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For other uses, see Spitball (disambiguation).

A spitball is a (now illegal) baseball pitch, in which the ball has been altered by the application of saliva, petroleum jelly, or some other foreign substance.

This technique alters the wind-resistance and weight on one side of the ball, causing it to move in an atypical manner. It may also cause the ball to "slip" out of the pitcher's fingers without the usual spin that accompanies a pitch. In this sense, a spitball can be thought of as a fastball with knuckleball action. (See Bob Adair's analysis for example).

Alternative names for the spitball are spitter, mud ball, shine ball, supersinker, vaseline ball (because originally, Vaseline was used to give the ball a little more break), and emery ball, although technically, an emery ball is one where the ball has been abraded in much the same way that the original cut ball had been physically cut (an emery ball is also known as a scuff ball).

History[edit]

The invention of the spitball has been popularly credited to a number of individuals, among them Elmer Stricklett and Frank Corridon. Numerous accounts, however, refer to different players experimenting with versions of the spitball throughout the latter half of the 19th century, and it remains unlikely that any one individual "invented" the spitball.[1]

Ed Walsh, however, is certainly responsible for popularizing it. Walsh dominated the American League from 1906–1912 primarily on the strength of his spitball, and pitchers around the league soon copied his spitball or invented their own trick pitch.

The dramatic increase in the popularity of "freak deliveries" led to a great deal of controversy throughout the 1910s regarding the abolition of the spitball and related pitches. In his autobiography, Ty Cobb wrote that such "freak pitches" "were outlawed when the owners greedily sold out to home runs."[2]

In addition, there were serious issues with the spitball, as a variation on the standard spitball called for the pitcher to smear the entire surface of the normally white ball with a mixture of tobacco spittle and dirt or mud in order to stain it the same deep brown color as the infield, making it nearly impossible for batters to see or avoid in low-light conditions. In August 1920, Ray Chapman was killed when he was struck in the temple by a spitball thrown by pitcher Carl Mays during a poorly lit game.

Ban[edit]

The spitball was banned in two stages. In the winter of 1919–1920, managers voted to partially ban the spitball, allowing each team to designate at most two pitchers who would be permitted to legally throw spitballs. Then, following the 1920 season, the spitball was banned leaguewide, except for existing spitballers who were grandfathered in and allowed to keep throwing the pitch legally until they retired.[3]

Seventeen existing spitballers were granted this exemption. Burleigh Grimes lasted the longest, retiring in 1934. The complete list: Ray Fisher (played through 1920); Doc Ayers (1921); Ray Caldwell (1921); Phil Douglas (1922); Dana Fillingim (1925); Marv Goodwin (1925); Dutch Leonard (1925); Allen Russell (1925); Allen Sothoron (1926); Dick Rudolph (1927); Stan Coveleski (1928); Urban Shocker (1928); Bill Doak (1929); Clarence Mitchell (1932); Red Faber (1933); Jack Quinn (1933); and Grimes.

In March 1955, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick advocated for the return of the spitball, telling a sportswriter, "If I had my way, I'd legalize the old spitter. It was a great pitch and one of the easiest to throw. There was nothing dangerous about it."[4] Despite the Commissioner's enthusiasm, the pitch remained illegal.

Methodology[edit]

Although the spitball is now banned at all levels of professional and organized amateur baseball, it is still sometimes thrown in violation of the rules. (In 1942, Leo Durocher, then-manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, fined Bobo Newsom for throwing a spitball and "lying to me about it.") Typically, a lubricant is hidden behind the pitcher's knee or under the peak of his cap. Others will place the ball in their mitt and then cough on or lick it. Another tactic pitchers use is to soak their hair in water before going out to the mound, and then rubbing their hand in their hair before a pitch. Some pitchers have even glued a piece of sandpaper to one of their fingers, and scuffed a part of the ball to achieve a similar effect to the spitball. Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe has stated that he would hide a piece of emery board in his belt buckle so that he could roughen the ball or even cut it. During the Minnesota Twins' 1987 pennant chase, one of their starting pitchers, Joe Niekro, was suspended when he was caught on the field with a nail file in his back pocket; Niekro said in defense that he had been filing his nails, a common practice amongst knuckleball pitchers. One week later, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Kevin Gross was caught with sandpaper in his glove and suspended. In the 1986 season, Houston Astros pitcher Mike Scott was frequently accused of cheating;[5] during the 1986 NLCS, New York Mets player Wally Backman presented to the media a collection of 17 balls scuffed the same way, after Scott's dominating performance in Game 4 of that series.[6]

One of the most famous spitballers was Preacher Roe, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. Roe was renowned both for his ability to control the spitball, as well as to throw it without getting caught and described his methodology in a 1955 article in Sports Illustrated, "The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch", published a year after he retired.[7] Another famous user of the pitch was Gaylord Perry, who went so far as to title his autobiography Me and the Spitter. (For example, Gaylord would put vaseline on his zipper because umpires would never check there.) Don Drysdale and Lew Burdette also used the pitch regularly.[citation needed]

Legal spits[edit]

The name dry spitter is sometimes used to describe a pitch that moves like a spitball without saliva, such as the forkball or split-finger fastball. It is sometimes used simply as slang for the knuckleball.

There is also the remote term of God-given spitter, which is when the ball is naturally dampened by moist air or light rainfall, which allows pitchers to be able to throw pitches with sharper breaks, much like a spitball. In today's game, pitchers are allowed to moisten their fingers with saliva.

Comparison to other sports[edit]

The techniques used to prepare a spitball are analogous to the techniques still used to condition the ball in cricket. As was the case in pre-1920s baseball, a single cricket ball is used for a long period of time (almost 500 deliveries in international cricket), and the fielding team progressively attempts to make one side of the ball more shiny than the other to create such phenomena as swing bowling. Some techniques, such as physically polishing the ball against the player's clothing, or applying sweat and saliva (even when tainted with mints that a player is sucking on), are entirely legal and are used widely; others techniques are illegal (known as ball tampering), and includes such practices as altering of the ball's state by the use of artificial substances such as sun block or dirt, or degradation by fingernails or other hard substances, intentionally returning the ball along the ground to abrade it, or raising the seam.

See also[edit]

References[edit]


Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spitball — Please support Wikipedia.
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59 news items

 
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Thu, 18 Sep 2014 09:18:45 -0700

21, at half-a-dozen downtown venues. Salisbury will read at the museum. (See sidebar for the complete list of poets, locations and times.) Salisbury's poetry has been published in the Cape Reader, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Spitball and Soundings East.
 
Omaha World-Herald
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 23:08:06 -0700

Clarence Mitchell, a pitcher famous for his spitball who played in the 1920 World Series for Brooklyn, played there. William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate from Lincoln, addressed a crowd of 3,000 there at an 1890 Fourth ...
 
Rio Rancho Observer
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:03:45 -0700

City Manager Keith Riesberg said he didn't want to “spitball numbers” on the state-required cost estimates, and he didn't believe city staff had time to get good estimates by the Sept. 16 deadline. Councilor Cheryl Everett said she understood the ...

Fox News

Fox News
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 07:47:38 -0700

You can watch Doug talk about the novel with his No.1 fan. [Ed. note: Yes, I did get a mention in the book, which, in an uncommon false note, far overstates my influence. And yes, it was my pleasure to spitball ideas with Doug. But I would have read it ...

Advocate.com

Advocate.com
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 01:03:45 -0700

Let's spitball some ideas. Let's say I meet an awesome guy, we're hanging out all the time, and then he turns out to be in love with me. Hilarity ensues? Obviously we'll have to flesh it out. Would Will be into it? Maybe. I believe that sexuality is on ...
 
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Mon, 15 Sep 2014 08:00:00 -0700

It's semi-scripted, which means that the writers come up with the basic plot points and leave the actors, who are all amazing comics in their own right, to spitball and improvise the dialogue. Comedians Nick Kroll (Ruxin), Mark Duplass (Pete), Paul ...
 
Deadspin
Sat, 13 Sep 2014 09:33:27 -0700

Thankfully, there's none of that shit in the making of a baked egg: You spitball some tomato sauce, you crack an egg on it, and you stick it in the oven for a few minutes. And then it makes you happy for a month, and you don't even have to wash any ...
 
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Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:07:30 -0700

Ben Douglass, art director at the Broad Street design shop Spitball Advertising, said freelance t-shirt artwork he did depicting a fictional “Vanilla Ice Ice Cream Truck” was transformed into an actual ice cream truck used by the beer maker at its ...
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