If the Padres pitchers had been competent enough to hit Pascual Perez early, would anyone even remember this game?
Pascual Perez was clearly the type of character that would have gotten under the skin of an old-timer like Dick Williams. When the Pirates first gave him a chance to pitch in the big leagues, he would occasionally blow the smoke away from his imaginary finger gun after blowing a hitter away. Perez dropped that act in short order, after all, it couldn’t have been popular with guys like Chuck Tanner or Willie Stargell. It’s also the kind of thing that people don’t forget. I don’t know that Dick Williams ever witnessed this act, but there’s nothing about Perez that would have appealed to him. Do you remember Pascual Perez sprinting into the dugout at the end of an inning? Williams would have hated that. Can you remember Pascual Perez spiking the ball into the dirt around first after he made the final out of an inning like Pete Rose used to do? Yeah, Williams wouldn’t have liked that either.
I can only assume that Dick Williams didn’t like Pascual Perez, otherwise, the events of August 12, 1984 don’t make a lot of sense. That’s not to say that Dick Williams dislike of Perez was the only reason for the events of the day. Even though the Padres had a comfortable lead of nearly 10 games over the second place Braves, Williams was worried that his team was soft. I doubt that he looked around his clubhouse and found himself reminded of his world champion 1972 Oakland A’s. Old school guys like Dick Williams believed a fight could bring a team together, and it sure looked like he was looking for one that Sunday afternoon in the late Summer of 1984.
The Padres sent Alan Wiggins to the plate to start the game, and the first pitch he saw from Pascual Perez landed in the small of his back. Perez wasn’t exactly known for his subtle body language, and it sure looked like hitting Wiggins was not his intention. The Padres have claimed that Perez told Wiggins he was planning on hitting him to start the game. No matter, as he walked to first escorted by the umpire and a Padres trainer, Wiggins let Perez know what he thought about him. The Padres, a bee buzzing in their bonnet, emptied the dugout onto the grass. Order would be restored, but Dick Williams put a plan in motion. They would not retaliate immediately, but would instead get Perez, no matter how many tries it took. He went as far to specify a list of replacement managers and pitchers should any of them be ejected.
The Padres had their first chance in the bottom of the second. Ed Whitson sent a fastball that came in high and tight on Perez, who was trying to bunt the ball. The ball caught the knob of his bat, but Padres catcher Terry Kennedy was ready to get in Perez’s face. Even in the midst of a serious situation, Perez was funny and entertaining. He raised his bat like a weapon and all but danced away from the Padres towards the Braves dugout and his backup. (Well, actually, he sprinted. It was still hilarious.) Both dugouts emptied and met at home plate where they did a lot of yelling and a lot of staring. Tensions were not high with both teams. It’s notable that at this point, nobody was ejected from the game. Perez hit Wiggins and the Padres tried to hit Perez, but missed because Ed Whitson simply wasn’t a very good pitcher. The umpires followed the code. As far as the Padres were concerned though, it wasn’t over until Perez had a bruise from being hit.
Pascual Perez would again face an angry Whitson in the bottom of the fourth. Perez came up to the plate in his dancing shoes, and Whitson again failed to hit the Braves colorful starter. The umpires gave the Padres their chance in the second, but now they were done. Whitson and Williams were ejected and the game carried on. In the sixth inning, Perez came to the plate to face Padres reliever Greg Booker who, keeping with tradition, attempted to hit Perez and failed. This time, the Braves weren’t mollified by the ejection of Booker and Padres coach Ozzie Virgil Sr and the game’s first brawl took place. It’s unfortunate that MLB left the footage of the first brawl out of their highlights of the infamous game.
If Padres pitching had been even remotely competent that day, it’s doubtful that anyone would have remembered this game as anything special. Everyone watching the game on WTBS had to know that the Padres would not give up after failing to hit Perez in three straight at-bats. Craig Lefferts was on the mound when Perez again came to the plate in the eighth. The target was Perez’s elbow and this time the Padres pitcher did not miss. The dugouts and bullpens emptied again and the resulting brawl was full of highlights. There was Tony Gwynn all but body slamming Brad Komminsk to the ground before he could reach Lefferts. There was Tim Flannery and Gerald Perry throwing haymakers before wrestling each other to the ground. Craig Nettles managed to get a punch in on Braves reliever Donnie Moore.
The late Champ Summers wanted to rush the Braves dugout and get at Perez but was restrained by Bob Watson. Braves slugger Bob Horner was on the disabled list with a broken wrist, but after the earlier events in the game, he suited up and joined his teammates in the dugout. After Summers slipped free from Watson, he bum rushed the Braves dugout to be met by Horner who, with the assistance of two Braves fans took him to the ground as the fight moved in around them. When the dust cleared, ejections were handed out all around.
To start the ninth inning, the Braves brought in the late Donnie Moore. Braves skipper Joe Torre was ready to put the game away and move on. He told Moore as much, but when he looked in Moore’s eyes, he knew the Braves would be fighting again. Moore promptly plunked Nettles in the small of the back and started walking to the dugout to accept his inevitable ejection. Nettles rushed him, was turned around and tackled by former Yankee teammate Chris Chambliss who took him high, while Braves catcher Bruce Benedict took him low. Kurt Bevacqua rushed the field from the Padres dugout swinging wildly at anything that moved. Gerald Perry landed a hilarious sucker punch on Tim Flannery.
Once more ejections were handed out and order was restored on the field, the Padres got into it with the Braves fans behind their dugout. Bevacqua, pulling a Ron Artest, went after the fans, but he slipped in beer on top of the dugout and fell and the Braves fans began pummeling him. It took a security guard to get him away from the fans. One of the great images of the game was a shirtless Whitson returning to the dugout from the clubhouse to get into it with the fans. Once everything calmed down, the final tally was thirteen ejections and five fan arrests.
After the game, Braves manager Joe Torre let the press know exactly what he thought of Dick Williams. The words “idiot” and “gutless” were thrown around. To listen to the 1984 Padres tell the story, you would think the game was a turning point in their season. I don’t buy that. They were far ahead of the division at the time of the game and finished the season was a similarly large lead. They played no better after that point. They were, however, a very good baseball team. They would go on to stave off three straight elimination games against the Cubs in the NLCS before losing to a vastly superior Detroit Tigers team in the World Series.
As for the Braves, it was something of a lost season. They played well for a large portion of the season, but floundered as they fell out of contention. Joe Torre was fired after the season and replaced with the inept Eddie Haas. The game did cement Pascual Perez and Bob Horner as Atlanta favorites. Bob Horner showed himself as the consummate teammate, risking his own health to defend the Braves. Perez showed himself as the perfect entertainer: the instigator, the court jester, the comedian. There are those who look back on this game with embarrassment, but to a lot of us, it was simply great, great fun.
This is two straight weekends I’ve set here at my keyboard thinking about Pascual Perez. Last weekend was planned, obviously, but this weekend was not. The news of his murder is stunning to so many of us. It seems just like yesterday that I was listening to Skip, Pete and Ernie joke about Perez’s antics. It has been repeated again and again but Perez is one of the great characters of the game and I’m glad that for a short time WTBS was his stage. RIP Pascual.