On August 19, 1982, Atlanta had 25-year old righthander Pascual Perez scheduled to start a getaway game against Montreal. Driving along I-285 to the stadium, Perez missed his exit. Unfamiliar with Atlanta side streets (he'd only been traded there a few weeks before) and still early for the game, Perez decided to take I-285 all the way around (it's a loop freeway) until the stadium exit came up again.
That I-285 loop (referred to as "the Perimeter" by locals) is 64 miles long. And Perez missed his exit again. How many times in all? Some tellings say twice, some three times. In any case, he missed the start. Running low on gas, he pulled into a convenience store, and the clerk, recognizing him, wondered why he wasn't at the game yet.
It worked out fine. Rubber-armed knuckleballer supreme Phil Niekro made an emergency start, Atlanta won the game, and this missed start supposedly helped loosen up the clubhouse; his teammates made him a "Perez I-285" warmup jacket (you can see it here). Atlanta went on a nice winning tear and made the playoffs (where they got stomped). Perez picked up and ran with the nickname "Perimeter Pascual."
A Dominican native, Perez originally signed with the Pirates in 1976, at age 19. He started his first game for Pittsburgh in 1980; played for Atlanta, the Expos, the Yankees. If you look at his career stats, they're quite respectable, sporting a 3.18 ERA in his final season. Why did he leave baseball?
It was the 1980's, so take a guess -- cocaine. Perez had struggled with addiction since before he came to America, and that hard living sometimes got the better of him. He disappeared from dugouts, missed flights. In 1990 the Yankees employed famous ex-hothead Dock Ellis to be something of Perez's mentor and drug counselor. It didn't take, and more convictions/suspensions effectively ended Perez's career at age 34.
He wasn't the only one amped up on chemicals at the time. Check out this INSANE fight from 1984 -- please note, all Perez does to start it is harmlessly plunk one batter. Yeah, most of these guys were either on coke, steroids, amphetamines, or all three (plus God knows what else) at once:
As you can see, the heightened macho factor was contagious; people were throwing beers on players from the stands. Five fans were arrested.
When Perez was in control of his habit, he seemed like someone who really enjoyed the game. He flashed a ton of bling, wore his hair in decidedly 1970s fashion. With the Expos, he threw a no-hitter (if a drastically shortened rain-stopped version; what else would you expect? The normal kind?) This fine Grantland piece by Expos fan Jonah Keri describes some of Pascual's more endearing pitching quirks:
Perez in his prime was a twitchy bundle of entertainment. Rail-thin at 6-foot-2, 162 (and probably skinnier than that), Perez was a taunting beanpole, punctuating strikeouts by shooting finger-guns toward home plate. If he put a runner on, he’d peer through his legs to keep tabs on him. If a strikeout ended a pressure-packed inning, you’d get the finger-gun, fist-pump, leap-off-the-mound shimmy shake, accompanied by a sprint to the dugout.
After leaving MLB, Perez did TV ads mocking his "Perimeter Pascual" nickname; he played some semi-pro ball back in the Dominican.
On November 1, 2012, Pascual Perez was murdered in his solo apartment by four assailants; apparently, one knew Perez through dealer connections and planned to steal his $2,400 MLB pension. Among the many admiring obituaries was a nice one from Chris Strauss at USA Today: it has some wonderfully 80's Perez baseball cards at the bottom.
And a touching musical tribute by The Baseball Project, several of whose members grew up in Atlanta. Wisconsin native and badass drummer Linda Pitmon sings the vocals.
History ain't always kind; sometimes hard to comprehend.