Still, though there ain't been no damage, the accusations are becoming increasingly emphatic.
"It's a universal fact he throws the pitch," said Fran Healy, a Kansas City Royals catcher who was a teammate of Perry's on the Giants. "So I'm not talking out of school.... I remember that on some pitches I'd have to wipe my hands before throwing the ball back." Healy insists, however, that Perry does not throw the spitter or, more properly, the "greaser" as often as the hitters seem to think. "There were games he might not throw many at all.... It's the old psychological advantage—the hitters just thinking he's going to throw it. Nobody uses the spitter like that as well as Gaylord. He'll have you looking for it all day and get you out with other stuff."
It was always Perry who called the pitch, says Healy. And the catcher had to remain alert for the signal, since the spitter, which is thrown as hard as a fastball, can break straight down with shocking abruptness. To miss the signal is to invite injury or, at the least, a passed ball.
The real mystery is not so much the pitch Perry throws, his opponents and teammates say, but the what and where of the substance he allegedly employs to grease the ball. It has been variously suggested that he uses Vaseline, K-Y Lubricating Jelly—"the ideal all-round lubricant" it says on the tube—or even angling fly-line cleaner. Any of these mixed well with perspiration can provide the slackness necessary to release the ball with the reverse spin that will send it plunging away from the hitter. The 1968 addendum to Rule 8.02 (a), which prohibits the pitcher from touching his mouth without drying the fingers, effectively reduced the sale among pitchers of slippery elm lozenges, which were once standard fare for spitballers. And spit itself is no longer an ingredient in spitball pitching.
Where, then, do the miscreants conceal their slickum? Kurt Bevacqua, a former Perry teammate at Cleveland, now a Kansas City Royal, became a confirmed Perry watcher last season and he still hasn't the foggiest notion. "No one knew where he kept it, not even his teammates. He'd never talk about the spitter. Oh, I take that back—I heard him refer to it one time. It was a game against the Yanks and he'd just struck out Murcer. The ball took a severe dive—and I mean a severe dive. I swear it dropped a good two feet right at the plate just as Murcer swung. It was the last out of the inning and Gaylord came back to the dugout laughing and saying something like, I wanted to throw one, but not that good.' "
Another former Perry teammate, who requests anonymity, says that when Perry threw his no-hitter against the Cardinals on Sept. 17, 1968 all but four of his pitches were spitters. The grease, he said, was always placed on the ball's trademark. When the umpire would ask to examine it Perry would simply rub his thumb over that spot, then oblige.
An American League pitching coach who also prefers to remain nameless maintains there is no one secret spot for the grease. It can be smeared anywhere—"on the forehead, the back of the wrist, the forearm, the side of the pants leg or the belt. The idea is to change the location often so when the umpires look in one spot, it's not there. You can hit your glove and remove it from your wrist in one motion. You never load up with more than you can remove in one swipe. When you do apply it to the hand, you put it on the middle and ring fingers. That way you can pick up the resin bag with the thumb and index finger and not disturb your load."
Hitters say the spitball is easily identified because, while it has the speed of a fastball, it scarcely rotates. And the drop is like no sinker ever thrown. Milwaukee Pitcher Jim Colborn says he once sat directly behind home plate charting Perry's pitches. "When he got in a jam, three of every four pitches were spitters. The umpires knew it, but they were protecting him."
Nonsense, says National League Umpire Chris Pelekoudas, a longtime Perry nemesis. "I'm tired of hearing people say the umpires never enforce the rule. I called four illegal pitches on Phil Regan in 1967 in one game. Gaylord knew that if I was working the plate and suspecting him of throwing one, I would bear down. He knew that if I caught him once, the next time would be it."
Rule 8.02 (a) authorizes an umpire to call a ball on a pitcher who puts his hands to his lips and to "immediately disqualify" one who is caught applying a foreign substance to the ball. The problem is in catching a violator jelly-handed.