Jim Perry needed time to flower with his talents. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in1956. His brother was Gaylord Perry, younger than Jim. Jim and Gaylord made a significant mark with their pitching talents. Gaylord had a way of getting attention while Jim was content being quite mild-mannered and low-profile.
Jim's career progressed haltingly. He did finish second in Rookie of the Year voting in1959. The top rookie was Bob Allison who of course became a key Twin. Perry appeared to blossom in1960 when he won 18 games. Pitching is a complicated science, though, and Jim hadn't put it all together yet. It's a delicate science - sometimes pitchers are inscrutable with their ups and downs. Pitching coach of note Johnny Sain helped Jim get to a higher level and stay there a while. Sain helped mold the 1965 Twins.
By the spring of '65, not much was expected of Mr. Jim Perry. He had pitched only 65 innings in 1964. He started one game in '64 and got shelled. The Twins weighed trading Perry in the spring of '65. Sain was totally against that. The venerated Sain, who would get considerable praise in Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four," thought Perry might become an asset.
The '65 season was when everything seemed to come together in the Sam Mele era of management. It really wasn't a cake walk, at least not all the way. The injury bug is always lurking. The Twins' starting pitching staff in fact had to deal with that. The staff was marked by an inability to achieve complete games. Complete games were a preferred goal in those times before we began speaking of "setup men." Yes, and pitching arms could be frail. As a kid I began noticing that many fine pitchers seemed cut down before their time, succumbing to physical maladies.
Diamond in the rough for '65 Twins
Anyway, the Twins pitching staff, despite the team's pattern of success, went through stress with its starters. And there was Perry, who in July had started but one game over a season and a half. He got the ball handed to him one day. He started game 2 of a July 5 doubleheader. He put a smile on Sain's face, not to mention Mele's (and Calvin Griffith's) as he pitched a seven-hit shutout. In his next start he allowed no earned runs in eight innings vs. the New York Yankees.
Perry got into the groove. He became a real piece in the puzzle in the Twins' pennant-winning season. He finished '65 with 12 wins and a 2.63 ERA. Sain worked with Perry's mechanics. Sain suggested that the pitcher kick his left knee up higher. This would get more of Jim's body involved with each pitch. Jim had complained of getting a sore hip. Sain, in dispensing his advice, said it was an example of how pure running and conditioning weren't any sort of cure-all. You had to deal with your mechanics. Sain thus got a reputation as a genius of sorts. Remember the phrase "Spahn and Sain and then pray for rain?"
Perry continued establishing himself in that magical midsummer of '65. After nearly 34 innings through four starts, Perry had allowed only four earned runs.
Gaining refinement with curve balls
Perry admitted that when he first reached the big leagues, he could really only throw hard. Lots of pitchers come up like that, like the Twins' Jim Ollom who never refined his abilities. Back in spring training of '65, Sain instructed Jim Perry on a new kind of curve ball. Perry took Sain's lessons to heart in the bullpen. Until that July 5 start, his stints weren't long enough to test his effectiveness with that curve. The curve had impact once he got starts.
Perry was exhibit 'A' for how pitchers need patience, resolve and the humility to learn to take baby steps if necessary. By the time Perry reached the apex of his career, in 1970, he had a repertoire of fastball, fast and slow curve balls and a changeup. He had no problem acquiring innings pitched beginning in 1969.
In 1969 we had the volatile and popular Billy Martin as our manager. He was our manager but one year, the first year of the divisional alignment in big league ball. The Twins won the West, nevertheless Martin got fired, a move angering most fans.
Bill Rigney managed the Twins in 1970. We won the West both years but lost to Baltimore in both. Bummer. Perry was a workhorse pitcher through that phase of Twins history. In fact he averaged more than 36 starts a season from 1969 to1974 without missing a turn! Over his 17-year career, he compiled 215 wins, 1,576 strikeouts and a 3.45 ERA.
He came from North Carolina like another noted Twin of the 1960s, Jimmie Hall.
The two brothers garner Cy Young
The Perry brothers trail only the Neikro brothers for career victories by brothers. Jim Perry was a three-time all-star. He won the Cy Young Award in1970 when his won-lost record was a sterling 24-12. Jim and Gaylord are the only brothers in major league history to win Cy Young Awards.
Jim was a 20-game winner in '69 for Billy Martin. He won at least 17 games five times. Oh, and I remember well his reputation as a good-hitting pitcher. That asset can come in handy. He was the opposite of poor Dean Chance in this regard. Not only did Jim hit decent, he did so as a switch-hitter!
Jim and Gaylord pitched against each other once, in July of '73, my first summer after high school. Jim was actually pitching for Detroit at that time, Gaylord for the Indians. Norm Cash hit two home runs as Detroit won 5-4, and neither Jim nor Gaylord was around at the end.
Jim wrapped up his career wearing the gaudy uniform of the Oakland A's. I could never see him as anything other than a Twin. (And let's not even bring up Harmon Killebrew as a Kansas City Royal!)
A stadium named for him in NC
Following retirement, Perry did the admirable thing of "going home" to North Carolina. His son Chris became a pro golfer who won a tournament on the PGA Tour. Jim was inducted to the Twins Hall of Fame in 2011. An alum of Campbell University, Jim had the new baseball stadium there named after him in 2012. Jim went to school at that North Carolina institution from 1956-1959.
Jim was a hard-working successful pitcher over three decades. He made an impression for us boomer fans in Minnesota. I hope he enjoyed his time up north ("the great white north" as it were). He got the big break of being able to learn under Johnny Sain. How fortunate. We're thankful. You don't have to read "Ball Four" to appreciate Johnny Sain.