John Erardi, the venerable Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter, has written a wonderful book about one of my favorite players from the glory days of the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine.

“Tony Pérez: From Cuba to Cooperstown” is an interesting, nonpolitical biography of the career – and life – of Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Atanacio Pérez Rigal.

While Pérez did not want to discuss many of the more heartbreaking aspects of being separated for a decade from his family in Cuba from 1962-72, (“It choke me up, I can’t say much,” Pérez told former Reds beat reporter Bob Hertzel), Erardi nevertheless puts together the history of Pérez – and many other Major Leaguers from Latin American nations during the early post-revolution years.

I recall many of them, from the sweet-hitting Tony Oliva to César Tovar (who once played all nine positions in a single game on Sept. 22, 1968) to Mike Cuellar (a former Red), one of the four Baltimore Orioles starting pitchers to win 20 games in 1971. (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson were the others.)

But back to The Big Dog, Tony Pérez.

On Oct. 17, 1976 in Game 2 of the World Series, my dad and I joined 54,814 of our closest friends at Riverfront Stadium to watch the Reds pull out a 4-3 victory over Jim “Catfish” Hunter and the New York Yankees. We’ll get to the hero of Game 2 in a moment.

I remember being upset at the end of one inning when the Reds failed to score off Hunter in what may have been the coldest start to a World Series game at that time. We were sitting in the club level yellow seats in right-center field (that’s “left-right-centerfield” for all of us Joe Nuxhall fans).

After the Reds’ scoreless first, my dad quickly noted that the Reds had made solid contact against Hunter. Pete Rose drilled a long liner to deep left for the first out. Ken Griffey then flied out to deep left. Joe Morgan singled to center and stole second with two outs before Pérez popped out to third to end the inning.

As my dad predicted, the Reds got to Hunter in the second. Dan Driessen doubled and scored on a base hit by George Foster. After Foster was caught stealing, Johnny Bench doubled. César Geronimo drew a base on balls, and then Dave Concepcion singled to drive in Bench.

After Rose walked to load the bases, Griffey hit a short fly to center that scored Geronimo – the fastest player on the team – from third. The Reds were up, 3-0. And Fred Norman was dealing.

Little did we realize, however, that Catfish Hunter was a five-time 20-game winner for a reason.

In the top of the fourth, Graig Nettles drove in Thurman Munson to make it a 3-1 game. The Yankees tied it at 3-3 in the seventh when Willie Randolph scored on a Fred Stanley double. After a hit by Roy White, Reds skipper Sparky Anderson (Captain Hook) replaced Norman with another Reds starter in Cactus Jack Billingham. Billingham got Munson to ground out (with Stanley scoring) and retired future Reds manager Lou Piniella to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Hunter shut down the Reds in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

But in the bottom of the ninth, with more than 50,000 frozen fans in the new stadium on the river, Griffey reached base with two outs on a throwing error. Morgan, a left-handed batter, was walked intentionally to set up the righty vs. righty situation.

There’s an old saying about letting sleeping dogs lie. Don’t kick ’em when they’re down, either.

As he did throughout his career, The Big Dog came through with runners in scoring position. Pérez delivered with a line drive to left that scored Griffey, and we went home happy with a 4-3 win and leading the Yankees, two games to none.

The Reds, of course, went on to sweep the Yankees to win their second straight World Series.

While I remain partial to Pérez’s 1976 Game 2 single, Erardi correctly notes that the Big Dog’s Game 7 home run off Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s eephus pitch in the 1975 World Series was more significant.

In fact, Erardi writes “I believe it to be the single greatest hit in Reds history. Without it, the Reds don’t come back to win Game 7. No World Championship. And with no World Championship, there is no Big Red Machine in the history books.”

Looking back to those formative years in the 1970s, it was really a special time to be a Reds fan. They were pennant winners in 1970 and 1972 and won the NL West in 1973. In 1975, the Reds defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the Series, then swept the Yankees in 1976. It was a remarkable run for any franchise not named after New York City.

And as Erardi writes for his publisher, Orange Frazer Press in Wilmington: “The 1970s belonged to Pérez – and the Big Red Machine – and after the Big Red Machine was gone, Pérez was far from finished. He had good seasons with Montreal and Boston, made it back to the World Series with Philadelphia in 1983, and returned to Cincinnati in 1984 where he became the oldest player to hit a grand slam home run.”

The publisher adds: “Erardi’s story is scenic and lively, especially describing the Big Dog’s demeanor, which endeared him more to Cincinnati fans than any player in recent memory. The courtliness, on and off the field, traces Pérez’s manner back to the Cuban lineage from which he had come. Whether by practice or instinct he carried the best qualities of his Cuban forebear, the great ‘El Inmortal’ Martin Dihigo. Pérez was unselfish, unflappable and joyous. Even better than that, he was a good teammate. A good man then, now and always.”

Two other notes of interest:

• Former Major Leaguer and current MLB “Intentional Talk” show co-host Kevin Millar is mentioned on Page 255.

• The famous “Tail of the Dragon” highway is mentioned on Page 299 in a reference to hooking up with former Reds manager Dave Bristol. The “Tail” is U.S. Route 129, and it’s famous for having 318 curves in just 11 miles. The road is bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest with no intersecting roads or driveways and billed to be the ride of your life. I first heard about the “Tail” from friend and coworker Becky Stafford. She and her husband, Mike, have braved this ride on a motorcycle. I hope to make the journey someday – but by pickup truck.

Whether or not you grew up a Reds fan, Erardi’s book is well worth your investment and time. Thank you, Mr. Erardi, for sharing this amazing story of the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine.

For information or to order a copy, visit http://www.orangefrazer.com/store/tony-prez-from-cuba-to-cooperstown or https://www.johnerardi.com/.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.