Item 8.02 (a) of the Official Baseball Rules is clearer than most:
"The pitcher shall not (1) bring his pitching hand in contact with his mouth or lips while in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitching rubber; (2) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball; (3) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove; (4) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing; (5) deface the ball in any manner; (6) deliver what is called the 'shine' ball, "spit' ball, 'mud' ball or 'emery' ball."
And yet old 8.02 (a), most of which has been on the books since 1920, has been violated about as often as municipal parking regulations or the federal election laws, according to the testimony of ordinarily reliable witnesses. The evidence, however, is invariably circumstantial, and the suspects, who include some of the game's most distinguished practitioners, remain at large.
Even in this season of relative tranquility, spitter accusations reverberate. Only two weeks ago Bobby Murcer of the Yankees accused the Cleveland Indians' Gaylord Perry of throwing him an anointed pitch. He further charged that Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and American League President Joe Cronin lacked the "guts" to enforce the antispitball legislation. Murcer was promptly fined $250 by Kuhn—not, it should be noted, for falsely accusing Perry, who is no stranger to such allegations, but for assailing the intestinal fortitude of the game's highest officers.
Perry, as usual, walked away from the episode unfined, uncharged and, if his myriad detractors are to be believed, unclean. He has been something of a public enemy since 1966 when, after four largely mediocre seasons, he suddenly burgeoned into a 21-game winner for the San Francisco Giants. Perry attributed his awakening to the development of a "hard slider." Hitters who had pounded him happily only the previous season suggested that the new pitch was really a very old one—the dread spitter.
The issue remains murky to this day, for Perry has been accused of throwing illegal pitches even in his losing seasons, and he did, in fact, perfect an excellent slider. Perhaps it is as he insists: with a loser the hitters see no evil.
By 1971, National Leaguers had either wearied of incessant protest or concluded that a 16-game winner, which he was that year, is not as big a menace as a 23-game winner, which he was the year before. That, at any rate, was a comparatively uneventful season for one who had grown as accustomed to the frisk as Willie Sutton. The Giants, convinced apparently that Perry's nimble fingers had lost their touch, traded him to Cleveland that November for Sam McDowell, who threw a fast but reasonably dry ball. McDowell won only 10 games for San Francisco; Perry won 24 for Cleveland as well as the American League's Cy Young Award and the everlasting enmity of a whole new flock of batsmen.
His new opponents were so vigorous in their pursuit of his allegedly hidden ointments that they all but ordered him disrobed on the mound. Perry was in just such a state of imposed dishabille one fortunately warm August evening when the then Cleveland general manager, Gabe Paul, cried out in protest to League President Cronin. "An inspection of Perry," said Gabe to Joe, "should not be based on the whim of opposing managers." Cronin, in turn, advised his umpires that they no longer need feel obligated to search Perry for incriminating evidence unless they themselves entertained suspicions. Which, of course, most of them do, but not to the point of stripping Gaylord.
Perry remains unflappable in the face of the turmoil he inspires. He is a tall, broad-shouldered North Carolinian with a laconic manner. He is also a fierce competitor with a measure of good-old-boy hostility who wholeheartedly shares the conviction of his manager, Ken Aspromonte, that "you should do everything possible to win short of scratching the other guy's eyes out."
Perry has been known to glare menacingly at teammates who, in his opinion, have not pursued batted balls with sufficient dedication while he is pitching. No matter that the balls he throws may be harder to get a firm grip on. But he affects down-home indifference when approached on the spitball issue. The accusations are hardly libelous, he says. "Ain't been no damage." And the umpires are welcome "to come out and talk with me anytime."