Lord knows the umpires have tried, Aspromonte observes wearily. "It's just that Gaylord is always the goat. He has the reputation so they pick on him. Why don't they spread these searches around? Why just my guy? There are at least 20 other pitchers who should be examined."
The ballplayers might consider that figure a trifle exaggerated. But there is at least one other pitcher who is frequently mentioned in, shall we say, the same breath with Perry—Bill Singer, another fugitive National Leaguer who is, thus far, as big a winner with the California Angels as Perry was with Cleveland last year. Singer, at 29 five years younger than Perry, has endured such a woeful siege of injury and illness in recent years that even his most vehement accusers might forgive him an occasional transgression.
After winning 20 games for the Dodgers in 1969, he fell ill with infectious hepatitis in April of 1970. Then, after a 52-day absence, he returned in July to pitch a no-hitter against the Phillies. Less than a month later the index finger on his pitching hand was broken by a ball thrown by the Pirates' Bob Moose. That winter half of the joint on the injured finger was removed. Though the surgery was successful, Singer continued to favor the hand. His normally fluid pitching motion became jerky and he lost his fastball. He slipped to a 10-17 record in 1971 and to 6-16 last year. He considered quitting the game and was finally traded by the Dodgers as more or less extra cargo in the multiple-player transaction involving Frank Robinson for Andy Messersmith.
But Singer, like Perry, is a dauntless competitor. He reported to the Angels in superb condition and, with the assistance of Pitching Coach Tom Morgan, regained his old motion and his old fastball. Morgan, a onetime sinker-ball pitcher for the Yankees, also taught Singer—shades of Perry—a "hard slider." It is this pitch, along with a fastball that also dips, that the hitters may confuse with the spitball, Singer says.
Earlier this season Singer struck out both Dick Allen and Ken Henderson in a game with the White Sox on pitches they said were greased like axles. Henderson stood staring malevolently at Singer for several seconds before angrily stomping off to the dugout.
"Three different managers had the umpires check me early in the season," Singer acknowledges, "but nobody's bothered me lately. They probably realize by now that I'm winning because I have good stuff. Look, if the spitter were that great a pitch, everybody'd be throwing it. But if you don't know what you're doing with it, it can be hit just like anything else."
Singer is a handsome, enthusiastic—one might even say "phlegmboyant"—Californian who was born only five miles from Dodger Stadium and lives now almost equidistant from Anaheim and Los Angeles. With a 14-4 record this year (compared with Perry's 8-12), his spirits, if not his pitches, can no longer be dampened. "The last two years were a nightmare," he says. "This year is a pleasant dream."
The hitters would concede that the way he is throwing, Singer need not resort to underhanded tricks, but the suspicion persists among them that he has something, maybe literally, up his sleeve. Singer, like Perry, regards this as an asset. "It just gives them something else to think about," he says innocently.
This is a sentiment expressed by spitball pitchers from George Hildebrand, who is generally credited with tossing the first wet one in 1902, to, well, whoever is throwing it today. It is also why the suspects are reluctant either to deny or affirm their guilt. Doubt is a valuable ally.
The spitball and the other doctored deliveries were banned in 1920 presumably in the interests of sanitation but probably because Babe Ruth, who had hit 29 home runs in 1919, proved there was money to be made on the long ball. In spitterless 1920 Ruth clouted 54 homers and the game forevermore was changed.