Indians Lookback: How Chris Perez Turned His Tribe Closer Experience Into a Complex Mix of Emotions

Matt Loede

The story about the career of former Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez is a complex one.

Many will remember Perez as a pitcher who as the team’s closer would come in and, at times, give up base runners to put the team in a jam before somehow working his way out of it to earn a save.

Others will remember Perez for his June 2013 incident in which he sent marijuana to his home in Rocky River addressed to his dog.

The incident was the start of the end for Perez with the Indians, as it wasn’t long thereafter that he stopped speaking to the media, this after having a solid relationship with reporters even after a blown save.

Perez was released after the 2013 season, and while he caught on with a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he never made an impact after his time in Cleveland.

He also inked minor league deals with both the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles before finally retiring August 22 of 2015 at the age of 30.

The career of Perez in Cleveland started after he and Jess Todd were traded to the Tribe in June of 2009 from the St.Louis Cardinals for Mark DeRosa.

It didn’t take long for the Indians to give him the ball as the team’s closer, as Perez took the role after the Indians traded Kerry Wood to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline.

In his first full season as the Indians closer in 2010, Perez collected 23 saves to go along with a record of 2-2 with a solid 1.71 ERA.

He threw in 63 games in 2010, compiling 63 innings with 38 strikeouts for the Tribe, who were convinced they had found their closer who could be counted on when the team finally turned the corner to get good again.

It appeared that 2011 might be a special season for the team, as under manager Manny Acta the team started 20-8, and were the early talk of all of baseball.

By May 3 of the 2011 season Perez already had eight saves, and the team was rolling as by May 11 the Tribe had a five and a half game lead in the American League Central.

As the season progressed through the rest of the division and baseball caught up with the Tribe, and coming out of the All-Star break the club lost 12 of their first 19 games, and the season ended with the team two games under .500 at 80-82.

The Indians went 33-40 in the second half, sealing their fate, and while Perez was an All-Star with 36 saves on the season, the team’s fast start was not enough to secure a playoff spot.

Perez continued to throw well, and in 2012 he was again a member of the American League All-Star squad, amassing 39 saves on the season with a record of 0-4 and an ERA of 3.59, this despite blowing a save in the first game of the year at home.

It was that 2012 season when you could start to see some cracks in Perez’s personality, as in both May and June he spoke out publicly against Indians fans, in so many words calling them “fair weather” fans who were more interested in supporting the Browns over the Indians, despite the lack of wins the Browns had put up over the years.

“Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans, we know the weather stinks, but people see that (attendance), other players know that,” Perez said May 19 2012.

“Fans can't take it personal when the players don't want to stay here or players don't want to come here," he said. "It's a business. You didn't choose to get drafted by Cleveland. I'm in it for my family. Who knows? I could throw my last pitch tomorrow.

"At the same time, I'm here. I'm here to win. I'm here for my teammates and I want to bring a championship to Cleveland, to do my job and help the team win.”

The tirade against the fans actually may have earned Perez some respect, as the fans the next time he pitched gave him a standing ovation.

Then came 2013 and things got more tense between Perez and not only the fans but the organization as well, as the Indians avoided arbitration with Perez in January, inking him to a one-year contract worth $7.3 million.

It didn’t take long into 2013 for things to go south for Perez, as he blew a save in the team’s second game of the year in Toronto against the Blue Jays, not a good start under new manager Terry Francona.

Then things took a bizarre turn for Perez when he and his wife were arrested and charged with marijuana possession on June 4 for having the drug sent to his Rocky River home under the name of his dog.

It was an embarrassing incident not only for Perez but for the franchise, but for the most part on the mound he stayed consistent through the first half of 2013.

By the All-Star break in 2013 Perez had 10 saves while the Indians sat with a mark four games over .500 at 47-43.

He came out strong after the break, saving five games and winning two by the end of July, but it was another blown save on August 5 that caused controversy.

After the loss he declared that his relationship with the local media, who always supported Perez, was over.

He announced he was boycotting speaking to the media for the rest of the season.

The team caught fire after a 12-16 August, and in September the team was the best in the Majors, going 21-6 including a 10-game win streak to end the season to lock down home field for the American League Wild Card game against Tampa Bay.

Perez, who by the end of September had gone back to speaking with the media, was on the playoff roster, but didn’t pitch in the wild card game, which the Indians lost to the Rays 4-0 in what would be Perez’s final game with the Indians.

He was released on October 31 of 2013, and by then the team had decided to cut ties with him, deciding to go with Cody Allen as the team’s new closer.

Perez moved on to Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers, appearing in 49 games going 1-3 with a 4.27 ERA. He saved one game for the Dodgers in 2014, and was not brought back following the season.

In 2015 he inked a one-year, minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, but was released and after being brought back eventually used an opt-out clause on April 27 to leave the club.

Perez was also suspended 50 games in 2015 for violation of the drug policy by testing positive for a drug of abuse.

Despite being suspended he was inked to a minor league deal on July 2 of 2015 by the Orioles, but on August 22 announced his retirement, walking away from the game at the age of 30.

Over the course of his seven-year Major League career, Perez saved 133 games, with 124 of those coming with the Indians, which still ranks him fourth all-time for the franchise.

He went 16-24 in his seven seasons with a 3.51 ERA with 362 strikeouts.

Perez’s success in Cleveland could be looked at as one that never seemed to come easy, as well as one that saw some high points and two All-Star appearances.

His speaking out against the fans more than once was not well thought out, and it hurt his relationship in a city where he was embraced every time his theme, “Firestarter” by The Prodigy started to play signaling his entrance in a game.

Instead his Cleveland career ended on a down note, while fans wanted to continue to embrace and cheer for Perez, he gave them little choice to do so with his outspoken comments.