More than "The Spitter"

The other side of a notorious-for-his-time baseball star.

Assuming you have ever heard of him, what's the first thought you have when I mention the name "Gaylord Perry".

Probably the word "spitball".

The Hall of Fame pitcher made no secret during his more-than-two-decade career that he used the illegal pitch (I won't describe what it is, you can look it up) more than once to get a big out.  In fact, his autobiography, published in 1974 at the height of his career with the Cleveland Indians, is titled Me and the Spitter.

But recently, a story by the Associated Press reported on Perry's "soft side".

Last year, Perry, with the help of the Baseball Assistance Team, worked to cover the medical costs of Ernie Bowman, an infielder during Perry's early major league pitching years with the San Francisco Giants (he went to Cleveland from San Francisco in what still is one of the Indians' best trades ever), and who had prostate cancer. The article states he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and was even blind for a period of time last year.

Bowman played, according to the AP, in portions of two seasons; not long enough to earn a baseball pension. Perry quite graciously (and perhaps charitably) said "he stopped a lot of line drives for me".  Bowman's short career did include something even star players don't always do; he played in the 1962 World Series.

Perry's efforts reveal a side of him that aren't always revealed publicly.  Besides his controversial pitching career, he occasionally feuded with other players and managers (including, famously, Frank Robinson, baseball's first black manager, who joined the Indians shortly before Perry was traded in 1975). After one such confrontation, a former Cleveland manager once called him a "Prima Donna".

Bowman, now 76, has a much different view. He told the AP, "If it weren't for that money (that Perry secured through the assistance team), I couldn't have done was amazing. If I continue (my progress), I could live another 12 to 15 years."

During his years with the Indians, while I was in high school, I followed Gaylord Perry's career so closely, that when my dad bought me a copy of Me and the Spitter when the book came out, he signed it to "Gaylord's number one fan".

Now you know why.


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