Everyone always suspected Gaylord Perry threw a spitter or a greaser, or cut the ball. He was a master at it. He was the safecracker. He perfected what so many others in his generation tried but couldn't pull off nearly as well. Cheated? Well, some would say that. Others would say he perfected a way to find his edge.
Some threw spitters. Others stole signs. Some corked bats. Others used too much pine tar.
It wasn't until his 21st season, at age 43, that someone actually caught him doctoring the baseball. Even after admitting he had used foreign substances on the baseball for years, he was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1991 on his third try. That's probably because he won 314 games and lost 265. He amassed 3,534 strikeouts. Of his 690 starts for eight teams, he pitched 303 complete games. He worked 5,350 innings and pitched until he was 45. In his heyday in San Francisco, he teamed with Juan Marichal to form a pretty special tandem worthy of comparison to their Dodgers rivals, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
"I would suspect," Perry said Thursday from his mountain home in North Carolina, "that I didn't get in the first couple of times because I admitted those things."
The 69-year-old Perry, who spends his days fishing and hunting, believes this generation's cheaters - the steroid users - will also get into the Hall of Fame, eventually.
"When you look at those numbers, it'll be awfully difficult for voters not to let them in," Perry said. "You all [voters] have a very tough assignment ahead. I'm sure you'll all sort through it and do the right thing. I just think that, in the end, if you're a pitcher, I'm not sure if there's anything you can put in your body that allows you to throw strikes, and whether that stuff enables you to make the perfect pitch in the most crucial situation, or if it allows you to just know how to pitch. When all is said and done, I think that's what it comes down to."
Perry even admitted, "I corked a few bats in my day also, but it didn't do me any good because I was a lousy hitter. That's what I mean, none of those things are gonna help you unless you have the ability to begin with."
The only thing Perry said he ever knew about steroids was what he heard about the use by NFL players in his era. He doesn't believe there was ever any crossover to Major League Baseball in the 1970s and early 1980s. He knew there were a lot of other pitchers who tried to doctor the ball but just never got it right.
Perry was just as surprised as anyone to see Roger Clemens's name in the Mitchell Report, though he feels Clemens is as close to an old-time pitcher as he's ever seen. "When we came up, we were taught to finish what we started," he said. "I don't think even Clemens could go much past six or seven innings when he got into the late part of his career. He was a great pitcher."
Perry said he didn't think the users "used too much common sense" in having their own names attached to checks and other receipts that were displayed in the report. "I just hope they straighten it all out because it's a great game and it's a great game for young kids to get into and play. For me, it's still the best sport. Anyone can play it and get good at it."
In Perry's day, "greenies" seemed to be the drug of choice. Amphetamines were quite common in major league clubhouses. It was only in the last two years that they have been banned, but the Mitchell Report did not include any action against players caught using amphetamines or suspected of using. This was strange considering commissioner Bud Selig spoke about the serious nature of amphetamine use in baseball and that he was advised by a doctor that the use of amphetamines was a more far-reaching problem than steroids or human growth hormone.
The difference between Perry's cheating and the cheating going on nowadays is that a little spit or Vaseline wasn't going to hurt anyone. Steroids can kill you.
Attorney Harry Manion, who has represented NFL players in steroid cases in the past, is amazed by the medical testimony and documents he hears and sees concerning the long-term effects of taking steroids.
"Not just physical, but emotionally and mentally," he said.
It doesn't make much sense to sacrifice the quality and, in some cases, quantity of a life for the possibility the steroids might make you a better athlete for a while. And this is something Perry can't figure out, either.
"When I played, we didn't even have weight rooms in the clubhouse," Perry said. "You always heard about 'greenies,' but that's all you heard. We certainly were aware of the steroid talk in the NFL and in professional wrestling, but you didn't hear that in baseball."
Maybe Perry will always be considered a cheater, but what he did over a 22-year career seems so harmless now.
Easler weighs in on his pupils
A few questions for Dodgers' Triple A hitting coach Mike Easler, who was the batting coach for Mo Vaughn with Boston and Fernando Viña - both named in the Mitchell Report - and suspected steroid user Mark McGwire for St. Louis.
Q: Mike, tell me about these guys.
ME: "I don't know what they did because I was never privy to it, but if they did human growth hormone, they did it for one reason: to get back on the field as quickly as possible. I was the hitting teacher and they were three of my most prized students. I loved all three of them. They were warriors. They worked so hard. When I hear the word 'cheater' associated with them, it just pierces my heart because I know firsthand the blood and sweat these guys put forth to get better."
Q: Tell me about Mo.
ME: "I was his hitting coach in Boston. After he got traded to the Angels, we kept in touch. He had those great years in Boston and if he hadn't got hurt in California and hadn't messed up his knee, he was on his way to being a Hall of Famer. He had become a great hitter because he had a burning desire to be the best hitter. When he went to New York and hurt his knee, I would fly out to Boston every couple of weeks and we'd work all day at his house. He would tell me, 'Mike, I've got to get back. I have to play. It's New York. There's a lot of pressure on me.' And I'm telling you, he spent so much time perfecting his swing, trying to find new ways mechanically to get better."
Q: How about Viña?
ME: "He got everything he ever could out of himself. This guy could really hit for an infielder. You should have seen the pride Fernando had in his game and wanting to be the best. When he hurt his knee, it just devastated him. He pushed himself so much."
Q: And McGwire . . .?
ME: "I got to St. Louis [after] he had hit 70. The year I got there , he hit 65. When I teach guys who are power hitters, I teach the way McGwire used to do it. Talk about a guy whose mechanics were so incredible . . . he was perfect. This was a tremendously dedicated baseball player."
Q: Were you shocked to hear these guys were named? Or that McGwire didn't get into the Hall of Fame because of his alleged steroid use?
ME: "I don't know what happened in the past with any of them or what they did. I just know the pressure they were under. It's not just the ballplayers themselves. It's the managers and front office people and trainers who are all pressuring them to get back as quickly as they can."
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1) The Tigers' starting nine: six Latinos and three African-Americans; 2) The Red Sox weren't too pleased that Gabe Kapler quit his managing job at Greenville, S.C., after one year to play (for the Brewers) again; 3) The name on the back of his Cubs jersey, "FUKUDOME," was the subject of some internal discussion around the Japanese outfielder (his first name is Kosuke) who signed a four-year deal with the Cubbies; 4) Absent from the Mitchell Report - Is Sammy Sosa now in the clear? 5) Javy Lopez, one of the most defensively challenged catchers we've seen, has signed a minor league deal with the Braves.
Here's the skinny on a possible deal for Johan Santana. The Red Sox would break from their philosophy of not giving out long-term deals for Santana. They'd prefer fewer than the seven years agent Peter Greenberg is seeking but will go there for one of the top two or three pitchers. Since the winter meetings, nothing has changed with Boston's offer, but after the New Year things are expected to get down to the nitty-gritty, when Minnesota will expect the Yankees and Red Sox to give their final "best offer." The Sox are still offering Coco Crisp, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, and Jed Lowrie. If the Yankees don't include Ian Kennedy, the Red Sox will land him. As to the growing theory that Josh Beckett would be bent out of shape over Santana earning twice as much, forget it. Beckett signed the contract and knew what he was doing.
Pitch counts count
One thing that makes the Santana deal attractive to the Red Sox is the great care the Twins have taken with the ace since he entered the big leagues in 2000. In 251 games and 175 starts, only once did he reach the 120-pitch mark. That came in a 7-1 loss to the White Sox April 21, 2006, at Chicago, where he went seven innings.
Mariners in the mix
Sources inside the Mariners organization still indicate they're alive on Santana and Baltimore's Erik Bedard. There's a lot of disappointment in Seattle over losing the Hiroki Kuroda bidding with the Dodgers. He was clearly the best of the available free agent pitchers, which forced the Mariners to sign former Twin Carlos Silva to a four-year, $48 million deal that is hard to figure. Do the Mariners have the pieces to land Santana and Bedard? Among Adam Jones, Brendan Morrow, and catching prospect Jeff Clement, they probably do. But the issue is: Can they satisfy Santana's contract demands? In a division where the Angels have improved, the Mariners are feeling some pressure to do something big.
Brew Crew in the market
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is still looking for a third baseman so he can move Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun to left field. "There are still some things we can do," Melvin said. "There are a lot of players out there looking for jobs still." Melvin could move Billy Hall to third and acquire a center fielder. Talks on Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen never materialized, with the likelihood St. Louis did not want to deal Rolen in the division. Melvin also thinks he's done the best he could with his bullpen situation by acquiring Eric Gagné, Guillermo Mota, and Solomon Torres, all of whom have one-year deals, and spending three years on David Riske. In the end, Melvin may have made the best move not committing four years to Francisco Cordero (now with the Reds) and Scott Linebrink. "I think the one thing we're excited about is for the first time in seven years we're going to have extra picks in the draft," he said. "We're going to get four picks for Cordero and Linebrink." Melvin feels Gagné, who was named in the Mitchell Report and might be disciplined by the commissioner's office, will rebound and excel again in the closer role. "Our reports on Eric in Texas were very good. Obviously, he didn't fare as well in Boston out of his normal role, but his stuff was still good," Melvin said.
In the report? No problem
The Dodgers obviously have no problem with players named in the Mitchell Report: Four days after the report came out, they signed catcher Gary Bennett, who played in the Red Sox system in 1997. Bennett admitted to using human growth hormone, but he is a very good backup who likely won't see too much playing time with Russell Martin around. On that front, the Red Sox are still searching for that backup. Right now it looks more likely that Doug Mirabelli will return.
Larry Whiteside, recently elected as the J.G. Spink Award winner by Hall of Fame voters, will also receive the Sam Lacy Award as part of the eighth annual Legacy Awards presented by the Negro League Baseball Museum Jan. 12 in Kansas City. Whiteside, a longtime Globe baseball writer, passed away June 15 at age 69.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.