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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) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: anniversaries, spitball

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