SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right-hander Gaylord Perry recalled that when he was told to warm up before entering the second game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets on May 31, 1964, he threw to a security guard because none of his teammates were in the bullpen. A catcher eventually arrived to finish the job.
That might sound embellished, and it doesn't really matter if it does. Perry ultimately planted wayward thoughts in opponents' heads to become a Hall of Fame pitcher. Moreover, the unusual circumstances that involved him at Shea Stadium 50 years ago make anything believable.
Perry entered the scene in the 13th inning of what became a legendary ballgame. Lasting 23 innings and consuming seven hours and 23 minutes, it was the longest Major League game ever played -- a standard since eclipsed by the White Sox and Brewers, who played for 8:06 in a suspended game that spanned two days in May 1984. The doubleheader's nine-hour, 52-minute duration remains a record.
The Giants triumphed in the nightcap, 8-6, to sweep the twin bill. But the day's biggest winner was Perry, whose 10 innings of shutout relief vaulted him from obscurity to a respected place on the Giants pitching staff and, soon, a spot in the team's starting rotation. He pitched another 19 years to propel himself toward induction at Cooperstown in 1991.
"It was the start of my career," said Perry, who compiled a 314-265 lifetime record with 303 complete games. "I was willing to go 10 more innings. It was what I needed."
Until then, Perry's skills merely tantalized the Giants. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Perry looked like a pitcher -- a long-limbed, hard thrower who spent his youth performing myriad tasks on his parents' farm in North Carolina. His background nurtured his athleticism and work ethic.
"He worked out more than anybody, as far as running and doing everything," teammate and fellow right-hander Bob Bolin said.
But Perry's diligence didn't help his status with the Giants. Unlike his brother, Jim, a right-hander who spent only three years in the Minor Leagues before reaching the Majors to stay, Perry endured all or parts of six years in the Minors before he stuck with the Giants in '64. Perry divided his time between Triple-A and the Majors in 1962 and '63. He went 3-1 for the pennant-winning 1962 team, but his 1-6 finish in '63 eroded manager Alvin Dark's confidence in him.
"I was so far in the doghouse that I didn't think I'd ever pitch again," Perry said. "I was in my doghouse."
Summoning Perry during the nightcap at Shea therefore was a last resort for the Giants, who began the day occupying their typical perch among baseball's elite with a 24-17 record -- good for second place, one game behind Philadelphia, in the highly competitive National League. San Francisco already had used five pitchers that day. Right-hander Jack Sanford, who pitched eight innings two days earlier, was unavailable. So were Juan Marichal, who delivered a characteristic complete-game effort as the Giants won the opener, 5-3, and Bolin, who started the nightcap and yielded Joe Christopher's three-run homer in the seventh inning that forged a 6-6 tie.
Bolin didn't head for the shower right away.
"I went back out and watched the game a while," he recalled. "Then I went down to the bullpen, under the tunnels and watched the game a while. I came back to the clubhouse, ate a few sandwiches and watched some more. ... I think I ate twice after I got knocked out of the game."
Perry was starving, too. He felt hungry to prove himself. Having made 40 of his previous 52 big league appearances out of the bullpen, the 25-year-old intended to show Dark that he was capable of joining the likes of Marichal and Bolin in the starting rotation. This was an era when most relievers were regarded as failed starters. Relatively few of them were considered integral to a solid staff.
SHORT ITEMS ABOUT A LONG DAY
-- Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool, then 19, played a doubleheader for Buffalo, the Mets' Triple-A affiliate, the day before in Syracuse. That ended at 1 a.m., according to wire-service reports. Kranepool caught a 6 a.m. flight and arrived at Shea Stadium in time to play all 32 innings of the twin bill.
-- Willie Mays, perhaps the greatest center fielder ever, moved to shortstop before the Mets' half of the 10th inning. He played three innings, receiving no fielding chances, before moving back to center in the 13th, when Gaylord Perry entered the game.
-- Someone calculated that 263 baseballs were used in the 23-inning game, almost four times as many as usual at the time.
-- The Giants actually played the second game of the doubleheader under protest, stemming from manager Alvin Dark's ejection in the 15th inning. Dark argued that a half-swing by Mets catcher Chris Cannizzaro should have been called strike three instead of ball four.
"I didn't like relieving," Perry said. "I didn't think my career would be very long. I had seen too many relief pitchers have one good year, two bad years, get traded and pretty soon lose their job."
Perry, who entered the game with a 4.76 ERA, sensed that he would gain some much-needed respect if he could preserve the tie long enough until the Giants could score and win. Two weeks earlier, Giants pitching coach Larry Jansen hinted to Perry that a breakthrough could be imminent. "Be ready," Jansen told Perry.
"This was the chance I wanted," Perry said. "I was in the greatest shape I've ever been in. I had worked with Larry on the hard slider and the forkball and a couple of other things I can't mention."
PITCHf/x didn't exist in 1964, so no record exists of the types of pitches Perry threw against the Mets and how often he used them. But circumstantial evidence suggests that Perry, who would gain notoriety as an expert practitioner of the spitball, began throwing illegal wet ones during the extra-inning standoff.
"I think that's the first time he experimented with his hard slider," Bolin said, adding with a chuckle, "It worked and kept on working. Now, Hank Aaron and some of those other guys wouldn't call it that."
First baseman Ed Kranepool, who played all 32 innings of the twin bill, contended that Perry resorted to the spitter that night as a matter of survival.
"He threw it almost every pitch," Kranepool said. "And if he didn't throw it, he probably wouldn't have lasted three innings. He was not effective and the balllclub was questioning his ability to stay in the Major Leagues. After that he won 300 games. Obviously something changed. ... I say it was a spitter. When the dirt would grab onto the ball and stay in one spot, I would say that has nothing to do with circumstance. Everybody knew it. The umpires knew it; the players knew it. They just didn't enforce the rules."
Art Santo Domingo, a longtime Giants statistician and public-relations official, said matter-of-factly, "He had been learning a slimeball from Bob Shaw." A right-hander who pitched for seven teams from 1957-67, Shaw is reputed to have shared his spitball secrets upon request.
Mets right-hander Galen Cisco, who blanked the Giants for eight innings before yielding a pair of runs in the 23rd, remained diplomatic.
"I batted three times. I don't think he threw me any," Cisco said.
In his 1974 autobiography, "Me and the Spitter," Perry described various methods of applying foreign substances to a baseball yet never admitted that he actually used these tactics.
"Right," Perry, now 75, said during Spring Training. "That's exactly what I'm going to tell you," he added with an inscrutable smile.
As Perry's career developed, it was generally agreed that his reputation for throwing the spitter paralyzed hitters before they stepped in the batter's box.
"His other pitches became more effective," Kranepool said, "because you were always looking for a spitter. ... If he threw it, you couldn't hit it, the way it reacted. It was a great one."
Whatever Perry threw, it worked. The Mets collected seven hits and moved three runners into scoring position against him -- "You're supposed to if you play enough innings," Perry growled -- but he silenced each threat, even after Giants slugger Orlando Cepeda lined into a triple play in the 14th inning.
"I said, 'I ain't giving up. I gotta continue to fight,' " Perry recalled.
His pugnacious attitude was necessary. The Giants mustered two hits in eight innings off Cisco, a recent addition to New York's starting rotation who was pitching on just two days' rest after enduring a typical Mets setback. He worked seven innings at Wrigley Field, allowing two hits and one earned run, but still absorbed a 2-0 loss.
"It was surprising how good I felt," Cisco said. When he finally lapsed, it happened suddenly: Jim Davenport's two-out double prolonged the 23rd, which continued with an intentional walk to Cap Peterson, pinch-hitter Del Crandall's RBI double and Jesus Alou's run-scoring infield single. Bob Hendley replaced Perry and worked a perfect 23rd to record the save, ending matters just before midnight.
"If we played 10 more minutes, we could have started it in May and ended it in June," Kranepool said.
Despite the loss, Cisco left the ballpark with a feeling of accomplishment. "I gave our team eight chances to win it," he said.
Meanwhile, Perry stamped himself as a legitimate Major Leaguer. Though he didn't start regularly until August, he finished the year 12-11 with a 2.75 ERA. Perry proceeded to win 15 games or more every season from 1966-71 until the Giants sent him to Cleveland in an ill-advised trade for Sam McDowell following the 1971 season.
"He had a phenomenal next three, four years. That hard slider was tough to hit," Bolin said dryly.
A Hall of Famer was born that night in New York.
"It turned me around," Perry said. "It was the confidence that I gave my teammates, my coaching staff, the manager and the front office that this kid is ready to be in the rotation and win ballgames."