Unfortunately, his cocaine use cut his MLB career short, something a lot of New York Yankees fans remember. He signed a three year contract with the Yankees that would have paid him about $5 million total, which at that time was a heavy contract for a starting pitcher. The third year of the deal was voided, as he was suspended without pay for another violation of the league's substance abuse policy. What needs to be noted here is the fact that the drug issues did keep Perez from accumulating the career numbers he was capable of finishing with. But cocaine use in MLB was extremely prevalent in the 1980s. We have heard the stories of Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Joaquin Andujar, Willie Aikens and many, many others. This does not give Pascual Perez a pass, but it needs to be mentioned that he was one of many that used cocaine.
What Perez showed when he was on the mound was his ability to get hitters out and some flashes of brilliance. After breaking into the majors with the Pirates in 1980 and 1981, he got his first chance to be part of a MLB rotation with the Atlanta Braves. In 1982, he got into 16 games, 11 as a starter, and pitched to a 3.06 ERA. That got him the opportunity to be part of the Braves pitching staff that postseason, where he started a game and relieved in another, as the Braves dropped the NLCS to the eventual World Series Champion St Louis Cardinals. In 1983 and 1984, he was arguably the best pitcher in the Braves rotation, winning 15 and 14 games, respectively, pitching over 200 innings both seasons, and making the All Star team in 1983. Whitey Herzog chose him for the squad not only because he was pitching well, but because he remembered him from the 1982 NLCS.
Perez' reputation for being a headhunter had a lot to do with that infamous game against the Padres in 1984 at Fulton County Stadium. Many felt he struck Padres 2B Alan Wiggins (who unfortunately had his own drug abuse issues) in the back intentionally to send a message. It turned out that the Padres were the ones who sent the message to Perez and the Braves, as they threw at him all four of his plate appearances. This resulted in a one of the ugliest brawls in recent baseball history, one that included involvement from the Atlanta fans. This turned out to be the turning point of both teams' season, as the Padres pulled away from that point and the Braves faded down the stretch.
The next year was the first that stood out within Perez' battle with substance abuse. He was 1-13, 6.14 in 22 starts for the Braves and spent some time on the DL. It was never proven whether Perez was put on the fantom DL, but sources say his cocaine use affected his ability to pitch effectively. In 1986, he was released in spring training and did not pitch in organized baseball the rest of the season. His career seemed like it was about over.
In 1987, the Montreal Expos had taken on a series of reclamation projects. They signed Perez to a minor league contract with the understanding that if he pitched well in spring training, he would get a chance to spend the season with the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. At age 30, it seemed as if Perez found himself, as he went 9-7, 3.79 in 19 starts with 125 Ks in 133 IP for the Indians. Following the path of Dennis Martinez, who made 11 starts in the minors before going 11-4 for the Expos the rest of the season, Perez was called up to the majors in August. He went 7-0 in 10 starts with the Expos winning every one of his first 9 starts. The team finished with 91 wins, but that was only good enough for 3rd place in the division.
Perez followed up his 1987 rebirth with consecutive solid seasons for the Expos in 1988 (12-8, 2.44 in 27 starts) and 1989 (9-13, 3.31 in 33 games, 28 starts). This included a rain shortened no hitter he threw over 5 innings, which since has been taken out of the record books. (A rule change defined a no hitter as 9 innings or more of 0 hits allowed.) However, Perez was still undergoing counselling for his cocaine use. He had been suspended in spring training that season for cocaine use and actually got off to a 0-7 start.
That did not stop the Yankees from giving him the contract, though. Perez would make just 17 starts for the Yankees in 1990 and 1991, but pitched to a 2.87 ERA. His suspension for the entire 1992 season effectively ended his career, one that had so much promise. Perez will forever be known for throwing something like 10 different pitches. He had an eephus pitch, used his hand to make believe he was firing off an imaginary gun after getting a big K and had a pick off move that he threw the ball between his legs to first base. His brothers Melido and Carlos used similar antics, but neither were the pitcher Pascual was. His last professional baseball comeback was in 1996, going 4-1 with a sub 2.00 ERA pitching in Taiwan.
Like many other professional athletes, Pascual Perez story is about what could have been. He had the ability to get hitters out with just a fastball and changeup. His ability to throw other pitches effectively could have made him one of the top pitchers of the 1980s and beyond. He finished his career with a 67-68 record, one that does not tell the story of how good he was. Was he a Hall of Famer? Not at all. But he sure had the chance to pitch another 5 or 6 solid seasons in the big leagues. He made 193 starts in his 11 career; he could have made 400 starts.