The suspense finally ended yesterday for Cincinnati Reds great Tony Perez, who was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame in his ninth year on the ballot. Record-setting catcher Carlton Fisk didn't have to wait quite so long to earn a place next to him at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 23.
Fisk was named on 397 (79.6 percent) of the 499 ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, exceeding the 75 percent requirement by 22 votes in his second year on the ballot. Perez received 385 votes (77.1 percent), 10 more than the 375 necessary.
"It's sweet now, when I'm in," Perez said by conference call from his home in Puerto Rico. "It doesn't matter how long I had to wait. The first thing I thought of was calling my mother in Cuba. The family was there, too. They started jumping around. My mother was crying."
Perez had been passed over time and again, even though he piled up 1,652 career RBIs to rank 18th on the all-time list. He appeared in six division playoffs, five World Series and seven All-Star games during his 23-year major-league career, most of which was spent as the power-hitting first baseman for Cincinnati's legendary Big Red Machine.
He hit 379 career home runs and had seven 100-RBI seasons, but has long taken a back seat to Reds teammates Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and baseball exile Pete Rose. Now, he will join Bench and Morgan at Cooperstown and -- he said yesterday -- await the eventual arrival of Rose, who is ineligible for Hall of Fame consideration as long as his lifetime ban from baseball for gambling remains in place.
"I hope everything comes up all right for him," Perez said. "I hope soon there will be another one."
Perez said that he had grown increasingly confident that this would be the year of his induction, but he obviously had his doubts. When Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, called him yesterday to give him the good news, Perez reportedly replied, "Are you sure?"
Perhaps it was appropriate that Perez and Fisk were elected in the same year. Fisk is best known for his memorable 12th-inning home run against the Reds in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Perez saw that home run close up from his position at first base, then helped extend Boston's long world-title drought with a big home run of his own in Game 7.
"I'll be happy and proud to be standing up there in July at the same podium as he is," Fisk said in Chicago.
Fisk holds the major-league record for games caught (2,226) and home runs by a catcher (351), but he fell 43 votes short of induction his first time on the ballot last year, finishing fourth behind 1999 inductees Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount. Perez finished fifth in last year's balloting, 71 votes short of induction.
The timing was just right this year. Fisk and Perez might have gotten lost in the shuffle again in the next election, when the ballot will include 3,000-hit club member Dave Winfield, Minnesota star Kirby Puckett, Detroit second baseman Lou Whitaker and Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly.
Though Fisk is remembered more for the years he spent in a Red Sox uniform, he actually spent 13 of his 24 major-league seasons as a member of the Chicago White Sox after an acrimonious contract dispute with Red Sox management. He also parted unpleasantly with the White Sox, leaving open the question of which team he will represent on his Hall of Fame plaque.
Since he has mended fences with the Red Sox and returned to work in the organization, it seems likely that he will be portrayed in bronze wearing a Boston cap, but he said yesterday that he is not ready to announce that decision.
"I have to think about it a little more," he said.
Red Sox teammate Jim Rice finished third in the balloting with 257 votes (51.5 percent), well shy of the 75 percent necessary for induction. Montreal Expos and New York Mets catcher Gary Carter was close behind him with 248 votes and reliever Bruce Sutter ranked fifth with 192 votes.
Dominating reliever Goose Gossage led the 14 first-time candidates on the ballot with 166 votes.
Thirteen of the 30 players on this year's ballot -- including Bob Boone, Kent Hrbek, Willie Wilson, Jeff Reardon and Rick Sutcliffe -- failed to receive mention from at least 5 percent of the voters, so they will be dropped from the ballot.
The Hall of Fame's Class of 2000 could be augmented next month when the Veterans Committee meets in Tampa, Fla. The committee has the power to induct worthy members who were passed over by the BBWAA as well as managers, umpires, executives and Negro league players.
Big Red Machine manager Sparky Anderson could join Perez on stage at Cooperstown. He will be considered by the Veterans Committee for the first time at the Feb. 29 meeting, along with Minnesota Twins great Tony Oliva.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Hall of Fame voting
Results in the 2000 Baseball Hall of Fame voting (499 votes cast; 375 needed for election; x-elected):
x-Carlton Fisk 397 Dale Murphy 116
x-Tony Perez 385 Jack Morris 111
Jim Rice 257 Dave Parker 104
Gary Carter 248 Bert Blyleven 87
Bruce Sutter 192 Luis Tiant 86
Goose Gossage 166 Dave Concepcion 67
Steve Garvey 160 Keith Hernandez 52
Tommy John 135 Ron Guidry 44
Jim Kaat 125
Dropped from future consideration for failing to receive at least 5 percent or 25 votes:
Jeff Reardon 24 Steve Sax 2
Bob Boone 21 Bill Gullickson 1
Willie Wilson 10 Bruce Hurst 1
Rick Sutcliffe 9 Lonnie Smith 1
Kent Hrbek 5 Bob Welch 1
Charlie Hough 4 Hubie Brooks 0
Dave Henderson 2