The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

April 13, 2014

Henry: Complete games a lost art

Right-hander Gaylord Perry is one of only 38 pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball who has thrown 300 complete games.

Of course, Perry’s 303 complete games are a long way behind Cy Young’s record 749 complete games in 815 starts over 22 seasons from 1890 through 1911.

But looking at today’s MLB, Perry’s number won’t be challenged.

Check the numbers of three dominant pitchers during the last 30 years — Roger Clemens completed 118 of 707 starts in 24 seasons, Greg Maddux completed 109 of 740 starts in 23 seasons and Randy Johnson finished 100 of 603 starts in 22 years.

More recently, Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander completed only 20 of his 266 starts during the last nine seasons.

For that reason, Perry doesn’t see any pitchers in today’s game who remind him of himself.

“They don’t go nine innings,” he said Saturday afternoon before the start of the championship session of the Mickey Mantle Classic at Commerce High School. “There are a lot of pitchers who have better stuff than I had, but they don’t finish games. The guy who led the American League in strikeouts last year (Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers) — 277 strikeouts — did not finish a game all year.”

During Perry’s career, the bullpen was for pitchers who weren’t good enough to make or remain in the starting rotation. Perry also pleaded his case to remain in the game.

“I argued with managers all the time. I have better stuff than that guy in the bullpen,” he said. “And with the lineup we had — (Willie) Mays, (Willie) McCovey, Bobby Bonds, the Alou brothers, I knew we would score some runs in the last three innings.”

Today’s bullpen includes late-inning specialists — a closer, a setup man for the closer, a setup man for the setup man. And there are pitchers who won’t face more than one batter.

“The bullpen might have five pitchers for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Perry said. “Those guys are making a lot of money, and if the manager doesn’t use them, he’s going to get fired.”

Ironically, it was a relief appearance that cemented Perry’s spot in the San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation.

The Giants and New York Mets had a doubleheader on May 31, 1964, at Shea Stadium. The Giants won the opener 5-3 behind Juan Marichal’s complete game, but the second game took 23 innings before the Giants prevailed 8-6.

Perry, the Giants’ fifth pitcher, entered in the 13th inning and pitched 10 shutout innings, allowing seven hits and one walk while striking out nine.

“I wanted to stay in, but they pinch-hit for me,” said Perry, who also pitched two innings in relief the previous day.

Perry’s first contract was for the major league minimum $7,000 in 1962, and his biggest salary was $300,000 with the Atlanta Braves in 1981, according to Baseball Almanac.

Asked what his value would be today: “Thirty-five million,” Perry replied. “And there are guys I played with who would be worth more than that. Marichal, (Bob) Gibson, (Don) Drysdale, (Sandy) Koufax — what would they be making?”

Perry didn’t pick out one hitter who gave him the most difficulty.

“There were several of them,” he said with a laugh. “(Hank) Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Billy Williams, Cincinnati had a whole team ... eight guys who were pretty good hitters in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.”

Perry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 with Ferguson Jenkins and Rod Carew. He believes stars like Pete Rose and those associated with the steroid era will eventually join him in Cooperstown.

“I think it will happen when there are some new writers who won’t know the whole story,” he said. “These guys were Hall of Famers before they got into that stuff, I think, anyway. Clemens was a Hall of Famer. Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer when he was skinny in Pittsburgh.”

Jim Henry is executive sports editor at The Joplin Globe. His email is jhenry@joplinglobe.com.

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