GAFFNEY, S.C. — Baseball Hall of Famer and two-time Cy Young Award winner Gaylord Perry, a master of the spitball who wrote a book about using the pitch, died Thursday. He was 84.
Perry died at his home in Gaffney at about 5 a.m. Thursday of natural causes, Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said. He did not provide additional details.
“Gaylord Perry was a consistent workhorse and a memorable figure in his Hall of Fame career,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, adding, “he will be remembered among the most accomplished San Francisco Giants ever ... and remained a popular teammate and friend throughout his life.”
The native of Williamston, N.C., made history as the first player to win the Cy Young in both leagues, with Cleveland in 1972 and San Diego in 1978 just after turning 40.
Perry went 24-16 in his debut season with Cleveland after 10 years with the San Francisco Giants. He was 21-6 in his first season with the Padres in 1978 for his fifth and final 20-win season.
“Before I won my second Cy Young I thought I was too old – I didn’t think the writers would vote for me,” Perry said in an article on the National Baseball Hall of Fame website. “But they voted on my performance, so I won it.”
Perry pitched for eight major-league teams, including one season with the Braves, from 1962 until 1983.
Perry’s contract was up after the 1980 season, and he signed a one-year, $300,000 deal with the Braves. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Perry, the oldest player in MLB at the time, started 23 games (150.2 innings) and had an 8-9 record. The Braves released Perry after the season, leaving him three victories short of 300. He finished his career 314-265, striking out 3,534 batters.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame said in a statement that Perry was “one of the greatest pitchers of his generation.” The Texas Rangers, whom Perry played for twice, said in a statement that the pitcher was “a fierce competitor every time he took the ball and more often than not gave the Rangers an opportunity to win the game.”
“The Rangers express their sincere condolences to Gaylord’s family at this difficult time,” the team’s statement said. “This baseball great will be missed.”
Perry’s 1974 autobiography was titled “Me and the Spitter,” and he wrote that when he started in 1962 he was the “11th man on an 11-man pitching staff” for the Giants. He needed an edge and learned the spitball from San Francisco teammate Bob Shaw.
Perry said he first threw it in May 1964 against the New York Mets, pitched 10 innings without giving up a run and soon after entered the Giants’ starting rotation.
He also wrote in the book that he chewed slippery elm bark to build up his saliva and eventually stopped throwing the pitch in 1968 after MLB ruled pitchers could no longer touch their fingers to their mouths before touching the baseball.
According to his book, he looked for other substances, like petroleum jelly, to doctor the baseball. He used various motions and routines to touch different parts of his jersey and body to get hitters thinking he was applying a foreign substance.
Perry was ejected from a game just once for doctoring a baseball – when he was with Seattle in August 1982. In his final season with Kansas City, Perry and teammate Leon Roberts tried to hide George Brett’s infamous pine-tar bat in the clubhouse but were stopped by a guard. Perry was ejected for his role in that game, too.
After his career, Perry founded the baseball program at Limestone College in Gaffney and was its coach for the first three years.
The Hall of Fame’s statement noted that Perry often returned for induction weekend “to be with his friends and fans.”
“We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Deborah, and the entire Perry family,” Baseball Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.