Effective or not,
the spitter poses a psychological threat. "The hitters think I use a
spitter," says one National League pitcher, "and you can see them get
upset about it. I should thank them. They've added a pitch to my repertoire.
Henry Aaron is a fine hitter, but he worries more about the spitball than
anyone in the league. I struck him out quite a few times last year by faking a
spitter after I got two strikes on him. How much better can the real thing
For a long time,
even though a few spitballs were being thrown, hardly anyone in baseball would
discuss the pitch. Today, however, it is so much a part of the game that
everyone talks about it constantly. "One of my pitchers picked it up last
year," says Grady Hatton of the Houston Astros. "It was Bob Bruce. He
was having trouble getting men out, so I told him to go to Phil Regan—they had
been teammates in Detroit—and ask him how to throw a spitter. He came back with
a pretty good spitball."
classify spitballs and curves and sliders and fast balls," says George
Sisler, "but you can't generalize about them and say that all spitballs
can't be hit. Some pitchers have good sliders, some bad ones. Some have good
spitballs, some don't."
spitball is a fast knuckle ball. Like the knuckle ball—and unlike the curve and
fast ball—most spitters seem to have little or no spin. When a blunt object
like a baseball doesn't spin, the inevitable asymmetry in the airflow can cause
it to go off course or break. And because gravity is also exerting its
influence, it accentuates any downward motion.
What spit does is
lubricate the fingers of the pitcher so he can reduce the spin on the ball. By
using the resin bag and gripping the ball along the seams, as with the curve
and fast ball, the pitcher increases the frictional effect of the fingers on
the ball at the moment of release, thereby imparting rotation. But with spit
the friction is lessened at the point of release, and in consequence so is the
spin. Some ballplayers believe that the accumulation of spit on the ball
deflects the airflow and makes the spitter break, but Dr. Stanley Corrsin,
professor of Fluid Mechanics at Johns Hopkins, is inclined to doubt it.
"For this to
occur," he says, "you would need a layer of spit about 1/50 of an inch
high, or the same order of magnitude as the height of the stitches. Otherwise
it wouldn't act as an aerodynamic protuberance. And if a pitcher applied that
much spit, I can't see how the umpire could fail to detect it. Why, when I
tried it the spit was flying off visibly in the sunlight."
League hitters are demonstrably superior to their American League counterparts,
there are, inexplicably, twice as many spitballers in the National League,
notably Don Drysdale and Regan of the Dodgers, Gaylord Perry of the Giants and
Bob Shaw of the Cubs.
is the best because he throws it the hardest," says Gene Mauch.
give the nod to Regan. In his last season and a half with the Tigers, Regan was
6-15 and had a 5.02 ERA. In 1966, after the Dodgers picked him up from
Syracuse, he was 14-1 and had a 1.62 ERA.
"I can't come
right out and tell you that I now throw the spitter," Regan recently told a
newspaperman, "but I'd say this: I don't use it nearly as much as everyone