Neifi Pérez

This article was written by Ralph Carhart

Neifi PérezWhen Neifi Pérez signed his first major-league contract, on November 9, 1992, his employer had yet to engage in a single professional baseball game. Denver had been awarded a major-league baseball team in June of 1991, and the newly minted Colorado Rockies had already participated in the amateur draft of 1992. However, it wasn’t until the days approaching the expansion draft in mid-November that they signed their first amateur free agent, 19-year-old Perez. Born on June 2, 1973, in the municipality of Villa Mella, in the Santo Domingo Norte section of the Dominican Republic, Perez would become a hero in the DR and a legend in Caribbean Series history. But like too many other players of his era, the extreme measures he took during his career ultimately cost him.

From the beginning, it was clear that the versatile, agile Perez could cover ground in the field. Primarily a shortstop, Perez could also play second base. The larger question was how well he would hit. With the power surge of the 1990s, baseball had evolved past the good-field/no-hit shortstop mold that had been the norm in the previous decades. Faced with these expectations, Perez acquitted himself well enough in his first professional season, in 1993, with the Bend (Oregon) Rockies of the Northwest League. His numbers weren’t memorable; he batted an ordinary .260 in low-A ball. But he led the team in hits and stolen bases. He also led the team in games played, a trademark statistic of Perez’s early career.

The following year saw a promotion to high-A, to the Central Valley Rockies of the California League. His batting average fell to .239, but his consistency continued, as he once again led his teammates in games played. Perez was getting more comfortable on the basepaths as well, allowing him to transform his natural speed into triples, in which he also led the club. Unfortunately for Perez, as he slowly began to develop his offensive game, he started to struggle on the field. He made 39 errors that season. He was, however, responsible for a California League milestone, the first unassisted triple play in the 53-year history of the league.1 On May 9, in a game against the Bakersfield Dodgers, with Mike Kinney on second base and Matt Schwenke on first, Miguel Cairo hit a line drive right at Perez. The runners already in motion, Perez was able to snatch the ball out of the air, step on second base, and tag the oncoming Schwenke for the third out.

His rise through the ranks continued when he was sent to the Double-A New Haven Ravens at the start of 1995. The organization continued to work with him on his hitting, with occasional signs of hope. Perez was underperforming at the plate when New Haven manager Paul Zuvella approached him before a mid-July game and challenged him to take his offense to a “higher level.”2 Perez responded with a five-RBI night, including a two-run triple and three-run home run. He also cut his error total in half from the previous year. By season’s end, he had made it all the way to the Rockies’ Triple-A squad, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Perez began the 1996 campaign in Colorado Springs, and it was over the course of that season that the Colorado press finally began to call him the “Rockies’ future shortstop.” He had an electric year, hitting .316 with 12 triples, trailing only future major-league standout Bobby Abreu for the league lead in three-baggers. By the end of June there were rumors of his promotion. Still, he struggled on the field, particularly when it came to making hurried throws to first base on balls hit deep in the hole. He acknowledged that he had “to make better decisions. I have to learn when to keep the ball and not force a play.”3 He was tapped for the Triple-A All-Star game, where he scored the tying run on Brook Fordyce’s eighth-inning home run, giving the National League future stars a 2-1 victory over their American League counterparts.4

Despite Perez’s success, the Rockies were committed to their current shortstop, Walt Weiss. It was not until the rosters expanded at the end of August that Perez was called up. He quickly made his debut on August 31, a start in which he played the whole game. He manned second base, giving regular Eric Young the night off, and made three assists and one putout. At the plate he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. He got his first hit on September 12, a night on which he went 2-for-4 and got his first two big-league RBIs. Perez had a few more starts before the season ended, and filled in for late-innings defense for Weiss a handful of times. For his part, Weiss led the league in errors at shortstop with 30. Perez’s brief audition was impressive enough that the starting shortstop for the 1997 season was an uncertainty in the Rockies organization. Weiss himself told the media that he expected to be traded.5

Weiss was mistaken. When the Rockies played the Cincinnati Reds on Opening Day 1997, Weiss was the shortstop and remained so through most of the team’s first 100 games. Perez remained in Colorado Springs, where he tore up the league. By the end of June, halfway through the season, he was hitting .363 with eight home runs, already a career high. He became quite vocal that he felt he belonged in the majors, giving a hotheaded newspaper interview in which he said, “Everything I can learn in Triple-A, I’ve learned already. My time is over here. I hope they move me up … before my patience is over and I do something crazy.”6

The Rockies clearly agreed with their presumptuous young infielder. He was back in the majors within a week of that interview. At first he filled in around the infield, playing shortstop, second base, and third base. Weiss was having an adequate season, but a groin injury in late July put him on the disabled list and opened the door for Perez to regularly play his natural position.7 He excelled during Weiss’s absence, hitting .333 with three home runs over 20 games. When Weiss returned, Rockies manager Don Baylor had no intention of pulling Perez out of the lineup.

Instead, the Rockies traded regular second baseman Eric Young to the Los Angeles Dodgers and shifted Perez to the right side of the infield, where he played for the remainder of the season. He was sharp at second base, to the tune of a .992 fielding percentage, and he finished the season with an outstanding rookie-year batting average of .291. Despite playing in only 83 games, half the season, he led the team in triples. He even got a vote for the Rookie of the Year Award, which went to Phillies standout Scott Rolen. That offseason the Rockies committed to their “shortstop of the future,” as Weiss exited via free agency when he refused the Rockies’ request that he move to second base to make room for Perez.8

Perez returned home to the Dominican Republic that winter to play for his national team in the Caribbean Series. The previous year the Dominican Republic had won its sixth Series championship since the tournament was revived in 1970, after a 10-year hiatus following the end of the Cuban Winter League in 1961. Perez, who normally played for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, was invited to join league champion Aguilas Cibaeñas for the four-team tournament. Facing Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, Perez led Aguilas to the Dominican Republic’s second straight title. Over the tournament, he batted .478 with five RBIs and six doubles. He hit a two-run home run in the Series finale, securing the victory over Venezuela. He was named the Caribbean Series MVP.9

Fresh off this achievement and tapped as the starting shortstop for the Rockies in 1998, Perez appeared to have a very bright future. In spring training manager Baylor compared him to Luis Aparicio. Perez, who just eight months previously was loudly touting his skills, had learned a modicum of humility in the ensuing time. He waved off the comparison, stating, “I want to wait and see what happens. … I’m just going to play like I play.”10 Partnered with new second baseman Mike Lansing, acquired from the Montreal Expos, Perez led the league in 1998 in double plays turned at shortstop with 127, over 30 more than runners-up Edgar Renteria and Chris Gomez.

His versatility in the field was tested in a June 7 game against the Anaheim Angels. An injury and lineup machinations left the Rockies without a catcher in a game they had tied 5-5 with two runs in the top of the ninth. Perez was plugged in behind the plate and ultimately figured in the final score. He failed to handle a wild pitch by Jerry DiPoto and Angels slugger Jim Edmonds barreled in with the winning run before Perez could corral the ball. It was Neifi’s lone professional appearance as catcher.

His success at the plate fell a bit from his freshman year, as his batting average dipped by .017. He also seemed to be struggling to harness his inherent speed. He stole only five bases and hit one less triple than in the year before, when he had played only half a season. He did lead the league at putting bunts into play, with 67, but he struggled to turn those into hits. On the plus side, his 22 sacrifices were tops in the majors and he managed the statistical quirk of hitting for the cycle on July 25, despite not being a home-run hitter. He was also an injury-free presence in the lineup, appearing in all 162 games of a generally disappointing Colorado season. The Rockies finished in fourth place, 21 games behind the division champion San Diego Padres.

Perez and the Rockies did have the pleasure of playing spoiler when, on the last day of the season, they defeated the San Francisco Giants, robbing them of the wild card. The Giants led 7-0 in the fifth, but the Rockies fought back and it was Perez, with a ninth-inning leadoff home run, just his ninth of the year, that put the nail in the Giants’ coffin.11 The loss forced a one-game tiebreaker game against the Cubs, a contest the Giants lost.

Perez returned to the Dominican League and the Caribbean Series during the 1999 offseason and made history. He led Escogido to the regular-season Dominican championship with a dramatic three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth of the final game of the season. Los Leones lost the best-of-nine championship series to Los Tigres del Licey, and it was they who secured a trip to Puerto Rico where they would represent the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series.12 Once again, Perez was asked to join the national team for the tournament, and once again he led the Dominican Republic to victory, its record third in a row. Playing alongside the likes of David Ortiz and Adrian Beltré, both likely Cooperstown-bound, it was Perez who walked away with his second MVP trophy, hitting safely in all six games (12 hits) in the tournament.

Over the next two seasons Perez continued to improve in Colorado, on the field and at the plate. He led the majors in at-bats and triples in 1999 and saw his batting average climb both of those seasons, reaching .287 in 2000. He won his lone Gold Glove that year, when he led all National League shortstops in assists, putouts, and double plays. His dWar (defensive wins above replacement) of 2.1 was third in the National League. The new century also marked arbitration for Perez and his salary skyrocketed from $400,000 in 1999 to $3.5 million for the 2001 season. He had become one of the premier names in baseball.

The Rockies, however, remained mired in mediocrity. Perez and his hefty new contract had become attractive trade bait,13 and on July 25 he was included in a three-way trade that sent slugger Jermaine Dye to the Oakland A’s while Perez himself became a member of the Kansas City Royals. Perez struggled adjusting at the plate in the new league and hit only .241 in 49 games played for the Royals. He also saw his team’s fortunes fall; the Royals were even worse than the Rockies, finishing the year in last place at 65-97.

Perez continued to participate in the winter leagues and perhaps it was this constant play that led to a decline at the plate in 2002. Or perhaps it was because Perez aged two years overnight. Neifi was one of the players named in a minor scandal that offseason when it was revealed that a number of Dominicans had been lying about their ages. Increased scrutiny of birth documentation, a side effect of the terrorist attacks on September 11, revealed Perez to be 28 instead of 26, as he had stated on his employment records.14 Whatever the reason, he hit a paltry .236 and, perhaps most telling of his decline, only four triples in 145 games. The Royals lost 100 games that season, and with its conclusion, Perez was put on waivers.

He was claimed by the San Francisco Giants, who a month later released him before signing him again on December 31. The move was a cost-cutting measure on their part as he signed for the bargain-basement price of $1.5 million, $2.5 million less than his salary the previous year with the Royals. With the Giants, Perez saw his time more evenly split between shortstop and second base. He played in 120 games, filling in for regular shortstop Rich Aurilia and second baseman Ray Durham, who was twice on the disabled list that year, including missing almost the entire month of August.

The Giants also marked the first time in Perez’s major-league career that he was playing on a winner. The 2002 Giants were National League champions and Perez came to camp in 2003 optimistic about being a part of a successful squad. The Giants did not disappoint, winning 100 games in 2003 (only one year after Perez had lost 100 with the Royals). The Giants, with Barry Bonds at the ready, were heavily favored to beat the wild-card Florida Marlins in the Division Series. The Marlins shocked the baseball world by not only winning the pennant, but the World Series, defeating the New York Yankees in six games.

Perez, relegated to his part-time role, made only four plate appearances in the postseason. He had one hit, a double to lead off the ninth inning of the fourth and final game of the Division Series. J.T. Snow knocked him in with a single, bringing the Giants to within one run of tying the game. After that, Marlins closer Ugueth Urbina slammed the door, ending the Series and the Giants’ 2003 campaign.

When the Giants declined to sign Aurilia for the 2004 season, Perez found himself once again elevated to being an everyday player as he took over starting shortstop duties. Things started well as he had a huge day at the plate on just the second day of the season, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs, lifting the Giants to a 7-5 victory over the Houston Astros. The next three months, however, saw a steady and precipitous decline for Perez. By mid-August he was hitting just .232. San Francisco was also floundering, 7½ games back and in third place. The Giants released Perez on August 17 in order to bring up pitcher Kevin Correia from Triple A. In the words of Giants manager Felipe Alou, “(Perez) showed up every day and didn’t complain. … We just felt we needed to add an arm.”15 Two days later, Perez was signed by the Chicago Cubs.

Perez began his tenure with Chicago in Iowa, playing for the Triple-A Cubs. His first visit to the minors since 1997 did not go well; he batted only .206 in 10 games. Chicago, chasing the resurgent Giants for the wild card, had a five-day layoff at the beginning of September when their series against the Marlins was postponed because of Hurricane Frances. When they returned to action on September 6, Perez was on the roster, despite his poor minor-league showing. He made 67 plate appearances with the Cubs in that final month of the season and had one of the longest stretches of offensive excellence in his career, batting .371 during the pennant chase. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the Astros went 28-7 over their last 35 games, dashing Chicago’s wild-card dreams.

When the 2005 season began, the Cubs were a team with an infield in flux, a fact that was exacerbated when star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra severely injured his groin in April. They attempted to address this issue by having Perez bounce between playing shortstop and second base. By this point in his career, however, Perez no longer had the infield versatility he once had. This became painfully obvious in a May 15 game against the Washington Nationals. In addition to an ugly 0-for-5 at the plate, Perez had two errors in the same inning while playing second. Perez tried to stay upbeat, stating, “It’s the hardest day in baseball that you don’t want to see, but you have to go through. … But you have to forget about today and come back tomorrow.”16 The Cubs, for their part, seemed to have learned their lesson. While Perez would fill in occasionally at second and third base over the remainder of the year, after that game he rarely played any position other than shortstop.

Perez had such a successful season that when Garciaparra returned in early August, Cubs manager Dusty Baker lamented the loss of Perez in the lineup. “I think he’s proven he’s more than just a utility guy. … Am I supposed to bench Neifi now? This guy saved us.”17 Baker kept him in the lineup and Perez responded, batting .299 over the last two months. The Cubs, however, had a terrible August, which all but eliminated them from postseason contention. While Perez finished the year with his highest batting average since 2001, he went home at season’s end still longing for a chance at playoff glory.

The Cubs’ fortunes did not improve in 2006 and by midseason fans were screaming for Baker’s ouster.18 This was in no small part due to his dedication to Perez. While Perez was having another average season, the Cubs had a number of young players waiting in the wings. Fans were desperate for Baker to stop batting Perez second in the lineup. Perez not only had a substandard average for the lineup spot, but was also staying true to his career form and rarely collecting bases on balls. By mid-August, Perez had a .266 on-base percentage.

On August 20 both Cubs fans and Perez got their wish when he was traded from fifth-place Chicago to the first-place Detroit Tigers. The Tigers had lost their regular second baseman, Placido Polanco, to a shoulder injury and Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski traded minor-league catcher Chris Robinson for Perez in the hopes that a steady veteran presence would help his team over the season’s final weeks. Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who had managed Perez with the Rockies in 2000, was excited about the new acquisition, stating, “He fits right in our mold. He’s a wild-swinging son of a gun.”19 Perez, who must have been looking forward to playing for a pennant contender, may have felt a little cursed. The Tigers, who had been in first place since May 16, had a miserable September, including losing their last five games. Detroit was 5½ games up when Perez joined the team and after their loss on the final day of the season they only qualified for the wild card.

The Tigers rebounded in the postseason, making it to the World Series. Unfortunately for Perez, Polanco was back in the lineup by the last week of September and Perez spent most of the postseason watching from the bench. He made his first appearance, and his first-ever start in a playoff game, on October 11 in the American League Championship Series. Tigers first baseman Sean Casey injured his left calf in the first game of the ALCS20 against the Oakland Athletics, and Leyland had to shuffle his infield, putting regular shortstop Carlos Guillen at first and plugging in Perez to fill his vacated position. Perez barely figured in the final result, an 8-5 Detroit victory in which he went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice hit. In the field he handled one chance and made one assist. His contribution to the 2006 American League pennant winners was effectively done that night. Perez served as a late-inning replacement in Games One and Three of the World Series (the Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games), but he never came to bat in the postseason again in his career.

Although he had a guaranteed contract, 2007 was far from a sure thing for Perez going into spring training. He ended up beating out Chris Shelton and Ramon Santiago for the final roster spot,21 but his stay in Detroit, and the major leagues was almost complete. Already mired in a miserable season, hitting just .172, Perez on July 6 became the first player penalized for testing positive for a stimulant under Major League Baseball’s new drug program. The program gave players a free pass when they failed the first test, only mandating counseling, which meant that Perez’s failed test was his second. He denied the allegations, stating, “I say to my fans that I am not stupid. I know the difference between good and bad and there are things to be known going forward, but my lawyer has advised me not to talk for now.”22

Whatever defense he was going to provide went unheard when on August 3, while still serving his first suspension, Perez failed his third test for stimulants and was handed an additional 80-game ban. The penalty would have extended beyond the 2007 season and leaked into 2008, but when Perez was made a free agent at the end of the season, no team claimed him. Already an offensive liability, he was now also damaged goods. No player had ever been punished twice for violating the drug program and it spelled the end of Perez’s major-league career.

In 2008-09 Perez once again returned to the Dominican Winter League, playing for his old team, Escogido. His championship days wreathed in Caribbean Series glory were over. He batted a meager .179 in 25 games that year and this time, when Aguilas represented the Dominican Republic in the tournament, Perez was not asked to join them. He did have one more moment of glory when in 2012 he was named to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame alongside his countryman Joaquín Andújar. He received the mandatory votes from a pool of 200 journalists, radio and TV broadcasters, and historians from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.

To celebrate the accomplishment, he was asked to throw out the first pitch of the Caribbean Series game between Mexico’s Ciudad Obregon Yaquis and his beloved Leones, in Escogido’s home ballpark before thousands of admiring hometown fans.23 It was a crowning moment in a career that knew the ultimate pride of national victory and the ultimate shame of expulsion from the pinnacle of his sport.

Last revised: October 29, 2022



1 “Shortstop Turns Triple Play,” Santa Maria (California) Times, May 11, 1994: B-3.

2 Cheryl Rosenberg, “Perez Has Five RBI as Ravens Defeat Navigators, 9-4,” Hartford Courant, July 13, 1995: C3.

3 “Rockies Future Shortstop Waits Patiently,” Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune, June 30, 1996: D5.

4 “NL edges AL in AAA All-Star Game,” Bloomington (Illinois) Pantagraph, July 11, 1996: B2.

5 Bruce Pascoe, “Shortstop for Rockies Is Status Quo,” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), February 22, 1997: C-5.

6 John Mossman, “The Future is Now: Perez in Majors,” Casper Star-Tribune, June 19, 1997: D1.

7 “Notes,” The Journal News (White Plains, New York), July 29, 1997: 6D.  

8 Kevin Clerici, “Perez Ready for His New Role as Colorado’s Starting Shortstop,” Arizona Daily Star, February 23, 1998: C1.

9 “Domincan Roars Through Caribbean Series,” San Francisco Examiner, February 10, 1998: B-7.

10 John Mossman, “Perez Gets Rave Reviews,” Casper Star-Tribune, February 24, 1998: D-1.

11 John Mossman, “Giant High Turns into Low,” Boston Globe, September 28, 1998: D6.

12 Tracy Ringolsby, “Neifi Just Loves the Game,” Casper Star-Tribune, February 9, 1999: D-1.

13 “Athletics Acquire Dye, Royals Get Perez in Three-Team Deal,” Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida), July 26, 2001: 2D.

14 Phil Rogers, “More Dominican-Born Players Admit Ages,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 3, 2002: D1.

15 “Giants Release Perez,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 14, 2004: B7.

16 Howard Fendrich, “A Day to Forget for the Cubs,” Munster (Indiana) Times, May 16, 2005: C3.  

17 David Brown, “Garciaparra’s Return Likely to Affect Perez,” Northwest Herald (Woodstock, Illinois), July 27, 2005: 5B. 

18 David Haugh, “Blogosphere Therapy,” Chicago Tribune, July 7, 2006: 4-7.

19 John Paul Morosi, “Trade With Cubs Brings Help at 2B,” Detroit Free Press, August 21, 2006: D1.

20 “Rookies to Take Mound for Game 1,” Palm Beach West Post, October 21, 2006: 9C.

21 “The Next Step,” Lansing (Michigan) State Journal, April 1, 2007: 6C.

22 Larry Lage, “Tigers’ Perez Hit with 25-Game Suspension,” Daily Journal (Vineland, New Jersey), July 7, 2007: C2. 

23 Javier Maymi, “Francisco Liriano Lifts Escogido Leones,”, February 5, 2012.

Full Name

Neifi Neftali Perez Diaz


June 2, 1973 at Villa Mella, Santo Domingo (D.R.)

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