Of the myriad Anniston Rams who ascended to the Major Leagues, no one had a more abrupt and abysmal stay in the highest level of professional baseball than Bill Perrin, a left-handed pitcher from New Orleans who was adept at fooling baserunners but not at throwing strikes.
A Ram briefly in 1940, Perrin made his MLB debut for the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 30, 1934, sharing the afternoon’s headlines with Babe Ruth, who that day played his final game for the New York Yankees. That’s all Perrin got. One last-day-of-the-season start against the last-place Chicago White Sox that marked his resume with an odd notation: his first, final and only big-league appearances happened simultaneously.
The compilation of cup-of-coffee pitchers from MLB and the Negro Leagues contains 715 names; among them is Cincinnati’s Rufus Meadows, a teenaged Virginian who in 1926 faced a single batter, a distinction he alone holds. (Meadows retired the Chicago Cubs’ Cliff Heathcote, who grounded out to first base.)
Chronologically, Perrin is No. 414 on that list.
Statistically, his line from that game — a 9-5 White Sox victory — is astounding.
He faced 30 batters in five innings, allowing 13 hits and nine runs (eight earned) and failing to pitch a scoreless frame against the team that finished last in the American League in batting average, total bases, hits and stolen bases and next-to-last in runs and RBI. Irving Vaughan, a writer for The Chicago Tribune, stated the obvious the next morning: “The Sox refused to take him seriously and his debut became a cropper after five innings.”
Perrin balked in the White Sox’ first run. He plunked a batter in the second to load the bases. He wild-pitched a runner to third in the third. Had it not been for a few saving graces — he picked off two runners, including Hall of Famer Luke Appling; one inning ended when a runner was struck by a batted ball; another runner was thrown out at home — his ERA would have risen above 14.40. He even went 0 for 2 at the plate.
For Perrin, his briefest of big-league careers exemplifies baseball’s brutal prevalence for unfairness. He played 15 seasons, mostly in the upper levels of the minor leagues. He managed for five summers. He posted double-digit wins seven times. He became a baseball legend in his hometown, playing part or all of six seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans and earning a spot in that city’s baseball hall of fame. And yet his career’s apex doubles as one of its substantial disappointments, an hour of fall frustration at Cleveland’s League Park that overshadows everything else. He was only there so that Indians Manager Walter “Big Train” Johnson, who would enter Cooperstown two years later, could use him in a double-header opener on the season’s final day. With the third-place Indians out of the AL pennant chase, the game’s result was meaningless, a forgettable formality.
The Bill Perrin who arrived in Anniston early in the 1940 season was a 30-year-old journeyman who’d bopped around Cleveland’s farm system since 1930, collecting uniforms along the way: first Frederick, Maryland, then Baton Rouge, Toledo, New Orleans (three times), Minneapolis, Baltimore and Wilkes-Barre. Tucked among those minor-league seasons were his one appearance with the Indians and an unproductive stint in Cleveland’s spring training camp in 1933. The Rams didn’t get a pitcher legitimately chasing another Major League opportunity. They acquired a veteran minor-leaguer with a decent curve and a heralded pick-off move and a desire to rescue his career from its downward trend.
Other than opportunity and a paycheck, however, the Rams didn’t offer much to Perrin’s quest. Anniston’s 1940 squad was one of its worst in its 10 seasons in the Southeastern League, though the Rams still harbored unrealistic hopes when they bought his contract from New Orleans during the opening week. The man behind Perrin’s Anniston experiment was none other than Larry Gilbert, the longtime manager in New Orleans and Nashville whose son, Larry Gilbert Jr., had invested in the Rams franchise during the offseason. Perrin hadn’t pitched well in 1939, and the Gilberts had agreed to funnel talent from Nashville to Anniston. Perrin “received better offers for the 1940 baseball season,” The Anniston Star reported, but the left-hander chose to play for the Rams “because of his friendship with (manager) Bill Rodda and the Gilberts … He promises local fans ‘plenty of results.’” Gilbert’s hope wasn’t rooted in assistance for Anniston. He wanted a revitalized Perrin for his Southern Association Vols.
The Gilberts would be disappointed.
Perrin’s Rams debut, an 8-0 loss to Selma on a Sunday afternoon at Johnston Field, proved disastrous when he was lifted without recording an out in the first inning. It was as if he was back in Cleveland, pitching against the White Sox instead of the Cloverleafs, who battered him for six runs off four hits, two walks and a wild pitch. The Star deadpanned the truth. “Bill Perrin, who is not in shape yet, put the Rams in a bad hole.” There were glimpses of optimism, though. He scattered 10 hits to beat Jackson, 10-6, on May 20. He pitched competently in an extra-inning 8-6 Rams win at Selma on May 28, giving up only two hits in 3 1/2 innings of relief. But it wasn’t enough. Anniston released Perrin on June 3, his career resurrection temporarily halted. He’d spent five weeks with the Rams, going 2-5 in eight appearances. Married and a father, Perrin scouted for a while and found work that summer in Atlanta at the Atlantic Steel Company.
Entering his thirties, Perrin stubbornly refused to discard the game. He became a semi-pro standout for two summers in Atlanta, sweating at the steel plant during the day and pitching at night. When the struggling Birmingham Barons needed pitching in 1943, they brought Perrin back to organized baseball on June 11. Zipp Newman, the Birmingham News sports editor, remembered Perrin’s three stints with New Orleans and thought the lefty was worth the risk. “(Perrin) isn’t too old to be of help to the Barons … Bill has the experience and if he has his control, he can be an awful pain. He is by temperament a competitor — a hard loser.” Newman didn’t mention that Perrin’s cousin, Jimmy Perrin, was a noted featherweight boxer and nearly made the 1932 U.S. Olympic team.
Perrin’s stay in Birmingham, however, mimicked his uneventful tenure in Anniston. He made 17 appearances for the Barons, middling at best, and was released Aug. 3. Signed immediately by Atlanta, Perrin did no better for the Crackers, giving up 13 hits and five earned runs in seven innings against Nashville. He’d get only seven more appearances in Atlanta before season’s end. Cut loose by the Crackers, he returned to his factory job and his semi-pro pitching gig until jumping at the chance to manage in the Florida International League, first with Lakeland in 1946, then with Miami in 1948. His second DeLand team won the Florida State League championship in 1950, his final year in professional baseball.
Nearing his 40th birthday, Perrin returned home to New Orleans and worked at Avondale Shipyards, where he retired after 24 years. He died in 1974 at age 64 and is interred near the New Orleans Katrina Memorial at Hope Mausoleum, less than a mile from the site of the Pelicans’ stadium where he once played.