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Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame Pitcher With a Doctoring Touch, Dies at 84


Gaylord Perry, the Hall of Fame right-hander who won 314 games and struck out greater than 3,500 batters, but was remembered as well for his spitballs that enraged opposing batters and managers over his 22 major league seasons, died early Thursday at his home in Gaffney, S.C. He was 84.

His daughter Allison Perry said in confirming the death that Perry contracted the coronavirus last yr and never fully recovered.

A strapping 6 feet 4 inches and 205 kilos or so, Perry was exceedingly durable and never had a sore arm. For all of the furor over his doctoring the baseball, he had a large assortment of deliveries: curves, sliders, sinkers, changeups, forkballs and an excellent fastball, including a split-fingered one.

He became the primary of six pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in each leagues, capturing it because the American League’s best pitcher with the Cleveland Indians (now named the Guardians) in 1972 and the National League’s leading pitcher with the San Diego Padres in 1978. His older brother, Jim Perry, won the award in 1970 with the A.L.’s Minnesota Twins.

Gaylord Perry, who pitched for eight teams, was a five-time All-Star, pitched a no-hitter for the San Francisco Giants against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968 and won not less than 20 games five times. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

He combined along with his brother Jim for 529 victories, No. 2 on the profession list for brothers, behind Phil and Joe Niekro’s 539.

But Gaylord gained a measure of infamy as some of the completed spitballers of his time with an arsenal of saliva and various lubricants.

Using saliva and other foreign substances on the baseball, often collectively known as spitballs, in addition to scuffing the ball — all designed to make pitches break unpredictably — were outlawed in 1920, though just a few designated pitchers accustomed to defacing the ball on the time were allowed to proceed doing so until they retired.

Since 1920, many pitchers have been accused by opposing teams of cheating by doctoring the ball.

Those pitchers almost invariably proclaimed their innocence, but Perry told of his outlaw behavior in 1974, while in his prime, within the book “Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession,” written with Bob Sudyk, a Cleveland sportswriter.

Perry wrote that his Giants teammate right-hander Bob Shaw taught him the spitter in 1964, when he was first beginning to develop his legal pitches.

He said that after wetting the ball with saliva, he graduated through the years to “the mud ball, the emery ball, the K-Y ball, simply to name just a few.”

“In the course of the next eight years or so, I reckon I attempted every little thing on the old apple but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce toppin’,” he wrote within the vernacular of his rural North Carolina roots.

Sometimes he feigned drying his fingers on the resin bag on the pitcher’s mound but kept the saliva intact, and sometimes he put slippery substances at various spots on his skin.

To confound batters further, he often touched his uniform and cap before his windup to make them think he was loading the ball even when he was not.

Perry maintained in his book that his outlaw behavior had finally come to an end, saying: “I’m reformed now. I’m a pure, law-abiding citizen.”

But in August 1982, Perry’s next-to-last season, when he was pitching for the Seattle Mariners on the Kingdome in Seattle, against the Boston Red Sox, he was ejected for the primary and only time in his profession for delivering a pitch with a foreign substance on the baseball. The house-plate umpire didn’t examine the ball but was convinced that it had been doctored by the acute drop it took.

Perry said he was innocent, however the American League imposed an automatic 10-game suspension and a $250 positive.

Two weeks before that game, Reggie Jackson, then with the California Angels, had been so angered by Perry’s striking him out with what he was convinced was a spitter that he threw a bucket of water onto the sphere, suggesting that it might help Perry along with his illegal deliveries. Perry stayed in the sport, but Jackson was ejected.

Since Perry was thrown out of that 1982 game against the Red Sox, several pitchers have been ejected for possessing foreign substances on the mound.

“I can remember a few occasions after I couldn’t throw the ball back to him since it was so greasy that it slipped out of my hands,” Gene Tenace, who was considered one of Perry’s catchers with the Padres, remarked just a few days after the ejection in Seattle by the umpire Dave Phillips. “I just walked out to the mound and flipped the ball back to him.’’

Perry was a superb pitcher with or with no spitter. His 3,534 strikeouts are No. 8 on the profession list, and his 5,350 innings pitched are No. 6. He threw 303 complete games.

But he reached the postseason just once, winning one game and losing one when his Giants lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates within the 1971 National League Championship Series.

In July 1983, when he was with the Kansas City Royals, his last team, Perry had a cameo role within the infamous “pine tar” game at Yankee Stadium.

Amid the furor when home-plate umpire Tim McClelland took a house run away from the Royals’ batting star George Brett, after the Yankees protested that his bat was smeared with an impermissible amount of pine tar, a substance used to assist a batter’s grip, Perry popped out of the Royals’ dugout.

“Gaylord Perry, being the person of foreign substance that he’s, got the bat and twisted it out of my hands,” McClelland told The Recent York Times on the twenty fifth anniversary of that game.

Security personnel got ahold of the bat before it might be hidden.

Gaylord Jackson Perry was born on Sept. 15, 1938, in Williamston, N.C., and grew up within the nearby community of Farm Life, where his father, Evan, and his mother, Ruby (Jackson) Perry, were tenant farmers.

Jim and Gaylord, three years younger, were star pitchers in highschool. Jim signed with the Indians in 1956 for a small bonus, but Gaylord reportedly received $73,500 (about $760,500 in today’s dollars) to sign with the Giants in 1958.

He made his Giants debut in 1962, but didn’t emerge as a top pitcher until 1966, when he was 21-8. Gaylord and Jim were teammates for one full season, 1974, with the Indians.

Gaylord Perry had 314-265 record, having pitched, so as, for the Giants, Indians, Texas Rangers, Padres, the Rangers again, the Yankees, the Atlanta Braves, the Mariners and the Royals.

He owned a farm in North Carolina after leaving baseball but lost it in 1986, when he declared bankruptcy amid falling crop prices within the South. His home in Gaffney, in northwest South Carolina, is just south of the North Carolina border.

Perry’s first marriage, to Blanche Manning, ended together with her death in an auto accident in 1987. A second marriage, to Carol Caggiano, led to divorce.

Along with his daughter Allison — like all his children, from his first marriage — he’s survived by his third wife, Deborah White Perry; two other daughters, Beth Long and Amy Espaillat; his older brother, Jim; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His son, Gaylord Jr., who was referred to as Jack, died of leukemia in 2005 at 37.

Perry’s family, it seems, was as cagey as he was when asked how his pitches got here to do such marvelous tricks.

In response to an often-told story, when Perry was pitching for the Giants in the course of the 1971 postseason, a television reporter asked Allison, then 5 years old, if her dad ever threw a greaser ball.

Her reply: “It’s a tough slider.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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