Remembering Gaylord Perry, a great spitballer and legendary MLB character

In 1974, Cleveland second baseman Duane Kuiper’s first month in the major leagues, he started behind veteran star pitcher Gaylord Perry for the first time. Seconds before Kuiper ran to his position to start the game, Perry looked at him and said: “If you make a mistake behind me today, you’ll never play another day in the big league. Do you understand?!”

That was Gaylord Perry doing so much more than throwing a spitball. He had great stuff, he was a big, strong, rough, rugged North Carolina farmer, he was short-tempered, fiercely competitive, and like most great pitchers, really mean, fearless, and hated to lose. He spoke freely, even if it meant upsetting an opponent or teammate. He played for eight teams, during which time he asked to be traded, threatened to resign, almost fought teammate Frank Robinson and in the famous 1983 Pine Tar Game, confiscated George Brett’s racquet, was arrested by umpires and kicked out of the game. Perry has never backed down, not since making his debut at age 22 with the San Francisco Giants in 1962, or 22 seasons later at age 44 with the Seattle Mariners — he was the Ancient Mariner — and the Kansas City Royals in 1983.

For this reason, it seems unfair that Perry, who died Thursday at the age of 84, is often best remembered for throwing a spitball (even though his 1974 autobiography is titled Me and The Spitter). . For some, that made him an overrated pitcher. More likely, more precisely, he was underestimated.

Perry won 314 games with a 3.11 ERA and 3,534 strikeouts. The only pitchers in history who can match all three of these numbers are Walter Johnson and Tom Seaver. Perry became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in any league – in 1972 for Cleveland and in 1978 at the age of 39 for the San Diego Padres. He and his brother Jim are the only brothers to each win a Cy Young. Gaylord Perry won more games than any pitcher combined in the 1960s and ’70s. It took three tries, but Perry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

“He was tough,” Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Stargell once said. “He was great. And he was angry.”

Of course, Perry actually threw a spitball, a throw he supposedly learned from teammate Bob Shaw in 1964. Opponents occasionally complained that he was charging. In 1973, New York Yankees manager Ralph Houk stormed the mound and pulled Perry’s cap off his head. But at least one of his catchers in the 1970s said Perry only threw two or three spitters a game when he really needed a big throw. Perry went through the same spins on the hill and appeared to touch his cap, his hair, his jersey. In retirement, Perry said to me, “I wanted the hitters to think I could throw a pike. If I could play around with their minds and approach, I’d have a better chance of getting them out. And I loved taking them out. “

Perry was also remarkably long-lived. He threw for 5,350⅓ innings, sixth all-time, just 36 fewer than Nolan Ryan. For a nine-year streak, Perry pitched at least 300 innings in one season seven times in an eight-year span. Over a 10-year period, he averaged over 300 innings per season. He threw 53 shutouts, tied for 16th place with Jim Palmer, two behind Steve Carlton. Perry’s 1,181 WHIP is also in the all-time top 20, just ahead of the great Bob Gibson.

“There were so many great pitchers in the National League in the ’60s and ’70s,” former teammate Willie McCovey once said. “With Juan Marichal we had one of the very best in our team. Not everyone appreciated Gaylord. Every time he served I thought we were going to win.”

About the one thing Perry — also a basketball and soccer star in high school in North Carolina — didn’t do well was hit: He finished his career with a .131 average with six home runs. But in 1964, a writer told Giants manager Alvin Dark that Perry, then 24, was a good pitcher and might one day hit a home run. Dark responded and said, “Mark my words, a man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.”

Five years later, on July 20, 1969 at 1:17 p.m. Pacific Time, Apollo 11 landed and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. Thirty minutes later, about 238,900 miles away, in the third inning at Candlestick Park, Perry hit his first major league homer, a blast from the Dodgers’ Claude Osteen.

Three years later, Perry was traded from the Giants to Cleveland in a deal for ace Sam McDowell, who would win 19 games for the rest of his career. Perry would win 180. Perry is still popular in San Francisco, where a statue of Perry was unveiled in Oracle Park in 2016, honoring the 10 years he spent there to start his career.

Kuiper, always playful, now names games for the Giants and once had someone photograph him saluting Perry’s statue. The first salute, as he recalled from the veteran pitcher who threatened him prior to that start in 1974, was the middle finger. The second was a respectful salute to a great pitcher. Remembering Gaylord Perry, a great spitballer and legendary MLB character

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