It's hard to believe they called him Big Dog. So gentlemanly and gentle in his manners, Tony Perez was once — and will always be in remembered — as the heart and soul of the Great Red Machine in Cincinnati.
He was man everyone followed and listened to. Others, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, were great, but Perez was the most respected of the group.
This Big Dog's exploits are explained in the pages of Tony Perez: from Cuba to Cooperstown, a biography tribute of writer John Erardi, who covered much of the Cuban's career. Perez is the only one in the Hall of Fame who was born on the island and played in the majors.
The figure of Tony Perez, who drove in more than 1,600 RBI in his career, takes on a new light under the pen of Erardi, who wrote the book without the express collaboration of the legendary player. The author did not talk to Perez about his book.
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"Tony's humility is so great that he did not understand the importance of writing this book," said Erardi, who will be at CubaNostalgia this weekend promoting his book and Perez. "His humility is something so sincere that it disarms. He is a great human being. ''
And this is one of the main achievements of the book: to unravel Tony's sometimes hermetic personality.
How was Perez able to survive being so far way from his place of birth as just a teenager during those times? How did he manage to prevail in the shifting terrain of the minor leagues as a minority and become the center of one of the most emblematic clubs of all times where egos abounded? Erardi writes about him with a suggestive and subjugating prose, without grammatical pirouettes.
But the book is not only about Tony Perez, but also about Cuba. The author writes about nostalgia, joy and sadness that go hand in hand. For someone like me, who has not returned to my land in almost two decades, it was an adventure in an old Volkswagen that takes him from Havana to Cruces, the home of the immortal Martin Dihigo, and from there to Violeta that town where Tony learned the basics of baseball by hitting tiny stones, while listening to the radio about the exploits of Orestes Miñoso.
We can almost close our eyes and imagine that thin Perez, who would then hit 379 big-league home runs, at Violeta's ballpark, shortly before being drafted into the youth team of the Havana Sugar Kings.
It is a pity that there are no streets, monuments, or plaques with his name. Without Perez, Violeta does not exist. A lot has changed and, in a way, everything is the same.
With Perez's career in the background, the events of the time are told: the murder of Colonel Blanco Rico; the fight between Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro; the end of professional ball in the island; the elegant Havana and the green olive Havana; the closing of one era and the beginning of another. The pain of time gone and the uncertainty of what was to come and stopped being.
The sporting glories, the World Series titles, the exaltation in Cooperstown, are coupled with family wounds, the fact that his parents and siblings could never see him in a major-jeague uniform.
"Something that hit me in Cuba in particular was that almost nobody knew about Tony Perez," Erardi said. "How is it possible that your people do not know your hero, your tremendous ambassador in the Majors? I want this to change soon. ''
So this book should be required reading for his fans and for the history of Cuba. That it is being presented in CubaNostalgia must be the first of many steps for its dissemination.
You can get Tony Perez out of Cuba, but not take Cuba out of Tony Perez.