Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 36 – Gaylord Perry
Bob Toth | On 26, Feb 2017
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Countdown to Opening Day – 36
Jesus Aguilar had occupied the number 36 for the Indians for a few cups of coffee over the last three seasons, but he surrendered his claim to the digits when Cleveland designated him for assignment during the offseason. Now a member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization, the 26-year-old slugger will hope that a change of location will be the move that he needed in order to stick in the Major Leagues for a more pronounced length of time.
Production from three-sixes in Indians history has historically been minimal, with Aguilar’s years with the number exceeding the majority of those to wear it before him. A total of 50 players have reportedly worn the number for the Tribe in regular season action, but only a handful have spent more than a few seasons representing it on the field.
One of the best to do so, without argument, was Gaylord Perry, who joined the Indians organization following the 1971 season.
A North Carolina native, the 6’4″ right-hander signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1958 and made his debut in 1962. He would work sporadically in both starting and relief roles over the next few years before making a name for himself for his numbers on the mound in 1966, winning 21 games with a 2.99 ERA while making his first All-Star team.
He averaged 38 starts a season over the next three years with an ERA in the mid-2.00s before making his second All-Star trip in 1970. He led the National League with 23 wins, 41 starts, and 328 2/3 innings pitched while finishing second in the NL Cy Young voting. The Giants, however, were willing to move him to Cleveland after the next season, sending the 33-year-old righty and shortstop Frank Duffy to Cleveland for younger left-hander Sam McDowell.
The Indians organization was not unfamiliar to the Perry family. Gaylord’s older brother, Jim Perry, was signed by Cleveland prior to the 1956 season and reached the Majors with the club in 1959. He led the American League in wins in 1960 and was an All-Star in 1961, but he was dealt to the Minnesota Twins in May of 1963 after five unsuccessful relief appearances to start that season. He, like his brother, would bounce back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, finally latching on as a starter in 1969 at the age of 33 in a 20-win season. He took home the AL Cy Young Award the following season, winning an MLB-best 24 games in 1970 while making his second All-Star team. He made it a third Midsummer Classic trip in 1971 and remained with the Twins through 1972 before spending a season in Detroit. He returned to Cleveland and was reunited with his brother in 1974.
The younger Perry, who had developed the reputation of a spitballer and used that status to instill doubt and anticipation in opposing hitters, made quite a few new fans during his first season on the shores of Lake Erie. He would post an AL-best 24 wins, a career high, and fired 29 complete games with five shutouts, a 1.98 ERA, and a 0.98 WHIP. It led to a fourth All-Star trip and later, the first Cy Young Award in Indians history.
He went 19-19 in 1973 in his Cy defense, leading baseball with his second consecutive season with 29 complete games. He finished fourth in the Cy voting in 1974, going 21-13 with a 2.51 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while working as the starting pitcher for the first time in his fifth All-Star Game.
The 36-year-old Perry was 6-9 through his first 15 starts for the Tribe in 1975 when the cash-strapped club shipped him to the Texas Rangers for Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown, Rick Waits and $100,000. The move was aided by ongoing relationship problems between Perry and then-Indians manager Frank Robinson.
He bounced around after that. He spent two and a half seasons with the Rangers before he was traded to the San Diego Padres. There, in his first season with the team in 1978, he took home another Cy Young, doing so at the age of 41 at year’s end. He was an NL All-Star in 1979 before he returned to Texas in a deal for Willie Montanez. The second stay in Texas was much shorter than the first, as he was traded to the New York Yankees in August of 1980 with the team in the hunt for the pennant.
He left the Big Apple after the season and spent his final three seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, and Kansas City Royals. His 22-year career concluded with a 314-265 record in 777 appearances with a 3.11 ERA, 303 complete games, and 53 shutouts.
Perry was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 on his third ballot. He joined the Indians Hall of Fame class of 2012 and the Giants honored him in 2016 with a statue outside of AT&T Park. The club had previously retired his number 36 in 2005.
Other notable 36’s in Indians history: Hal Peck (1948-49), Sam Jones (1951), Sam Dente (1954-55), Rick Waits (1975-83), Jamie Easterly (1983-86), Albert Belle (1989), Herbert Perry (1994-96), Tom Martin (1998-2000), Jeremy Guthrie (2005), Paul Byrd (2006-08)
Photo: Getty Images