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Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #23 Gaylord Perry

Next on our countdown is a pitcher who left his mark on Indians baseball.

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Gaylord Perry
Gaylord Perry
John Grieshop

Gaylord Jackson Perry

Starting Pitcher, 1972-1975

Height: 6'4" Weight: 205 lbs

Throws: Right; Bats: Right

How Acquired: Trade, November 29, 1971: Traded by the San Francisco Giants with Frank Duffy for Sam McDowell

Left Via: Trade, June 13, 1975: Traded to the Texas Rangers for Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown and Rick Waits

Gaylord Perry pitched for the Indians for only 3.5 seasons, but what he did in those 3.5 seasons was astounding. Had the Indians been even decent in 1972, he might have won both the Cy Young and the MVP awards, and he had a strong case to win the 1974 Cy Young award.

Gaylord Perry was born in Williamston, North Carolina, and grew up on a farm. His family were sharecroppers, growing tobacco and other crops on a 25-acre plot, and both Gaylord and brother Jim helped out from an early age. His father was a huge baseball fan, and allowed the two boys to play ball whenever possible. Both boys were great athletes, starring in football, basketball, and especially baseball. Jim, the older of the two boys, was the star pitcher on the baseball team, but Gaylord quickly gained notoriety on his own, and by the time he graduated from high school, there were no shortage of clubs interested in signing him. Jim had signed with the Cleveland Indians a couple years earlier, so Gaylord was interested in joining his brother there, but the Indians dropped out of the bidding rather early. The San Francisco Giants eventually signed him, giving him a bonus of $60,000, a sum that finally got his family out of debt.

Perry's progression to the big leagues took a while, as although he put up excellent numbers, the San Francisco system at that time was loaded with pitching talent, and it took Perry several years to crack the big league rotation. A new slider was the "official" pitch that Perry used to break into the rotation, but unofficially a spitter learned from Bob Shaw was an even bigger factor. Perry was a quick study, and became the best spitballer in the National League.

Any discussion about Gaylord Perry would be incomplete without talking about his craftsmanship. No, I'm not talking about his mechanics, but the way he turned baseballs into seemingly living objects. Baseballs thrown by Perry danced and dived throughout the zone, confounding batters, umpires, and opposing managers. Everyone suspected that Perry was doctoring the baseball, but in many ways that fed into Perry's success as a pitcher. When he was on the mound, the opposing team was trying to figure out where the foreign substances were coming from rather than concentrating fully on hitting his pitches. Perry would deny any charges of cheating, but did so in a way that fed the controversy. After all, pitching is about deception, and if a batter doesn't know the ball traveling towards him is "dry" or "wet," that's a huge advantage for a pitcher.

The 1960s was a golden era for the spitball, a pitch that had officially been banned by MLB in 1920 in the wake of the Ray Chapman tragedy. But pitchers figured out ways to still throw the pitch and not get caught, and by the time Perry broke into MLB in the mid-60s, the pitch had made a renaissance. It got to the point where every successful pitcher was suspected of throwing a wet ball whether they actually did or not. In 1967, after Perry's third full season as a starter, MLB outlawed a pitcher putting his hand to his mouth on the mound, and so he had to work on an alternative way to throw the spitter that winter. He apparently came up with one, as he pitched just as well in 1968 as he did in 1967. After the 1968 season, MLB, desperate to tilt the playing field in favor of the hitters, lowered the mound, and Perry wasn't affected one bit. In fact, his best seasons came after the mound was lowered.

In 1969 Perry had his first great season, leading the league in innings pitched and posting a fine 142 ERA+. The following season, he wasn't as dominant not finished second in NL Cy Young voting because he won 23 games. And it seemed as if Perry would continue to be a huge cog in the San Francisco rotation for years to come. But after the 1971 season, he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians in one of the most interesting trades in both franchise's history.

Sam McDowell was a 28-year-old fireballer who was one of the best pitchers in the American League. But McDowell had a problem with alcoholism, and had repeatedly clashed with the front office when it came to contract negotiations. The Indians had let it be known that they would take offers for McDowell, and the Giants won the bidding, sending Perry and Frank Duffy to the Indians. The deal turned out to be one of the best in Cleveland history, as McDowell would succumb to injuries and drinking and would be out of baseball by 1976. Meanwhile Perry would have the best stretch of his Hall of Fame career with the Indians.

In 1972, despite opposing managers and umpires routinely checking him for illegal substances, Perry had an historic season. He threw 342.2 innings, posted a 1.92 ERA, and accumulated an astonishing 11 wins above replacement. Although many Cy Young voters refused to vote for Perry because of his alleged cheated, and despite pitching for an also-ran, he took home the award, the first time and Indians pitcher had won the award (and the last time until CC Sabathia won it in 2007.

Perry, now in his mid-30s, embraced the controversy surrounding his pitches. He authored an autobiography titled (appropriately enough) Me and the Spitter, in which he detailed how he threw the illegal pitch, though at the end of the book he told the world that he was through throwing it. Of course this only fed the speculation that he was still throwing it, and that played right into his hands.

In 1975 umpires were allowed even more discretion over ejecting a pitcher who was throwing an illegal pitch. Now an umpire could call a pitch a ball if the pitch behaved like a spitball, and could eject a pitcher if a second spitball-like pitch was thrown. Perry was able to convince umpires that his forkball behaved like a spitball, and so again was able to get around a rule put on the books with him in mind.

The Indians would trade Perry during the 1975 season after he and new manager Frank Robinson clashed over training routines. The Indians, who had sold high on Sam McDowell, wouldn't get nearly that kind of return for Perry. They received Jim Bibby, Rick Waits, and Jackie Brown, three starting pitchers, from the Texas Rangers, and although Bibby had some decent seasons with the Indians, I'd classify the deal as a disappointment, though Bibby was later traded to the Montreal Expos for Andre Thornton.

Meanwhile Perry seemingly got better with age. After three seasons in Texas, he was dealt to San Diego, where at the age of 39 won his second Cy Young award in 1978. He would bounce around quite a bit after that, finally retiring in 1983 at the age of 44. He threw 5,350 career innings, 5th All-Time, and ranks in the top 10 of many other career counting stat categories. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Career Indians Stats

Year Age Tm ERA GS CG SHO IP ER HR BB SO ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 Awards
1972 33 CLE 1.92 40 29 5 342.2 73 17 82 234 168 6.6 0.4 2.2 6.1 AS,CYA-1,MVP-6
1973 34 CLE 3.38 41 29 7 344.0 129 34 115 238 117 8.2 0.9 3.0 6.2 CYA-7,MVP-26
1974 35 CLE 2.51 37 28 4 322.1 90 25 99 216 144 6.4 0.7 2.8 6.0 AS,CYA-4,MVP-17
1975 36 CLE 3.55 15 10 1 121.2 48 16 34 85 106 8.9 1.2 2.5 6.3
CLE (4 yrs) 2.71 133 96 17 1130.2 340 92 330 773 134 7.3 0.7 2.6 6.2
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/11/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • Hall of Fame: 1991
  • AL All-Star: 1972, 1974
  • AL MVP: 6th, 1972; 17th, 1974; 26th, 1973
  • AL Cy Young: 1st, 1972; 4th, 1974; 7th, 1973
  • AL WAR: 1st, 1972-11.2; 1st, 1974-8.6; 4th, 1973-7.9
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 1st, 1972-11.0; 1st, 1974-8.6; 3rd, 1973-7.9; 8th, 1975-5.8
  • AL ERA: 2nd, 1972-1.92; 2nd, 1974-2.51
  • AL Wins: 1st, 1972-24; 7th, 1974-21; 7th, 1975-18
  • AL W/L Percentage: 6th, 1974-.618; 10th, 1972-.600
  • AL WHIP: 3rd, 1972-0.978; 3rd, 1974-1.021; 5th, 1975-1.135
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 2nd, 1974-6.422; 6th, 1972-6.645; 9th, 1973-8.241
  • AL Bases on Balls/9 IP: 2nd, 1975-2.061; 9th, 1972-2.154
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 5th, 1974-6.031; 5th, 1975-6.860
  • AL Innings: 2nd, 1972-342.2; 2nd, 1973-344.0; 3rd, 1974-322.1; 3rd, 1975-305.2
  • AL Strikeouts: 2nd, 1975-233; 3rd, 1972-234; 4th, 1973-238; 4th, 1974-216
  • AL Games Started: 4th, 1972-40; 4th, 1973-41; 7th, 1975-37
  • AL Complete Games: 1st, 1972-29; 1st, 1973-29; 2nd, 1974-39; 2nd, 1975-25
  • AL Shutouts: 2nd, 1973-7; 3rd, 1975-5; 6th, 1974-4; 7th, 1972-5
  • AL Home Runs: 3rd, 1973-34; 4th, 1975-28; 8th, 1974-25
  • AL Bases on Balls: 4th, 1973-115; 6th, 1974-99; 8th, 1972-82
  • AL Hits: 2nd, 1973-315; 3rd, 1975-277; 5th, 1972-253
  • AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 2nd, 1975-3.329; 5th, 1972-2.854; 8th, 1974-2.182; 9th, 1973-2.070
  • AL Home Runs/9: 7th, 1972-0.447
  • AL Losses: 3rd, 1973-19; 6th, 1975-17; 7th, 1972-16
  • AL Earned Runs: 4th, 1973-129; 7th, 1975-110
  • AL Wild Pitches: 1st, 1973-17; 3rd, 1972-11
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 2nd, 1972-12
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 1st, 1974-144; 2nd, 1972-168
  • AL Win Probability Added: 1st, 1972-7.1; 6th, 1974-3.7
  • AL Sacrifice Hits: 7th, 1972-14
  • AL Putouts as P: 1st, 1974-26
  • AL Assists as P: 2nd, 1972-61; 4th, 1973-55
  • AL Range Factor as P: 3rd, 1973-1.80; 3rd, 1974-1.82; 4th, 1972-1.93
  • AL Fielding Percentage as P: 1st, 1973-1.000; 5th, 1975-.984

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • t-12th WAR Pitchers (29.0)
  • 12th ERA (2.71)
  • t-28th Wins (70)
  • 33rd W/L Percentage (.551)
  • 3rd WHIP (1.104)
  • 6th Hits/9 IP (7.307)
  • 18th Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.627)
  • 19th Strikeouts/9 IP (6.153)
  • 29th Innings Pitched (1130.2)
  • 19th Strikeouts (773)
  • t-36th Games Started (133)
  • t-16th Complete Games (96)
  • 12th Shutouts (17)
  • 21st Home Runs (92)
  • 40th Bases on Balls (330)
  • 41st Hits (918)
  • 13th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (2.342)
  • 32nd Losses (57)
  • 46th Earned Runs (340)
  • t-21st Wild Pitches (32)
  • 32nd Hit By Pitch (24)
  • 3rd ERA+ (134)
  • 7th WPA (12.3)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • 1st Pitching WAR (11.0; 1972)
  • 7th Pitching WAR (8.6; 1974)
  • t-18th Pitching WAR (7.9; 1973)
  • 18th ERA (1.92, 1972)
  • t-9th Wins (24, 1972)
  • t-34th Wins (21, 1974)
  • 7th WHIP (0.978, 1972)
  • t-12th WHIP (1.021, 1974)
  • 14th Hits/9 IP (6.422, 1974)
  • 19th Hits/9 IP (6.645, 1972)
  • 3rd Innings Pitched (344.0, 1973)
  • 5th Innings Pitched (342.2, 1972)
  • 10th Innings Pitched (322.1, 1974)
  • 13th Strikeouts (238, 1973)
  • 15th Strikeouts (234, 1972)
  • 18th Strikeouts (216, 1974)
  • 3rd Games Started (41, 1973)
  • t-4th Games Started (40, 1972)
  • t-16th Games Started (37, 1974)
  • t-13th Complete Games (29, 1972, 1973)
  • t-18th Complete Games (28, 1974)
  • t-8th Shutouts (7; 1973)
  • t-22nd Shutouts (5; 1972)
  • t-38th Shutouts (4; 1974)
  • t-3rd Home Runs (34, 1973)
  • t-38th Home Runs (25, 1974)
  • t-30th Bases on Balls (115, 1973)
  • 7th Hits (315, 1973)
  • 35th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (2.854, 1972)
  • t-3rd Losses (19, 1973)
  • t-23rd Losses (16, 1972)
  • t-5th Earned Runs (129, 1973)
  • t-3rd Wild Pitches (17, 1973)
  • t-32nd Wild Pitches (11, 1972)
  • t-17th Hit By Pitch (12; 1972)
  • t-14th ERA+ (168; 1972)
  • t-50th ERA+ (144; 1974)
  • 1st WPA (7.1, 1972)
  • t-29th WPA (3.7, 1974)