The colorful and occasionally accused spitballer Gaylord Perry was honored by the San Francisco Giants on Saturday when they unveiled a nine-foot tall bronze statue of the Hall of Famer outside of AT&T Park.
A former two-time Cy Young Award winner, including his first in 1972 with the Cleveland Indians, the 77-year-old Perry entertained the crowd with a speech and, after the statue was revealed, advised those in front of him in the audience to look underneath their seats, where jars of Vaseline had been taped.
“You might make a comeback playing baseball,” quipped Perry to that selection of guests in attendance, many of whom were indicated to be former teammates, in quotes shared in a story on SFGate.com on Saturday. “A little gift there for you.”
Former Giants and fellow Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey, each of whom is immortalized already at the ball park, were also in attendance to celebrate Perry’s accomplishments.
The 6’4″ right-hander was signed by the Giants in 1958 and made his Major League debut at the start of the 1962 season. He spent each of his first ten MLB seasons in the Bay Area, making a pair of All-Star teams in 1966 and 1970 while posting a 134-109 mark with a 2.96 ERA in 367 games. He led the league with 23 wins in 1970.
He left California, temporarily, following the 1971 season when he was dealt with Frank Duffy to the Indians for Sam McDowell. The younger, hard-throwing McDowell had either led the American League or all of baseball in strikeouts in five of the previous seven seasons, but despite being just 29 at the time of the trade, the southpaw would last just 18 games into the 1973 season with the Giants and just 14 games into the 1975 season in the Majors in what is considered one of the worst trades in Giants history.
“When Gaylord’s kids found out he was traded to Cleveland, they were very sad,” shared Marichal on Saturday. “I don’t think they were the only ones, because I was sad when Gaylord [went] to another team.”
His first season in Cleveland will go down as one of the better ones by an Indians pitcher in their history as he won a league-high 24 games at the age of 33 while firing 29 complete games, also tops in the American League. He was an All-Star midseason and was selected the AL Cy Young Award winner following the season, becoming the first player in Indians history to be honored so. He also finished sixth in the MVP voting that season while posting a career-best 1.92 ERA in his 41 games (40 starts).
Perry followed it up with a 19-19 record the following season, but still led all of baseball with 29 complete games and a career-high seven shutouts while finishing seventh in the Cy Young voting.
He was back to his old form in 1974 at the age of 35, posting a 21-13 season with a 2.51 ERA in 37 starts, with 28 complete games and four shutouts. He was an All-Star for the fourth time that season and the second time with Cleveland while finishing fourth in the Cy Young vote.
“I was accused of doing certain things to the baseball,” shared Perry during his dedication ceremony Saturday, “and when I got traded to Texas, I took a lie detector test. I passed in flying colors. They say you can’t lie to those things, but I was in a tight spot.”
Despite being of an advanced age for pitchers in any era, the 36-year-old was hardly done with his career, as he would pitch with the Rangers through 1977, pitched two seasons for the San Diego Padres and won his second Cy Young Award at the age of 40 in 1978, split the 1980 season with Texas and the New York Yankees, played for Atlanta in 1981, Seattle in 1982, and pitched for the Mariners and Kansas City Royals in 1983 before calling it a Hall of Fame career after 22 seasons, 777 games, and a lifetime record of 314-265. He appeared in his final game six days after his 45th birthday.
His ticket to Cooperstown was punched on his third ballot in 1991. His number 36 was retired by the Giants in 2005.
While Perry’s time in Cleveland was far too short to bestow his likeness forever in nine-foot tall bronze, the Indians honored him in their own way in 2012 when he was enshrined in the Indians Hall of Fame in Heritage Park at Progressive Field.
Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle (SFGATE.com)