May 15, 2017

IF YOU AIN'T CHEATIN', YOU AIN'T TRYIN':

THE FINE ART OF CHEATING IN BASEBALL : REMEMBERING RED FABER, ONE OF THE LAST GREAT SPITBALLERS (Terry McDermott, 5/15/17, LitHub)

The application of a foreign substance to a baseball causes disturbances in the airflow around the ball when it is thrown; the disturbance alters the spin of the ball, often in erratic ways. The ball might break sideways, or down, or even sail above its expected trajectory. Usually, though, the action of a spitball is very much like the action of a modern-day split-fingered fastball--coming straight to the plate with little movement, then diving at the very end.

Pitchers had discovered this in the first years of the game, and in the early decades of the 20th century doctored baseballs were an integral part of the game. There is no generally accepted evidence on who first came up with the pitch.

Faber regained his winning form at Pueblo with, a local sportswriter claimed, "an assortment of curves and shoots that can't be excelled." He continued to work on his spitter, and by the end of that summer had regained much of his strength. Late in the season, he threw both ends of a doubleheader and closed the year with a four-hitter. Though he regained his fastball, he realized that he should throw the spitter, with less than maximum effort, for the best result.

"A spitter has to be thrown moderately fast and the ball slips away from under the two front fingers of the pitching hand and sails up to the batter rotating very slowly," he said.

Then it breaks down and to one side. What is there unnatural about that or hard on the arm? I have been using a spit ball for some years and I have never been able to discover. They say it is unsanitary. Well I won't argue about that.

I never wet the ball but merely the ends of the first two fingers on my right hand. The whole theory of the spit ball is to let the ball slide away from a smooth surface. Wetting the fingers gives this smooth surface. By the time the ball has traveled through the air, met the bat and been driven to some infielder it is perfectly dry. No infielder needs to make an error on such a ball. Of course, I can't say that some spitball pitchers haven't misused the privilege. But they didn't need to and that disposes of the myth that the spitter causes a lot of errors by infielders. It may have done so, but it didn't need to, properly handled. A spit ball pitcher always chews something. It's an odd thing, but I have had to experiment with things to chew. Some spit ball pitchers use slippery elm. Slippery elm doesn't work with me. It's too slippery and I can't control the ball. I have tried chewing gum. But that wasn't quite slippery enough. So I have had to fall back on the good old custom, now much abused, of chewing tobacco. Tobacco juice fills the bill. And I don't chew it because I like it either. In fact, I never chew except when I am pitching. But it seems to be an indispensable part of my business like a mason's trowel or a carpenter's hammer.

Posted by at May 15, 2017 7:56 AM

  

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