"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Gaylord Perry pitched for 1958 St. Cloud Rox

Gaylord Perry seemed to have a glowering nature. It may have been misleading. There was an intensity to his deportment that maybe could be explained just by the fact he had to win baseball games.
He had a reputation as a rule-breaker. A good portion of that might have been stereotype. He may not have doctored the ball nearly as much as legend suggests. The mere image may in fact have helped him. He may have intimidated batters with the image. He psyched them out just by getting them to think he was bending the rules with the ball.
The secret to success in pitching is not in throwing the ball hard - lots of high school senior pitchers across the USA build a reputation that way. The secret to success in the bigs is to deceive. For Perry to have had such a long and storied career in the bigs, he must certainly have employed all the psychological tools. Sheer longevity was the prime way he made his mark.
I was three years old when Perry had an important development step. He is among the most sterling alumni of the old St. Cloud "Rox." The Rox were a wondrous chapter in the history of the Central Minnesota community - the "granite city."
The parking lot around that old ball field was full of the kind of cars that today would have classic car collectors wide-eyed. Those fabulous Chevys of that era! Rock 'n' roll was climbing to the forefront of American culture. Elvis Presley was making his ascent. A youth-driven popular culture was developing. And in St. Cloud MN, a young Gaylord Perry played in the Class A Northern League. Fans of the Rox watched as this star of the future fashioned a 9-5 record with a 2.39 ERA. The year was 1958.
"Rock 'n' roll is here to stay, and it would never die!"
Minnesota was a contrast from where this sturdy righthander grew up. He's a native of Williamston, North Carolina. He was named after a close friend of his father, a man who sadly passed away while having his teeth pulled. Gaylord attended Campbell University in North Carolina. Today, "Gaylord the Camel" is the mascot for that institution.
Perry moved on from St. Cloud after that '58 campaign with the Rox, and his next step was at Corpus Christi. He was in the San Francisco Giants organization. He joined the Tacoma Giants of AAA ball in 1961. He excelled, leading the Pacific Coast League in wins and innings pitched, so obviously we'd see this young man in the majors soon.
He got a taste of the majors in 1962. He got roughed up a little, so he got some more seasoning with Tacoma. The Tacoma team of that time was distinguished by having some quite high-tier talent, as noted by Bill James in his writing.
The '63 season saw Perry plod forward in an undistinguished way, but in '64 his talent was recognized in such a way that he joined the S.F. Giants starting rotation. He held his own, going 12-11 with an impressive 2.75 ERA. He was complimenting Juan Marichal nicely - he of the high leg kick, remember?
Stardom still hadn't arrived for the Rox alum. He kept paying some dues in '65, going 8-12. The Giants kept the faith. Finally in 1966, Perry climbed to the forefront. He was red hot up until August. He owned 20 wins before August even arrived. He and Marichal were becoming the equal of Koufax and Drysdale with the Dodgers. Perry lost his momentum after August. Still, his 21-8 record for '66 firmly established him as a player to watch.
Marichal was held back by injury in 1967. Perry responded with a fine ERA but he was below .500 in won-lost.
The '68 season became famous for showcasing pitchers all over baseball. In that "year of the pitcher," which baseball had to correct after '68, Perry had a super 2.45 ERA but struggled again with won-lost, going 16-15. He threw a no-hitter on September 17. That gem came against Bob Gibson at Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Perry won 1-0 with the sole run coming from an unlikely "slugger," Ron Hunt. I remember Hunt as the first real star of the New York Mets.
Perry was a workhorse in 1969, the first season of the divisional format. The Giants were a snakebit team. They finished second for the fifth straight season. Ouch!
In 1970, Perry fashioned 23 wins and pitched 328 innings. In 1971 the Giants won the division as Perry impressed with a 2.76 ERA. Perry left the Giants after 1971 and became somewhat of a journeyman, but his caliber remained high. He was super with Cleveland in 1972 with a 24-16 record and 1.92 ERA. Didn't the Giants miss that? He had been traded for Sam McDowell, well-remembered as a tall, hard-throwing pitcher, then just 29 years old. After the trade, Perry won 180 more games in his career. McDowell? He won just 24.
Perry fashioned a 70-57 record in his Cleveland tenure. He was staff ace until 1975. Sadly his team could not mirror that kind of success. I well remember the feud he had with manager Frank Robinson. Robinson was pioneering as an African-American manager. Perry was Clevelend's last 20-game winner until 2008 when Cliff Lee did it.
The next stop in Perry's Odyssey was Texas, the Rangers. Again Perry would greatly surpass the players who he was traded for, in his case Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown and Rick Waits. Perry was solid, but as with Cleveland, the team had trouble reflecting that. Perry was now up in years. At 37 he assumed the mantle of staff ace for Texas. The Rangers climbed to second place in 1977, at the height of the "disco years" in the U.S.
Perry should have been in the twilight of his career. But in 1978 with his new team, the San Diego Padres, the graybeard won 21 games and the Cy Young distinction. He was 39 years old! Amazing. He had been traded for Dave Tomlin, who made no mark at all subsequent to the trade.
In '79 Perry requested a trade back to Texas. He got his wish. But he was on the move again to the New York Yankees where he went 4-4. The memories of the St. Cloud Rox days were quite distant when the ol' fossil Perry pitched for Atlanta in 1981. The oldest player in big league ball started 23 games and went 8-9. He was released after the season.
So, he's done? Oh, not at all! He was three innings short of the magical 300 plateau. He had to wait a while but he finally got a call from the Seattle Mariners, for whom he finally got his 300th win on May 6, 1982. On August 23 he was ejected from a game for doctoring a ball. This was the first time this had ever happened. Did he really have a long track record of doing this? The legend exists.
On to 1983: Perry started 3-10. Is he done? Well no, he moved on to the Kansas City Royals. August saw him reach 3,500 strikeouts for his career. He began experimenting with a submarine delivery. On August 19 he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against first place Baltimore.
Perry finally retired on September 23, 1983. In all he had pitched for eight teams. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. I hope he remembers that summer of 1958 in a fond way. The summer in Central Minnesota with the old St. Cloud Rox. Fans were privileged to see him there.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment