Gaylord Jackson Perry was born to Evan and Ruby Perry on Sept. 15, 1938, in Williamston, N.C. Perry’s brother, Jim, who was nearly three years older, was also an accomplished right-hander, breaking into the Major Leagues with Cleveland in 1959. He won 215 games, including 24 with Minnesota in 1970, when he won the American League Cy Young Award. The Perrys are the only brothers to capture baseball’s most prestigious pitching honor. Gaylord was a right-handed pitcher for eight different teams from 1962 to 1983.
Gaylord attended Williamston High School, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. Before quitting football, he was an All-State offensive and defensive end as a sophomore and junior. In basketball, he averaged nearly 30 points and 20 rebounds per game, as Williamston had a 94–8 record reaching the state finals. In baseball he started at third base with his brother Jim was the pitcher. Later that freshman year Gaylord began to pitch as well.
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 had a 33–5 win-loss record in his high school career. As a teenager, Gaylord played semi-professional baseball for the Alpine Cowboys in Alpine, Texas at Kokernot Field. The Perry brothers both attended Campbell University, where they played college baseball.
The San Francisco Giants signed Perry on June 3, 1958. He made his professional debut in the 1958 season with the St. Cloud Rox team in the Class A level Northern League, compiling a 9–5 record and a 2.39 earned run average (ERA). In 1959, the Giants promoted Perry to the Class AA Corpus Christi Giants, where he posted a 10–11 record and 4.05 ERA. He remained with the franchise as they became the Rio Grande Valley Giants in the 1960 season, and an improved ERA of 2.82 earned him a promotion to the Class AAA Tacoma Giants for the 1961 season. At Tacoma, he led the Pacific Coast League in wins and innings pitched in 1961.
Perry made his major league debut with the Giants on April 14, 1962, against the Cincinnati Reds. He appeared in 13 games for the Giants, but had a 2–1 record and a 5.23 ERA and was sent back down to Tacoma in June. He led the PCL with a 2.44 ERA and was promoted back to the Giants in September. Perry’s breakout season came in 1966 with a tremendous start, going 20–2 into August, and finishing the season 21-8. He made his first All-Star team that year.
- San Francisco Giants (1962–1971)
- Cleveland Indians (1972–1975)
- Texas Rangers (1975–1977)
- San Diego Padres (1978–79)
- Texas Rangers / New York Yankees (1980)
- Atlanta Braves (1981)
- Seattle Mariners / Kansas City Royals (1982–83)
Gaylord started 690 of his 777 games pitched for a total of 5350.1 innings, ranking 6th in MLB history. During his career, he struck out 16.1% of batters faced while walking 6.3%. He ended up with an ERA of 3.11. He had 314 wins and 3,534 strikeouts in 22 years. With the Indians, Perry won his first Cy Young award after leading the American League in wins (24) and complete games (29).
The five-time 20-game winner pitched for eight different Clubs overall and remained a popular teammate and friend throughout his life. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Gaylord’s family, friends and fans across our great game.Robert D. Manfred – Major League Baseball commissioner
With the Padres, Perry won his second-career Cy Young to become the first player in MLB history to win the award in both leagues. He was famous for his illegal spitball.
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 he was stopped by a guard. Perry was ejected for his role in that game, too.
[Perry had] a great sense of humor … a great personality and was my baseball brother. In all my years in baseball, I never saw a right-handed hurler have such a presence on the field and in the clubhouse. Orlando Cepeda
He had a batting average of .131 over his career with 141 hits, 118 singles, 17 doubles, and 6 home runs. After his career, Perry founded the baseball program at Limestone College in Gaffney and was its coach for the first three years. Perry remained active during his retirement, working on his farm in Spruce Pine, N.C. He also attended events, such as statue dedications and World Series ring ceremonies, with fellow Giants Hall of Famers. At the age of 84, Gaylord Perry died at his home in Gaffney, S.C., of natural causes on Thursday morning December 1, 2022.
- The Cy Young Award is given annually to the best pitchers in Major League Baseball (MLB), one each for the American League (AL) and National League (NL). The award was first introduced in 1956 by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick in honor of Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young, who died in 1955. The award was originally given to the single best pitcher in the major leagues, but in 1967, after the retirement of Frick, the award was given to one pitcher in each league. Each league’s award is voted on by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, with one representative from each team. As of the 2010 season, each voter places a vote for first, second, third, fourth, and fifth place among the pitchers of each league. The formula used to calculate the final scores is a weighted sum of the votes. The pitcher with the highest score in each league wins the award. If two pitchers receive the same number of votes, the award is shared. From 1970 to 2009, writers voted for three pitchers, with the formula of five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place vote, and one for a third-place vote. Before 1970, writers only voted for the best pitcher and used a formula of one point per vote. [Back]
- In baseball statistics, earned run average (ERA) is the average of earned runs allowed by a pitcher per nine innings pitched (i.e. the traditional length of a game). It is determined by dividing the number of earned runs allowed by the number of innings pitched and multiplying by nine. Thus, a lower ERA is better. Runs resulting from passed balls or defensive errors (including pitchers’ defensive errors) are recorded as unearned runs and omitted from ERA calculations. [Back]