill Lee in Game 7 off the 1975 World Series. Carlton Fisk is the catcher.

It was 25 years after Game 7 of the increasingly mythical 1975 World Series. Twenty-five years, friends. Yet still that game lived on.

It lived on in Perez's Hall of Fame speech, lived on as he thanked "my friend Carlton Fisk" -- because "he asked Bill Lee to throw that blooper pitch one more time."

And later, after they'd all left the podium and the crowds had left the New York hillsides and the ESPN cameras had been turned off, that game -- that pitch -- lived on again.

"I don't think he called that pitch," Perez was saying, as he sat beside Fisk inside the gym of the Clark Athletic Center. "He put the fingers down, because they make him do it. But he didn't call that pitch."

THAT PITCH. Who knows how different baseball history might have been if Lee hadn't thrown THAT PITCH?

It was the seventh game of the World Series. Remember the setting: The great Big Red Machine still hadn't won even one World Series. And The Machine found itself at the bottom of a 3-0 pit in Fenway Park in the top of the sixth inning.

But then Bill Lee threw THAT PITCH -- that blooper pitch that was still traveling yesterday, a quarter-century later.

Perez pounded it over The Wall for the two-run homer that saved a dynasty, the home run that cemented his reputation as a hitter who lived for those moments, the home run that was still hanging in the sky over Cooperstown.

"It's no secret," Fisk said, "that we'd thrown that pitch to Tony a couple of times before in the Series, and it worked. He even swung at one that bounced on the plate. But you throw Tony Perez that pitch in the middle of the plate, where he can lock and load, and hey, you saw what happened.

"Looking back, maybe if he'd thrown that pitch someplace other than the middle of the plate, maybe Tony would have swung and missed, or made an out. But second-guess that pitch at that point in the game? I can't do that.

"I don't believe either Bill Lee or I wanted that pitch to be there. But that's what's so great about Tony Perez. You leave it out there in the wrong area, and it will be long gone."

Oh, it was long gone, all right. But far from forgotten.

What does it say about how epic that World Series was that its pulse was still throbbing so forcefully through the hills of upstate New York all these years later?

What does it say about how deeply those moments were embedded in the memory banks that the principals were still picking apart those moments 25 years down the highway?

Hall of Fame induction Sundays are always among the coolest occasions of any baseball year. But this one was especially cool -- because it brought one of the greatest World Series ever back to life.

These three men -- Fisk, Perez, Anderson -- already shared a special bond, just from having lived through that World Series. But now, they have another bond -- after journeying into the Hall of Fame through the same time tunnel.

It had taken Perez nine elections to make it to this place. Nine. But it summed up the class, the grace, the eternally sunny disposition of this great man that he could almost make that sound like a good thing, as he gazed out on all those Reds shirts stretched before him on the hillside.

He turned to Sparky from the podium and said: "I think God made me wait so long so we could be inducted together." Whew. How perfect was that?

Later, it would be Fisk turning to Sparky and acknowledging their commonality.

"Sparky," Fisk said, "I played against you in the '75 World Series ... for just a few games ... (laugh) ... that you might remember."

Suffice it to say Anderson didn't have to ask: "Which games were those?"

"But you know," Fisk would observe, "there seem to be a lot of guys I played against in '75 up here."

Behind him sat two men named Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. But Fisk's eyes were fixed only on Perez.

"I played against Tony in '75," Fisk said. "And then he came to the Red Sox, and I found out why they called him the Top Dog. You know, unless you're the lead dog, the scenery doesn't change."

He paused to let that image sink in for a moment. Then finally, he finished the thought.

"But the scenery," he said, "changed for Tony."

Fisk would talk for 37 minutes on this day: Crying over departed friends and attending family. Agitating Bud Selig and the brass by paying tribute to Marvin Miller and Don Fehr, even bringing up collusion. Waxing poetic as he talked of what he missed about the game -- the smells and the sounds and "the excitement and the energy and the overwhelming feeling" of getting ready to play a game, realizing that "you feel so alive."

It was vintage Fisk, a man who spent a 23-year career pumping the brakes as everyone around him was squashing the accelerator. But there was even more vintage Sparky, who always thought of his life in baseball as a perfect chance to say a few words.

Or a few thousand.

He used his speech to inform his country club that he wouldn't be paying for any rounds of golf this week. He used his speech to kill off, then bring back "the late president, Mr. Bush ... Well, he isn't late. He's just not there anymore."

He also used his speech to recall how his old boss in Detroit, Jim Campbell, once told him he was afraid to get up every morning and read the paper, for fear of what Sparky might have said to the press the night before. And Sparky said he told him: "Jim, just cancel your subscription, and there's no problem."

But mostly, Sparky used his speech to sell the game of baseball -- as only he could.

"If you don't think this is the greatest game," he told his adoring listeners, "LEAVE."

But no one did. How could they? They had a World Series to relive.

Every time you looked up on the big video screen beside the stage on this day, you seemed to be watching Fisk's storied Game 6 homer one more time. As if most of these people hadn't seen it a billion times already. That homer almost got him into the Hall of Fame all by itself. It did, however, give him a signature moment to ride for the rest of his life.

But the great thing about this particular Hall of Fame grouping is that it reminded the world that Fisk didn't hit the only big homer in that '75 World Series. It was actually a fellow named Tony Perez who might have hit the biggest home run of that Series. And we saw that one on the screen a few times, too.

Without that one, no one ever would have looked at the Big Red Machine the same. Without that one, Perez's plaque might very well have never hung in the Hall of Fame gallery. Without that one, maybe that World Series wouldn't live on a quarter-century later in quite as vivid a shade of Technicolor.

We may never know who actually called THAT PITCH, because Carlton Fisk was still dancing around that question 25 years later. But we know how he feels about the man who hit THAT PITCH.

"Looking back on that," Fisk said, "as happy as I was for me for that sixth game, I'm as happy for him for that seventh game."

"Of course," Fisk couldn't help but add, "I wasn't too happy in 1975. But as I look back, I really am happy for him now."

So now we know, after a special Hall of Fame Sunday: After 25 years, the pain finally fades. But apparently, the memories of that '75 World Series never do.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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