Thursday, June 29, 2006

Developing "Freak" Ball

Taken from SABR-L List - June 28, 2006
Original Excerpt from New York Herald [Washington Post], August 11, 1912

"The spitball is perhaps the best known and the most effective of these so-called freak deliveries.... According to baseball histories Frank Bowerman, the old catcher of the Giants, first delivered the spitball, but, like Columbus, who remained ignorant of the fact he had found a new continent, Bowerman did not realize he had discovered a new ball which was to cause such a furor in the national game.

Bowerman had a habit of wetting his fingers when catching, and in throwing to second base he used a great amount of speed, having a powerful arm. The second baseman on the Giants complained that the ball took all sorts of freakish breaks and that he could not be blamed for dropping throws when the ball broke so sharply he could not follow it with his hands. As a result of this Bowerman was relieved of the catcher's job for a time because too many men were stealing on muffed throws. It was finally Stricklett, a pitcher of the Brooklyn club, who discovered that by wetting the ball and gripping it with the fingers on the wet spot it could be made to take all sorts of freakish and weird breaks.

After he had found this out he had no means of telling which way the ball was going to break. Stricklett hit upon the spitball during the spring practice, when pitchers try all sorts of experiments. However, this much is known. If a man wets a space on the ball, one as big as half a dollar will do, although the early exponents of the delivery thought that the result could only be accomplished by giving the ball a bath all over, and if a man grabs the ball on the wet arena [sic] and lets it shoot off his fingers with all his speed, it will go on a line until it almost reaches the batter and then it will take a freakish and sudden break, calculated to discourage a hitter with even a .300 battng average.

It is known that the wet place on the ball, gripped with the fingers, permits it to slide off the fingers without the spinning motion and that it goes towards the batter practically dead. But why it takes the sudden sweep has never been satisfactorily explained. Many pitchers in the past few seasons have learned to control the spitball and pitch it so that it will break in a certain direction, either down or out or in. This result is accomplished by putting the thumb on a dry part of the sphere and holding the ball slightly back with the thumb so that small spinning motion is given it away from the direction that the curve should break. The ball turns over five or six times in its course to the plate, and these few revolutions appear to make it break in a certain direction. Ford, of the Yankees, and Walsh, of the White Sox, each has nice control of his spitball."

No comments: