#468 Gaylord Perry
Like many of the star cards that I’ve accumulated so far, Gaylord Perry’s is a bit rough around the edges to say the least. In order for this to be an affordable project for me, I have to accept cards like this — stained, scuffed, and beaten. But it’s still a great card, and the first to feature Perry in an action shot. A PSA grade 7 (NM) example lists for $40 in the SMR.
Perry’s 1962 rookie card was a portrait shot that looked almost like a drawing. He pitched somewhat poorly in ’62, and Topps lowered him to one of those four-player “rookie stars” cards in 1963 (an oddity for a player that had already been featured on a solo card). Perry surely was given extra attention early in his career due to the success of his brother Jim, who had already pitched three full seasons by the time Gaylord made his debut.
Certainly nobody would’ve guessed, based on his first two seasons, that Gaylord would go on to win 314 games and be voted into the Hall of Fame. He was already 25 by the end of the 1963 season, and through his first two years in the bigs was 4-7 with a 4.46 ERA and a bloated 1.52 WHIP.
Of course, Perry would eventually become baseball’s most notorious cheater, and he claims to have learned how to throw his famous spitball in 1964 from Giants teammate Bob Shaw. So I guess it isn’t surprising that his career took off from there. In ’64, Gaylord’s record was a pedestrian 12-11, but he posted a 2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and allowed just 7.8 H/9. After a bit of a step backward in 1965 (8-12, 4.19 ERA), Perry went on a 16-year run that cemented him as one of the best of his generation.
From 1966-81, Perry posted a 2.91 ERA, won 273 games, and threw 282 complete games and 50 shutouts. In 1972, he won the Cy Young Award with a 1.92 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 29 CGs while pitching for Cleveland. His record of 24-16 could have been much better if the Indians weren’t such a dismal team. They won only 72 games the entire season. Perry won his second and final Cy Young at the age of 39 in 1978, when he went 21-6 with a 2.73 ERA for the fourth-place San Diego Padres. He gave up just nine home runs in 260+ innings that season. He was the first pitcher to win a Cy Young in each league.
Perry won his 300th game as a member of the Seattle Mariners in 1982. His legacy was tainted more by his high loss total (265, 6th all-time) and lack of postseason opportunities (he never played in a World Series, and had a 6.14 ERA in two career playoff starts, both in the 1971 NLCS) than by his reputation for doctoring the baseball.
Perhaps the most famous story about Gaylord (and this may be apocryphal) is his alleged assertion in 1963 that “they’ll put a man on the moon before I hit a home run” (some attribute this quote to Giants manager Alvin Dark). Regardless, the prediction turned out to be true, as Perry launched the first home run of his career on July 20, 1969 — minutes after Apollo 11 landed on the moon.