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Gaylord Perry

The Spitball Artist

Among the 1964 games that featured a Perry spitball was the notable "longest day," a marathon May 31 double-header pitting the Giants against the New York Mets that culminated in a twenty-three-inning second-game tiebreaker. After taking the mound in the thirteenth inning, Perry began wetting his fingers in the fifteenth inning. In the twentieth inning, an unidentified Giants player slipped Perry a round, brown tablet. "That was my first taste of slippery elm," Perry later wrote. "The juice in my mouth was slicker than an eel's." With the Mets unable to claim a run off the juiced-up baseball, the Giants won the game 8-6.

At the same time, Perry's legitimate pitching improved. He finished 1964 with a 12-1 record, and after a 1965 slump of 8-12, came back even stronger in 1966, posting twenty-one wins in twenty-nine games and serving as the winning hurler in that year's All-Star game. The next year brought a challenge to Perry's signature spitball: the new league rules banned wetting the fingers before a throw. That led to the "greaseball," a collection of liquids and semisolids intended to make Perry's pitches even more intimidating. There was the mudball, the sweatball, the K-Y (jelly) ball, and the Vaseline ball; Perry claimed he must have "tried everything on the old apple but salt and pepper and chocolate-sauce topping."

By the late '60s the athlete, at age thirty, was firmly established on the mound. Never known for his batting prowess, Perry nonetheless made good on an unusual prediction. In 1962, according to a Sports Illustrated article, Giants then-manager Alvin Dark predicted "there will be a man on the moon" before Perry hit a home run. On August 4, 1969—thirty-four minutes after the U.S. manned spacecraft Apollo 11 made its historic first moon landing-Perry hit his first home run.

In 1971 Perry was traded to the Cleveland Indians—the first of many transfers that would later mark his career. He pitched for Cleveland starting in 1972, posting a 24-16 record. Over the next three seasons his performance varied, from a 19-19 record in 1973 to a less-than-stellar 2-9 record in 1975, during which time Perry was traded to the Texas Rangers. His game improved initially (12-8 during the remainder of '75), then slumped in subsequent seasons to 15-14 in 1976 and 15-12 in 1977.

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Famous Sports StarsBaseballGaylord Perry Biography - Minor Setbacks, Chronology, The Spitball Artist, Time Catches Up With A Pitcher, Awards And Accomplishments - SELECTED WRITINGS BY PERRY: