GAFFNEY, S.C. — Two-time Cy Young Award winner Gaylord Perry, a master of the spitball and telling stories about the pitch who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, died Thursday. He was 84.
Perry died at his home in Gaffney at about 5 a.m. Thursday, said Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler, who did not provide additional details. A statement released by Perry's family said he "passed away peacefully at his home after a short illness."
The native of Williamston, North Carolina, made history as the first player to win the Cy Young in both leagues, with the American League's Cleveland Indians in 1972 after a 24-16 season and with the National League's San Diego Padres in 1978, when he was 21-6 for his fifth and final 20-win season just after turning 40.
"Before I won my second Cy Young, I thought I was too old — I didn't think the writers would vote for me," Perry said in an article on the Hall of Fame website. "But they voted on my performance, so I won it."
Perry, who pitched for eight MLB teams from 1962 until 1983, including the Atlanta Braves in 1981, was a five-time All-Star and had a career record of 314-255. He finished with 3,534 strikeouts and used a pitching style where he doctored baseballs or made batters believe he was doctoring them. His time with the Giants included a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968.
In a released statement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Perry "a consistent workhorse and a memorable figure" who "will be remembered among the most accomplished San Francisco Giants ever ... and remained a popular teammate and friend throughout his life."
Perry was drafted by the Giants and spent 10 seasons with them among legendary teammates like fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays. In a release from the team, the 91-year-old former center fielder called Perry "a good man, a good ballplayer and my good friend," adding "So long old Pal," and Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal remembered Perry as "smart, funny, and kind to everyone in the clubhouse. When he talked, you listened."
"During our 10 seasons together in the San Francisco Giants rotation, we combined to record 369 complete games, more than any pair of teammates in the Major Leagues," Marichal said. "I will always remember Gaylord for his love and devotion to the game of baseball, his family, and his farm."
A Hall of Fame release said Perry was "one of the greatest pitchers of his generation" and noted he often returned for induction weekend "to be with his friends and fans."
The Texas Rangers, whom Perry played for twice — the second stint was a partial season in 1980 before being traded to the New York Yankees — said in a release that the pitcher was "a fierce competitor every time he took the ball and more often than not gave the Rangers an opportunity to win the game."
"The Rangers express their sincere condolences to Gaylord's family at this difficult time," the statement read. "This baseball great will be missed."
Perry's 1974 autobiography was titled "Me and the Spitter," and he wrote it in that when he started in 1962 he was the "11th man on an 11-man pitching staff" for the Giants. He needed an edge and learned the spitball from teammate Bob Shaw. Perry said he first threw it in May 1964 against the New York Mets, pitched 10 innings without giving up a run and soon after entered the starting rotation.
He also wrote in the book that he chewed slippery elm bark to build up his saliva, and eventually stopped throwing the pitch in 1968 after MLB ruled pitchers could no longer touch their fingers to their mouths before touching the baseball.
According to his book, he looked for other substances, such as petroleum jelly, to doctor the baseball. He used various motions and routines to touch different parts of his jersey and body to get hitters thinking he was applying a foreign substance.
Giants teammate Orlando Cepeda said Perry had "a great sense of humor ... a great personality and was my baseball brother."
"In all my years in baseball, I never saw a right-handed hurler have such a presence on the field and in the clubhouse," Cepeda added.
John Stanton, chairman of the Seattle Mariners, said in a release that he spoke with Perry during his last visit to the city, saying Perry was, "delightful and still passionate in his opinions on the game, and especially on pitching.
Perry was ejected from a game just once for doctoring a baseball, when he was with Seattle in August 1982. In his final season with the Kansas City Royals, Perry and teammate Leon Roberts tried to hide George Brett's infamous pine-tar bat in the clubhouse but was stopped by a guard. Perry was ejected for his role in that game, too.
After his career, Perry founded the baseball program at Limestone College in Gaffney and was its coach for the first three years.
He is survived by wife Deborah, and three of his four children: Allison, Amy and Beth. Perry's son Jack had previously died.
Deborah Perry said in a written statement to AP that her husband was "an esteemed public figure who inspired millions of fans and was a devoted husband, father, friend and mentor who changed the lives of countless people with his grace, patience and spirit."