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Jim Furtado
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Editor - Baseball Primer


Spitball Newsbeat

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Spitball Has Been Contraband for a Century

We credit baseball in its classic days as being unadulterated novelty: Sportsmen in high socks bouncing around the diamond, inspiring poetry among spectators with wide-brimmed hats and rolled-up newspapers. But in truth it was a filthier, greasier game, in which you were perhaps as likely to muscle a ball over the fence with a stomach full of spam and lungs full of coal dust as you were to receive a very clear death threat from your pitcher for muffing a groundball.

In such a competitive sport, perhaps peppered with undiagnosed personality disorders, everybody was looking for an advantage. With that in mind, it makes sense that pitchers turned to their own bodily fluids in search of one. And boy, did they find an advantage! The formulation of the spitball led to some of the game’s highest pedigrees in the early 1900s.

There was a young hurler named Elmer Stricklett who’d began as a minor league phenom noted for his velocity and movement before melting into a deeply hittable pitcher whose outfielders were always on the move. Talking shop with his Sacramento Senators teammates in 1902, Stricklett got a hot tip that the key to rediscovering his effectiveness on the mound wasn’t in his arm angle or his release point. It was inside his own mouth.

The inventor of the spitball, pitcher Frank Corridon, or perhaps Stricklett’s teammate George Hildrebrand, who had played with Corridon earlier in the season, conveyed baseball’s hottest, wettest secret to Stricklett in June that year. It not only allowed Stricklett greater trickery with his pitches, it reacquired him a reputation of menace. It wasn’t long before he was hurling three-hit shutouts with a pitch that danced gleefully away from bats, and all he had to do was lick his fingers (or touch a wet sponge hidden in his glove).

The rise and fall of a pitch that has now lingered in the public memory for far longer than it was actively used.

QLE Posted: February 13, 2020 at 01:26 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: anniversaries, spitball

Monday, November 04, 2019

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 11-4-2019

Grand Forks Herald, November 4, 1919:

[Charlie Comiskey] is in favor abolishing the freak deliver in spite of the fact one of his slabmen is credited with the perfection of the shine ball. But he admits he knows of no effective way to prevent freak pitching unless possibly the abolition of all gloves, except for the catcher, might help some. That he considers too radical, because it would compel the present generation of ballplayers to learn to field all over again.
Out of the scores of suggestions that have been received from baseball fans nothing practical has resulted because all the good ideas are based on the belief that the umpires can tell when a freak delivery is pitched.

Elsewhere in the news, Hod Eller says he’s not worried about the talk of banning “freak” pitches because he has a secret pitch he’s not willing to talk about, and a judge denied a petition for divorce from Minnie Ebbets because she waited too long to file after she learned Charles had moved in with another woman.

Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: November 04, 2019 at 10:30 AM | 36 comment(s)
  Beats: dugout, history, spitball

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Primer Dugout (and link of the day) 10-31-2019

New York Sun, October 31, 1919:

Major league legislation barring freak deliveries may be expected in the near future .Action looking toward the abolition of the spitball and shine ball and their several first cousins was started in earned last night, when John A. Heydler, president of the National League, received a call from Ban Johnson to join with Garry Herrmann in calling a joint meeting of the major leagues’ rules committee…The freak delivery reached its zenith during the recent season and pitchers so abused the rather broad rules governing their work that baseball followers throughout the country joined in the demand that something be done to give the batter his rights…The abolition of the freak delivery may work a temporary hardship on some of the pitchers, but in the long run it will benefit not only the game but the hurlers themselves. Freak deliveries, particularly the spitball, shorten the major league lives of pitchers.

Goodness. Imagine how long Gaylord Perry would have stuck around if the spitter hadn’t shortened his career.

Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: October 31, 2019 at 10:13 AM | 8 comment(s)
  Beats: dugout, history, spitball




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