Mike Pérez (Trading Card DB)

Mike Pérez

This article was written by Tony Oliver

Mike Pérez (Trading Card DB)Superman had his fortress of solitude. Mike Pérez had the pitching mound. On it, there was no hesitation, no bullying, no talking. Teased by neighborhood kids for his stutter, Pérez found solace on the mound, where his strong right arm balanced the odds and silenced the opposition bats. Drive and determination took Pérez all the way to the major leagues, where he enjoyed an eight-year career (1990-97) as a set-up man for the Cardinals, Cubs, and Royals.

Michael (Mike) Irvin Pérez Ortega was born in Yauco, Puerto Rico, on October 19, 1964. He attended his hometown public schools and excelled on the local diamonds. He began as a Little League shortstop, transitioned into an outfielder and part-time pitcher with his Barinas neighborhood team, and found his calling as a full-time hurler with the “Double-A Youth” squad. At barely 18 years of age, he was the ace of the semiprofessional Cafeteros of the Puerto Rico Béisbol Superior Doble A.

His father, Edwin Pérez, worked for the Commonwealth Oil Refinery Corporation (CORCO), an ambitious project undertaken by the government in the 1950s to boost the production of energy. By the 1980s the massive campus was a rust-covered white elephant, a casualty of the global oil markets and a victim of the salt-rich wind gusts from the Caribbean Sea. His mother, Estela Rosa Ortega, ran the household and took care of Mike and his two siblings. Edwin bought Mike a blue baseball glove emblazoned with Roberto Clemente’s facsimile signature, a gift that Mike proudly put to use in his neighborhood sandlot.

Pérez had just turned 18 when he was selected among 30 young players for the Puerto Rican National Youth Baseball Team, alongside fellow future major leaguers Juan Nieves, Joey Cora, Luis Alicea, and Rubén Sierra. The squad competed in the 12th World Youth Baseball Tournament in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, in the fall of 1982.1

Osvaldo Gil, then president of the Puerto Rican Amateur Baseball Federation, recommended Pérez to the San José (California) City College athletic program, which offered the young pitcher a scholarship. Pérez spent a year on the West Coast before transferring to the University of Florida. While the school’s proximity to Puerto Rico was beneficial, he was still an airplane flight away from his family. When his mother became ill, Pérez wanted to be by her side – as a son would. Gators coach Joe Arnold refused the request for family leave and did not mince words, threatening Pérez not to return if he left the team. But where others might have cowered, Pérez stood his ground. He told the skipper to stick the scholarship in a very specific body orifice and left the team to be with his ailing mother.

Pérez considered enrolling in the Army but instead transferred to Troy State University in Alabama at the behest of coach Chase Riddle, a former scout who signed José Cruz Sr. and Steve Carlton for the Cardinals. Pérez was dominant in his sole season with the Trojans in 1986. He set a school record with 13 wins and struck out 114 batters in 107 2/3 innings. His 2.06 ERA is third best in the college’s history, and he led the team to its first NCAA Division II National Championship. He allowed one hit and struck out seven opponents in the 5-0 final game against Columbus State, despite a 26-minute rain delay in the fourth inning and a line drive that caromed off his right thigh.2

Pérez was chosen for All-State and All-American honors, and Riddle recommended his pupil to St. Louis. He signed with the Cardinals six days after being picked in the 12th round (312th overall) of the 1986 amateur draft, ahead of future Rookies of the Year Tim Salmon and Chuck Knoblauch and All-Stars Rod Beck, John Olerud, and Rick Reed.3 Pérez joined the Johnson City (Tennessee) Cardinals in the rookie-level Appalachian League and pitched in 18 games (eight starts). His 72 strikeouts were fifth best in the circuit, despite his pitching only 72 2/3 innings. Those eight starts would be his last as a professional – St. Louis envisioned him as a reliever.

Pitching for the Springfield (Illinois) Cardinals in 1987, Pérez led the Class A Midwest League with 41 saves, 0.85 ERA, and a 0.806 WHIP. He stymied hitters with 119 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings. The Sporting News noted his early season success: “Almost all of the Cardinals’ farm teams seem to have relief aces…Mike Perez (with) eight (saves) at Springfield.”4 By season’s end, the weekly noted he had “compiled a 6-2 record with a remarkable 41 saves for 92 Rolaids Relief Man points, the most ever in the seven-year history of the National Association.”5

Pérez garnered a spring training invitation in 1988 but began the season with Arkansas of the double-A Texas League. He was outmatched (18 runs in 14 1/3 innings) and demoted to St. Petersburg of the Class A Florida League. Pérez did not allow a run in his first 10 outings en route to 17 saves and a 2.08 ERA in 35 games.6 Baseball America rated him as the 10th-best prospect in the Cardinals organization.7

Pérez was an All-Star in 1989 with Arkansas, posting a 4-6 record, 3.64 ERA, and 33 saves in 57 games. After the season the Cardinals added Pérez to their winter roster and assigned him to triple-A Louisville for 1990.8  He was 7-7 in 57 games and posted a 4.28 ERA, 31 saves, and a 1.441 WHIP. He led the league in saves both years.

Pérez debuted with St. Louis on September 5, 1990, and pitched the last two innings of the Cardinals’ 6-2 loss to the Expos. He struck out one batter and induced five groundouts, including Andrés Galarraga on his first pitch. On September 20 he tossed a scoreless ninth inning in the Cardinals’ 5-4 comeback victory over the Phillies to earn his first major-league win. In 13 games for the Cardinals, he allowed six runs in 13 2/3 innings, saved a game, and was credited with a hold in two others.

In 1991 Pérez made the parent club out of spring training as closer Lee Smith’s set-up man.9 He appeared in nine games in April (two holds, one loss, 2.84 ERA), but a pair of rough outings in early May ballooned his ERA to 5.82. The Cardinals felt he needed more seasoning and sent him to Triple A in late May. His difficulties continued with Louisville; hampered by a sudden loss of command, he was confined to middle relief and posted a 6.13 ERA.

Nevertheless, the Cardinals invited Pérez to spring training in 1992 and he turned heads with a new weapon in his arsenal: the forkball. Manager Joe Torre called the pitch “something he needed to get out lefthanded hitters.”10 Injuries to Scott Terry, Joe Magrane, and Frank DiPino opened a spot on the roster, and Pérez seized the opportunity. By mid-June he had allowed only four runs in 43 2/3 innings and had enjoyed a streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings.11

He finished the season with a career high nine wins, 1.84 ERA, 93 innings, 77 appearances (third highest in the NL and a new club record), and a 1.097 WHIP. The BBWAA noticed his performance, as he received two votes for the National League Rookie of the Year Award and finished in sixth place.12

In 1993 Pérez was 7-2 in 65 games with a 2.48 ERA. He saved seven games and struck out 58 batters in 72 2/3 frames despite a month-long stint on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He was the heir apparent to the closer’s role when Lee Smith was traded to the Yankees on August 31, but some in the organization felt he was hesitant to claim the role. Pérez himself gave that impression in an interview with the Associated Press a few days after Smith’s trade: “I’m happy with what I’m doing right now. I don’t see any reason to change. The media makes the closer role bigger than it really is and I don’t think I’d like that. The money would be better, but unless we’re talking about millions of dollars, I think I can make a good career without it.”13

The Sporting News reported that GM Dal Maxvill and Torre had cleared the air with the pitcher during the offseason. The manager stated, “Pérez said those remarks were made while Lee (Smith) was still here. (Pérez) just wanted to let Dal know that he would like the opportunity to win the job and that his comments were a little bit out of context (having been made) before Smith left (for the Yankees). He said he didn’t want to be stepping on anybody’s toes.”14

Pérez explained that he “was a stopper in the minor leagues. I think I can adjust to being the stopper. The ball is the same and the measurements are the same as in the minor leagues. The biggest adjustment I’ll have to make is dealing with the media. I like to pitch, shower and go home. Now, I’ll pitch, shower, have to speak for a few minutes with the media and then go home. Some guys like to be in the spotlight, but not me.”15

Perhaps unnerved by the attention, Pérez was ineffective in 1994. His right shoulder was again injured in late April, and he was uncomfortable on the mound: “I’d like to find my rhythm, but I can’t. I’m working hard to be like I was, but I won’t know what it is, it doesn’t feel the same. It comes and it goes.”16 A cortisone shot in June seemingly addressed the source of discomfort: “I keep getting more life in my arm, and I’m really excited about it. I don’t like to make excuses, but I believe the reason I was getting smacked so hard before was because my arm wasn’t the same.”17 However, he had lost the closer role to René Arocha by late June and underwent rotator cuff surgery in July. Despite 12 saves and six holds, he finished with an 8.71 ERA, his worst in the majors. The Cardinals declined to offer him a contract and he became a free agent on December 23, 1994. He was the next-to-last Cardinal to wear #42 before MLB retired the number in honor of Jackie Robinson on April 15, 1997.18

The Chicago Cubs invited Pérez to their spring training camp in 1995, and he made the roster. He was keen to prove himself early in the season: “Last year was a terrible year. I’m just trying to have fun and prove that I’m back.”19 For inspiration, he taped a picture of a shark with its jaws wide open on his locker. The image helped as he enjoyed a solid comeback season: 3.66 ERA, two wins, and a pair of saves in 68 appearances (fifth-most in the NL).

Pérez re-signed with the Cubs for the 1996 season, but his ERA increased a full run, to 4.67 in 24 games (27 innings). In June he was demoted to triple-A Iowa. Pérez understood the move: “I’m not surprised about it. I know it was a business decision and I just thanked (manager Jim Riggleman) for giving me the opportunity.”20 Unfortunately his troubles continued in Iowa, where he was 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA in 23 games. He became a free agent on October 15.

By then 32, Pérez signed with the Kansas City Royals on May 2, 1997, and was assigned to triple-A Omaha. He made 34 appearances, won four games, and saved eight others, but had a 4.71 ERA and a 1.541 WHIP. Called up in mid-July, he was an effective set-up man for the Royals in 16 games. He won two decisions, had a 3.54 ERA, and tossed 20 1/3 innings. Even so, he was released by the organization on August 22.

Pérez finished his major-league career with 24 wins, 16 losses, and 22 saves in 313 appearances, all of them in relief. His 3.56 ERA (110+ ERA) was buoyed by his two finest seasons, 1992-93, when he pitched almost half of his career innings and turned in a sparkling 2.12 ERA (172 ERA+). He did not allow many home runs (26 in 346 career innings) and had somewhat above-average control, walking 3.1 batters per nine innings. Modern statistics hint he may have benefited from good luck, as his Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was almost a quarter-run higher than his career ERA.

Pérez played for 13 years in the Puerto Rican winter league. He co-led the league with six wins in 1987-1988 and is tied for 13th place in career saves (30) with Mike Hartley. He was the closer for the Mayagüez Indios (Indians), champions in 1991-92, 1996-97, 1997-98, and 1998-1999. He appeared in 155 games and was 14-12 with a 3.42 ERA. Lingering injuries from a December 1997 car accident forced him into early retirement.

Pérez spent the summer of 1998 away from the sport but returned in 1999 to coach the Gulf Coast Braves (rookie league) pitching staff. The team finished with a 27-33 record despite a collective 3.49 ERA, fourth-best in the 14-team circuit.21 Only two pitchers, Andrew Brown and Ben Kozlowski, reached the major leagues.

Pérez became president of the Asociación de Peloteros Profesionales de Puerto Rico (Professional Baseball Players Association) in 2000. Though he had never harbored aspirations to lead the union, he led the organization for close to a decade, through arduous challenges including the cancellation of the 2007-2008 season due to the league’s precarious finances. Nevertheless, he fondly recalls his tenure: “My greatest achievement is re-establishing the trust of my fellow baseball players in the union. I have fond memories and people were happy with the way I handled the role. I always believed in fairness; it’s not all about money.”22

He stepped down from the presidency of the players’ union and was honored by the organization for his decade of service during the 2021-2022 Puerto Rican winter league All-Star Game. Yamil Benítez, his successor, presented Pérez a plaque and stated, “You presided over the Professional Baseball Players Union for 10-plus years, the hardest ones in its history. You displayed the same tenacity and commitment as you did on the pitching mound, and you worked to improve the working conditions and benefits of the players in our union. You ensured they were respected.”23

In 2020, Pérez suffered a tremendous personal loss as his eldest daughter Michelle died from cancer at 19.24 Although he continued to informally advise Benítez, Pérez focused on his family. He was inducted into the Troy University Sports Hall of Fame on September 3, 2021.25 He and his former wife Mayra Vélez García have seven surviving children. As of 2024, he still resides in Puerto Rico.

Last revised: March 19, 2024



The author thanks the following people:

  • Yamíl Benítez for providing Mike Pérez’s contact information.
  • Diego Ruíz for providing valuable biographical details.
  • Héctor Marrero for providing Mike Pérez’s statistics from the Puerto Rican winter league.

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Rick Zucker and fact-checked by Ray Danner.



Unless otherwise stated, quotations stem from the author’s telephone interview with Mike Pérez on August 13, 2023.

The author consulted thebaseballcube.com, baseball-reference.com, and beisbol101.com.



1 Roberto Agrinzoni, “Béisbol Juvenil Buscando Talento,” El Mundo de Puerto Rico, August 28, 1982:25.

2 Tom Ensey, “1986 National Champions,” Troy Baseball Media Guide 2022, https://issuu.com/troy_athletics/docs/_2022_media_guide/s/15107228

3 The Baseball Cube, Mike Pérez Baseball Transactions, https://www.thebaseballcube.com/page.asp?PT=player&ID=16496&Y=1997&View=draft

4 “Around the Minors,” The Sporting News, May 25, 1987: 38.

5 Stan Isle, “Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News, September 21, 1987: 40.

6 “Minor Notes: National,” The Sporting News, June 20, 1988: 33.

7 Mike Pérez Baseball Cube Profile, http://www.thebaseballcube.com/prospects/years/byTeam.asp?Y=1988&T=27&Src=BA

8 “Cardinals,” The Sporting News, December 04, 1989: 46.

9 Rick Hummel, “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, April 22, 1991: 21.

10 Rick Hummel, “Baseball ’92: N.L. East,” The Sporting News, April 6, 1992: S-20.

11 Rick Hummel, “Baseball: N.L. East,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1992: 19.

12 Mike Pérez Baseball Cube Profile, http://www.thebaseballcube.com/mlb/awards/voting/byYear.asp?Y=1992

13 “Perez wants no part of role as relief ace,” Southeast Missourian (Cape Girardeau, MO), September 2, 1993: 2B.

14 Rick Hummel, “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, January 10, 1994: 40.

15 Pat Dailey, “Perez Eyeing Role as Stopper,” Daily American Republic (Poplar Bluff, MO), January 30, 1994: 1B.

16 Rick Hummel, “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, May 30, 1994: 23.

17 Rick Hummel, “St. Louis Cardinals,” The Sporting News, June 20, 1994: 25.

18 Mike Pérez Baseball Cube Profile, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/teams/baseball_uniform_numbers.php?t=SLN

19 Joseph Reaves, “Perez chewing up hitters,” Chicago Tribune, May 2, 1995: E3.

20 Gene Wojciechowski, “Perez dropped to make room for new starter,” Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1996: B3.

21 The Baseball Cube, Mike Pérez Baseball Jobs, https://www.thebaseballcube.com/page.asp?PT=player&ID=16496&Y=1997&View=jobs

22 Author’s interview with Mike Pérez, August 12, 2023.

23 “El Team García remonta para llevarse el Juego de Estrellas del béisbol invernal,” El Nuevo Día, December 24, 2021, https://www.elnuevodia.com/deportes/beisbol/notas/el-team-garcia-remonta-para-llevarse-el-juego-de-estrellas-del-beisbol-invernal/

24 Héctor García, “Fallece la hija del expelotero Michael Pérez,” Momento Deportivo, May 28, 2020, https://momentodeportivord.com/?p=88249

25 Troy Athletics Communications, “2021 Troy University Sports Hall of Fame,” https://troytrojans.com/news/2021/3/18/general-troy-announces-10th-troy-university-sports-hall-of-fame-class, March 18, 2021.

Full Name

Michael Irvin Perez Ortega


October 19, 1964 at Yauco, (P.R.)

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