Perez’s bad sense of direction helped lighten the mood in a Braves clubhouse reeling from an epic slump that saw them lose 19 of 21 games. Phil Niekro took Perez’s place on the mound and pitched the team to victory. They’d go on to win 12 of their next 14 to clinch the team’s second division title since moving to Atlanta in 1966.
A cult hero, complete with a gold-tooth smile and string-bean physique, was born.
“It’s a sad day,” said Braves teammate Dale Murphy. “I’m glad to be able to have some good memories with Pascual. Fun memories. He was part of our best years in the early ’80s, and there was never a dull moment with Pascual.”
Dominican authorities did not release a cause of death but said Perez was attacked inside his home in a town west of the capital of Santo Domingo. According to multiple reports from the Dominican he was stabbed in the neck by thieves who had come for his MLB pension check.
No suspects are in custody.
Though warmly remembered by Braves fans, Perez never attended any of the reunions of the 1982 team, said former team broadcaster Pete Van Wieren said.
“He was one of the guys you would’ve really liked to seen,” said the Braves Hall of Fame announcer. “But we had heard he was having some troubles.”
Perez struggled with drugs throughout his career and he was ultimately suspended by the league in 1992 after two positive cocaine tests.
Still, those who played with him say Perez was a solid teammate and noted that he was more than just a good luck charm. Perez won two games during the final week of the ‘82 season and followed up with 29 wins over the next two years.
“One thing for sure, he was a real competitor, he really was. He really competed as hard as he could,” Niekro said Thursday. “I haven’t heard of Pascual in quite a few years. I didn’t even know if he was still around, but I was hoping he was. I really would have liked to have seen him again.”
Perez had a knack for memorable moments while with the Braves and was in the middle of the one of the most famous brawls in baseball history late in the ‘84 season.
The fracas started when Perez hit San Diego Padres second baseman Alan Wiggins with the first pitch of the game. Padres pitchers tried to respond in kind, throwing at Perez each of the four times he came to bat. Perez then tried to plunk the Padres catcher with his bat and chaos ensued. Altogether 19 players and coaches were ejected, along with several fans who joined in on the fisticuffs.
“Pascual was truly a character,” Murphy said. “But I appreciated him as someone who was a good teammate and, besides Knucksie and Rick Mahler, he was one of the mainstays of our [pitching] staff for the years he was there.”
Perez was released by the Braves just before the 1986 season but resurfaced a year later with Montreal, where he would have his two best years. He last pitched for the New York Yankees, finishing his career with 67 wins. Brothers Carlos and Melido Perez were also successful big league pitchers.
“We were shocked to hear the news of Pascual Perez’ death earlier today,” Braves president John Schuerholz said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during the aftermath of this tragic event. Pascual left his mark with the Braves organization and will always be remembered fondly by Braves fans.”
Staff writers David O’Brien and George Mathis contributed to this article.