Hall of Famer speaks at opening breakfast

Gaylord Perry lived every baseball-loving kid’s dream by playing in the major leagues for 21 years.

The Hall of Fame pitcher reflected on the glory days of his career at the Little League Baseball World Series Grand Slam Kick-Off Breakfast Thursday.

Taking questions from WNEP-TV sports anchor Jim Coles and the audience, Perry made it clear that the game, indeed, has changed since he played from 1962 to 1983.

Over the course of his career, Perry won 314 games – good for 17th on major league’s all-time list – and struck out 3,534 batters.

And he was a workhorse.

In two seasons of his career, he started at least 40 games and finished 29 of them – a feat unheard of in today’s era when pitchers rarely throw complete games.

“I was trained in the minor leagues to pitch every four days,” he said.

He once threw 16 innings against the Cincinnati Reds before leaving the game without a decision.

“I probably threw 245 pitches,” he recalled.

He tossed more than 300 innings in six different seasons and was a four-time 20-game winner.

Perry, who served as grand marshal of Wednesday’s Grand Slam Parade through downtown Williamsport, said one of the keys to his success was using an assortment of pitches.

Among them was his famous spitball, an illegal pitch that, many years ago, he admitted to having used to help get batters out.

Perry said he got the upper hand not so much by throwing the pitch, but when opposing players psyched themselves wondering if or when he would throw it.

And opponents and umpires never could figure out where he hid the substance he secretly placed on the ball to throw the pitch.

“Never put it on the hat or glove,” he said. “That’s the first place to look. I learned real quick not to put it there.”

Perry, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina, was signed out of high school by the San Francisco Giants for a $60,000 bonus.

After several years in the minors, he joined the big league club, which included future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal.

It was a team that contended for the National League pennant throughout much of the 1960s, but ultimately fell short.

In 1962, the team captured the National League flag and nearly won the World Series against the New York Yankees. But in the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding game with two men on base and two outs, McCovey lined out to New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson to give yet another World Series win to the Yanks.

Perry said it was tough competition in the National League in those years, with teams such as the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Braves.

“We were disappointed we didn’t win more,” he said.

He called Mays the greatest player he ever saw and Sandy Koufax the best pitcher.

The toughest batter he ever faced, he said, was longtime Chicago Cubs outfielder Billy Williams.

“I started walking him,” he laughed.

Perry said one of his most embarrassing moments was giving up a home run to Bob Uecker, a backup catcher for the Braves, who later gained fame as an actor and comedian.

“Bob Uecker couldn’t hit himself out of a wet paper bag,” he said.

But Perry said he later didn’t feel too bad about it. After all, Uecker also hit roundtrippers against some pretty stellar pitchers – Ferguson Jenkins and Koufax.

On a more serious note, Perry reflected on the drug problem that continues to plague baseball and that has led to suspensions of players.

“It’s unfortunate that these things happen,” he said. “I just hope they clean it up. I think the union and the players have gotten behind it.”

Perry, who pitched for eight different major league teams, said he had no regrets about his career.

While conceding he would have been better off financially had he played in today’s era when the minimum major league salary is $500,000, he said he still feels fortunate.

Perry also reflected on being elected to the Hall of Fame.

“The hall is just something special,” he said.

He said it was great to join his former teammates – Mays and McCovey – in the hall.