Tony Peña

After talking about his son earlier today, I figured a post on Tony Peña, Sr. was appropriate.

Born on June 4, 1957, Antonio Francisco Padillo Peña grew up in the Dominican Republic. His brother Ramon and he were taught to play baseball by their mother who was a softball star. He learned several of his quirky habits from her and his youth in the Dominican Republic. One of his most famous quirks was sitting on the ground while catching with one leg stretched out. Another one was taking a bat to a new glove for half an hour in order to break it in. A final oddity was using lamb grease and oil to heal arm injuries.

Peña began his professional career when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1975, and he spent the next 4 and a half years in the minors. Late in 1980, he received a brief call-up, and in 1981, he didn’t play a whole lot, though he did come in 6th in the Rookie of the Year voting. A year later, he received his chance and made it count. A .296/.323/.435 line helped him earn an All-Star nod, and his additional defensive skills combined with that offense to make him a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. The following season, 1983, was probably his finest. He boosted his average and OBP about 10 points and hit a career-high 15 home runs, and adding in his first Gold Glove, Peña came in 12th in the MVP voting. By putting up similar numbers in 1984 and winning his second of 3 consecutive Gold Glove awards, he was blossoming into a young star.

1985 was a small step back as his average dipped down to .249, but he still won a Gold Glove. Fears were quieted when he rebounded with a solid 1986 an another All-Star nod, his fourth in 5 seasons (oddly, he wasn’t in the game in 1983). During the following off-season, he was surprisingly traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Andy Van Slyke and Mike LaValliere, who would be instrumental in the last great Pirate teams. His first season in St. Louis wasn’t pretty, but he rebounded to post decent 1988 and 1989 seasons. St. Louis, however, had its young stud catcher in Todd Zeile, and they let Peña walk in the 1989 off-season.

Peña went on to sign with the Boston Red Sox, but after a decent 1990 season, the now 33-year old catcher was on the decline. His playing time began diminishing, and following the 1993 season, he headed to the Cleveland Indians to split time with Sandy Alomar, Jr. Still unproductive, Peña’s playing career would end with the 1997 season.

With his major-league career in the past, he went back to the Dominican Republic to manage some Winter Ball teams and led them to championships. In 2002, he became the manger for the Kansas City Royals, and a year later, the Royals had their first winning season since 1994 as Peña won Manager of the Year honors. Unfortunately, fortune turned against him and the Royals in 2004 and 2005, costing Peña his job. He moved to the New York Yankees as the first-base coach the following year and interviewed for the managerial position after Joe Torre’s departure, and he now serves as the Yankees’ bench coach.

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