Gaylord Perry died at his home in Gaffney, SC today at age 84 after what has been called a brief illness. His big league career stretched from 1962 to 1983. He won 314 games for eight teams, had a career ERA of 3.11, and struck out 3534 batters. He received two Cy Young awards, and was the first pitcher ever to garner one from both the American and National Leagues. He was part of the Hall of Fame class of 1991. He was clearly a great pitcher, but he is most remembered as the king of the spitball.
That his reputation for doctoring balls has overshadowed the rest of his career is of course his own doing. He reportedly learned the spitball in his rookie year and began using it the following season. He supposedly stopped throwing actual spitballs in 1968 but continued doctoring balls, using Vaseline, files, what have you. He also made a game of making batters thinking he was doctoring balls even when he wasn’t. His 1974 autobiography is titled “Me and the Spitball.” He always seemed comfortable with his legacy.
One funny story: Perry, like the vast majority of pitchers, was not a good hitter. Early in his career, in 1964, somebody told his manager he could be one though, and even hit for power. His manager, Alvin Dark, replied “Mark my words, a man will walk on the moon before he hits a home run.” He was right…on July 20, 1969, Gaylord Perry hit his first big league home run. Neil Armstrong had taken his “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” a half hour earlier that day.