Monday, January 20, 2020

To the Moon Gaylord and Back Again!

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Gaylord Perry and brother Jim combined for 529 major league wins. Which of the two brothers had a better post season record?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: Don Demeter was a well traveled player and in 1963 after two of his better seasons, the Phillies shipped him off to Detroit in search of pitching. In the off season they traded him with Jack Hamilton to the Detroit Tigers for Jim Bunning and Gus Triandos.

On May 25, 1961, in a speech before Congress, President John F. Kennedy predicted the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade; the 1960's. We did that when Neil Armstrong took that Giant leap for Mankind onto the moon's surface on April 20, 1969. So what does this have to do with baseball?
Funny you should ask. It was 1963 when San Francisco Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry predicted "They'll put a man on the moon before I hit my first home run" in the big leagues. Perry's quote withstood the test of time.

He was an outstanding pitcher who pitched into the 1980's and for eight other clubs after the Giants gave up on the future Hall of Famer. While he was, as it turned out a great pitcher, he was never much of a hitter. Throwing in the American League in the 1970's was a blessing. He didn't need to hit because the AL instituted the Designated Hitter Rule. 

It wasn't he was a bad hitter. He just wasn't a good one. He actually hit well in his early days. He hit .231 and .222 in 1962 and 1963. When he became a full time starter in 1964 however, the hitting became very, very secondary. That season he hit .054 with only three hits in 46 AB's. Aside from a couple seasons where he flirted with .186 and in the .155 range, he had a lot of years flirting with .100 or less. In the 1960's he never approached .200 again.

But there was that prediction. A man on the moon before his first homer. Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon on July 20, 1969 at 20:17 UTC. It was about the same time the Giants were facing the Dodgers (who else) at Candlestick Park. Perry was on the mound up against an old nemesis, Claude Osteen. It was a familiar match up.

Osteen was marvelous for a short while. In the first he retired Bobby Bonds, Ron Hunt and Willie Mays in order. In the second he got Willie McCovey, Jim Davenport walked and Ken Henderson bounced into a double play. Meanwhile, Perry gave up three runs in the first and was trailing 3-0 when the third inning came around.

Hal Lanier led off the third followed by Bob Barton and both went down easily, bringing Perry to the plate, still homer-less in his career. He must have been waiting for this moment because just three hours earlier Armstrong set foot on the moon. It was Perry's first time at the plate after the moonwalk and he promptly took an Osteen pitch deep into the seats for his first home run ever. The prediction was sealed. 

It didn't matter what the rest of the game looked like although Perry would resume his old ways, grounding out and then striking out twice. The fact of the matter was, he was the Old Garylord Perry on the mound. He went the distance beating the Dodgers 7-3, giving up seven hits, striking out six and walking just two.

For the rest of his career, Perry despite a low average did hit five more homers over the next 12 years, including one each of the next three seasons. His final dinger came in 1981 while pitching for Atlanta. He had a career high that season batting .250. He closed out his career batting .131, with six homers and 47 RBI. 

Fortunately he was paid to pitch and not hit. Perry finished his career with 314 wins and a 3.11 ERA over 22 seasons. Neil Armstrong never went back to the moon. We're sure he remembered the day like it was yesterday. The same could be said for a fellow named Gaylord.
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