Gaylord Perry

July 29, 2008
In hopes of compensating for a recent summertime slowing of output here at Cardboard Gods, I offer this spectacular specimen, a card that has for some days now rendered me speechless with its boundless magnificence. Where do I start? Should I attempt to reconnect to that giddy feeling from childhood (long since faded as such things always do with the tendency to take things for granted) that derived from learning that there was a person, and not just any person but a major leaguer, and not just any major leaguer but a superstar, named Gaylord?

Or should I try to start a discussion about cheating? Though it has quieted down a bit since last year’s revelation of The Mitchell Report and Barry Bonds’ breaking of the all-time home run record, the issue of cheating still seems to be one of the dominant themes in baseball today. Bonds can’t get a job this year, even though he wants to play and surely can still hit better than all but a few people on earth. I suppose this is mostly due to teams not wanting the headache of the media circus sure to erupt upon Bonds’ arrival with the team. Part of that circus would certainly include the copious use of the word cheater. At the recent Hall of Fame induction ceremony, this issue was also present, in the form of an absence. By now, Mark McGwire’s prodigious numbers would have certainly gained him entry into the Hall of Fame, but it looks instead that he may never get in, voters unwilling to elect someone who is roundly assumed to have cheated by using performance enhancing drugs. The obvious hypocrisy that I’m driving at with all the finesse of a bulldozer is that in that very Hall of Fame is a plaque for the man pictured here, who rather openly admitted to cheating whenever possible. The thing is, while I see intellectually that this is a double standard, I feel on a gut level that I’m OK with this double standard. The baseball world at large seems to agree. I wonder why? Maybe it has to do with romance. Gaylord’s an Old West cardsharp, crafty and skillful. McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens, on the other hand (to name the three most prominent figures in the ongoing issue), seem to be greedy, inelegant brutes. How much skill does it take to jam a needle in your ass?

And speaking of ass, we finally come to the subject I most want to address in terms of this card. The photo, which on first glance appears to be a great action shot of a crafty gray-haired veteran in the midst of a wily offering sure to reduce the batter to a frustrated obscenity-laden tirade, on closer look appears in fact to offer the secret to the hurler’s long-running and otherwise somewhat difficult-to-explain success. Please look closely, and without the prejudical knowledge of both baseball pitching mechanics and the usual placement of body appendages. Do you see what I see? That Gaylord Perry was able, with some exertion showing plainly on his well-lined face, to excrete, from his anus, a third hand.

This would explain a lot, wouldn’t it? I mean, of all the many entertaining instances of a player getting caught red-handed (Joe Niekro trying to toss away a file as an umpire approached him on the mound, cork exploding from Sammy Sosa’s bat, etc.), the most notorious rule-stretcher of them all, Gaylord Perry, who even entitled his 1974 mid-career autobiography Me and the Spitter, eluded authorities for his first 21 years in the majors, not earning his first suspension for rule-bending until his second-to-last go-round in 1982. Everyone agreed he made baseballs do ungodly things. But how?

Probably this card shows nothing but the fact that he had a way of keeping his right arm close to his side in the middle of his delivery to add to his prodigious arsenal of deceptions. But maybe it shows, like those rare photos of Bigfoot or Nessie, something more monstrous and wondrous. I mean, maybe, just maybe, we are glimpsing Gaylord Perry’s uncanny assball.


  1. 1.  One of the great baseball stories took place in 1978 when Perry was still with the Padres. During a rain delay in New York, he took a bucket of balls and a bucket of water out to the mound. Dave Roberts went behind the plate and Randy Jones went to bat.

    Perry would dip a ball in the bucket of water and then throw a pitch. Jones would take an exagerated swing and miss. Roberts would completely miss the ball.

    The umpire, Harry Wendlestat I belive, got into the act. He went out to the mound and checked Perry for illegal substances. He checked under his cap, his glove, his uniform, anywhere he could. He even moved the bucket of water several times as he moved around the mound.

    And during a Cy Young award winning season. Players weren’t quite the tightasses back then that they’ve become today.

  2. 2.  July 8th, 1979, game one of doubleheader, Shea Stadium. Complete game win for Gaylord and his assball. That’s my guess. If it were a guessing game. Which, to me, it always is.

  3. 3.  1 : That’s a great image.

    The recent 25th anniversary of the Brett pinetar incident also features Gaylord in a telling bit part: as all hell was breaking loose he was calmly sizing up the situation and realizing from his vast experience that the best thing to do in such a moment is to tamper with and/or make disappear the evidence. So with chaos ruling he snatched his teammate’s controversial bat from the umpire’s hands and made off with it. It may have been his last notable act in the big leagues.

  4. 4.  2 : A total guess? Or is there something in the photo that says “Shea” to you?

  5. 5.  Yeah it is hard to fault Gaylord for trying to gain an advantage with his wily ways. I think even baseball officials had to admire his clever ways of getting guys out. Oh and that name….Gaylord Perry is right up there for me with Dick Butkus and Dick Trickle for having great names. I can still get a laugh out of my younger brother by just mentioning that Dick Butkus was a great linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

  6. 6.  “Uncanny Assball” is going to be the name of my fantasy football team this year.

  7. 7.  5 I always think of Dick Butkus as the real-life version of A Boy Named Sue:

    Son, this world is rough
    And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
    And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along.
    So I gave you that name and I said goodbye
    I knew you’d have to get tough or die
    And it’s the name that helped to make you strong.

    Now you just fought one hell of a fight
    And I know you hate me, and you got the right
    To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
    But you ought to thank me, before I die,
    For the gravel in your guts and the spit in your eye
    Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you “Dick Butkus.”

  8. 8.  6 : I wouldn’t want to line up against that team.

    7 : Nice connection. Come to think of it, from what I’ve heard, I think Dick Pole was a somewhat ornery fellow, too. And perhaps there was some of the Boy Named Sue logic behind gameshow host Peter Marshall changing his own last name but letting his son go through life with the old country name of Peter LaCock.

    As for the unusual name of the player in question here: according to Wikipedia Gaylord was named for a family friend who “died while having a tooth pulled.”

    I think I learned from Bill James’ Historical Abstract that the name is pronounced “Gaylerd.”

  9. 9.  7 An old friend of mine has a dad named Kim. Never in million years would I mess with Kim and his snake eyes. Once I nearly rode my bike into his newly washed Ranchero, and the look he gave me scared me to the bone. You don’t mess with a man who has a woman’s name. They’ve seen and heard it all. Kim is from BFE Iowa, so naming your son a girl name must be a country thing.

  10. 10.  Before 1969 – when I turned 13 – the word “gay” wasn’t generally taken to mean “homosexual,” and it probably took a little longer before that became the only common meaning. So, strange as it may seem, I never really got the giggles over Gaylord Perry.

    “Pebbly Jack” Glasscock would have been a different thing altogether.

  11. 11.  Josh! I’ve been doing some research on Bowie Kuhn. It seems to me that the powers that be from those days came down harder on folks that accused Perry of cheating than they did on Gaylord himself.

  12. 12.  It never bothered me that Perry threw spitballs and other sly pitches. He was like a jolly magician on the mound, always entertaining.

    Yet I’m incensed about McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, and the rest, who did their cheating out of view (except for their expanding size and enormous heads). Gaylord (that’s a funny name, hee-hee-hee) did it right in front of us and still got away with it.

    Vaseline? Expectoration? Maybe it was actually Super Blue Stuff: http://tinyurl.com/5v8vb4

    5 8 Perhaps it’s time for the All-Sport All-Time Name Team? Although someone has already beat us to it:

  13. 13.  When Perry was with the Yankees, I saw him throw something he called a “puffball.” He shook the rosin bag gently in his pitching hand to collect some rosin. When he threw the pitch, it created a little white puff right with the pitch coming straight out of it.

    The umps made him stop.

  14. 14.  In all seriousness, why can’t baseball bring back the spitball? It would restore the balance between hitter and pitcher. I really see no reason to continue the ban. Does anyone know of any reason to ban the spitball?

  15. 15.  11 : Bowie Kuhn, huh? Interesting. By the way, I thought of you when Billy Southworth got in this past weekend.

    12 : Those are some good lists. Interestingly, Randy Johnson made neither top ten.

    14 : That’s a good question. I could be way off, but my guess is the ban came about for a couple reasons: a desire to pump up those offenses, and a concern about the safety of the pitch. I’m basing the latter reason pretty heavily on the description of Henry Wiggen throwing a spitball in The Southpaw: everyone, including Wiggen, seemed aghast that he would risk braining a batter with the slippery, unpredicatble pitch. I don’t know if that fictional account is based at all on fact.

  16. 16.  15 I though batter safety might have something to do with it, but when the spitball was banned in 1920, there were no batting helmets. I think the spitball would bring us back to solid 5-4 or 6-5 games rather than too much offense. Just my opinion.

  17. 17.  16 : You’re not the first to make a case for it. According to J.F. Light’s book The Cultural History of Baseball, NL President Ford Frick advocated its legalization in ’49 and again in ’55, at which point a vote was taken and “64 baseball people said yes to legalization, 36 said no, and 20 were not sure. Nevertheless, not action was taken.” The book’s entry on spitballs offers no reasons why it was outlawed in the first place, but a Branch Rickey quote against reinstating it seems to show an opinion that legalization would open a whole can of worms, encouraging pitchers to do everything to the ball short of exploding it with firecrackers.

  18. 18.  Oh, sorry, I shouldn’t have said “guess.” Or “guessing game.” More like “research game.” The brick wall, the orange line on blue wall–it’s Shea. And then I checked and his only day game in ’79 there was July 8th.

  19. 19.  Great, great post.

    If I were less lazy, I would go get my Roger Angell and quote his thoughts on the spitter “slipping under the turnstile like a dilatory schoolboy.”

    I believe the reasons given were sanitary (?) and fairness based. Much as I’d love it, I don’t think there’s any fair way to do it. If we were to legalize it, you know guys would be putting all manner of substances on the ball. And, if some is good, more would be better-you’d have balls covered from top to bottom in Vaseline.

    Derek Zumsteg’s book on cheating is a good read, BTW.

    I have always had a small fondness for spitballers, or emery ballers, or whatever-there’s something cool about loading one up, two on , two out, and throwing it by somebody to get a strikeout.

    I’m not sure a spitter can be thrown hard enough to really hurt somebody, do you?

  20. 20.  18 : Nicely done.

    19 : In Light’s Cultural Encyclopedia there’s a quote from Stengel, an advocate of legalization, in which he claims that the pitch is safer than the knuckleball. The quote seems to imply an ongoing discussion about its safety, while also dismissing those concerns. I tend to agree with you and Casey though. But it is alarming to think of all the gunk that would start showing up on baseballs if the spitter was made legal.

  21. 21.  I’m sorry, but of course spitballs shouldn’t be legal. That would be changing the basic physical characteristics of the ball, as so carefully defined in the rules. It’s tampering with the equipment, plain and simple, and I can’t see any reason that should be allowed.

    For that matter, I feel the same way about the Coors humidor.

  22. 22.  One rumor back in the day had Perry hiding the vaseline stash in his crotch area. Umpires would never check there and when he adjusted his cup he was really loading up for the next pitch.

    Also, I think the banning of the spitball had a lot to do with the ball. They did not change the ball in pre-1920 days anywhere close to what we do now. A study many years ago said an average ball lasted for seven pitches. It wouldn’t surprise me if that figure was about five pitches now.

  23. 23.  Rusty Kuntz caused many a laugh when I was growing up.

  24. 24.  Hmmm. That doesn’t look like Shea to me. … Anyone else with an opinion on this?

    I sort of like the idea that in baseball “cheating” isn’t really a crime unless you’re caught. I’m OK with guys trying to cut the ball, stealing signs, stealing bases, etc. PEDs are a different story because they’re part of training and not the game itself.

  25. 25.  24 That’s Shea alright. The stone wall adjacent to the outfield wall is the giveaway. And the orange stripe.

  26. 26.  Not for nothing, but how about the parade of characters through San Diego in the ’70s? Check out the sidebar of the Cardboard Gods profiled in glorious Padre regalia–Rollie Fingers, Oscar Gamble, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Bobby Valentine, all of them except maybe Winfield more often associated with a team other than the 1970s “Just Passin’ Thru” Padres.

    I noticed this when adding the link to Perry’s post to the sidebar. I think Perry could hold his own in a showdown of colorful-characterness with any of these guys. A funny tidbit, which sounds as if it may be a tall tale, is that after he (or perhaps someone else, according to various versions of the story) proclaimed early in his career that they’d put a man on the moon before he hit a home run, Perry hit his first roundtripper moments after Neil Armstrong took the great leap for mankind.

  27. 27.  Another great story about Gaylord Perry was that a reporter asked him if he really threw a spitball. His five year old daughter was present, and she blurted out, “It’s a hard slider!”

  28. 28.  “…gameshow host Peter Marshall changing his own last name but letting his son go through life with the old country name of Peter LaCock.”

    Wait, what?! I never knew that, but it does explain my vague recollection of seeing Pete LaCock appear as a game show contestant in the late ’70s. I’d like to say it was on the Squares, but I’ve been unable to verify, as it seems there are still a few nuggets of pop culture trivia which remain too miniscule for detection. I suppose that’s a good thing. Still, what a bizarre memory to have dredged up….

  29. 29.  My favorite Gaylord Perry moment was when his ungodly breaking pitch had Reggie Jax swinging like he was swatting flies. Reggie then threw a full water cooler out on to the field as if to ask, “You want some spit!!! Here’s some spit!!!” A great moment I’ll never forget.

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