A Photograph of Gaylord Perry Being Investigated for Foreign Substances

RIP Gaylord Jackson Perry (1938-2022): spitballer, All-Star, Cy Young Award winner, three hundred game winner, and Hall of Famer

The following is excerpted from The Only Way Is the Steady Way (2021, Invisible Publishing)

Gaylord Perry toiled for twenty-two seasons in the majors, and the look on his face suggests it was hard toil indeed. Wind worn, exasperated, he mutely submits to yet another examination of his cap, his head, his uniform, for a dab of Vaseline, a smear of K-Y. It might­ or might not have been there—Perry’s success rested on the twin pillars of a doctored ball’s unpredictability, and the thought, instilled in the head of each batter he faced, that the ball might be materially abetted in its tortuous journey from mound to plate.

This scene, captured mid-investigation, is from somewhere between 1972 and ’75, after he and Frank Duffy were traded by the Giants to Cleveland for Sudden Sam McDowell. We don’t know where the game takes place (the photo’s greyscale presentation makes it hard to say if Perry’s uniform is home white or road grey), or precisely when, but we can assert with confidence that the umpire failed to uncover irrefutable evidence of malfeasance; the righty wouldn’t be ejected from a contest for such an offence until late August 1982, his twenty-first season. For that infraction, the American League suspended him ten games and levied a $250 fine.

Not that there wasn’t reason for suspicion on the part of the ump. At that point in his career, Perry had either recently or was soon to publish Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession, confirming in print what everyone had known for a decade or more.

Perry broke in with the Giants in 1962, and remained in San Francisco through the ’71 season, but his initial point of contact with the dark art of the spitball probably came in 1964 when he shared the clubhouse with Bob Shaw. Shaw was a right-handed journeyman who kicked around the league, garnered some Cy Young votes with the White Sox in ’59, then had an All-Star year in ’62 for Milwaukee, but by the time he landed in San Fran he’d become the sort of fungible presence in a bullpen sometimes known as a “warm body.”

You can imagine them out there, can’t you, between Perry’s starts, discussing the finer points of deception, the student and his mentor, all those hours to kill in the bullpen at Candlestick Park, with the cold brine and petrochemical tang of the Bay swirling about them. You get a tube of K-Y Jelly, Shaw would have counselled, and you put a dollop in your hair, on your hat, inside the neck of the jersey, the cuff of your right pant leg. “Load it up in about three different places,” he would later tell a reporter, “so you don’t go to the same place.”

Credit Perry here for recognizing the lay of the land. He was playing baseball, not seeking ordination. So Perry fell into the herky improvisational rhythm of American professional life, reasoning, we might surmise, that the only fault in cheating is when it’s done artlessly.

Perry would run his fingers “across the underside of the bill of that cap, down the right side of his face,” as Dave Niehaus would suggestively narrate while doing the play by play during Perry’s early-eighties stint in Seattle. The mystery pitch, it was sometimes called, a euphemistic bit of doublespeak among the initiated. But everybody knew what it was.

Perry could throw just about anything. He had a forkball, as well as a decent fastball, and could harass batters with a 12-to-6 humpback curveball, but it was the mystery pitch that made the rest of them more effective, dancing and dipping toward home, scrambling a hitter’s eye, shaking his confidence.

“Slider,” the radio and TV announcers would say, “or could have been a changeup.”

“The wet one,” Gaylord’s older brother Jim sometimes called it.

By the time the photo was taken, Perry was halfway through a two-decade career, but he already looks ancient. In San Francisco he kept things pretty trim, or so suggests the photographic record, but once he moved on from the Giants he seems to have achieved a more or less permanent state of dishevelment. Sign of the times, perhaps, or sign of the man’s growing comfort with his place in the world. He prevailed in an era that’s hard for us to parse now, at this remove. It’s too easy to call his appearance avuncular—somebody’s pack-a-day uncle, Oldsmobile and wingtips and dirty jokes, taking slugs of Wild Turkey from a tin flask. But what he really looks like is a father. As a child I’d have looked at him and thought, yes, this is what a man of a certain vintage looks like, coming as he did from a generation of men who looked older than we do now, even at the same age. My father’s peers were naval officers, but they too belonged to this aftershave-rich, golf-spiked branch of humanity.

Perry was a pro ballplayer, but not someone you’d call an athlete. He looks, in the photo, as in most photos, like a man who grunts huffily when he bends over to tie his shoes.

The second figure, the umpire with the bill of Perry’s cap in his hand, deserves some scrutiny, too. I can’t identify him by the back of his head, this employee of the American League, but I know that, on that mound, on that field, in whichever ballpark in whatever junior circuit city, he’s the law.

He’s got what looks to be a couch cushion strapped to his chest, but otherwise he’s dressed like a bus driver in what I’m going to guess is a polyester shirt—there’s a perma-crease on the right sleeve—and wool blend slacks, a bag of balls slung off his belt. As both a precondition and result of his role, he’s as versed in the rules of the game as he is in the tricks men will employ to circumvent them. He’s seen it all. He’s probably even searched Perry before, just like this.

I’m not sure if Perry is our hero or antihero in this scenario, but either way we’re rooting against the umpire. At least I am. In the reductionist Manichean reading of this text, the ump’s a functionary, a heavy, there to stand in for whatever machine you care to picture: the state, the system, the generation ahead of yours. His job is to harsh Perry’s vibe.

With not a little simmering animosity, Perry submits to the inspection, this routine indignity performed by our mystery ump, without conviction but with the practised wiliness and cynicism of a person tasked with arbitrating the daily spike-and-dirt struggle of men paid to outhustle one another. Perry, I have no doubt, shrugged this off, bulldogging his way through, as was his custom.

Time shifts social mores. The spitball was once legal. Then it wasn’t. What trick or tool did that take away from hitters? That’s what Perry might argue. In order to even things out a bit, it can be necessary to fudge the lines, to work outside the margins. Use what you’ve got. And it worked: 314 wins, a Cy Young Award in each league, a plaque in the Hall of Fame. He carved a hard, hoary career out of the murky zone between culpability and deniability.

Is the secret sauce there? Yeah, it’s probably there, though concealed enough to make it hard for the ump to say with any certainty that it’s there. Sometimes Perry would put something on his zipper, because no ump wanted to go poking around there.

Why did Gaylord Perry go to such lengths? Did his success depend on the spitball? Maybe, and maybe not. I suspect, though, that the foreign substance’s presence on all those different uniforms and caps—eight different teams in two leagues, from Kennedy to Reagan, Please Please Me to Thriller—proves that he did depend on it, that Gaylord Perry was not Gaylord Perry if not doing what Gaylord Perry did. A person does not come lightly to such a decision, but rather only after performing some deep and expurgatory self-analysis. This is who I am, a person might eventually conclude, and I’m going to ride this horse until we both expire.


Catching Up

Bresnahan, catcher, New York (NL)

As it’s been a month or eight since I last updated the site, here’s a roundup of goings on and publications and conversations since I last opened the WordPress editor:

  • For the book recommendation site Shepherd I compiled a list of books that master the trick of placing baseball in a broader historical context
  • For the SABR baseball card research committee blog I wrote about why it can be tempting to not open a pack of baseball cards
  • Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf is a great online repository of publications about the game; I spoke to Ron himself about The Only Way Is the Steady Way, The Utility of Boredom, kids, the Blue Jays, the rules of collecting ballcaps, and more
  • Despite being Yankees fans, the folks over at Start Spreading the News turn out to be nice people, and I spoke to them about Ichiro, how I’d “fix” baseball, etc.

Recent Stuff

Gary Carter shows off his stance in Japan, an image unrelated to this post

The Only Way Is the Steady Way is the Word On the Street Book of the Month for June. I spoke to author/philosopher/professor/Blue Jays fan Mark Kingwell for their Book Talk feature. You can find our conversation here.

For the Pandemic Baseball Book Club I spoke to Dale Jacobs and Heidi LM Jacobs about their book 100 Miles of Baseball: Fifty Games, 1 Summer. Listen here (or wherever you get your podcasts), or watch here.

I was a guest on the Jays From Home podcast with Ottawa’s own Matt and Steve Gower. Listen here (or wherever…).

A Conversation Between Authors

Thanks to the unifying power of the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, I had the chance to sit down (virtually) with Devin Gordon (author of the wonderful, sad, funny, and beautiful So Many Ways to Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets — The Best Worst Team in Sports) to talk about The Only Way Is the Steady Way. Devin did a deep, thorough read of the book and came ready with some great questions.

You can watch the conversation on video here (or by clicking the image above), or listen in podcast form at Anchor.fm (or anywhere you get podcasts).

Opening Day Book News Roundup

We here in Ontario are about to go into another lockdown, and the air outside my window is adance with snow flurries, but it’s Opening Day, damn it, and so we rejoice and find gladness in the promise of a new season. Tomorrow, April 2, is the official publication date of The Only Way Is the Steady Way, so chosen because it’s also the twentieth anniversary of Ichiro’s MLB debut. It’s also the fifth anniversary of the publication of The Utility of Boredom. That one was a coincidence, but it’s still worth noting. Regarding the former, there have been some developments—articles, appearances, etc.—that I’ll endeavour to round up here:

  • I appeared on a recent episode of Justin McGuire’s Baseball By the Book podcast (listen to it here or anywhere you get your podcasts)

That’s it for now, but there’ll be a lot more stuff in the near future, including interviews and podcasts. Stay tuned.

The Only Way Is the Steady Way

You do this for long enough, and you begin to crave originality like a desert wanderer craves cool clear water. Andrew Forbes’s essays are cool and clear and may well slake the thirst of any thinking baseball fan.

—Rob Neyer, author of Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game

The Only Way Is the Steady Way: Essays on Baseball, Ichiro, and How We Watch the Game will be available April 2 from Invisible Publishing, but you can pre-order it now.

A Lot Can Go Wrong


Mood board


Yes, so, I’ve got another book in the hopper, and the sales numbers suggest most people will be happy to know that it’s a collection of baseball writing, and not one more volume of mopey, sad-sack short stories. It’s called The Only Way is the Steady Way, and it comes out April 2, 2021. It’s partly about Ichiro, partly about having kids and getting older, partly about hometowns, and baseball cards, and YouTube, and a little bit about a very not-famous pitcher named Dooley Womack. I mean, he’s only featured in one essay out of 27, but it’s a pretty good essay.

The exciting* news is that, though it’s just a shade over seven months away from actually being published, you can pre-order this thing now. That link is for my still/again publisher’s site; the fine people at Invisible Publishing keep forgiving me, and I’m very happy to repeatedly take advantage of their short memories. But I know this: a reckoning is coming.

If ordering directly from a scrappy independent Canadian literary publisher isn’t your thing, I have heard that you can also pre-order from the usual big sites. I know you know who I’m talking about, so I don’t have to actually name them. Do as your conscience dictates.


This Image Will Self-Destruct

If you follow the link above, or search for the book on one of those other sites, you’ll likely be met with the following image:




Be advised that’s what we in the business refer to as a temporary cover. The actual cover, when you get your hands on an honest-to-God copy, will be different. This one’s a placeholder, a hundred times prettier than a NO IMAGE AVAILABLE square, but still only roughly 1/1000th as attractive as what the inimitable Megan Fildes, Invisible’s in-house designer, will eventually whip up. Megan has masterminded the covers for all three of my books so far, and she’s outdone herself each time. I expect no less the fourth time around.

Some of you will note that the above image is but a re-coloured and -lettered version of the gorgeous face of The Utility of Boredom. That’s what happens when ease and exigency meet in a back alley and trade some hand-jive before agreeing to start a garage band. It’s fast and dirty but it also sounds pretty good, you know? Or looks pretty good, as the case may be.

I have to admit this dope new colourway intrigues me. It’s like the fire hydrants in the next town over that are yellow where the ones in your town are red. You still recognize the thing as a fire hydrant, but something about the remixed chromatic palette excites you in a way you can’t quite name.


On Publishing a Book During a Pandemic

I guess the elephant in the room warrants mention. Yes, I did have second thoughts about publishing a book of baseball reminiscence and drippy yearning for lost days when the world began to burn to the ground (more so). In the end, though, I reasoned that people still seem to need some kind of distraction. Besides, I’m a nostalgia pedlar, and I really didn’t know what else to do with my time (not since I gave up on homeschooling the kids, anyway), so we pushed ahead with the edits on the rather presumptuous notion that somebody, somewhere would be interested in reading the book in order to call up memories of an afternoon spent with Dad in a long-since demolished ballpark somewhere. That reader will likely shed a tear or two, and those tears are my fuel.

If you’re of the opinion that something as ultimately inconsequential as baseball/nostalgia/entertainment/distraction is the last thing anyone should be reading these days, no hard feelings. I get it. You do you.


On Promoting a Book During a Pandemic

Yeah, I don’t know. While nobody’s actually said as much to my face, the long silences during lunch meetings and the pregnant pauses before my emails are returned suggest that everybody’s thinking what you’ve likely noticed if you’ve been paying any sort of attention: I’m a complete and utter idiot when it comes to promoting my own work. So maybe it can’t get any worse?

I’m social media-averse. I’m off Facebook, haven’t done Twitter in years, and I’ve never been on TikTok. I have an Instagram account that I’ve used precisely once. I’m out of touch, not out of fear or incompetence, but because I never liked the way these sites/apps/communities fit into my life, and repping myself and my work on them never felt natural. I don’t want to bug you with constant demands that you pay attention to, or rush out and purchase, my writing. I know you’ve got other things to worry about. I don’t shout about my books, though maybe I’d be better off if I did. But I just don’t feel right doing it.

I do like taking photos, though, so maybe—maybe—I’ll break down and start using the ‘gram. Will it make me famous? I guess you’ll have to wait and see. (Spoiler: it will not.)

Anyway, I do willingly participate in live events. Readings, panels, that sort of thing. And while the epidemiological landscape might suggest that those things will remain a bad idea for the entire, brief promotional life of this next book, I have also participated in virtual events—Zoom panels! which is just about the most depressingly apt pairing of words to describe our long collective hell—and found them to be like imitation crab: not quite as good as the real thing, but a relatively decent substitute. I’ve had appreciative people buy me beers at in-person book launches, and that’s yet to happen during a Zoom event, but folks have said some nice things, so that’s something, I guess.

So the bottom line is this: if a miracle cure comes online and we all beat this damn virus between now and April I’ll be in your backyard doing a reading and hand-selling copies of the book. If not, I’ll be on an intermittently frozen digital panel or reading near you. Check your local listings.


On the Impermanence of Truth

There are a lot of things in this book—the book being about baseball, and baseball going totally haywire and subbing a dumb video game version of itself for an actual 2020 season, when it’s clear that no season should’ve been played at all, due to the ongoing risk to life posed by the novel coronavirus, and also, you know, the world going totally to shit—that might not be true by the time the book is actually printed. We’re trying to stay on top of things—we being the august brain-trust of Invisible Publishing, Inc., and my kickass editor Andrew Faulkner, and myself—and leaving ourselves little pink and yellow sticky notes as reminders to revisit certain points and truth claims and so forth in the literal hours and minutes before printing in an effort to shore up the veracity of each sentence and word and so, as a cumulative result, the book as a whole. But I won’t lie to you: a lot can go wrong between now and then. We’re trying here, but I can’t make any guarantees.



Hey, congratulations, you’ve almost made it to the end of what I’m pretty sure is the longest post in the history of this website. Don’t worry, the end is near.

What I most want to say to you is this: your support matters. If you want to help out a writer, and a small publisher, and your local independent bookstore (and those could really use your help these days), please consider pre-ordering the book. And if/once you do get your hands on the book, should you enjoy it and think it worth mentioning to other readers, please review the book at one of the many places online chronically thirsty for such opinions. These things take a total of about 48 seconds to do, but they really do help.


One Last Thing

Thanks for reading this, and the book (or any of my stuff), if applicable. I know I don’t typically churn out feel-good material, but I hope something I produce might be of some use or pleasure to you. Writing’s always an effort to reach out, and now, as the wires continue to fray and the signals all go buzzy and nonsensical, that feels more important than ever. I hope that something I’ve written might find you and give you a moment of respite, or escape, or appreciation, or recognition, or whatever it is you come to literature to find.

Thanks, and be well.



* I think it’s safe to say that one universal outcome of the horrific farce we’ll diplomatically call “2020” is that everybody’s definition of “exciting” has been readjusted, probably permanently.



Pictured: Ichiro (artist’s rendition)

Love in the time of



At the end of East 45th Street, Greta Thunberg stood before world leaders at the UN General Assembly, and said, “You are failing us.” Up in the Bronx, the Yankees had just won their 102nd game of the season and enjoyed a nine-game cushion over the Rays.

I have a new essay, “Love in the time of,” in the upcoming issue of Turnstyle: The SABR Journal of Baseball Arts. If you’re a baseball fan and you’re not already a member, consider joining SABR for access to this and dozens of other publications.