Herbert Perry

This article was written by Jay Hurd

If hard work and commitment are needed for a successful baseball career, Herb Perry learned those lessons early. He grew up on a farm where chores and responsibility were the norm.

Herbert Edward Perry Jr. was born on September 15, 1969, to Herbert Edward and JoAnn Perry of Mayo, east of Tallahassee in rural northern Florida. The Perrys owned a dairy farm in Mayo. Herb was born in nearby Live Oak. Young Herb’s days were filled with farm chores, school, and sports, among other things. He learned through his father about athletics, competition, and baseball; Herbert Sr. had coached Little League baseball for 32 years and was an associate baseball coach in high school for 14 years.1 From his parents Herb learned the importance of commitment to family, church, and community. His younger brother Chan learned the same lessons, and had a brief major-league career with Cleveland and Kansas City.

Although he did his chores, he did seek other activities. He said, “There’s nothing else to do. You played sports, and I loved to play.”2 He would rush home from school, run to his grandmother’s house, fashion a piece of wood into a bat and hit rocks in his makeshift baseball diamond. “I’d throw up a rock and hit it. I had a fence made up of weeds and stuff. If I hit it over this weed, it was a home run. If it landed on this side, I had to hit it again. I just played hours and hours by myself, just sitting there making up scenarios. At that time I was a Dodger – it was all Yankees and Dodgers in those days – and I’d be facing Goose Gossage or somebody like that.3

A natural athlete, familiar with hard work, Herb became a significant contributor to team sports in Mayo and at Lafayette High School. A three-sport athlete, he earned MVPs in football, basketball, and baseball. As starting quarterback for the Lafayette High Hornets, Herb followed a path opened by his friend and fellow quarterback, Kerwin Bell, who graduated from Lafayette in 1985. During his senior year, 1987, Perry passed for 834 yards and nine touchdowns.4 He excelled at baseball, pitching a perfect game and three no-hitters; he set a state record with 210 strikeouts in one season,5 hit .565 his senior year,6 and had a 37-game hit streak and an eight-game home run streak.7

Perry attracted the attention of the Toronto Blue Jays and the University of Florida football program. The Blue Jays hoped to sign him to a major-league contract while the Gators offered a scholarship to play Division I football. He opted for the university offer, as had Kerwin Bell two years earlier.

Perry’s athletic prowess reflected only a part of his ambition. In addition to being elected high-school Student Council president, he was a member of the Future Farmers of America. His 1986 FFA forestry team finished first in the state competition and earned a ticket to the National FFA Convention in Kansas City. He recalled that “FFA was one of the most enjoyable things I had going through school. I played sports, but I always looked forward to having the forestry contests, land judging and livestock judging. I was on all those teams, plus all the other stuff – parliamentary procedure and public speaking.8

At the University of Florida, under coach Galen Hall, Perry was the third-string quarterback behind Kerwin Bell and Pepe Lescano. As the coach sought to identify a starting quarterback, Perry had his practice and game opportunities. However, in 1988, after a game in which he was sacked seven times by the Vanderbilt University Commodores and he “definitely got hit harder than usual,”9 he reflected on whether he ought to pursue football or baseball. His fine performance on the baseball team that spring – he had opted to play baseball rather than participate in spring football – helped him decide. “I wasn’t cut out to be a quarterback,” he said later. “I don’t have the mental makeup to be a quarterback. I understood that, and I didn’t stick around and fight myself about that.”10  Although he also played as the team’s punter, the connection to football weakened as he played more baseball.

Initially, Florida baseball coach Joe Arnold doubted that a young man coming from a small high-school program (there were only 400 students at Lafayette High) could play ball at the Division 1 level. Having played football as much as he did, he needed time to improve his batting and his throws from third base to first. Still, Perry had an impressive baseball career at Florida. His father was not surprised: “I have put pressure on these boys Herbert and Chan. I expected them to give everything they had. To be your best, you have to give everything.”11

By his senior year at Florida, Perry felt that he had a better chance to play professional baseball than professional football. He played on two Florida teams that went to the College World Series, in 1988 and 1991. Perry’s numbers as of 2015 still ranked him in the top 10 in nine individual season categories at Florida, including fourth in home runs with 25 and second in runs scored with 142. In 1989 he had 90 hits, 59 RBIs, and a team-leading batting average of .370. In 1991 he hit 15 home runs.12

In 1991 Perry earned a degree in agricultural operations, and was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the second round of the amateur draft. Perry began his professional baseball career, at the age of 21 with the Watertown (New York) Indians, a Class A short-season club in the New York-Pennsylvania League. This began an annual pattern of progression up the minor-league ladder. In Watertown, he played in 14 games and batted .212 (11-for-52).

The following year, 1992, Perry moved up to the high Class A Kinston (North Carolina) Indians.  Here he improved each aspect of his game, appearing in 121 games with 53 games in the field alternating between first base, third base, and the outfield. He had 19 home runs and 77 RBIs. In 1993, he moved to the Double-A Canton-Akron Indians (Eastern League), where he had a .269 batting average and a .422 slugging percentage.  

At age 24, in 1994, Perry played with the Charlotte (North Carolina) Knights in the Triple-A International League. In 102 games and 426 plate appearances he achieved a .327 batting average and a .505 slugging percentage. His progress and his play in Triple A prepared him for a call-up to the Indians team in May. He debuted with Cleveland on May 3 and played four games, two at first base, and two at third base. He had one hit in nine at-bats, for a .111 average.

The players’ strike ended the 1994 season in early August. The Indians finished second, behind the Chicago White Sox, in the American League Central Division. Perry’s season was replete with “what ifs.”

The strike ended in 1995, but the season did not open until April 25. Perry started the year with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. He was hitting .317 and fielding well, and on June 13, 1995, when Dave Winfield went on the disabled list with a strained shoulder, Perry was called up to Cleveland.

On June 17, in his second game back, Perry hit his first major-league home run, off the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte, in the fourth inning of a game at Jacobs Field. In the sixth he hit his second home run. He finished the day with a single. When Winfield came off the DL, Perry’s batting had not cooled – his .315 batting average, 3 home runs, and 23 RBIs had earned him a spot on the team for the remainder of the season, and into the postseason and the World Series.

Perry did not hit well in the postseason, going 0-for-8 in the American League Championship Series vs. the Seattle Mariners. He played in three games for the Indians in the World Series against the Atlanta Braves and went 0-for-5 at the plate. However, he made a stellar fielding play that preserved the Indians’ victory in Game Three. In the top of the ninth inning, Perry replaced Paul Sorrento at first base. A sportswriter described the play and its consequences: “With two outs and runners at first and second, Chipper Jones pulled a ball down the first base line, and Perry fielded a strange hop and stepped on first. ‘It definitely saved the game,’ Hargrove said.”13  Perry told the University of Florida campus newspaper he was grateful for playing well in the majors, and playing in a World Series, saying, “There’s always that chance I’ll never be here again. … To be involved in the championship of the world is incredible.”14

Perry injured his knee and had surgery in 1996. He played in only seven games, then sat out the entire 1997 season. After the season the Indians placed him on the unprotected list for that fall’s expansion draft, and he was chosen by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Around this time a mutual friend fixed Perry up with Sheila Glover, the daughter of an Anniston, Alabama, preacher. Sheila had been in an unsuccessful marriage and had divorced her first husband. Sheila was hesitant to meet Herb, as she had heard about ballplayers – she often sang the National Anthem at spring-training games in Lakeland, Florida, and had experience around ballplayers. Rather than follow through with a first date, she “stood him up,” Sheila admitted.15  But when she did meet him, and recognized his qualities – polite, firm values – she wrote to him while he tended to his injuries in Cleveland. The two were married on November 1, 1997. Sheila had one son from her first marriage, 7-year-old Ethan, whom Herb adopted. Their family would grow in time: son Drew, born in 1999; daughter Gabrielle, born in 2000; and a daughter, Olivia, adopted from Ukraine in 2009.

Perry spent all of 1998 in the minors, playing for the St. Petersburg Devil Rays of the Florida State League, the Gulf Coast League Devil Rays, and the Triple-A Durham Bulls of the International League. He was hit by a pitch early in the season, broke his hand and saw limited playing time. He began the 1999 season with Durham and was called up to the Devil Rays on May 6, remaining with the team the rest of the season. In April 2000 the Devil Rays put Perry on waivers and the Chicago White Sox claimed him. By this time, having had surgeries on both knees and a series of nagging injuries, he thought about leaving baseball and returning to the dairy farm. But he put off retiring, and played two seasons with the White Sox. In 2000 he batted .308 as the White Sox went to the postseason. (They lost to Seattle in the American League Division Series.) “Being able to play every day here is awesome,” he said. “This is the best time I have had in baseball, by far. This is a great bunch of guys. Manager Jerry Manuel is a great person. The whole coaching staff has made it easy for me.”16  In Chicago a new nickname, the Milkman, took hold. When he hit the ball well, broadcasters would proclaim, “The Milkman delivers.”17

Perry could not stay healthy for the 2001 season. A strained Achilles tendon limited his playing time. In November the White Sox traded him to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Corey Lee. His time with the Rangers included a career season in 2002 – he played in 132 games and hit 22 home runs.

Injuries continued to plague Perry into the 2003 season. Once again he spent time in the minor leagues, playing with the Frisco Rough Riders of the Double-A Texas League. He was called up to the Rangers on May 10 and played through May 28 until a shoulder injury ended his season. He finished his career in 2004 with the Texas Rangers playing in 49 games, with a stint in late July with Frisco.

Perry played all or part of nine seasons in the major leagues with four teams. His highest salary, $1,700,000, came in his last season, 2004 with the Rangers. He played in two postseasons. Injuries restricted his time on the field, but he remained consistent with attitude and persistence. GM John Hart of the Cleveland Indians perhaps summed up Perry’s career by saying: “Herbert was a good player for us, when he played. The promise was there. But we just couldn't keep him healthy.”18

On December 18, 2004, Herbert Edward Perry Sr. died unexpectedly. The following March, the Mayo community sports complex was renamed the Edward Perry Sports Complex.

After leaving baseball, Herb devoted his time to operating the family dairy farm. His brother Chan – who had a brief career in the major leagues – and other family members also were involved. Perry also remained active in the Alton Church of God, and supported its sports ministry in Cuba.19

 

This biography was published in "1995 Cleveland Indians: The Sleeping Giant Awakes" (SABR, 2019), edited by Joseph Wancho.

 

Notes

1 Obituary of Herbert Edward Perry Sr., Suwannee Democrat, posted December 21, 2005,  accessed March 7, 2015,

suwanneedemocrat.com/obituaries/article_716213c5-8258-5a79-8f7f-ea4869f77ea2.html?TNNoMobile.

2 Erich Gaukel, Internet Archive, “Chicago White Sox Slugger Talks Baseball and the FFA,” The Magazine of the National FFA Organization, May/June/July 2001,  accessed March 7, 2015,  archive.org/stream/ffanewhorizons4952001unse/ffanewhorizons4952001unse_djvu.txt

3 Gaukel.

4 Tim Povtak, “Duo Thrown Into Gators’ Qb Race,” Orlando Sentinel, December 22, 1987,  accessed March 7, 2015, articles.orlandosentinel.com/1987-12-22/sports/0170070288_1_perry-passed-perry-mind-kerwin.

5 Gaukel.

6 Povtak.

7 Player Profiles Page, “Perry, Herbert,” accessed March 7, 2015, baseball.playerprofiles.com/sampleplayerprofile.asp?playerID=1872.

8 Gaukel.

9 Jeff Brown, “Gator Quarterback Making His Mark in Baseball, ” Sun Sentinel,  accessed March 6, 2015, articles.sun-sentinel.com/1989-04-22/sports/8901210130_1_herbert-perry-perry-s-baseball-field.

10 Liz Robbins, “Quiet Success Herbert Perry Often Underestimates His Ability but His Rookie Performance Speaks for Itself,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 28, 1995.

11 Rogers.

12University of Florida, Gator Baseball History and Links,  accessed March 7, 2015, gatorzone.com/baseball/history.php?his=1999/season1999.html.

13 Buster Olney, Baltimore Sun, October 25, 1995, articles.baltimoresun.com/1995-10-25/sports/1995298051_1_cleveland-carlos-baerga-world-series.

14 Jacob Luft, “Perry Enjoying Indian Summer,” University of  Florida Alligator,  October 24, 1995.

15 Player Profiles Page,  accessed March 7, 2015.

16 Phil Rogers, “Holy Cow: A Season Worth Milking,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 2000,  accessed March 7, 2015, articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-10-01/sports/0010010421_1_dairy-farmer-herbert-perry-father Holy Cow.

17 Rogers.

18 Rogers.

19 Alton Church of God, Mayo, Florida, Honoring the Father, Athletes Testimonies, Herbert Perry – Baseball: Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, honoringthefather.com/multipage.php?id=3484.