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Did Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry really throw spitballs?

With the news of Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry’s passing at 84 years old, we take a look at his reputation for doctoring the baseball.

With the news of Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry’s passing at 84 years old, we take a look at his reputation for doctoring the baseball.

Two-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry has passed away on Thursday at the age of 84. The coroner in Cherokee County, South Carolina confirmed that the Perry passed away at around 5 a.m. of natural causes.

Known throughout his career as a spitballer, Perry made history in 1978 when at the age of 40, he became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young award in both leagues.

“Before I won my second Cy Young I thought I was too old. I didn’t think the writers would vote for me. But they voted on my performance, so I won it.”

His 22-year career spanned eight teams from 1962 to 1983 and saw him named to the All-Star team give times. With a career record of 314-255, he racked up 3554 strikeouts and finished 44% of his starts, a statistic that is unthinkable in today’s game.

Did he really throw spitballs?

Famous for doctoring baseballs, Perry claimed that most of his success came not from throwing the spitball but from making batters believe that he was throwing them.

In his 1974 autobiography, entitled “Me and the Spitter,” Perry wrote that he started throwing the pitch in 1962 in order to find an edge on a tough Giants rotation, and last threw it in 1968 when the league ruled that pitchers could no longer touch their mouths before touching the baseball.

He switched over to foreign substances like Vaseline, but got just as much success out of altering his routine to touch various parts of his uniform and body simply to make batters think that he was applying a foreign substance.

“The day before I’d pitch, I’d put grease on my hands and go shake their hands just to get them thinking,” said Perry. “Sometimes I’d roll a ball covered with grease into their dugout.”

In such a long career, it is perhaps most amazing that he was only ejected once for tampering with a ball, and that came in his penultimate season as a pro.

Terrible at the plate

Playing in an era when pitchers had to bat, and were expected to get three or four chances to swing the lumber, Perry was famous for being a terrible hitter, even compared to other pitchers.

One of the best known and oft-quoted stories about Perry’s inability to hit goes like this:

In 1963, San Francisco manager Alvin Dark quipped, “There will be a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.” Six years later, on July 20, 1969, just one hour after the Apollo 11 spacecraft carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, Perry hit the first home run of his career.

After baseball, Perry settled into his 500-acre farm near where he grew up in North Carolina, planting tobacco and peanuts. After starting off the Limestone College baseball program and coaching there until 1991, he retired to Gaffney, South Carolina.


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