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For other uses, see Spitball (disambiguation).

A spitball is an 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.

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 and 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, Perry 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, so long as they wipe their fingers on their uniform before again touching the baseball.

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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1962 news items

Asheville Citizen-Times

Asheville Citizen-Times
Fri, 10 Jul 2015 10:03:45 -0700

SPRUCE PINE – Gaylord Perry is still surrounded by slippery matter. Far from the days of accusations of Vaseline and spitballs and whatever else he may have used to make pitches dance as a controversial figure in baseball, now the country farmer in ...

CBS Local

CBS Local
Thu, 30 Jul 2015 05:39:27 -0700

Perry was a great pitcher, but he was also the premier spitball pitcher of his day. Perry not only had a reputation for using foreign substances to make his pitches break, drop and dip, he was suspended in 1982 for using a foreign substance and late ...
 
Commercial Observer
Wed, 29 Jul 2015 05:56:15 -0700

Founder Tony Bacigalupo, who didn't return requests for comment, was focused on creating a culture where people could spitball ideas and network with different people. When New Work City opened its first physical space in 2008, it was “really creating ...

Huffington Post Canada

Huffington Post Canada
Wed, 29 Jul 2015 15:40:58 -0700

A more appropriate lead: Order HBO Canada right now, so you don't miss out the next time John Oliver fires a spitball at the True North. A follow-up story should lead with: Damn. Chumps again. This is not the first time Oliver has scored a publicity ...

SI.com

SI.com
Fri, 24 Jul 2015 13:45:09 -0700

On Sunday, the Hall of Fame will induct the Class of 2015, a quartet—Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz—elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America in January. It's the first foursome elected by the writers since ...

Rays Digest (subscription)

Rays Digest (subscription)
Thu, 02 Jul 2015 13:50:20 -0700

We spitball a trio of ideas involving Plan A (just some of the endless variations) of using S&T's here. Let's say the Mavs get word that DeAndre Jordan wants to be a Mav. Then what? Are there any ways to stretch their cap and add to their ability to ...

Variety

Variety
Fri, 08 May 2015 16:15:18 -0700

It has never been harder to predict the network schedules, as the number of series (including many shorter-flight ones) has increased exponentially in recent years and networks seem more willing to stick with lower-rated shows for a variety of reasons.

USA TODAY

USA TODAY
Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:15:39 -0700

Clayton Kershaw is pitching like the best of the Deadball Era, only he's not allowed to throw a spitball and he faces guys who can hit more than 12 home runs in a season in a league open to players of all races. Today's game very much favors pitchers, ...
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