He was born in Visalia, California, of Indigenous Mexican ancestry, to Martin and Dora (Garcia) Perez. Martin Sr. was born in Aguascaliente, Mexico. Dora's father, identified in records as Mission Indian, attended Sherman Indian School in Riverside, California. Dora's mother was a Yaqui curandera, or traditional healer, from Altar, Sonora, Mexico.
Perez played football, basketball and baseball for Redwood High School, signed with the California Angels as an amateur free agent after graduation, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He was an infielder in the minor leagues from 1964-69 (Idaho Falls, Quad Cities, San Jose, El Paso, Hawaii). He was called up to the majors as relief shortstop in September 1969 and was traded to Atlanta in October 1970.
Perez, 5 feet 11 inches and 160 pounds, was the Braves' starting shortstop from 1971–73 and their starting second baseman the following two seasons. In 1976, he was the Giants' most-used second baseman, appearing in 89 games there after his June 13 acquisition in a trade that included future Giants' slugger Darrell Evans. He led all National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 1974.
In 10 seasons, he played in 931 games and had 3,131 at bats, 313 runs, 771 hits, 180 doubles, 22 triples, 22 home runs, 241 RBI, 11 stolen bases, 245 walks, a .246 batting average, .301 on-base percentage, .316 slugging percentage, 989 total bases, 56 sacrifice hits, 20 sacrifice flies and 10 intentional walks.