It is a great pity that Perry Como will die twice– first when he left this Earth, and again when the last generation to remember him departs as well.

Perry Como had the same problem as the members and teammates of the Big Red Machine: He was great in an era and amongst colleagues who were otherworldly-great. Generational awesomeness held all the rarity and of wonder a peanut butter sandwich. He was a crooner in the time of Sinatra, Martin, and Crosby, and that’s all I have to say about that.

It’s December, and thanks to his string of Christmas specials, we have now entered into the season of Como. But here he is again in the shadow of Crosby and Sinatra, whose “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” always return to the charts this time of year, seven decades after the fact; Como saunters through the background in department store soundtracks. He is already fading from regular rotation as Mariah Carey and synchronized light displays flow forward.

There’s a line in some romcom in which an elderly Italian gentleman, during a heated argument with other elderly Italian gentlemen, refers to Como as “a pimple on Dean Martin’s (posterior.)” Judging by raw talent, I’ll hear the argument. Martin’s voice was richer. But Dean Martin, bless him, was a living work of Baroque art, with the vibrato and the roasting and the German accent in his version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Crosby was a light so blinding that it’s almost impossible to know where he ended and the rest of the entertainment industry began. And Sinatra was… Sinatra.

Perry Como’s voice was thinner and sandier than his colleagues’, lacking the clarity and innovation of a Bing Crosby, and he didn’t have much room in the high registers. He hosted a television show, but in comparison to these incandescents, he wasn’t much of a showman. He sang straight-on, a terrific member of the choir, very much still the barber providing free musical entertainment to the customers at  he shop he worked from the age of 10.

If you are my age and younger, you might not have even heard of Perry Como, who once delivered a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II. Maybe that’s because he was indeed overshadowed by the embarrassment of cultural riches who were the performers of his age. But I think it’s mainly because Perry Como behaved himself.

He was married to the same woman for 65 years, and refused to include any elements in his television show that he considered in poor taste. He was separated from his wife only by her death, and treasured his Catholic faith so authentically that he refused to perform “Ave Maria” during live performances, feeling it was inappropriate for a concert setting. His favorite running joke was his own inability to remember lyrics. Perry Como didn’t just decline to sit on an ice throne built of the frozen tears of his enemies… he pretty much didn’t have enemies.

He was genuine friends with Hollywood stars and athletes, singers and politicians, but kept his family firmly separate from his celebrity. He somehow avoided the rolling wrecks that were the personal lives of his peers; while Frank Sinatra was divorcing Ava Gardner and marrying the much-younger Mia Farrow, Como insisted upon staying by his wife’s side as she gave birth to their children, even as his then-boss threatened him that he might not have a singing job when he returned.

This makes for a great man, but not great newspaper copy. His Instagram numbers would have been dismal compared to the Rat Pack’s. But– and this is the thing–Perry Como was perfectly fine with that.

Como was content to provide harmony when necessary, generous to others who where up and coming, humbly secure in his talent and happy to hand it right back. When Dean Martin appeared on his show, Dean Martin got a solo even in the midst of a duet.

This clip commands a smile all the way from the early Johnson administration. Como is perfectly happy to take the harmony so as to burnish his guest’s already tremendous spotlight.

In this sense, Como was the consummate teammate, even as he charted a solo career. He did his part and got out of the way. He carried the professional weight to demand more airtime, shinier toys, and wide tolerance of bratty behavior.

But he didn’t.

Consider this conduct in light of late 2021. Our great sports stars are well aware that they are great sport stars, and often from an early age. They quickly discern that their rare abilities, even when combined with hard work, earns them a certain amount of social elbow room.

For all the hometown boy pressure he endured, Joe Nuxhall, who played well before free agency, worked in a tire shop in the off-season. Now, money and influence quickly separates them from those of us bagging our own groceries on a Tuesday afternoon. And so we tolerate a silently agreed-upon level of simultaneous obnoxiousness and public moralizing from our athletes as long as they cover the spread. Rare is the supernova who is not only great, but who resists the temptation to cling to his greatness.

This is to be expected in a deeply fallen world, one in which we are weary of constant disappointment from any person and every institution we are so foolish as to implicitly trust. But it also blots out the labors of the utility players and the grinders, the supremely average and the lamentably steady, the really good and the almost-great. These are the men whose jerseys might not sell as quickly, but who are indispensable nonetheless.

Who’s your favorite Perry Como of the Reds? If it takes a moment for you to think of one, that’s understandable.

They’re used to it.

31 Responses

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ah. Korean War vet, too. Good choice.

  1. Old Big Ed

    Excellent piece, Mary Beth.

    I’ll nominate Tony Perez as the Reds’ Perry Como. He was and is a great family man, married to Pituka for 56 years, and his teammates all understood that he was the glue to the Big Red Machine. He shined when the occasion called for it, such as in the 1967 All Star Game and in Game 7 of the ’75 Series, but the team’s success was his success.

    I’m a big fan of Eduardo Perez, too.

    • LDS

      Two thumbs up. Perez was my pick as well. It was a sad day for the Reds when they shipped Tony to the Expos.

      • TR

        I’ll always remember the long standing ovation at Riverfront when Tony came back with Montreal. The fans were saying, ‘it shouldn’t have happened.’

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thanks 🙂 That man is class act. What a treasure and singular delight is Tony Perez.

  2. Mike McSorley

    Smokey Burgess who had to be the inspiration for Matt Stairs … a hitter’s hitter in the pinch, like Lynch … it appears we may have to expand this to cover the entire Como family!
    Hey, everybody’s welcome ’cause (cue the music) There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That song is an absolute Christmas essential. But it’s gotta be this version:

  3. Scott C.

    Great article and analogy. Perry Como was my mother’s favorite singer. My mother didn’t watch much TV but two shows she always tried to watch was The Lawrence Welk Show and Perry Como’s show. My Dad often sang to her “Catch a Falling Star” which was one of Como’s great renditions.
    The sad commentary on this is that you are so right in comparing what is happening now in our society with everyone only interested in being the headline grabber, with the sentence, “This is to be expected in a deeply fallen world, one in which we are weary of constant disappointment from any person and every institution we are so foolish to implicitly trust.” Yes we all loved Bench, Rose, Morgan and Perez and rightly so, they were talented players, but the Big Red Machine would not have had the impact on our lives without Billingham, Norman, Conception, Geronimo, Armbrister, Foster, Flynn, Rettenmund and Griffey Sr. (Perhaps Conception is in the former category) My favorite non star was Cesar Geronimo one of the best centerfielders in Red’s history.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      My mom introduced me to Mr. C as well. I’ll never forget how happy she looked as she came seeing him in concert at Riverbend despite a terrific summer storm: “Fantastic!” she said.

      I was so, so happy when we sang “Catch a Falling Star” in my freshman choir debut 🙂

      • Mike Hayes

        Perez or the O.G Ken Griffey would be my choices.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        (waves) I see you, Mike Hayes! Thanks so much for popping in. And, of course, I agree 🙂

  4. Oldtimer

    Vada Pinson in the 1960s. Davey Concepcion in the 1970s.

    We drove through Perry Como’s hometown on the way from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh every year in the 1960s. Small town in western Pennsylvania.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Poor Vada. Not nearly enough credit.

      Here are Perry and Dean singing about from being from Ohio and PA, respectively:

  5. Mark Moore

    Having recently read “Killing the Mob” the mention of the Rat Pack guys makes me recall their inclusion in that book, especially the high-water marks starting Vegas and ending Havana. As noted, Como didn’t show up once in that book (at least not that I recall).

    As for our Reds’ version, I’d offer guys like Joe Oliver, Ray Knight (to an extent), Ron Oester, Concepcion (under appreciated by almost everyone who didn’t bleed Big Red), and Geronimo. Even our beloved late Ryan Freel comes to mind. Maybe Corky Miller and his mustache as well.

    Love the theme, MBE. Great nostalgic revelry right ahead of the holiday weekend.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I have a book about the Rat Pack on my (long, LONG) reading list. I expect I’ll learn a few things I wish I hadn’t.

      Oh! Joe Oliver! And Oyster Cracker. Good calls.

    • Daytonnati

      My parents loved the Big Band era and the “crooners” of the 50s. We had one of those stereos that was basically a piece of furniture. I wish I had held on to their vast LP collection, but alas, I came of age in the classic rock era and never looked back. I think of my Mom whenever I hear Perry Como or Johnny Mathis, her two faves. (I think the Rat Pack scared her 🙂 Perry’s “Tempation” and Johnny Mathis’ “Chances Are” are burned into my brain.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Ah Mathis was a class act.

  6. MBS

    Glad I’m not a Bengals fan, Joe Burrow can’t stop poking at Cincinnati. He has as much class as the Bengals has a chance to win a Super Bowl. Could you imagine Votto demeaning the city, no he pokes at other city’s fan bases. Grow up Burrow. I wanted to use so many expletives, but that’d be against the rules

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      Did I miss something other than him saying that Cincinnati doesn’t have a nightlife scene? Because if that’s what you call demeaning the city then I am really confused.

      • MBS

        He didn’t say that, he said “There’s not a ton to do in Cincinnati” and laughing while he said it. When you play for a team your representing the city, and it’s fans. He basically said it is a boing place to live.

        It might sound petty, but I love Cincinnati, and I don’t appreciate his attitude to the city and it’s fans. I used Votto as an example, but use any other beloved sports figure, and see if you can remember them poking fun at the city.

      • Frankie Tomatoes

        It was implied that he was referring to a night life scene. 20 to 30 year old athletes aren’t talking about the farmers market scene when talking about “things to do”.

      • Frankie Tomatoes

        And yes it is petty. Cincinnati is a boring place to live for young and well off people who want to get out and be “on the town”. No one is confusing it with Atlanta, Miami, NYC, Chicago, Vegas, or LA.

      • MBS

        Maybe it’s different now, but when I was going out, I used to see Dunn, and Kearns, Griffey. My ex wife’s friend was alway going out with Arroyo. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that there is as much to do as cities of those size. It wasn’t even the point I was making, the point was why would you even say that. He just seems like a jerk to even point it out. It’s like his tweet about how Skyline is still disgusting. Just pointless negativity to the locals.

        I have a friend who can be a jerk like that to, a mutual friend bought his first new car when we were young, and instead of congratulating him, he said he wasn’t a fan of that car.

  7. LWBlogger2

    Sean Casey was always one of the best players on the teams he was on but certainly wasn’t a great player. He was beloved by those who loved him but others were more “meh” on him. I’m a fan of catchers or Steady Eddie Taubensee comes to mind as does Joe Oliver. As far as pitchers, I’d like to go with Aaron Harang.

  8. LWBlogger2

    Oh, and as a singer, I’d like to say that Perry Cuomo is one of the best I’ve heard. So many great singers at the time as you mentioned and Perry Cuomo hasn’t gotten his historical due in my opinion.