The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Former "spitballer" Gaylord Perry dies at age 84

Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry died last Thursday at the age of 84. He was a two-time Cy Young Award winner, the first to win the prestigious award in both leagues. Yet he is most famous for throwing the spitball in the modern era of baseball. There were many times he also made batters “think” he was throwing the spitter.

Controversy surrounded him throughout his 22-year career. He was hassled by umpires who tried to catch him greasing his sleeve or the rim of his baseball cap with a substance like Vaseline or K-Y jelly. In his 1974 autobiography Me and the Spitter, Perry confessed to using the illegal pitch, but said he had since been reformed. Or so he claimed. His book caused even more suspicion about his continued use of an occasional spitball in a critical situation.

Perry went on to pitch until he was age 44 in 1983. The first half of his career was relatively stable. He played or the San Francisco Giants for 10 seasons and then with the Cleveland Indians for four seasons. After that, he became a journeyman pitcher, appearing for six more teams during his last eight seasons.

In his autobiography, Perry said he remembered the first time he used the spitter. In a game for the Giants against the New York Mets on May 31, 1964, he was brought in for the 13th inning of the second game of a doubleheader, as one of only two Giants pitchers left in their bullpen.

When the game dragged on with neither team jumping out to a lead, Perry said he was encouraged by his catcher Tom Haller to load up the ball with saliva. He used the illegal pitch frequently to hold the Mets at bay, until the umpire started to suspect foul play. The Giants finally scored two runs in the top of the 23rd inning and ended up winning, 8-6. It was then the longest game in major-league history, seven hours and 23 minutes. Perry got the win after pitching in relief for 10 innings, striking out nine and giving up only seven hits.

Perry said he tried everything for the next eight years to give him an advantage, including the mud ball, the emery ball and the sweat ball, in addition to greasy substances. He said he never bragged about his spitter. When confronted by the media about suspected use, he would tell them his “out” pitch was really a super-sinker.

During that timeframe, Perry averaged 18 wins and 12 losses per season. He was a workhorse, averaging 18 complete games (something unheard of in today’s game) and posted an impressive 2.75 ERA. He won the Cy Young Award in his first season with the Indians in 1972, when he was 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA for the fifth-place Indians.

After Cleveland traded Perry to Texas in June 1975, he continued to have double-digit win seasons even though he was in his late 30s. In 1978 with the San Diego Padres, he posted a 21-6 record and 2.73 ERA to win his second Cy Young Award.

In 1982, while pitching for the Seattle Mariners, he was ejected from a game for using foreign substances. It was the first and only time he was tossed from a game for throwing an illegal pitch. The home plate umpire didn’t even bother to check the ball since he had observed an extreme drop in Perry’s pitch.

Sometimes Perry’s pitched ball was so slick from foreign substances, his catcher would simply walk the ball back to him on the mound for fear he would make an errant throw back to Perry.

Perry’s older brother Jim was also a major-league pitcher from 1959 to 1975, claiming his own Cy Young Award in 1970 with the Minnesota Twins. Together the Perrys trailed only Joe and Phil Niekro for career wins by major-league brothers with 529. The Niekros produced 539 wins.

Gaylord finished his career with 314 wins, 265 losses, a 3.11 ERA, and 3,534 strikeouts (8th all-time). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his third ballot in 1991.

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