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In Memoriam: Gaylord Perry

Today, December 1, 2022, Gaylord Perry passed away at the age of 84 in his home in Gaffney, South Carolina. He lived an extraordinary life, one which many men would envy. As a member of the San Francisco Giants, he became one of the premier pitchers of his era.

Born on September 15, 1938 in Williamston, North Carolina, he was named after a close friend of his father's who died while having his teeth pulled. While growing up on a farm, Perry played baseball with his father and brother while on their breaks from working under the scorching North Carolina sun. All those hours honing their skills paid off and by the time Gaylord was in high school, he and his brother led Williamston High School to the state championship in his freshman year, with their coach often swapping the two between first base and the pitcher's mound.

After a stellar high school career in which he boasted a 33-5 record. Seeking to give him an opportunity, local officials set up an exhibition game against ex-major leaguer Jim Byrd and other semi-pros. Perry won the showcase game and caught the attention of the Giants scouts in attendance.

After a few years of maturing in the minors, Perry was called up late in 1962 to show the Giants how he would fare against better competition. The coaches liked what they saw in his limited time on the mound and were perplexed when he posted an appalling 4.03 ERA in 31 appearances as a reliever. Thinking that he would do better as a starter, Giants' coaches were just about at their wit's end as 1965 came to a close with Perry's record standing at 24-30, an unflattering number despite his being the second-best record in the Giants' lineup.

Their patience paid off in 1966 when Perry's career took off. He began the year by going 2-0 in April and then posted records of 4-1, 5-0, 4-1 and 5-2 from May through August. With 20 wins already to his name entering September, his record tapered off to a paltry 1-4 as the Giants saw the pennant slip out of their grasp and into the waiting hands of the hated Dodgers. Despite the dismal finish, with 21 wins under his belt, Giants' management knew that they had something special brewing on the mound.

Paired with future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry formed the latter half of one of the National League's best pitching duos in the position's greatest era. With the Dodger's Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale combo down south and the Cardinals' Bob Gibson brutalizing lineups in the midwest, spectators were in for a treat every summer afternoon.

Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal's skills were sharpened amidst the cold, gusty winds of Candlestick Park and as a result, they were forged into greatness. From 1966 through 1971, this great duo totaled 226 wins and seven All-Star appearances. But despite their prowess on the pitcher's mound, they couldn't overcome the dominant teams of that era, particularly the hated Dodgers. Ending all but one year between 1966 and 1970 second in either the National League or their division.

Despite his excellence on the mound, Gaylord Perry struggled at the plate, spending his first six full seasons never once hitting a home run. Legend has it that in 1963, Giants manager Alvin Dark stated that there would be a man on the moon before Perry hit a home run. Those words proved to be prophetic. Just an hour after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Perry hit his first career home run, a moonshot over the heads of the bewildered Dodgers. It was only after the Giants' 7-3 victory over their arch-nemesis that they realized the irony. Unfortunately, Alvin Dark was no longer with the club to realize his premonition with the ace, having moved on to Cleveland just a year earlier.

But in 1971, everything seemed to click for the Giants as they won their division for the first time, at last topping the Dodgers in the standings. However, Gaylord Perry was substandard in his first and only postseason, winning the first game of the NLCS over the Pirates 5-4 but losing to Pittsburgh in the series' fourth and deciding game 9-5. It would be his final appearance as a San Francisco Giant. In the offseason, management saw his age and figured that after two All-Star appearances his best days were behind him.

They were wrong. In the next 12 years, Gaylord Perry would bounce around from club to club and record three more 20-plus win seasons, all the while garnering three more All-Star invitations. After retiring in 1983, he only had to wait until 1991 to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Upon the conclusion of his playing career, Gaylord Perry moved back home to North Carolina, where he grew tobacco and peanuts. But after a few years of investing in his roots, he had to file for bankruptcy and bounced around from job to job for the next several years, working as a sales manager for Fiesta Foods and dabbling in the coaching profession as Limestone College's first baseball coach until his retirement in 1991.

No matter where he went, Gaylord Perry always held a special place in the Bay Area's heart. His number 36 was retired by the Giants in 2005 and he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame just four years later. When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, they gave him a World Series ring, repeating the act after the 2012 and 2014 titles. the Giants have taken great pride in their alumni, a pride which Gaylord Perry shared the rest of his life.

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