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Remembering Gaylord Perry’s brief dalliance in pinstripes

We pay tribute to the pitching legend and one-time Yankee, who passed away today at age 84.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

Baseball fans around the world got the sad news this morning that Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry had passed away at the age of 84. A two-time Cy Young Award winner and a member of the 300-win club, Perry is most known as a member of the Giants, whose logo adorns his Hall of Fame plaque. However, in the later years of his career, he became a bit of a journeyman, and that journey included a brief stop in the Bronx in 1980.

In ways, it was a bit of a surprise that Perry would ever play for the Yankees. He was often accused of doctoring the baseball on the mound, and even admitted that he had done so at points of his career. Even beyond that, he often went to lengths to make batters think he was doing it, via his pre-pitch routine.

The Yankees and their players were often vociferous in their complaints about Perry, and the team even trained a special camera on him during one start at Yankee Stadium to try and catch him doing something.

However with the Yankees in a pennant race in 1980 and in search of a reliable arm to round out their rotation, they turned to Perry, who himself was looking to play in the World Series for the first time. On August 13th, they made a deal with the Rangers to acquire Perry, who was in the final year of his contract. In exchange, they sent away pitcher Ken Clay, who had played parts of the previous three seasons in New York but had spent all of 1980 in the minors, and a player to be named later. Marv Thompson would eventually be the PTBNL, but would never appear in a major league game.

Up to that point, the 41, almost 42-year old Perry had a solid season with the Rangers. His 3.43 ERA in 155 innings equated to an above average 114 ERA+. General manager Gene Michael said that Perry “(had) the kind of mental toughness that will stand up to the pennant race.” They got to test that theory immediately as Perry made his Yankee debut on August 16th against the defending AL champion Orioles, who went into the game just 3.5 back of New York in the AL East.

After being given an early led by his offense, Perry went to work and put on a show at Memorial Stadium. He retired the first 10 O’s batters he faced before Rich Dauer reached on a single in the fourth. He got some help thanks to a Ruppert Jones catch that robbed a potential Eddie Murray home run, but Perry was impressive. He ended up allowing one run in seven innings as the Yankees won, 4-1.

Through his first four starts with the team, Perry put up a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings. The Yankees went 3-1 in those starts, putting up some crucial wins as they kept losing other games to take their lead in the wrong direction. The fourth of those games was a victory over the Mariners, prior to which, the Yankees had fallen to only 1.5 games up in the division race. That particular win was of note, as Perry played it with a red glove, leading the Mariners to play the game under protest.

Gaylord Perry During Game

The situation gave us an incredible quote from late Seattle manager Maury Wills, who said “The umpire said it was red leather, and I said it was dyed. There are no red cows, are there?”

However, as the calendar turned to September, Perry’s fortunes with the Yankees changed. Over his last six games of the season, he put up a 6.41 ERA over 26.2 innings. On three separate occasions, he couldn’t get past the fifth inning, including exiting after 1.2 frames on September 20th. His last appearance of the season came out of the bullpen, although it seemed to be more of an attempt by manager Dick Howser to set up his rotation for the stretch run and a potential playoff series.

In the end, New York did come out on top in the AL East, taking the pennant by three games over Baltimore. Their total of 103 wins was the most by any Yankees team between the eras of Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter. However, they ended up getting swept in three by the vengeful Royals during the ALCS. Perry did not end up appearing in the postseason, but it’s possible that he could have started Game 4 if the Yankees had not lost so quickly.

Perry and the Yankees parted ways the following offseason, and the spitballer signed a deal with the Braves. He had one more memory involving New York though, as with the Mariners in May 1982, he won his 300th game by going the distance against the Yankees at the Kingdome. Perry pitched another year and a half before retiring with the Royals in 1983 at age 45.

In the end, Perry put up a 4.44 ERA (89 ERA+) in 50.2 innings as a Yankee. His tenure with the team is far from the most notable part of his career, but it was a part of it nonetheless. Our best wishes to his friends and family.


New York Times, August 15, 1980

New York Times, August 14, 1980

New York Times, August 17, 1980

New York Times August 31, 1980