Obituary: Cecil Perkins (1940-2021)

RIP to Cecil Perkins, a pitcher whose seven-year minor-league career included a brief stint with the New York Yankees in 1967. He died on October 28 at the age of 80.

Cecil Boyce Perkins was born in Baltimore on December 1, 1940. He was a pitching star at Howard County High School in Ellicott Coty, Md., and in his senior season of 1959, he struck out 67 batters in his first 6 games. He was also a leading scorer on his basketball team. In one game against Glenelg, he missed almost the entire game because of a high fever. He stepped onto the court with just a few second left on the clock, was fouled, and sank two free throws to give Howard County the 55-54 win.

After graduation, Perkins played amateur baseball and then attended Salem College in Salem, W.V. After two years, the Yankees and scout Randy Gumpert signed him in July of 1962. “All told, I had nine offers from big league clubs, but I chose the Yankees because of an excellent financial arrangement, and because I feel their organization is tops,” Perkins told Morning Herald columnist Joe Snyder.

Perkins played for a couple of the Yankees’ low minor-league teams in 1962, with a 5.55 ERA in 12 starts. In the offseason, he transferred to Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.V. “I want to finish my schooling, too, but I’ll have to stretch it out like some of the other young players do,” Perkins said. “Physical education and biology represent my principal interests, and I want to get my masters degree eventually. These days, when a ball player’s career has ended, he must be prepared to make a living in another field.”

Perkins had a lively fastball, and the New York organization tried to supplement it with a few more pitches. He missed almost all of 1963 with a bone chip in his right arm but came back strong in 1964. He started 34 games and threw more than 200 innings for Cass-A teams in Shelby (N.C.) and Greensboro, winning 5 and losing 7. He did his best work for the Shelby Yankees, with a 5-4 record and 3.07 ERA in 13 starts. Perkins reached the 10-win mark in 1965, pitching for Greensboro and Double-A Columbus (Ga.).

During his ascent through the minors, Perkins racked up high strikeout totals — 175 K’s in 124 innings 1964. He also threw a fair share of wild pitches and walks, however. But when his fastball was under control, he was difficult to hit. He flung a 2-hit shutout against Asheville while pitching for Columbus in 1966. He gave up a double to Sal Bando in the first inning and then retired the next 19 batters in a row. Perkins fanned 9 in the game and walked 3. He was 8-11 with a 3.99 ERA for Columbus in ’66, and then he dominated in the Winter Instructional League in Florida with a 1.42 ERA. That performance raised his profile in the Yankees organization.

Perkins moved up to Triple-A Syracuse in 1967 and had a 3-5 record and 2.29 ERA going into July. The Yankees sold reliever Hal Reniff to the crosstown Mets and brought Perkins to the majors to fill out the roster. He made his first appearance on July 5 — a start against the Twins in Minnesota. He allowed a run in the first inning when Rod Carew tripled and scored on a groundout by Rich Reese. Facing Minnesota ace Jim Kaat, Perkins got an RBI when he grounded out in the second inning, scoring Steve Whitaker from third base. The Yankees scored again to take a 2-1 lead, but Minnesota tied it in the second inning with back-to-back singles by Bob Allison and Zoilo Versalles and a run-scoring double play hit by Russ Nixon. The Twins added a 3-run homer by Reese in the third inning to take a commanding 5-3 lead, and Perkins exited after giving up 5 runs in 3 innings. Reliever Fred Talbot was treated just as badly by the Twins hitters, and the final score was 10-4.

Perkins second and final major-league game was July 8 against Baltimore. The Orioles pounded starter Steve Barber and reliever Joe Verbanic, and the rookie pitcher entered the game in the bottom of the 6th with the Yankees losing 8-5. He threw 2 shutout innings, allowing only a 2-out double to Larry Haney in the seventh inning. He fanned Moe Drabowsky to get out of the inning, and he ended up being the only Yankees pitcher to not allow a run that day. The final score was 12-5 Baltimore.

Perkins did pitch in one more game for the Yankees — the crosstown matchup against the Mets on July 12. He gave up 2 runs in the second and was chased after getting into trouble in the seventh inning. He allowed 4 runs in 6-1/3 innings, striking out 6 and surrendering a homer to backup catcher John Sullivan. He also walked 4 and threw 3 wild pitches. Days later, he was sent back to Syracuse.

Perkins had an 0-1 record in 2 games, allowing 5 earned runs on 6 hits in 5 innings. He walked 2 and struck out 1. He had one plate appearance and ended up with 1 RBIs.

Perkins’ return to the minors was a scary one. He threw 7 strong innings in his first start back in Syracuse, but the last out was a hard grounder that caught him in the chest. Perkins picked up the ball and made the throw to first base, but then he clutched at his chest and collapsed. Trainers worked on him, and he was able to walk off the field under his own power. He later explained that after he got hit, he wasn’t able to catch his breath. He finished off the rest of the season unscathed and had a 5-8 record and 2.15 ERA for Syracuse with 118 strikeouts in 130 innings.

Perkins failed to catch on with the Yankees in spring training in 1968 and returned to Syracuse. He pitched in 10 games there, mainly as a reliever, and had an 0-1 record and 3.86 ERA. He had suffered a tendon injury in his right bicep that caused his winter season in Puerto Rico to come to an early end. When he continued to pitch in pain and struggle in the minors, he stepped away from baseball. His career in the minors ended with a 33-42 record and a 3.90 ERA. He struck out 670 batters in 644 innings.

After his baseball career, Perkins returned to Shepherd College and earned a degree in Biological Science in 1973. He then went to West Virginia University and became a teacher at Hedgesville High School. He also coached baseball and basketball and operated a business that painted stripes on parking lots, highways, airports and other commercial facilities. He was also inducted into Howard High School’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

Perkins eventually had his right shoulder rebuilt entirely in 1995. While the right arm never regained full strength, he still had many good memories from his playing career. In a 2002 interview in The Baltimore Sun, he recalled a time in Puerto Rico when he was an Opening Day starter for Ponce against a San Juan ballclub that featured Johnny Bench, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda. He won the game. He also set a Carolina League record for striking out 10 batters in the first three innings in a game — the catcher dropped a third strike and let a batter reach base.

“I was the hardest thrower the Yankees had,” he said. “They didn’t have radar guns then, but I know I was in the 90-mph area. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

For more information: Herald-Mail Media

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