Gaylord Jackson Perry (September 15, 1938 – December 1, 2022) was an American professional baseball player.
He played in Major League Baseball as a right-handed pitcher for eight different teams from 1962 to 1983. During a 22-year baseball career, Perry compiled 314 wins, 3,534 strikeouts, and a 3.11 earned run average. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility in 1991.
Perry, a five-time All-Star, was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues: the American League in 1972 with the Cleveland Indians, and the National League in 1978 with the San Diego Padres; his Cy Young Award announcement just as he turned the age of 40 made him the oldest to win the award, which stood as a record for 26 years.
He is also distinguished, along with his brother Jim Perry, for being part of the second-winningest brother combination in baseball history—second only to the knuckleball-throwing brothers Phil Niekro and Joe Niekro.
While pitching for the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Perry became the 15th member of the 300 win club.
Despite Perry’s notoriety for doctoring baseballs (e.g. throwing spitballs), and perhaps even more so for making batters think he was throwing them on a regular basis—he went so far as to title his 1974 autobiography Me and the Spitter—he was not ejected for the illegal practice until August 23, 1982, in his 21st season in the majors.
Gaylord Perry was born in Williamston, North Carolina, and named after a close friend of his father’s, who had died while having his teeth pulled.
Gaylord was the son of Evan and Ruby Perry, who were farmers. Evan Perry had been a noted athlete. Gaylord grew up with his older brother Jim Perry and younger sister Carolyn in Williamston and the small area of Farmlife, a populated place located within the Township of Griffins, a minor division of Martin County.
Gaylord assisted his father with farming on their family’s land in this area. Jim and Gaylord both began playing baseball with their father during their lunch break on the farm as youths, and later all three would play on the same local semi-professional team.
Gaylord attended Williamston High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He was All-State as an offensive and defensive end as a sophomore and junior, before giving up football.
In basketball, Gaylord and Jim helped Williamston to reach the state finals in Gaylord’s freshman year. In his career at Williamston, Gaylord averaged nearly 30 points and 20 rebounds per game, as Williamston had a 94–8 record. He would turn down dozens of college basketball scholarship offers.
In baseball, Perry initially was a third baseman as a freshman, and Jim was the pitcher for Williamston. However, near the end of Gaylord’s freshman year, he began sharing pitching duties with Jim. In 1955 Williamston High won the North Carolina Class A state tournament, as the Perry brothers threw back-to-back shutouts to sweep the best-of-three finals. Gaylord was 33–5 in his high school career.
Perry studied at Campbell University in his home state.
Perry claims he was taught the spitball in 1964 by pitcher Bob Shaw. Perry had a reputation throughout his career for doctoring baseballs, and was inspected on the mound by umpires and monitored closely by opposing teams.
On August 23, 1982, he was ejected from a game against the Boston Red Sox for doctoring the ball, and given a 10-day suspension.
Perry reportedly approached the makers of Vaseline about endorsing the product and was allegedly rebuffed with a one-line postcard reading, “We soothe babies’ backsides, not baseballs.” Former manager Gene Mauch famously quipped “He should be in the Hall of Fame with a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to his plaque.”
Gene Tenace, who caught Gaylord Perry when they played for the San Diego Padres, said: “I can remember a couple of occasions when I couldn’t throw the ball back to him because it was so greasy that it slipped out of my hands. I just walked out to the mound and flipped the ball back to him.”
Perry used his reputation to psyche out the hitters as well. As he looked in to his catcher for the pitch selection, Perry would touch various parts of his head, such as his eyebrows and his cap. In this manner, he may or may not have been applying a foreign substance to the ball on any particular pitch.
Reggie Jackson was so upset after striking out against Perry one time that Jackson was ejected from the game. Jackson returned from the dugout with a container of Gatorade, splashing Gatorade onto the field while yelling at the umpire that Perry should be allowed to use the Gatorade on the baseball.
The spitball was not his only method for upsetting batters. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski wrote of Perry, “My favorite trick pitch of his was the old Puffball, where he would load up on rosin so that a puff of white smoke would release while he threw his pitches. This was made illegal somewhere along the way (because of Perry, of course), but it’s so awesome — it’s like the sort of thing one of the villains on the old Batman TV show would do … ”