The Real Story Behind Pitcher Gaylord Perry's First Career Home Run

Baseball Jul 22, 2021

Remember Gaylord Perry?

Now 84, he spent more than two decades pitching in the major leagues.  He played for eight different teams.

Perry was no slouch on the mound.  He was a perennial Cy Young Award candidate who compiled 314 lifetime wins – which included 3,534 strikeouts and a 3.11 career earned run average.  In fact, Perry is one of only six pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National League (Pedro Martínez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Max Scherzer being the others).  He held the record for most consecutive 15-win seasons since 1900 with 13 (1966–1978) and was 2nd all-time to Cy Young, who had 15 (1891–1905).  Greg Maddux surpassed both men, with 17 in a row (1988–2004).  Perry was elected to the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility, in 1991.

But Perry was just as well known for his spitball.  He was a sneaky pitcher who used every possible tool, device, or substance to throw a tougher pitch.

Perry didn't even try to hide his shenanigans.  Baseball fans watched him "doctor" the baseball for years, using grease, jellies, or whatever he could get to gain an edge.  He often kept grease hidden in the bill of his ball cap.

Writer's Note:  I saw Perry pitch at least a dozen times when he played for the Texas Rangers in the early 1970s.  Fans would openly cheer him whenever he touched his cap and licked his fingers.  It was grand theatre.

But Perry's most incredible baseball moment didn't happen as a pitcher.  It happened as a hitter and was one of the wildest coincidences in the history of sports.  The event took place this week 52 years ago, when pitcher Gaylord Perry hit his first career home run in what was then his seventh MLB season.  The full story is told HERE:

Perry was a really, really bad hitter.
The righty played almost all of his career before the advent of the DH, so he got a fair amount of work with the bat -- 1,220 plate appearances in all.  His slash line over that span: .131/.153/.164, good for an OPS+ of -10 (yes, negative 10, meaning his OPS was 110 percent below league-average).
Naturally, Perry's teammates felt compelled to give their ace some good-natured ragging -- none more so than Alvin Dark, his manager in San Francisco from 1962-1964.

One day during the 1964 season, Dark and San Francisco Examiner reporter Harry Jupiter looked on as Perry smacked a few home runs during team batting practice.  Jupiter told Dark that Perry looked pretty good with a bat in his hands and remarked that the pitcher might even hit a home run one of these days.  

Dark's response set in motion one of the weirdest coincidences in baseball history: "Mark my words," he said, "a man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run."

Several seasons passed.  Then, by mid-1969 two things were abundantly clear. Man would indeed walk on the moon, and Perry would still be looking for his first major league homer.

Picking up the story from there:

Jump ahead to July 20, 1969.  Perry, now 30 and clearly established as one of the best arms in the game, was scheduled to start against the rival Dodgers.  But there was something else happening that afternoon: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were about to become the first men to set foot on the moon.  You can probably see where this is going.

At 1:17 p.m. PST, Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Some 238,900 miles away at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Perry stepped to the plate in the top of the third inning -- and, wouldn't you know it....bam!

Perry clobbered the first home run of his career.

After he retired, Perry recalled the incredible incident:

"Well, about the top of the third, over the loudspeaker, they were telling everybody to stand and give a moment of silent thanks for the astronauts who landed on the moon.  And I'd say 30 minutes later, Claude Osteen grooved me a fastball, and I hit it out of the park."

By 1969, Alvin Dark had moved on to managing the Cleveland Indians, denying him the chance to say, "Hey, technically speaking, we did put a man on the moon before you hit a home run."


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