Talk about a fall classic. An impromptu invitation to eat lunch with Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry and his former San Francisco Giants teammate Ernie Ferrell Bowman hit the spot Tuesday afternoon.
Perry and his wife, Deborah, were in town to do some shopping and met Bowman and his wife, Magdalene, at the Cracker Barrel in Boones Creek.
Perry, who lives in Spruce Pine, N.C., checks on Bowman regularly since he was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer and initially given months to live in 2011. Perry’s work with MLB’s Baseball Assistance Team got Bowman the resources for medical care that’s given him a new lease on life.
“He’s the reason I’m alive,” Bowman said through a smile when Perry arrived Tuesday.
Perry said it was the least he could do after all the line-drives Bowman snagged while Perry was on the mound.
They were fast friends when they first played together in the minors for the Corpus Christi Giants in 1959.
“Guys would say Gaylord’s from the hills of North Carolina and Ernie’s a ridge runner from Tennessee,” Bowman said. “When we were at Corpus Christi, we all stayed at this one apartment complex. … When we were home, one day a week we’d go down to Padre Island and lay out at the beach and everything.”
They also played together for the Tacoma Giants and recalled their time at St. Cloud, Minn., where Bowman played in 1956-57 and Perry played in ’58. Perry said the St. Cloud Rox didn’t have a team bus and traveled in five station-wagons.
Perry was called up part of the season for the Giants in 1962 but wasn’t on the postseason roster when Bowman helped them take the New York Yankees to a seventh game before falling in the World Series.
Bowman and Perry have enjoyed the MLB postseason. Both picked St. Louis to beat Boston in the World Series, which starts tonight. Too much pitching for the Cardinals, they say.
Perry also is high on Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams, one of a handful of former Johnson City Cardinals.
Perry is impressed with the major-league arms these days, although he doesn’t believe the modern radar guns provide an accurate comparison for their predecessors. Bowman said his brother Billy Joe, who coached with the Houston Astros for decades after pitching in the minors in the 1950s, has made similar comments about radar guns’ numbers.
Perry signed some baseballs Billy Joe had given Bowman that had been used in games by Houston pitchers Mike Scott, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan. Perry also gave Bowman and Mag each an autographed October/November issue of High Country Magazine, which features a 10-page spread on the Hall of Famer.
Perry, known for doctoring baseballs, entitled his autobiography “Me and the Spitter.” He all but rolled his eyes with mischief while mentioning Tuesday how the umpires throw balls out even when a pitch bounces in the dirt these days.
Bowman said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Perry didn’t need tricks up his sleeve.
“Boy, he could bring it,” Bowman said. “It was like trying to hit a shot-put with those wooden bats. He threw such a heavy ball. And he kept the ball down like (Don) Drysdale – good slider, good curveball.”
Perry and Bowman said they enjoy watching Boston closer Koji Uehara, and Perry likes the Red Sox’s up the middle with Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury. Bowman chuckled when talking about how hard Pedroia swings.
They also commended the talent of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, but agreed it’ll be difficult to win the big ones with his adventurous baserunning and throwing to the wrong bases from the outfield.
But it was more entertaining hearing about vintage players such as Drysdale, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson and Willie McCovey. Perry flashed a satisfied smile that time can only further laminate when mentioning how he no-hit the Cardinals while winning a 1-0 duel against Gibson.
Bowman nearly always speaks with reverence when discussing Gibson. But Tuesday he also mentioned one instance when he was trying to bunt and the intimidating Gibson was throwing tight and hard.
The diminutive Bowman said he told catcher Tim McCarver to let Gibson know that he was coming after him with the bat if he was thrown at while bunting, and that he could out-run McCarver to get there.
Thanks, in part, to Perry, Bowman’s still got plenty of fight in him