To start 40 games and complete 29 of them en route to 342.2 innings pitched in one season seems far-fetched in today’s big league atmosphere.
But Gaylord Perry did more than just outlast his opponents in 1972. That summer, Perry notched a decision – a win, loss or save – in every game he pitched for the Cleveland Indians.
Forty years ago this week – on Oct. 31, 1972 – Perry was named the winner of the American League Cy Young Award. The 34-year-old right-hander had a stellar first season in the American League – after pitching his first 10 years for the San Francisco Giants, going 24-16 with a 1.92 earned-run average. He also appeared in one game as a reliever, notching a save on April 30 against the Royals in a 16-inning game.
Incredibly, Perry was back on the mound just two days later – striking out 12 in 7.2 innings in a 4-2 win over Texas on May 2. Working on three days rest for most of the season, Perry struck out 234 and walked just 82 while posting a WHIP of 0.978 – the best mark of his career.
The man who became famous for perhaps throwing the spitball – a notoriously difficult pitch to control – was in reality one of the top control pitchers of his generation. And he was certainly one of the most durable.
“I had many discussions with my managers about not letting the guy in bullpen come in to take my place,” Perry said. “I was still strong on the mound and felt I could do the job. I wanted to stay in there, that's how we were trained in the Giant organization coming through the minor leagues. We pitched every four days and you stayed in the game until it was over. It was just part of what we did.”
Perry edged the White Sox’s Wilbur Wood in the Cy Young voting that year, earning nine first place votes to Wood’s seven. Wood was also remarkably durable that season, going 24-17 with 49 games started and 376.2 innings pitched – the most in baseball since Grover Cleveland Alexander logged 388 innings in 1917.
But Perry’s sub-2.00 ERA and 29 complete games impressed the voters enough for him to earn the award.
“I thought it was my duty to do that (finish every game he started) for my team and my family and myself,” Perry said. “I'd be out there as long as it takes. And it never affected my next start. Whatever it took, you did it.”
Perry spent two-and-a-half more seasons in Cleveland before being traded to the Rangers. In 1978, Perry was dealt to the Padres, where he went 21-6 to become the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues.
Perry notched his 300th career win with the Mariners in 1982, and retired the following season with a mark of 314-265 and a 3.14 ERA.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum