Durable Gaylord Perry left hitters guessing and his mark in the record book
With a wave of his hand and flick of the wrist, Gaylord Perry had fans and opponents alike concentrating on what he might have applied to the baseball.
What was unquestionable during his 22-year big league career, however, was that Perry’s incredibly durable arm produced results unlike almost any other modern era pitcher.
Perry, 84, passed away Thursday, Dec. 1, at his home in Gaffney, S.C. The first pitcher to win Cy Young Awards in both leagues, Perry – who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991 – was a physical marvel who topped the 300-innings pitched mark six times.
“Gaylord Perry leaves a lasting legacy in baseball and in Cooperstown as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation," said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “During a remarkable 22-year major league career, he became the first pitcher to win Cy Young Awards in both the American and National Leagues while throwing more than 5,000 innings. The Hall of Fame will greatly miss Gaylord's presence, as he loved returning for Induction Weekend to be with his friends and fans. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Deborah and the entire Perry family.”
Born Sept. 15, 1938 and raised on a farm in Williamston, N.C., Gaylord Jackson Perry followed his brother Jim to the big leagues – debuting for the San Francisco Giants during their 1962 National League pennant-winning season. By 1964, Perry had recorded the first of 17 200-inning campaigns. Using a darting fastball and pinpoint control, Perry became a workhorse – reaching the 300-inning mark in both 1969 and 1970 while leading the NL in wins in the latter season.
He no-hit the eventual National League champion Cardinals on Sept. 17, 1968.
Perhaps worried about the mileage on his arm, the Giants traded Perry to the Indians prior to the 1972 season. In Cleveland, Perry thrived under the biggest workload of his career, winning the American League Cy Young Award in his first season with the Indians while totaling 24 wins and 29 complete games. In that season, Perry earned a win, loss or save in each of the 41 games he pitched.
His durability was surpassed by only his love for the game.
“The trouble with baseball,” Perry said. “is that it is not played the year round.”
After three straight seasons with at least 322 innings pitched, the Indians traded Perry to the Rangers. He began a nomadic career path at that point, going from the Rangers to the Padres, then back to the Rangers before finishing his career with the Yankees, Braves, Mariners and Royals. In 1978 with San Diego, Perry became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues when he posted a 21-6 record and a 2.73 earned-run average during his age-39 season.
By this time, Perry had published a 1974 autobiography – “Me and the Spitter” – in which he revealed that he had applied foreign substances to the ball in the past but no longer did. For the rest of his life, Perry played coy – and was only once ejected from a game for throwing an illegal pitch. That came in 1982, the same year he became the majors’ first 300-game winner since Early Wynn in 1963.
When he retired after the 1983 season, Perry had totaled 314 wins, 3,534 strikeouts – third on the all-time list at the time of his retirement – and a 3.11 ERA. His six seasons with at least 300 innings pitched are the most of any pitcher whose career began after 1960.