It was an innocuous comment, thrown out at Candlestick Park one day in 1962 while lanky 6'4" Giants rookie pitcher Gaylord Perry took batting practice. "Hey, Alvin," San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Harry Jupiter called out to manager Alvin Dark. "This Perry kid's going to hit some home runs for you." Dark turned to Jupiter and, as Perry tells it, replied, "There'll be a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run." Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind. Less than an hour after that, Perry smacked his first major league homer, against the Dodgers at Candlestick. "True story," drawls Perry, now 70 and living in Spruce Pine, N.C., with his wife of 14 years, Deborah. "I could hit fine in batting practice."
That home run was one small step in a 22-year Hall of Fame career. Perry won 314 games with eight teams, earned the AL Cy Young Award in 1972 and the NL award in '78, and retired with a 3.11 ERA. But he was most famous for allegations of doctoring the ball. In Me and the Spitter, the tell-all book he released in 1974, Perry admitted to employing everything from baby oil to hair tonic to make the ball do tricks ("I reckon I tried everything on the old apple but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce toppin'," he wrote), but when inevitably asked by fans to talk about his underhanded tactics, he still gives the same, wry reply: "I don't remember."
These days Perry would much rather be thinking about fishing on the half-acre pond at his North Carolina lakehouse or wherever he travels for the dozen or so yearly appearances he makes at fund-raisers and baseball camps. Among his greatest hauls were the 125-pound halibut he caught in Alaska four years ago and the 125-pound tarpon he hooked in Florida three years back. "I fished all day for that sucker," says Perry of the latter. "I've had some good days, but I've had a lot of days I've got shut out."
Including at the plate. In the years after his foreordained '69 moon shot, Perry hit just five more career dingers, and he finished as a lifetime .131 batter. He has a pretty good excuse, though. "Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax," Perry says. "People like that cut my average down."
BETTMANN/CORBIS (PERRY '69)
HOOK, LINE, SPITTER Perry is coy about his legendary ball-doctoring, but the tale of his first career dinger rings true.
GREG FOSTER (PERRY NOW)
[See caption above]