The Dodgers lost another important figure in franchise history this week. Ron Perranoski, the relief ace turned molder of a generation of pitchers, died in his Vero Beach home on Friday, the club announced on Saturday. Perranoski was 84.
Perranoski was acquired from the Cubs in the Don Zimmer trade in 1960, and made his major league debut in 1961. Almost immediately he became the Dodgers’ most trusted reliever. He led the league in appearances in 1962 and 1963, and led the NL in games finished in 1964. In the 1963 World Series sweep of the Yankees, the Dodgers only used four pitchers: starters Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Johnny Podres, then Perranoski, who recorded the final two outs of Game 2 in his only appearance.
A workhorse, the left-handed Perranoski topped 100 innings five times in his first seven seasons, ranking second in the majors in relief innings from 1961-67, narrowly behind only Hoyt Wilhelm.
During the Dodgers’ 15-1 run down the stretch to win the 1965 pennant, Perranoski allowed only one unearned run in 20⅔ innings. He finished the 1963 season with 19 consecutive scoreless innings, a year in which Perranoski won 16 games in relief and finished fourth in National League MVP balloting.
Perranoski is still the Dodgers’ all-time leader with 762⅔ relief innings.
Perranoski’s highest ERA with the Dodgers was 3.18. A note in the 1966 Dodgers yearbook noted “a survey of all pitchers — relievers or starters — who have hurled at least five hundred major league innings showed that none can match Ron’s 5-year ERA of 2.48.” This was such a stunning statement that I had to look it up. It’s true, but when counting only the live ball era (starting in 1920). By the time Perranoski was traded to the Twins after the 1967 season, his 2.56 ERA ranked third in the live ball era, which is still incredibly impressive.
Saves didn’t become an official statistic until 1969, when Perranoski led the majors with 31. In 1970, his 34 saves led the American League. He had a reputation as a cool customer, described beautifully by Jim Murray in 1969 (1):
“You see, Perry has a normal pulse rate someplace between that of a corpse and a sleeping dog. It’s hard to get him INTERESTED in a game until the whole ball park is on its feet, the radio announcer is having apoplexy, the manager’s wife is covering her eyes, and his infield is standing around trying not to look nervous. He’s like the French general who said, ‘My right flank is turned, my center is in retreat, my left is out of contact, the situation is perfect, I shall attack!”
Perranoski had a brief return stint with the Dodgers in 1972, pitching nine games down the stretch. He retired after a half-season with the Angels in 1973, then worked with Dodgers minor league pitchers for the rest of the decade.
In 1981 he became pitching coach of the Dodgers, which is how I knew of Perranoski growing up. Seeing him with his Dodgers windbreaker was a true sign of summer.
It seems like a rarity these days, but Perranoski was a pitching coach who would bring a hook with him, something usually reserved for the manager. Watching old videos of the 1988 postseason, often it’s Perranoski going out to make the pitching change, not Tommy Lasorda.
Perranoski had a dry wit, on display during a passage from Josh Suchon’s book “Miracle Men” about the 1988 Dodgers, when Orel Hershiser was in San Diego before his start, nine innings away from breaking Don Drysdale’s scoreless innings record (2):
“You know, I’m really pretty nervous,” Hershiser told pitching coach Ron Perranoski, after a few warm-up pitches. “I can even feel it in my stomach.”
“You’ll be all right once you get out there and get the first couple of outs,” Perranoski said.
A few pitches later ... “Did you hear that?” Perranoski said.
“That was my stomach. I’m nervous, too.”
Perranoski was at Lasorda’s side through the 1994 season. His 14 years as pitching coach is the longest tenure in Dodgers history, since matched by Rick Honeycutt (2006-19).
Given his stellar work as both a pitcher and a pitching coach, Perranoski’s Dodgers legacy is secure. Jon Weisman said it best (3): “No relief pitcher in Dodger history has had a greater impact on the organization than Ron Perranoski.”
Rest in peace, Ron Perranoski.
- “Ron Perranoski’s epitaph: ‘They hit good pitches,’” by Jim Murray. The Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1969.
- “Miracle Men: Hershiser, Gibson, and the Improbable 1988 Dodgers,” by Josh Suchon, p. 181. Triumph Books, 2013.
- “Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition,” by Jon Weisman. Triumph Books, 2018.