Jim Perry

We are now six weeks into the season, and the hottest club right now is the Cedar Rapids Saints.  This must be a fluke, in that the combined Twins-Dodgers club didn't seem very good at all when I put together the league rosters.  But for the moment, my old friend Gary Skarda is enjoying their ascent in the standings.

Typically, a kid's connection to baseball is formed during Little League.  You enjoy the sport and start to imagine yourself a future star.  At some point grim reality sets in, but the experiences on a diamond during youth help us appreciate the kind of things that made Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax heroic figures.

I threw left-handed, so right off the bat never had a chance to play middle-infield.  But in Little League it was still ok for me to play some catcher and third — a priviledge of older players was choosing where you wanted to play.  I loved being close to the action, and at that level a first-baseman’s glove was just fine as a catcher’s mitt (no one lights up a radar gun in grade school anyway).  It was different as a first-year player, both in Little League and Babe Ruth; rookies would sit on the bench some and were typically planted in the outfield.  I cannot speak for the others, but I would pray the ball wouldn’t be hit my way.  You never forget the shame of having to chase down a line drive that went through your legs, or a easy fly that bounced off your glove.

Gary was a friend growing up, but we weren’t on the same team or even in the same league (there was a split between blue and red leagues in Iowa City).  His peak position was the hot corner, and as he tells it was a hybrid of Harmon Killebrew and Gary Gaetti before an inner-ear thing made him hang up his cleats.  Since he could really drive the ball off the tee in golf, I have no reason to think he couldn’t also hit a baseball with the best of us back in Little League.

Being a baseball fan as a kid in the years before cable tv meant collecting baseball cards, tuning your radio to your team’s broadcast, and reading an occasional Sporting News or Baseball Digest.  My connection to the game changed pretty remarkably in junior high, when baseball increasingly became both my favorite and best sport.  My interest in watching (or listening) to professional baseball, never all that strong, definitely waned.  I preferred whiffle ball or Indian ball to watching the game of the week.  I even stopped collecting trading cards — in some ways this game-about-the-game, Strat-O-Matic, replaced them.   

Meanwhile, after Gary quit playing baseball he increasingly became a super-fan of his Twins (and Hawkeyes).  I have a fond memory of taking my new transistor radio to school back in 1967 so I could listen to the World Series during recess, but that radio never connected me to sports the way it did Gary.  He would, for example, sit in his dad’s car on nights when a good antenna was needed to pick up the Twins on WCCO.  As for me, I’d have just as soon watch an episode of M*A*S*H or Happy Days.

There were a couple of years when our two families drove to Minneapolis, mostly to see the Twins play.  The stadium was in Bloomington back then, our hotel of choice called The Thunderbird.  One year I scored an autograph of Rogelio Moret of the visiting Red Sox, who had a decent career in the early 70s.  In Googling him just now, I see he got the loss the day Jim Perry notched his 200th career victory.  This Perry is, of course, an older brother to Gaylord, who I wrote about last time.

Baseball brothers

Gary Skarda and I would sometimes joke about being brothers, since we didn’t have any real ones and our parents were such good friends.  Baseball in 1968 featured lots of brothers.  The Perry’s were right-handed hurlers that combined to win 529 games, and the all-time sibling act for pitching, the Niekros, was also active.  As for hitters, I’ve already mentioned the outfield filled with Alou boys, and both Hank and Tommie Aaron were also out there chasing flies.  There was also the Boyer brother act at third base with Ken and Clete; a third brother, Cloyd, pitched.

My favorite baseball brothers of all time are George and Ken Brett, but that’s another decade and story.  Looking back at 1968, for that season it’s Gaylord and Jim.  This was largely because Gaylord created such an oversized good ol’ boy persona as a veteran pitcher (who cheated), but I also had a memorable brush with Jim while watching the 2004 Midwest League All-Star Game in Cedar Rapids with another old friend of mine, Mike Colleran.  We happened to be seated near him and struck up a conversation.  I learned that Jim was never on the DL in his entire career, which is quite remarkable (in my case, I thought my pitching arm was going to fall off by the end of a 2-month high school season).  Remembering this talent for good health (almost) makes me wish we were using random injuries in the IBC, but if memory serves only hitters can earn the ‘cannot be hurt’ treatment in the game, so this wouldn’t do anything special for Perry anyway.

In grade school, my dad caught a foul liner off Glenn Beckert’s bat (an amazing bare-handed grab).  In high school, my team got eliminated from the post-season by a team whose star was Mike Boddicker (the future Oriole), who later was in one of my classes in college.  But my most prolonged brush with celebrity was with Jim Perry in Cedar Rapids, so I am quite pleased that he ended up on the fantasy franchise playing in that city.  

Back in 1968, Jim was still a swing man; the ERA was a sparkling 2.27 but he only tossed 139 innings.  Just as he usually pitched in the shadow of his kid brother, the elder Perry doesn’t even figure in the Saints' rotation.  The big four are all right-handed: Don Drysdale (14-12, 2.15, 239 IP), Dean Chance (16-16, 2.53, 292 IP), 24-yo Bill Singer (13-17, 2.88, 256 IP), and 23-yo Don Sutton (11-15, 2.60, 208 IP).  A pair of lefties will also get some starts, Jim Kaat (14-12, 2.94, 208 IP) and Claude Osteen (12-18, 3.08, 254 IP).  It has nothing to do with baseball, but here’s an interesting observation by Dean Chance, who died a few years ago at age 74: “Everybody, by the time they’re 50, they’re selfish as hell.  Everybody thinks only of himself or herself.  Then, when they hit 60, they want to return to religion and want to forgive everybody.  They want to go to heaven, and that’s the stage I’m in.”

Bob Miller

Joining Perry in the pen are four more righties: Mudcat Grant (2.08 and 95 IP), Jack Billingham (2.14, 71 IP), 39-yo Al Worthington (2.71, 76 IP, and 18 saves), and Bob Miller (2.74, 72 IP).  By the way, Miller seems to be the only player who doesn’t have a photo in my Strat picture database (perhaps because there have been several players with that name).  He had a nice 17-year career, mostly as a reliever, so I’m posting his card here!  Two southpaws round out the bullpen, Jim Brewer (2.45, 76 IP, and 15 saves) and Ron Perranoski (3.10, 87 IP). 

Below are the historical ballpark ratings for the Twins and Dodgers (note all IBC parks are 9’s across the board).  

Ballpark Effect     Minnesota     Los Angeles
Lefty Singles         12            9  
Righty Singles        18            3
Lefty Homers           3            1
Righty Homers         14            1 

As you can see, Chavez Ravine was death to power hitters, and the old Met was something of a hitters park.  Cedar Rapids currently has the 2nd-worst staff in the league; moving the team’s Dodgers pitchers to a neutral park was bound to have an effect.  The team also has a commanding lead in team errors, so the defense also takes some blame.  And maybe they just need more Jim Perry.

A couple of young starters from the Twins with the sorting requirement of 120+ IPs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make the final 30-man roster for Cedar Rapids: 24-yo Jim Merritt (12-16, 3.25, 238 IP) and 23-yo Dave Boswell (10-13, 3.32, 190 IP).  I have no sentimental attachment to either, so they were easy cuts.

Here is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after 6 weeks of play, and the current standings:

1968IB-2-5-2019.lzp

5/19/68 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      28     10    .737     —
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)         20     14    .588    6.0
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      21     15    .583    6.0
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      19     17    .528    8.0
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   19     17    .528    8.0
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)      19     18    .514    8.5
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      16     22    .421   12.0
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)       15     22    .405   12.5
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)  13     24    .351   14.5
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)         13     24    .351   14.5

I’ll cover the Cedar Rapids Saints hitters next time!

© John Kisner 2019