On December 1, 2022 one of the most colorful baseball personalities of all time, Gaylord Perry, died at age 84. Perry was a Hall of Fame pitcher who won 314 games, but what he is perhaps most remembered for was his penchant for throwing an illegal pitch called a spit ball or spitter.
In 1974 Perry published a book with Saturday Review Press called Me and the Spitter;: An Autobiographical Confession.
Here are my top takeaways:
1.The Book is Hard to Find
This book is out of print, which is strange considering Perry is a Hall of Famer, and he just recently passed away. I’m guessing major league baseball is happy that the book is nearly impossible to find at a reasonable price considering its subject matter, which in part focuses on the idiosyncratic way baseball condones cheating.
2. Snapshot of an Era
The book offers a vivid look at what baseball was like in the 60s and 70s with casual references to players and coaches like Willie Mays, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Henry Aaron, and Billy Martin.
3. Humble Beginnings
The book details Perry’s humble beginnings in North Carolina where he grew up on a farm with no electricity or running water. Perry’s humble beginnings in part led to his desperate attempt to stay in the big leagues by any means necessary. Likewise Perry’s narration is affable, friendly, and a little country, which adds to the charm of the book.
4. Not Quite a Confession
The best part of Perry’s book is his discussion of the slippery rules of baseball when it comes to cheating and the slippery rhetoric he uses throughout the book that never quite arises to a full on confession.
Perry notes that in 1968 baseball outlawed pitchers touching their mouths with their fingers, which pretty much marked the end of the spit-ball era.
An edict issued by National League President Warren Giles the following year allowed umpires to call an illegal pitch with no evidence other than the irregular flight of the ball. According to Perry, this was a bridge too far.
Much of Perry’s success was due to the threat of him throwing an illegal pitch rather than actually throwing one. He developed a ritual of touching his hat, his hair, and his uniform before each pitch, implanting the idea into the hitter’s head that a doctored ball was on its way. This proved very powerful and helped Perry win 300 games and become a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Me and the Spitter is a wonderful book that captures the zeitgeist of Major League Baseball in the 60s and 70s from the point of view of a North Carolina farm boy whose American grit and resourcefulness transformed him into a legendary Hall of Fame pitcher.