"It's instruction," says Houk. "You can speed up a pitcher's development by instruction. Take this kid Stan Bahnsen we have. He's only 21 and he came out of the June draft last year, but this season he pitched and won in Triple-A. We had him at Sarasota in the Florida Instructional League during the winter, and that's when you can teach them. Cloyd Boyer worked with Bahnsen in the winter, and then we took him to Fort Lauderdale and Jim Turner took over. We accelerated his program, probably moved him up a couple of years. We didn't have instruction like that a few years ago. They'd send a kid pitcher to Joplin, and the manager would be a second baseman. What the hell could he teach him? There weren't any coaches. You saw Raschi. Can you imagine what kind of pitcher he might have been with that kind of instruction? He was no kid when he came up, and he never had a curve."
Vic Raschi was 27 when he reached the Yankees, and in what remained of his career he won 132 and lost 66, for one of the best winning percentages of any pitcher since 1900. "He did it on guts," Houk says. "He was a great competitor, and he had to learn the hard way, all the way. He probably would have had a curve if somebody started teaching him young enough, and then what would he have been?
"The whole game has become more scientific," Houk concludes, "except for hitting, and I don't believe you can make a hitter. You can straighten out some little problem a guy has, of course, but unless he's a natural hitter there's not much you can do for him."
Part of the science, Haddix says, is the exchange of information between pitchers. "They talk to each other in the bullpen," he says. "A guy will say he got a particular hitter out by coming inside with a fast ball. They used to not want to help much. When I came up nobody told me anything. I guess since expansion they're not so afraid of their jobs."
How much the slider has affected the game is moot. Wyatt (who discovered it by accident while "fooling around" with Rudy York in a 1940 exhibition game) believes that in 2-0, 3-1 and 3-2 situations the slider resolves the pitcher's dilemma of "get it over but get something on it." Mathews agrees: "There's no such thing as a fat pitch anymore." The Yankee board of strategy, on the other hand, believes the slider is overrated. "Yes, I threw hundreds of them," says Pitching Coach Jim Turner. "But they were supposed to be curves. I say a good slider is a good pitch in the right situation, but how many good sliders are there?"
Whatever the merits of the pitch, it is most effective against sweep swingers who have committed themselves and cannot adjust to the slider's late, almost imperceptible, break. Here again the mile-or-miss boys cooperate in the anti-hitting conspiracy. One reason is that they're using the kind of bat a self-respecting 12-year-old wouldn't have been caught dead with in 1936—that other era. (One 12-year-old that year was aghast to find out that Hank Greenberg's bat weighed only 34 ounces.)
"I'd say the average weight is about 30 or 31 ounces," says Stanky. "They think the easier swing is going to knock the ball out of the park. Instead they're swinging ahead of the pitch and their averages are suffering."
The slider may be given too much credit, at that. It is, for example, the explanation of Phil Regan of the Dodgers for his place ahead of Koufax and Marichal in the earned run averages, after amassing a 4.49 ERA in six American League seasons. "I can pick up Regan's spitter every time," says Aaron. "Drysdale's, too, but it doesn't do any good. The umpires don't do anything about it. I don't know how many pitchers can throw it, but they all try. Hell, they throw it on the first pitch now."
Discussion of the illegal spitball has become so matter of fact that Phillie Catcher Clay Dalrymple appeared on a postgame television show in New York earlier this season and casually explained the signal system he used to call for the spitter when Lou Burdette was with the Phillies. Angel Pitching Coach Marv Grissom, who never believed pitchers were bound by any Geneva Convention, is equally candid. "The biggest change in the past 10 years," he says, "is the use of the spitter in crucial situations. It's no longer a waste pitch."
But if the spitter is a reason why they don't hit .300 anymore, Grissom sees a more important one. "The talent is too spread out," he says. "If a team can get a good concentration of hitters in a row, the pitchers cannot pitch 'around' one man. But with a weak lineup a pitcher can walk a man in a crucial situation."