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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Mystery of the Vanishing Screwball

“The word on the street is that the screwball is hard on the arm,” says Don Cooper, Chicago’s pitching coach. “But listen, there’s no documentation on that. Maybe that’s why a lot of people don’t throw it, but I believe no pitch is any more dangerous than any other if you have a good delivery. If you have a bad delivery, every pitch is freakin’ dangerous.”

Among baseball lifers, though, Cooper’s is decidedly a minority opinion. Lurid stories about the pitch are commonplace. “We’d be on the bus and see a guy out the window whose arm was turned out,” McCarver said, “and we’d say: ‘Yup. Old screwballer.’ ”

Jerry Dipoto, the Angels’ general manager, told me that Carl Hubbell used to visit the Giants’ training camp after his retirement. “Legend has it he’d walk in and his arm was backward,” he said. “He couldn’t get it to come back around to the appropriate position because of all the years of pronating from throwing the pitch.”

Just how a screwball causes injury was open to debate. “Too hard on the shoulder,” insisted Arizona’s manager, Kirk Gibson. “The elbow,” said the former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. Even Santiago acknowledged the possibility: “They told me it’s bad for my wrist.” He keeps throwing the pitch, he said, “because you don’t hear much about pitchers hurting their wrists.”

Never mind all those pitchers who kept using it into their late 30s and 40s, or that Valenzuela, at 53, maintains he can throw it today. When I spoke to players and coaches about the screwball, the expectation of certain injury was never far from the conversation.

Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: July 10, 2014 at 03:35 PM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pitching, screwball

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   1. Al Kaline Trio Posted: July 10, 2014 at 04:20 PM (#4748184)
but I believe no pitch is any more dangerous than any other if you have a good delivery. If you have a bad delivery, every pitch is freakin’ dangerous.”


But what is a good delivery? Mark Prior had a "perfect" delivery...
   2. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: July 10, 2014 at 04:25 PM (#4748191)
Mike Marshall lived on the screwball and blew out after he pitched over 200 innings in his Cy Young season; is that how the "screwball hurts your arm" meme got started? It doesn't hold up, anyway; the wrist gets twisted a similar way by a lot of variations on the cutter, which many pitchers throw.

Anyway, I'm not sure the screwball has actually gone anywhere; they just call it the circle change now. A fair number of pitchers have a slow pitch that breaks in on the same-side hitter.
   3. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: July 10, 2014 at 04:25 PM (#4748192)
It seems to me the change up and to a lesser extent the splitter have replaced the screwball as a "backwards" pitch. Those pitches as they are thrown today seem to have arm side movement and while maybe not as much as a scroogie those are easier pitches to teach.
   4. smileyy Posted: July 10, 2014 at 04:25 PM (#4748193)
No, Mark Prior had a pretty delivery that was called a perfect delivery.
   5. Ron J2 Posted: July 10, 2014 at 04:39 PM (#4748210)
There are plenty of stories about Hubbell. That he had to have his jackets specially tailored because his left arm was so crooked and.or that his left hand faced outward when he held it at his side.

That said, Mike Marshall handled a very heavy workload without any arm issues, and he threw his screwball more frequently than Hubbell (around a third of the time)

And as we all know, Marshall has the secret to healthy arms. (and will be pleased to explain)
   6. Ron J2 Posted: July 10, 2014 at 04:49 PM (#4748221)
#2 No. It goes back as far as Jack Coombs and Christy Mathewson. Mathewson's fadeway was probably a screwball and he saved the pitch for emergencies because it took so much out of him (and hurt to throw)

Jack Coombs strongly advised against teaching young pitchers the screwball saying, "it calls for muscle movements in the wrist, forearm, and elbow that are contrary to the laws of nature."

And Hubbell washed out with the Tigers because Ty Cobb wouldn't let him throw his screwball. Afraid it would hurt his arm.
   7. Gch exhales the vast drunken folly of Epicurus Posted: July 10, 2014 at 05:17 PM (#4748236)
Hubbell was reportedly disfigured due to his use of the screwgie. His section in the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers features the quote "the only eccentric thing about [Hubbell] is his left arm. He looks as if he put it on in the dark."

I don't have a copy right now, but it also goes into the decline of the screwball. I think they blame the increasing popularity of the circle change (which has a similar motion without the arm twisting), but it's been a while since I read it.
   8. Accent Shallow Posted: July 10, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4748260)
This is a much more interesting article than you'd expect, given the headline. Definitely recommended.
   9. tfbg9 Posted: July 10, 2014 at 06:00 PM (#4748279)
Mathewson's fadeway was probably a screwball


I think I read somewhere it was a change, one that broke down and away from LHB's, like my boy Foulkie's. I dunno...
   10. Lassus Posted: July 10, 2014 at 07:20 PM (#4748335)
His section in the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers features the quote "the only eccentric thing about [Hubbell] is his left arm. He looks as if he put it on in the dark."

Brilliant.
   11. PreservedFish Posted: July 10, 2014 at 11:41 PM (#4748522)
When you google image search "Carl Hubbell," it does suggest that you might want to look for "Carl Hubbell Deformed Arm." Sadly none of the photos really show it off.
   12. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: July 11, 2014 at 10:12 AM (#4748622)
What about the "Trouble Ball" of the late great Satchel Paige?

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