8.02 The pitcher shall not—
(a) (2) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner; or
(6) deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02(a)(2) through (5) or what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball or “emery” ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.
— Official Baseball Rules
Long before steroids, baseball already showed it was unwilling to deal with cheaters in its midst. In 1987, Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was ejected for having an emery board and sandpaper on the mound. He got a ten-game suspension. But years before, Major League Baseball (MLB) had allowed another cheater to run rampant for over a decade.
Gaylord Perry admitted, in his 1974 autobiography, to throwing the spitball in violation of multiple provisions of Rule 8.02(a) since 1964. He ultimately won 314 games and posted 3,564 strikeouts over a 22-year career, totals that got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991, his third year of eligibility.
In Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession, Perry not only detailed how he doctored the ball but also named his teammate Bob Shaw as a spitball pitcher who became his mentor in cheating. The spitball had been banned in 1920, with pitchers currently using it being grandfathered in. The last legal spitballer, Burleigh Grimes, retired after the 1934 season.
At the time of Perry’s confession, MLB did nothing. He would be ejected from a game and suspended eventually, in 1982, while with the Seattle Mariners. It never should have taken that long.
It is not surprising, though. Look at the complaints about andro and steroids. Steroids were banned from baseball in 1991, and federal law forbids them unless they’re prescribed by a doctor. But much of the steroid use between 1991 and 2006, before testing became common, was by players who when in high school, college, and the minor leagues in the 1970s and early 1980s saw Gaylord Perry get away with flouting the rules.
Consequences for cheating? If you do well enough, you make the Hall of Fame. MLB won’t do anything about it. The Steroid Era may get the headlines, and it may fuel the debate today, but the seeds were planted when baseball let Gaylord Perry get away with throwing the spitball.
What is more damning is that Perry’s 1974 autobiography provided enough evidence for him to at least be suspended. Imagine if then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn had announced, in light of Perry’s admissions in his book, that he would be suspended for the 1975 season and that any further violations would result in his being banned from baseball. Could that have headed off the Steroid Era? We will never know.
We do know, however, that corruption often starts out small. In this case, baseball’s failure to deal with a pitcher who routinely violated the rules against doctoring the baseball sent a signal to players that cheating didn’t necessarily have consequences. The same attitude underpinned the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs for two decades after Perry retired.
If players who used steroids are to be kept out of the Hall of Fame, then it seems that Gaylord Perry deserves the same treatment. He was ejected only twice in his major-league career. But a third ejection is in order. It’s time to eject Gaylord Perry from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
— Harold Hutchison is a long-suffering Brewers fan. His novel, Strike Group Reagan, is forthcoming.