SABR

Jim Perry

This article was written by Joseph Wancho.

New York fans had to be pleased at the scene that was unfolding before their eyes on May 12, 1959. Their Bronx heroes trailed the league-leading Indians 7-6 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. Cleveland starter Cal McLish was attempting to raise his record to 5-0, when manager Joe Gordon lifted him for Jim Perry. Jim Perry? Surely there were more experienced arms in the bullpen to which Gordon could turn. Why go with a green rookie in such a tight game? His previous outing in Chicago, three days earlier, Perry faced four batters in the third inning, walking three and giving up a hit to the other; all four players scored. When told that Gordon favored Perry because he threw hard and liked Perry’s guts, a New York scribe commented that perhaps “Gordon had more guts than his pitcher.” Gordon Cobbledick, sports editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was watching the game on television back home. “That Gordon is crazy!” he remarked to his wife.

Young Perry was visiting Yankee Stadium for the first time. Certainly the crowd of 36,000-plus would intimidate the young hurler. Gordon had simple advice for the rookie: “Joe told me to go in there and start firing and that’s just what I did,” said Perry afterward.

Jerry Lumpe grounded out to first base. Pinch-hitters Enos Slaughter and Andy Carey were both strikeout victims. Gordon left Perry in for the ninth, with the meat of the Yankees’ order coming to the dish. Tony Kubek led off the inning by stroking a double down the third-base line, sending the crowd into a frenzy. But Perry bore down, striking out Mickey Mantle. Yogi Berra popped out to second base, and Elston Howard struck out to end the game. Four punch outs for young Perry in two innings. “We knew before that Jim was pretty good,” Gordon said. “Now we know for sure he can come in and throw his blazer over the plate and past the hitters. From now on he’s my No. 1 tough-spot pitcher -- early, late or any time. A game like this can make a young pitcher.”

At the conclusion of the game, Mrs. Cobbledick turned to her husband and asked “Which Gordon is crazy, dear?” Jim Perry made believers out of many fans that day. And for the next 17 years, he continued to prove himself.

James Evan Perry Jr. was born on October 30, 1935, in Williamston, North Carolina. He was the oldest of three children born to James Perry Sr. and Ruby Perry. Gaylord Perry, who is two years younger than Jim, went on to a Hall of Fame career. Sister Carolyn completed the family. Jim Sr. was a sharecropper, with tobacco being his major crop.

Jim pitched on the Williamston High School baseball team, while younger brother Gaylord played third base. “We won the state championship that year,” said teammate Gerald Griffin. “When one of the Perry boys pitched, the other played third, and they switched off the next game.” Jim Perry recalled that he and his younger brother “had nine shutouts in a row.”

Jim was attending Campbell College when he was signed by Cleveland scout Jim Gruzdis. His first stop in the minor leagues landed him in Class D North Platte of the Nebraska State League in 1956. In a victory over McCook, Perry limited the Braves to three hits, struck out 16 and set down 21 batters in a row. Perry rose through the Cleveland’s minor-league chain, making stops in Class C Fargo-Moorhead (North Dakota) of the Northern League in 1957and then Class A Reading (Pennsylvania) of the Eastern League in 1958.

Perry was invited to the big-league spring camp in Tucson based on his 16-8 record at Reading. He came to camp with a determined attitude that some took for as being brash. “I’m here to make the team,” Perry proclaimed as he arrived. Although he was earmarked to pitch in Class AA for 1959, Gordon stuck with Perry. “That’s what you like to see,” said Tony Pianowski, administrator of Cleveland’s rookie camp. “Three years in the minors -- then the majors. That’s really the mark of a winner. Perry, from the start, was one of our hardest workers. Red Ruffing was on our staff and he was a great believer in running the kids until their tongues hung out. Jim would stay right with him, chasing fungoes as long as Red could hit them.”

The starting rotation for Cleveland was pretty much set with Cal McLish, Herb Score, Gary Bell and Mudcat Grant. Perry began the year throwing mostly out of the pen. Score was recovering from his eye injury two years earlier, and pitched sparingly in the second half of the season. Perry posted a 12-10 record his rookie season, with six of those wins came as a starter after he took Score’s spot in the rotation. He posted an ERA of 2.65. “He’s fast and has a tricky delivery that’s hard to pick up,” said Washington’s Roy Sievers. “It’s hard to follow his pitches. The ball is on top of you before you know it.”

Cleveland was in the race for much of the year, but after closing the gap on the first place White Sox by a game, the Tribe dropped a four-game set to the Chisox at home in late August and never recovered. Perry went up against Dick Donovan in the second game of that series and lost a tight game 2-0.

Perhaps it was the way the team played down the stretch that prompted Tribe general manager Frank Lane to make some major trades. McLish, who led the team with 19 wins, was dealt to Cincinnati. Two days before the 1960 season was to open, Rocky Colavito was dealt to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn. Cleveland traded the home run king (Colavito) for the batting champion (Kuenn). Lane was vilified by the fans, basically hung in effigy for trading the team’s most popular player in Colavito. The next day, Score was sent packing to Chicago for Barry Latman. It was not enough for Lane, as he and his counterpart in Detroit, Bill DeWitt, pulled off an unprecedented trade in August. They swapped managers, Gordon going to Detroit for their skipper, Jimmy Dykes.

Through all this, it appeared that Jim Perry found his stride in 1960. He tied Chuck Estrada of Baltimore for the league lead in wins with 18. He won six in a row from May 21 through June 15, lowering his ERA from 3.60 to 2.63 during the streak. Unfortunately for Perry he also led the league in giving up the most homers, 35, over 261.1 innings. He gave up a round-tripper every 7.5 innings. “Without the Commodore, what a horrible losing streak we’d be in,” said Dykes of Perry. “But with him, even I could discover the North Pole.”

In the offseason, Perry married the former Daphne Snell of Raleigh, North Carolina. Jim and Daphne had three children: Chris, Michelle and Pam.

Over the next two years, Perry was inconsistent. His ERA jumped to over four in each campaign, and he was still giving up the long ball. He served up a combined 49 home runs in 1961 and 1962. On May 10, 1962, in Minnesota, Perry surrendered a home run to the first two Twins hitters, Lenny Green and Vic Power. He was the twelfth pitcher in major league history to accomplish the dubious feat. The Irony was not lost on many when Perry took a job between seasons selling bomb shelters. “The way I was bombed last summer, I ought to get one for myself,” kidded Perry.

After Dykes piloted the Indians in 1961, Mel McGaha had been chosen to run the team in 1962. Now the team would hear from another voice in 1963 as Birdie Tebbetts was hired to lead Cleveland. Perry found himself in the bullpen at the start of the season. He was the odd man out of a starting rotation made up of Latman, Grant, Donovan, and Pedro Ramos. On May 2, Perry was dealt to Minnesota for Jack Kralick. Cleveland had its sights set on Kralick for some time, needing a left-handed starter to go with a dominant right-handed staff. Minnesota Manager Sam Mele seemed apathetic with the deal. “We would like to have got Bell (Indians right-hander gary Bell), but he just wasn’t available,” said Mele. Many years later Cleveland GM Gabe Paul had a different view of the deal. “Perry had more lives than a cat,” said Gabe. “It was hard to know he would have a career like that.”

Perry had plenty of hard luck in his first two starts for the Twins. In his first start against California, Perry gave up three hits, but lost 2-0. In his next start against Kansas City, he gave up one unearned run in a 2-1 defeat. Over 16 innings, he gave up 10 hits, three earned runs, but his record stood at 0-2. He quickly rebounded, winning four games in a row in June, finishing the season with a record of 9-9 for the third place Twins.

Perry was unable to crack the starting rotation in Minnesota. In mid-June the Twins acquired Mudcat Grant from Cleveland, further solidifying the starters. In 1965, former Boston Brave great Johnny Sain joined Mele’s staff as pitching coach. Sain had a tremendous effect on the pitching corps. Under Sain’s tutelage, Perry learned to throw a sharp breaking curveball, and to turn over his fastball so it would break in on right-handed batters. Injuries struck the Twins’ starters during the season: Dave Boswell came down with mononucleosis, Grant was sidelined with tendinitis in his knees, and Camilo Pascual underwent right shoulder surgery. This gave Perry his chance. “It’s been like this with every championship club I’ve been on,” said Sain. “Seems like every game you have to wrestle. And you have injuries, but someone else comes along and helps out.” After picking up four wins as a reliever, Perry was given his first starting assignment against Boston on July 5. He responded with a seven-hit shutout, fanning eight. He went 7-7 as a starter and posted an ERA of 2.63 for the season.

The Twins pulled ahead of Cleveland as a result of Perry’s first win, and coasted their way to the pennant, finishing a comfortable seven games ahead of second-place Chicago. They met the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, losing in seven games. Jim Kaat and Grant each started three games for the Twins, and Perry went back to pitching relief. In two games he pitched four innings, giving up one unearned run.

Used primarily as a starter the next season, Perry went 11-7. His overall ERA was 2.43 and he struck out 111 hitters while only walking 49. He won five of six games following the All-Star break. “Perry has shown me too much,” said Mele after the season. “He can do too many things and you need pitchers like that. He can start regularly, he can spot start, he can relieve. When injuries start popping up, a man who can do all of those things can really help. Twice Jim started with two days of rest. And I haven’t forgotten it.”

Mele may not have forgotten Perry’s efforts, but Cal Ermer may not have been aware of them. Ermer managed AAA Denver and was promoted to replace Mele 50 games in the 1967 season. Another major change was Sain leaving the Twin Cities after 1966 to become Detroit’s pitching coach. Under Ermer, Perry again was bouncing between starting and relieving. But in 1969, Billy Martin took over as manager, having served as a Twins coach since 1965. Martin and Perry had been teammates at Cleveland in 1959, and Martin immediately inserted Perry into the rotation and let him be.

Perry made Martin seem like a genius, going 20-6 with a 2.82 ERA. Two of his wins came on the same day. On July 19, the Twins and Seattle Pilots battled to an 7-7 tie through 16 innings. There were a combined 41 players used in the game. After 16 innings, the game was suspended and completed on July 20. Perry pitched the final two innings for the victory. Perry started the winning rally for the Twins with a one-out double, later scoring the go-ahead run. In the regularly scheduled matchup, Perry blanked the Pilots 4-0, scattering nine hits. Ironically, Perry had been left unprotected by the Twins in the expansion draft the year before; Seattle could have scooped him up for nothing.

Over his first ten years in the big leagues, Perry was considered an above-average hitter as far as pitchers go. His deftness with the bat was on display June 22 in the second game of a twin bill in Oakland. With the score tied at three, Tony Oliva led off the top of the 13th inning with a double and advanced to third base on a ground out by Graig Nettles. The Athletics gave a free pass to Charlie Manuel in order to face Perry. But Perry surprised all by laying down a suicide squeeze to score Oliva with the eventual winning run. “Oliva waited for just the right moment to break for home. When the pitcher (Rollie Fingers) was at the top of motion, and Perry did the rest,” explained Martin.

Perry captured victory number 20 against the Pilots on September 20. During the game, Perry struck out Danny Walton in the first inning, notching the 1,000 strikeout of his career.

The Twins breezed through the newly formed American League West Division. They finished ahead of second-place Oakland by nine games while the rest of the division trailed the Twins by at least 26 games. Perry started Game One of the AL Championship Series in Baltimore, giving up three runs over eight innings of work. He received a no-decision as the Orioles won 4-3 in 12 innings, and swept Minnesota three games to none in the best-of-five series. It was not enough to save Martin’s job, as he was dismissed shortly thereafter. The front office received backlash from fans who supported Martin. Although he later won at most every stop in his 20 years of managing, many of Martin’s problems in the Twin Cities were self-inflicted. He refused to adhere to the club’s policies, ripped the organization over the farm department, and fought with pitcher Dave Boswell. Most fans, and many players, saw wins and a division championship and opposed team president Cal Griffith’s firing. “I owe Martin a lot,” said Perry. “He gave me a chance to prove what I could do. I’m grateful for that. I know some players don’t like the way some things were handled, but you can’t satisfy 25 players.”

Minnesota hired Bill Rigney as its new skipper for the 1970 campaign. Rigney, a former infielder for the New York Giants, had managed the Angels the previous nine seasons. Perry led the American League in wins with 24 and 40 starts. Perry was without question the ace of the Twins’ staff. No Minnesota starter recorded an ERA higher than 4.00. Perry participated in his first All-Star Game in Riverfront Stadium. His brother Gaylord tied Bob Gibson with 23 wins for most in the National League. They were the first brother combination to win 20 games apiece in the same major league season. “Jim is hard man to keep up with, “said Gaylord. “I’ve been watching his progress closely. We always knew he’d be an outstanding pitcher.” The Baseball Writers Association of America Association agreed with Jim’s kid brother by selecting him as the Cy Young Award winner for 1970 in the American League. He beat a stellar group of pitchers, including Sam McDowell, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally; eleven points separated the top four vote-getters. Perry was also named to the Sporting News All-Star Team.

Unfortunately, the next two years were subpar for Perry. In 1971 he gave up 39 round-trippers, almost doubling his total from the previous season (20). At the end of spring training, Perry was dealt to Detroit for pitcher Danny Fife. The move reunited Jim with Billy Martin, the skipper in Detroit. “I think he can help us win the pennant,” said Martin. “I think he’ll win over 15 games. We got the non-cheating Perry. We’ve been scouting him, we think he can win.”

Jim finished the year 14-13, one win away from Martin’s prediction. Martin was fired before the end of the season and replaced at the end of August with Joe Schultz. On July 3, Jim took the mound against Gaylord, who was now pitching for Cleveland. It was the first time in American League history that two brothers pitched against each other in a regular-season game. But neither pitcher was around at the end of the contest. Jim gained a no-decision and Gaylord was tagged with the loss in a 5-4 Tigers win. A disputed three-run homer down the right field line by Cleveland outfielder Charlie Spikes gave the Indians a slim 3-2 lead. By the time the Tigers mounted a comeback, Jim had hit the showers. “I should’ve won and I would’ve if the umpire (Merlyn Anthony) didn’t call the ball wrong,” explained Jim Perry. “There’s no way that ball is fair, and you can ask anybody who was in our bullpen. They were right there and saw it.”

Two of Jim’s defeats in 1973 came as a result of the opposing pitcher throwing a no-hitter. The first one was against Steve Busby of Kansas City on April 27; the Royals were 3-0 victors. The second time was courtesy of Nolan Ryan of California on July 15; the Angels beat the Tigers 6-0. It was Ryan’s second no-hitter of the season. Perry had earlier been victimized by a no-hitter in 1970, when Oakland’s Vida Blue threw a no-no at the Twins.

As with the previous spring, Perry was dealt again. This time he was part of a three-team deal with the New York Yankees that sent him back to Cleveland. He was going to be teamed with Gaylord. The trade was made with much anticipation, both for the Perry brothers and Tribe fans. “I’m looking forward to putting on a Cleveland uniform,” said Jim. “I know I’ll get a chance to pitch. You [Cleveland] have a good defense [sic] team and you can score runs. I hope the brother combination can do a good job and get fans back to the park the way they used to come.”

Gaylord went 21-13 with a 2.51 ERA and Jim 17-12 with a 2.96 ERA. While the brother combination worked just fine, the rest of the staff fell flat, as no other pitcher posted double-digit wins. Their 38 wins contributed to almost half of the team’s total of 77.

In the offseason, Cleveland replaced manager Ken Aspromonte with Frank Robinson. Robby would be the first black manager in the big leagues. Robinson was traded by the Angels to the Tribe on September 15, 1974, and he joined the Indians for their final 15 games. Robinson was as an accomplished player as there was in major-league history. His impressive credentials included being named Rookie of the Year (1956), NL MVP (1961) AL MVP (1966), and World Series MVP (1966). Robinson ran a tight ship and demanded that all of his players adhere to his regulations. Gaylord Perry fought him at almost every turn. Both Perrys had dismal starts to the 1975 season. It was only a matter of time before the sibling reunion would come to an end. On May 20, Jim was dispatched to Oakland with Dick Bosman for John “Blue Moon” Odom. Gaylord was dealt to Texas three weeks later.

Perry made 11 starts for Oakland. One of those starts was a one-hit effort against Baltimore, a 3-0 win on June 10. Al Bumbry’s two-out single in the sixth ining ruined Perry’s no-hit bid. “I’m not a no-hit pitcher,” said Perry. “I’m just trying to win. I’ve been struggling, and I can’t worry about that no-hit stuff.”

Perry was released by Oakland on August 13, and retired from the game shortly after. In retirement, Perry worked in the scouting department for Oakland. His top signee was catcher Terry Steinbach, who was a core player for the dominant Athletic teams in the late 1980s. He eventually relocated to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, working for Dial-Net, a long distance telephone service. His son Chris became a professional golfer, and had a successful career on the PGA tour.

“I would have liked to have been a full-time starter before I was 32 years old,” said Jim. “Maybe I could have won 20 before 1969. The 20-victory seasons give me a lot of satisfaction. I don’t hold any grudges, though.”

Sources

Baseball Digest.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Cleveland Press.

http://minors.sabrwebs.com/cgi-bin/index.php.

http://www.retrosheet.org/.

http://www.sabr.org/.

National Baseball Hall of Fame Archives.

Pluto, Terry. The Curse of Rocky Colavito. Simon and Schuster, 1994,

The Sporting News.

Thielman, Jim. The Cool of the Evening. Kirk House Publishing, 2005.

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