3 minute read

Gaylord Perry

Time Catches Up With A Pitcher

In 1978 Perry was pushing forty—an old pro in a young man's game. He was traded to the San Diego Padres and quickly put to rest any implication that he was past his prime, pitching a 21-6, 2.72 ERA season and leading the National League in wins. But Perry reportedly wasn't happy with San Diego, a team he regarded as lacking in ambition. The pitcher responded in kind, letting his win-loss record slow to 12-11 in 1979. Over the next year the pitcher ping-ponged from San Diego, back to Texas, then to the New York Yankees, who acquired Perry in late 1980.

Perry became a free-agent in late 1980, and chose to sign with the Atlanta Braves; a players' strike that year shortened his season to 8-9, with a 3.93 ERA. He was released from that team at the end of the 1981 season. By now nearly forty-four years old, branded as a spitball artist, and known for a fiery temperament that sometimes alienated his teammates, Perry seemed an uncertain prospect for future employment. But in 1982 Seattle Mariners did sign the pitcher at a cost of $50,000, a fraction of what Perry had earned playing for Atlanta.

Awards and Accomplishments

1958 Signed with San Francisco for highest sum yet paid for a rookie
1961 Named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year
1966 Winning pitcher, All-Star game
1968 Led National League in innings pitched
1970 Led National League in shutouts.
1970 With brother, Jim Perry, became first brothers to play All-Star game in same year
1971, 1974 Cy Young Award
1972 Member of American League All-Star team
1979 Member, National League All-Star team
1991 Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame

Where Is He Now?

Gaylord Perry's retirement from baseball took the former pitcher and his family to Martin County, North Carolina. Perry began a new life as a farmer, as his parents had been, growing corn, soybeans, tobacco and peanuts. Unfortunately, the widespread misfortune endured by many farmers in the 1980s affected Perry; in 1986 he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, explaining simply, "It's a farm situation." On a brighter note, in 1991 Perry was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

The year turned out to be one of highs and lows for Perry. He recorded his 300th career win on May 6, after beating the New York Yankees 7-3. But the occasion was also notable for three inspections of Perry's baseball looking for signs of tampering. No evidence was found that day, but two months later, in a game against the Boston Red Sox, an umpire ruled that Perry had doctored the ball, fining him $250 and suspending him for ten days. But Perry's signature spitballs did have an influence on the Mariners, helping lift the struggling team from the ratings basement to land in fourth place in the American League West.

If Perry's best days were behind him—he hadn't posted an ERA under 3.0 since 1978—he continued to show his determination, playing for Seattle and, in late 1983, for the Kansas City Royals. Time writer Tom Callahan characterized Perry, at nearly forty-five, as "the most elderly player in either league." But the pitcher had few doubts about his ability to keep playing. "For me, it's a pretty good job and it pays well—that's why I'm still playing," he remarked to Callahan. At the end of the 1983 season Perry retired from professional play, having posted 314 wins in twenty-two years in big-league baseball representing both the American and National leagues. He and his brother, Jim, held a record as the winningest pitching siblings until 1987, when brothers Phil and Joe Niekro took the title.

Additional topics

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