Gaylord Perry, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, died on Thursday morning, the Cherokee County (South Carolina) Coroner confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 84 years old.
Perry pitched in part of 22 big-league seasons, amassing a 3.11 ERA (117 ERA+), a 2.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 314-265 record in 5,350 innings. He threw a no-hitter in 1968, outdueling Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals. He won the Cy Young Award first in 1972, and then again in 1978. He made five All-Star Games, but his individual success was never met with great team success. Indeed, he started just two postseason games in his career. Perry’s contributions were worth an estimated 90 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference’s calculations.
Perry suited up for eight teams during his career. He spent his first 10 seasons with the San Francisco Giants before then taking turns with the Cleveland Guardians, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, and Kansas City Royals.
Perry was perhaps best known for being the most famous practitioner of the spitball. As longtime baseball scribe Derek Zumsteg once wrote, Perry more often than not employed the greaseball rather than the pure spitball:
Perry cheated as much for the psychological effect as for the movement on the ball. Opposing hitters knew he threw greaseballs, and Perry loved it. Perry’s success drove rule changes in 1973 about what pitchers could do while on the mound. Section 8.02 is made much more clear if you imagine exactly what Gaylord Perry would have done had those specific instances not been spelled out: 8.02 (a) 3: “expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove … “
Perry revealed his secrets in a 1974 book cowritten with Bob Sudyk entitled Me and the Spitter, An Autobiographical Confession. “I reckon I tried everything on the old apple,” he wrote according to SABR, “but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping.”
Perry, who remained active through the 1983 season, claimed he was no longer using the spitter at that point in his career: “Of course, I’m reformed now. I’m a pure law-abiding citizen.”