Understand first of all that Gaylord Perry threw spitballs, illegal, unsanitary spitballs.
Not all the time.
OK, most of the time.
And on those occasions when he wasn’t loading up, Perry made hitters think he was. He went through all sorts of gyrations on the mound. Touch the brim of his hat. Check. Wipe his forehead. Check. Wipe his hand across his uniform shirt. Check.
By then, hitters were convinced that one of Perry’s special deliveries was coming up. That was part of the mind game that Perry, who died the other day at age 84, specialized in.
He crept into hitter’s heads and played with their brains for a while. He rattled hitters and it gave him an edge. His routine made batters go batty. In one memorable moment, Reggie Jackson struck out against Perry and was so frustrated by the at-bat that he threw a bucket of water out of the dugout to help the pitcher throw his specialty. Jackson was ejected from the game. Perry was not.
Only once in his 22-year major league career was Perry thrown out of a game. That happened in August, 1982, when Perry, pitching for Seattle, threw a pitch that dipped so dramatically home plate umpire Dave Phillips was convinced it was illegal and threw him out of the game. Perry was suspended for 10 games and fined $250.
Spitball or not, there is no denying Perry’s success on the mound. Pitching for eight teams, he won 314 games and was a five-time All-Star. He threw 303 complete games and was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in each league. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 3,534 strikeouts, more than a few on pitches that did strange things when they got to home plate. There were five 20-win seasons and a no-hitter for San Francisco against St. Louis in 1968.
For a long time, Perry was coy about his behavior on the mound. He would even go to the resin bag and make believe he was drying his hand. More times than not, however, it was just a bit of acting to add to his deception.
When he confessed in his autobiography “Me and the Spitter,’’ he admitted to using more than saliva from time to time. There were mud balls, emery balls and K-Y jelly balls. In the book, he wrote that from time to time, he applied “everything on the old apple but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce toppin’.’’