The jury is still out on Tribe’s Perez

It’s hard not to judge Cleveland Indians pitcher Chris Perez after what he did.

On a stupidity scale from one to 10, allegedly having marijuana sent to his house – in his dog’s name, nonetheless – ranks as a 15.

Aside from the legal ramifications, it sets a terrible example to young Tribe fans who look up to the two-time American League All-Star. It’s bad enough the 27-year-old closer told drug agents he had pot for personal use when they questioned him at his house, even pointing out two jars, according to an Associated Press report, but the fact that nearly 10 ounces of weed were mailed to his residence is disturbing. That’s enough to make Cheech and Chong jealous.

All that said, it doesn’t necessarily mean Perez should be exiled from the organization.

In no way, shape or form am I condoning the use of marijuana – or breaking the law at all, for that matter – but people seem to be calling for the guy’s head. The charges are very serious and will affect his reputation for the rest of his life. Furthermore, the Indians need to hand down some type of punishment (maybe a five-to-10-game suspension without pay) and seek a drug rehabilitation program for him, but I don’t know that his crimes necessarily make him public enemy number one. I’m pretty sure that title belongs to athletes like former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with first-degree murder earlier this week.

Believe it or not, because of how strong the players’ union is, Major League Baseball players are not tested for recreational drugs. That certainly doesn’t make it OK, and it raises questions about baseball’s drug policies, but it’s giving Perez a way out of suffering a lengthy penalty – if he receives one at all.

Even though I think that’s a blatantly flawed policy, I’m holding out hope for a guy like Perez, not only because his crime didn’t include senseless violence but because of the comments made by several of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers earlier this week. Perez, who just came off the disabled list Thursday, made a rehab appearance for the Scrappers on Tuesday, tossing a scoreless inning of relief. But the way he treated his Single-A teammates was more impressive than his pitching.

Numerous players said Perez was very approachable and talked to them extensively about how to progress through the minors. He spoke to Mahoning Valley closer, Trevor Frank, about the mind-set needed to take the ball in the bottom of the ninth. He also gave advice to starting pitcher, Matt Whitehouse, prior to the game.

“He was a hell of a guy to talk to – just a great guy – so it was really nice,” said Whitehouse, who went on to pitch four no-hit innings against Auburn that night. “You don’t expect that out of a big-leaguer, sometimes, to be the most friendly guy ever, but he came in here, and he was the friendliest guy to talk to. He took time for a good amount of the pitchers and talked to us for a while. So I think that was a good way to start a day when I was going to be pitching.”

Mahoning Valley shortstop James Roberts was making his professional debut against the Doubledays. He too consulted Perez prior to the game, and whatever suggestions Perez had may have factored into Roberts finishing 2 for 4 with an RBI.

And Perez didn’t stop there.

“It was great,” said Roberts of being able to meet him. “He’s a good guy. He just bought the team dinner. It was easy talking to him, playing behind him. He’s just a good guy.”

Perez was just as cordial with the media (although, I didn’t get dinner). Considering the bad publicity he brought upon himself recently, it would have been easy to skip out on interviews, similar to how his Indians teammates – Brett Myers and Blake Wood – did the day before when they made rehab appearances at Eastwood Field. Perez didn’t take that rout. He talked extensively to four different reporters.

His message to the Scrappers was just as interesting.

“It’s fun getting asked questions that I had when I was their age – about the big leagues, about travel and all that stuff ,” Perez said. “They’re young and excited down here. A lot of them just got drafted and it’s their first time actually playing pro ball. If they asked me questions, I answered them the best I could. I’m happy to. I had good conversations.”

As someone who’s interviewed several big-league players over the years, trust me when I tell you they’re not all as congenial as Perez. I attempted to talk to Victor Martinez a few years back – when he was with the Indians – about his time with the Scrappers, and he said to come back after batting practice. When I tried to approach him afterward, he spotted me out of the corner of his eye and darted toward a Nintendo video game some of his teammates were playing in the Tribe’s clubhouse. Yeah, I said Nintendo. He blew me off for a game of R.B.I. Baseball.

Not Perez. He was as open as could be to me and, more importantly, to the Mahoning Valley players.

“I like doing that,” he said. “It’s one of those baseball traditions that the older guys are supposed to look out for the younger guys. Unfortunately, some guys don’t do that. They see them as competitors. If something I told them helps ’em get to the big leagues, who cares. Good for him.

“I love it,” he added. “Obviously I’d rather be in the big leagues, but whenever guys want to ask me questions, yeah, I’m free.”

Not many people getting paid millions of dollars make themselves that accessible to wide-eyed teenagers. It’s a characteristic that quality veterans pass down, either in the minor or major leagues, and it shows that despite a few really bad choices, Perez still possesses some good qualities and values. Hopefully he can extend such positive decisions to other areas of his life.

Perez might be a two-time All-Star, but he needs to become more of a leader for the Indians.