When Bert Blyleven debuted with the Twins in 1970, both Perry and Jim Kaat were established members of the Minnesota rotation. Kaat, 31, was a two-time All-Star who was about to win his ninth consecutive Gold Glove (he'd total 16 consecutive) and had already won 142 games going into the season. Perry, meanwhile, was a 34-year old who was about to have the best season of his career. It's no wonder he thought of them as mentors.
Perry had a long, 17-year career in which he was often good and sometimes great. He's not a condender or a snub for Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, but he was with the Twins for ten seasons, accumulating 22.2 wins above replacement. Let's start at the beginning.
Going into the 1956 season, the Cleveland Indians signed Perry as an amateur free agent. He made his professional debut that summer as a 20-year old, playing for Cleveland's D-League affiliate, the North Platte Indians. The following season he moved up a class, to the C-League team the Fargo-Moorhead Twins (yes, still a Cleveland affiliate). He made 28 starts and appeared in 38 games, for the first time pitching a full-season's worth of innings at 231. By the standards in the late-50s that wasn't ideal for a starter, but at 21 the Indians clearly weren't in any hurry.
But his 2.88 ERA that season, as well as his ability to keep the ball in the park, aided in another promotion for the following season. For the A-League Reading Indians in 1958, Perry went 16-8 with an impressive 2.79 ERA. It was all the proof Cleveland needed, and he would make his Major League debut the following April at the ripe old age of 23.
After getting the start in his debut, Perry didn't take the rubber in that role again until July 26, when he blanked the Senators 9-0 in a complete game shutout in game one of a double-header. All-in-all it was more than a solid debut, as his 2.65 ERA in 153 innings (13 starts, 31 releif appearances) garnered him a second place finish for 1959 Rookie of the Year.
He lost to somebody named...let me see if I have this right...Bob Allison?
His second season was even more impressive, as Perry notched an 18-10 record after starting 36 games (and still appearing in six as relief) and logging what would be a career-high in innings (261.1) until the end of the decade. He finished with votes for MVP after leading the American League in wins, games started, shutouts (four)...and (Bert would be proud) home runs (35).
While he would make the All-Star team the next season, in '61, a series of seasons began where his impressive start tailed off. His ERA ballooned to 4.71 that year, leading the league in earned runs as in his final 21 starts he scuffled: 4-13, 5.67 ERA. The following year the Indians would shift him to the bullpen to start the season, and while he eventually made the move back into the rotation he struggled to keep his ERA under four all summer. In the end it was another decent but disappointing year for a pitcher who had started so strongly in his first two seasons.
As a result, the Indians dealt him early the following year. After just five relief appearances, on May 3 the Indians traded Perry to the Twins for Jack Kralick. Kralick, who would turn 28 the following month, was 33-28 from '60 - '62 with the Twins, and had been a full-time starter over the latter two of those seasons.
In the short term it looked like the Indians were going to get the better of the deal. Kralick acquired 7.3 wins above replacement over the rest of 1963 and all of 1964, going 25-16 with an All-Star appearance and a 3.06 ERA. Perry, meanwhile, bounced back but not as strongly. He was worth just 1.1 wins above replacement over the same timeframe, due in some part to Minnesota's decision to use him almost exclusively in relief in '64; he made only one start that season.
But fortunes would change.
Kralick's game deteriorated quickly, as he turned 30 in 1965. Over the next three seasons he'd throw just 156.1 additional Major League innings before flaming out. Perry's revival came at the exact same time.
In '65 Perry again started the season in the bullpen for Minnesota, where he stayed through the end of June as a reliable if not dominant arm. But when Camilo Pascual hit the disabled list, it was Perry who stepped in and helped Kaat and Mudcat Grant pitch the team to the American League pennant. On his July 5 starter re-debut, in the second game of a double-header, Perry threw a complete game shutout over the Red Sox that helped catipult him into a career revival. His record was just 8-7 the rest of the way, but he was outstanding, holding opponents to a .232 batting average while posting a 2.47 ERA. That season gave him a new life in baseball, at just 29.
Over the next three seasons Perry still bounced back-and-forth between the rotation and 'pen. He'd start 54 games and appear in 48 others as a relief pitcher, accumulating 27 wins and averaging a 2.60 ERA. It was in 1969, however, when he would begin to cement his legacy as a Twins pitcher.
Once more his start to the season was good, but he wasn't a full-time starter and only three times in the first half of the season did he complete six innings or more. It was the second half push he gave the Twins that helped the team when it counted. He started 23 of his final 24 appearances of the year, rattling off a 14-2 record thanks to a 2.33 ERA and an opponent triple slash of .229/.271/.295 which helped the Twins to the ALCS.
At 33, Perry had just won 20 games for the first time in his career, received MVP votes for the first time since 1960, and finished third in the Cy Young race to a two-way tie for first. (Detroit's Denny McClain may have been the rightful owner of the award, but it was Mike Cuellar's Orioles squad that swept the Twins out of the playoffs.)
For an encore, Perry upped his game at age 34, winning a league-leading 24 games in a league-leading 40 starts. He went to his first All-Star game in nine seasons, again garnered MVP votes, but this time he came home with the Cy Young award. (The Orioles once again swept the Twins out of the ALCS in 1970, but this time Perry topped both McClain and Dave McNally. And if anyone was rooting for wins above replacement that year, it was Sam McDowell.)
In 1971 things weren't quite as serendipitous for Perry, or the Twins, as he still won 17 games but managed to lose eight consecutive decisions at one point during the season (not that he deserved them all) leading to just a .500 record on his part and an ERA north of four for the first time in nine years. But he was an All-Star, and deservedly so.
By 1972 the future of the organization was changing. Harmon Killebrew was 36, Tony Oliva was injured and Jim Kaat had a shortened season as well. Perry, meanwhile, had another good season at 35, starting 35 games and pitching 217.2 innings along with a solid 3.32 ERA. It would be his last season in Minnesota, who finished with their own .500 record this time.
Over ten years with the organization Perry won 128 games for the Twins, thanks in no small part to a very good 3.15 ERA. Of the 22.2 wins above replacement he earned in Minnesota, 19.5 of it came over six years between '65 and '70. Minnesota obviously won the Perry-Kralick deal, but by the time the Twins dealt Perry to the Tigers that deal hadn't mattered in a long time.
Just prior to the '73 season, on March 27, Perry was swapped for the 23-year old Danny Fife from Detroit. Fife flaked out by the end of '74, but the point was that the Twins were turning over. Kaat went on waivers just months after Perry was traded and Killebrew wouldn't be back after '73 either.
A year after his trade from Minnesota, the Indians re-acquired Perry from the Tigers, and he had one last great season. Perry won 17 games with a 2.96 ERA in 1974. He'd pitch again in '75 but success wasn't in the cards. Although he was traded to Oakland for a guy named "Blue Moon", which is great.
Congratulations to Jim Perry on his Twins Hall of Fame election! It's well-earned and well-deserved, and no doubt all those members from teams of years past were happy to welcome him into the fold.
Other Perry fun facts:
- Jim is the brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry.
- On July 3, 1973, Gaylord and Jim faced off against each other. Gaylord lost, but Jim didn't get the win, either.
- Gaylord and Jim both pitched for the Indians in 1974, and for part of '75 until Jim was traded. Gaylord was traded soon after.