Year Inducted: 1991 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 342/443)
The spitball has been an officially banned pitch in the Major Leagues since Burleigh Grimes’ retirement in 1934. However, players are always pushing their boundaries and trying to gain whatever edge they are able to-legal or otherwise. There was a point of time in the 1960’s that umpires, executives and even the Commissioner himself wanted to lift the ban on the spitball due to its difficulty to police. By some accounts 50 or even more pitchers were accused at one point or another of doctoring the baseball in the 1960’s. But, none of them were as good as Gaylord Perry.
Perry pitched for 22 seasons, mostly with the Giants. Perry won 314 games while losing 265 with an ERA of 3.11. Perry threw over 5000 innings in his career and managed to strike out 3534 batters while walking 1379 batters. Perry was a dominant force on the mound, spitter or not. Opposing hitters mustered only a .241 average off of him and he carried a WHIP of 1.18.
Perry had a rough start to his career. First called up to the bigs in 1962 as a swingman, Perry struggled without consistent usage and wound up demoted by June. After finishing strong in the PCL, he was called back up to help the Giants compete in the great Pennant Race of 1962 and finished stronger. Similar struggles occurred to Perry in 1963, but finally came through with a strong campaign in 1964. That was the same season that the Giants acquired known spitballer Bob Shaw, who worked with Perry to help him complete his repertoire. Perry fell back a bit in 1965 as he had to learn to curb his emotions when fielders made errors behind him (something he struggled with most of his career) or other things went wrong that he couldn’t control. After a lot of hard work in Spring Training for the 1966 season, Perry finally became the pitcher that he was thought of, being worth at least 4 fWAR in each of the next 14 seasons, and worth 5 fWAR in all but 2 of those seasons.
Once Perry’s career concluded, he was known as (probably) the best spitballer of all-time, though he would try to deny the allegations. He is one of ten pitchers to win 300 games and strikeout 3000 batters, but the spitball allegations would prevent him from being inducted until his 3rd ballot. Many times he was searched while pitching, but rarely if ever could the umps or opponents find anything. Perry was an incredible talent, spitball or not, and well deserves his place in the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/21/16: This avian pitcher is widely regarded as the best fireman of all-time.