You begin to suspect something's not quite right when Pascual Perez tells you he's the oldest of "five twin brothers." Never mind that there are really six Perez boys—seven, if you count Mario, the Bronx cabbie whom Pascual calls his brother but who "really isn't, because he's my cousin." The Perez clan thrives on contradiction.
As it turns out, there isn't a twin—or even a Twin—in the bunch. But the family is loaded with ballplayers who are already major leaguers—Pascual, 32 (New York Yankees), and Melido, 23 (Chicago White Sox)—or who are working their way up to the bigs. Like Vladimir—Vladimir?—21 (New York Mets organization), Ruben Dario, 20 (Kansas City Royals), and Carlos, 18 (Montreal Expos). Pascual, who once missed a major league start after getting lost driving to his home ballpark, turned free agent at the end of the season and signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Yanks in November. Melido, whose pet cows back home in the Dominican Republic are named Perez, Perez, Perez and Perez, was one of the top contenders for 1988 American League Rookie of the Year. The rest of the brothers are minor league hotshots, except for Valerio, 27, who was in the Royals organization from 1982 through '84 and now plays for a Taiwanese team called Brother Hotel. Every Perez, save the cows, is a pitcher.
As siblings the Perezes are closer to the Marx brothers than, say, the brothers Karamazov. A case can be made for Pascual as Groucho, Melido as Harpo and Valerio as Chico. Their specialty may be the forkball, but their predilection is decidedly goofball. "The secret is cocoanuts," says Juan Pablo (Chi Cho) Gross, their father. (His children have adopted the last name of their mother, Agripina Perez, as is occasionally the custom in their country.) "I tell them. 'Strike out somebody with cocoanut, and baseball no problem.' Baseball small; cocoanut big. My sons big cocoanuts."
Chi Cho's piglet is supposed to be blessed today by Padre Perez (not a son and not a pitcher for San Diego). "To honor her," says Chi Cho, the family's premier shakedown artist, "you must bring much beer and money."
Chi Cho stands in the living room of his tin-roofed, cinder-block house on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. It's a small place off a dirt road, surrounded by fields of sugarcane. The walls are decorated with religious artifacts: votive candles, crucifixes and baseball cards.
"Me and my family always live here," says Valerio. "Always, always, forever."
"Sure. Eight, maybe nine years."
Melido, Vladimir, Carlos and Ruben Dario are out back by the pigsty with their uncle Mario and sisters Candida Vicenta and Ivelise, who last year hurled her softball team to a local title. They have gathered together to have their photo taken for this magazine.
Only Pascual is missing. "I won't come to have my picture taken without glue," he had announced.
"No, man, glue! Money! Dinero! With no glue, I stay in my hotel room."
"Pascual loves room service," says Vladimir.
Uncle Mario, Chi Cho's brother, bird-dogs for several major league teams. He claims the boys got their baseball talent from the Gross side of the family. "The Perezes couldn't hit an orange," he insists. Come to think of it, they still can't. They're pitchers, after all. Pascual hit .037 in 1988 with his previous team, the Expos, but batted a torrid .204 last season and raised his career average to. 120.
"Ha, ha, ha!" cackles Chi Cho, who just turned 63. "I bat better than my sons." A trim 5'10", he has lizardlike features and heavy eyelids that make him look as if he is never far from a nap. Last year he pitched on Sundays for an old-timers' team and had a 3-2 record. "He should win more," says Valerio, "but he only pitch three games."
Five decisions in three games?
"One was a tie."
Chi Cho was 9-8 in 1988. "My best start I win one-nothing," he recalls. "I have single, double, two RBI."
Two RBIs in a 1-0 game?
"He good, no?" says Valerio.
THE BIG STORE
Pascual prowls the mound like a restless hyena. Every pitch is accompanied by a flurry of gestures, grimaces and moans. "He looks like he's pitching at the end of a rubber band," says Joe Torre, who managed Pascual from 1982 to '84 with the Atlanta Braves.
Pascual wears enough gold to buy Trinidad and Tobago and flashes the sly half smile of a kid in a pet store who has just set all the puppies free. But he can also be mercurial—bored one moment, expansive the next. "Anybody know nothing about Pascual," says his old friend Felix Becena. "He's inpredictable."
After nearly being decapitated by a line drive last August at Wrigley Field, Mr. Inpredictability threw a pitch into the Cubs dugout. "I don't do nothing in particular on purpose," he said afterward. Yet two weeks later, while batting against the Dodgers, he purposely ignored three straight bunt signs and struck out swinging. "I was rockin' and rollin'," he explained.
A DAY AT THE RACES
Pascual was tagged Perimeter Perez in 1982 after he got lost just before a game while driving a borrowed car on the interstate that rings Atlanta. "There's a big radio and the merengue music was real loud." he says. "I forgot my wallet, so I have no money and no license. I pass around the city two times easy, but the car so hot I stop at a gas station. I ask for $10 worth, and the guy say, 'You Pascual Perez? People been waiting for you at the stadium." I'm 20 minutes away, he tell me. I feel like a heart attack. I think I get fired, maybe. Boss Torre say he fine me $100. I say, 'What you say, $100?' He smile, say, 'Ciento pesos' I smile. Ciento pesos worth only 10 bucks."
Pascual won four key games down the stretch that year, and the Braves were champions of their division. He was 15-8 in '83. The Atlanta fans loved his head fakes and through-the-legs pickoff moves, but opposing batters were not amused. Recalls Yankee pitcher Dave LaPoint, "Guys wanted to bounce balls off Pascual's knees, if not his skull."
He missed the first month of the '84 campaign after Dominican authorities caught him with cocaine in his possession and jailed him for three months. He returned to the rotation in May and pitched brilliantly until mid-August, when he got into a beanball duel with the Padres' pitchers. After they nearly hit him a few times, he stopped throwing inside and started losing.
His ill fortune continued in '85, and after a series with the Mets in July, he disappeared for five days in New York in order to consult a Dominican spiritualist. "I see bad spirits all around you," said the good doctor. He was right. Pascual finished the season 1-13 with a 6.14 ERA. The following spring he was cut at the end of camp.
The Expos, who signed Pascual to a minor league contract in February 1987, sent him to their Triple A team in Indianapolis, and he tore up the American Association, going 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA in June. He was called up in August and went 7-0 in September to help keep the Expos in the pennant race. The next season he was 12-8 with a 2.44 ERA, and the Expos rewarded him with a one-year, $850,000 contract for '89. This time he consulted a psychologist instead of a witch doctor and attended weekly sessions of Alcoholics Anonymous. His flamboyance remained undiminished, however. He added a slow-motion pitch he called the Pascual Ball. Many a Latin American junta could topple in the time it took the ball to reach the plate.
Unfortunately, Pascual had a relapse before spring training last year and spent two months in drug rehab. (As far as major league baseball is concerned, this was his first offense. If he fails to comply with its aftercare program, he will be suspended for a minimum of a year.) Pascual wound up with a 9-13 record in '89, a stat the pitching-hungry Yankees figured was worth big money. "Reason I jump to New York simple," he says. "They pay."
Though Pascual can be as sensitive as a Romantic poet at times, he says he won't be cowed by his new boss, George Steinbrenner. "Boss Boss is a lot like me," he says. "He like to win." Nor does Pascual think he'll succumb to the temptations of the Big Apple. "For me, New York like downtown Montreal. I don't need no bodyguard. If something happen, my friends keep me straight. Me and Luis Polonia real tight." Yankee fans may remember Polonia as the left-fielder who was convicted on a morals charge in Milwaukee last summer and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
"My daughter in the hospital, she very sick," says Valerio by way of introduction. "I can't get her out unless you give me money."
How long has she been there?
"Five days.... No, three weeks.... A couple of months, I think."
How much do you need to spring her?
"Thirty dollar. But I take 50 if that all you have."
Valerio says he refined his pitching style by hurling rocks at cocoanuts. That technique got him as far as Double A before he blew out his arm throwing fast-balls. The rest of his repertoire included a forkball, a "spoonball" and a "knifeball"—giving new meaning to the term setting the table.
"Valerio looked like he should have made the big time," says his former minor league teammate. Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza. "Maybe he patterned himself after Pascual instead of just being himself." Whatever that is.
"The Perezes relax all over the place," says Expo scout Jesus Alou. "I've never seen them feel pressured. They don't understand that stuff."
"There are many, many funny stories about Ruben Dario," says Melido. He chuckles.
"Funny stories about Ruben Dario and chickens," says Vladimir, doubling over in laughter.
"Funny stories about Ruben Dario and goats," says Carlos, tripling over.
All three shrug. "So many funny stories," says Valerio, "we can't even remember them."
"What country are you from?" asks the customs official in Toronto.
"The Chicago White Sox," answers Melido.
"No, where is your home?"
"The Chicago White Sox."
"And before that?"
"The Kansas City Royals."
Melido settled in Comiskey Park two years ago and went 12-10. Teammates call him Oil Can Harry because of his slick, Medusa-like locks. "He's the silent type who mostly sits and giggles," says LaPoint, his former teammate. "But put a lighter in his hand and it's open season on shoelaces." Melido is the White Sox' leading perpetrator of the hotfoot. "And he cheats at cards too!" says utilityman Steve Lyons.
Melido. who was a disappointing 11-14 last season, may have the best control, on or off the field, of any Perez. He, too, can be exuberant—often bouncing halfway to the dugout after a third out—but he's nowhere near as wild as Pascual. "Melido will be a better pitcher than Pascual," predicts LaPoint. "He doesn't have nine guys lined up ready to kill him."
AT THE CIRCUS
"Strikeout. Come on, strike him out."
"I don't feel like it."
"Strikeout, on my mother, Agripina Perez. Strikeout, strikeout, strikeout."
"O.K., O.K., O.K."
That's Vladimir on the mound for the Licey Tigres in the Dominican League, conversing with a ball. He winds up and throws, and the ball takes a little hop as it crosses the plate. "You're out!" yells the ump.
"Vladimir talks to his rosin bag, his glove and sometimes even his manager," says Julio Bibison, Carlos's manager in the Dominican. "It's like going to the circus. It's like seeing Mark Fidrych." Except that Vladimir not only talks to the ball, the ball talks back.
Vladimir had been an unreliable reliever (0-2 with a 4.50 ERA) two years back with the Little Falls (N.Y.) Mets. But when a spot opened up for him in the rotation, he won his first four starts en route to a 6-5 record. In '89 he missed most of the season after getting a hernia while pitching.
A hernia? Throwing a baseball?
"Yeah," says Valerio "He must have had a ton of stuff on the ball."
Through it all, Little Falls pitching coach Al Jackson, who is now with the Orioles, called him Senor. "I didn't know his name," says Jackson. "And then when I found out, I couldn't pronounce it."
"Half the guys in my country named Vladimir," says Vladimir. "What you think a Dominican name is, George Bell?"
"Pascual is crazy," says Bibison, "but Carlos is crazy."
Carlos is known to the family as El Astuto (the Smart One), but he prefers his English nickname, Good Times. "He will be the best of us all," says Pascual.
Montreal signed Carlos in 1987, when he was 16, after Pascual tipped off Alou that the Royals were about to bag Carlos and Ruben Dario, who was then 18. Alou went to the Perez home and pleaded with Agripina. After much deliberation, she finally said, "Kansas City can't have both of them, so let Jesus have the baby."
One afternoon last winter, Agripina's baby put on a show while pitching for the Royals' Dominican affiliate. He fussed and fidgeted and faked a throw to third—though there was no runner there—on a grounder back to the box. At another juncture the plate ump tossed Carlos a ball, and he bounced it back to the catcher. Then, mimicking one of Pascual's moves, he "shot" a strikeout victim with an imaginary gun and blew away the smoke. "It's crazy," said Bibison. "Not wild crazy—Carlos don't hit nobody—but crazy. It's Pascual. It's Perez."
Carlos is the only Perez who's a lefty. He asked Bibison why a southpaw's curveballs break in on righthanded batters. "The earth moves to the right," said Bibison, suddenly grasping what it means to be a Perez. "When a lefty throws, it's against the rotation of the world." He paused. "All you Perezes think with your left hand."
Pascual refused to pose with his brothers—(from left) Valerio, Vladimir, Melido, Carlos and Ruben Dario—because he wasn't promised any "glue."
Pascual was 9-13 last year, but the Yankees gave him big bucks anyway.
A guard protects Pascual's town house and Mercedes in Santiago.
Agripina (left) trims her Christmas "tree" with 20-peso notes; Chi Cho (below) still can pitch a pretty mean cocoanut; Carlos and Ruben Dario are just a couple of nuts.