Just because: Gaylord Perry, Roberto Clemente and the hint of a spitter
In this old-school video footage, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry might or might not have just thrown a spitter to Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.
It's Gaylord Perry. It's Roberto Clemente. It's the implication of a spitball. Let's roll tape ...
In this and all other instances, the "spitter" doesn't necessarily entail applying loogy-enriched saliva to the ball. Rather, any sort of lubricating substance applied to the ball falls under this rubric -- after all, the point is to get the ball to slide off the top two fingers at the point of release, and some things achieve that better than the pitcher's own drool.
So here's what we know: It's Perry (then of the Giants) vs. Clemente in Forbes Field, and Harry Walker -- No. 3 on your screens and in your hearts -- is the Pittsburgh manager who's offering his measured counterpoints. There's also a runner on third. Walker skippered the Pirates for all of the 1965 and 1966 seasons and part of '67, but, unfortunately for our purposes, at least one game in each of those seasons meets those criteria. As such, I'm unable to pinpoint exactly when this took place.
In any event, it's worth noting Perry would use the threat of a spitball probably as often as he'd use the spitball itself. Sometimes, he'd go through these obvious little "cheater's liturgies" in order to plant the possibility of the spitter in the batsman's mind. He'd then bring, say, the straight fastball, much to the surprise of said batsman. Whether Perry was actually lubing up this pitch to Clemente is lost to history, but Walker hardly seems to care about all of that.
In a related matter, Walker long had it in for Perry and his spitball-ing ways. This 1967 Pittsburgh Press piece on Perry's spitter being named best pitch by his victims contains the following passage about Walker:
They tell a story! The article is dated June 26 of '67. Roughly three weeks later, Walker would be fired as manager of the Pirates and replaced with Danny Murtaugh, who, of course, led the Buccos to win the 1971 World Series (after leading them to the 1960 title in his first stint). The consolation for Walker, such as it was, is before the 1968 season, pitchers were barred from putting their hands to their mouth. (Of course, that didn't matter much to Perry, who was just as likely to turn to axle grease or KY jelly as he was his own spit.)
As for the video, my favorite part -- other than all of Perry's business -- is that Clemente seems like he'd just as soon get on with the at-bat rather than wait for Walker to get run. As one of the great bad-ball hitters in history, Clemente probably didn't care what the pitcher was throwing as long as he was throwing it in the vague vicinity of the plate. He probably also didn't care about the shadow cast between mound and batter's box by that honking light tower.
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