- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
No umpire can see it, no batter can hit it, no pitcher would ever admit throwing it. It is unwanted, unloved, unallowed, a UFO in horsehide, a slippery figment of the imagination. Yet this year it has been the subject of more discussion than the miniskirt in major league dugouts and just last week two Yankee announcers came about as close as anyone ever has to describing it over the air.
"Looks like he's getting ready to throw his knuckle curve ball," chuckled Joe Garagiola, watching the Yankees' Thad Tillotson putting his hand to his mouth between deliveries. "At least that's what he calls it. Pedro Ramos used to call it a Cuban palm ball."
The pitch the two men were discussing was, of course, the spitball (see cover), the illegal but highly popular spitball, and they were in no way suggesting that Thad Tillotson had something unique going for him. Almost 25% of all major league pitchers are throwing the spitter, while 100% of all major league umpires, unable to enforce the rule against it, look the other way. Says Manager Eddie Stanky of the White Sox: "Other managers have told me that they have instructed their pitching coaches to teach their pitchers the spitter because the umpires aren't going to do anything to stop it." Gene Mauch of the Phillies agrees: "There's no use complaining about the spitter, because the umpires are helpless to do anything about it."
Still, someone has to complain once in a while. Mauch himself squawked about Cal Koonce of the Cubs. Hank Bauer of Baltimore got so exercised about Tillotson's knuckle curve ball he was thrown out of a spring training game. Early in June Cleveland Manager Joe Adcock asked Larry Napp, the plate umpire, to go to the mound and check Dean Chance's hands. Napp discovered nothing unusual.
" Adcock's got a nerve," said Early Wynn, the Twins' pitching coach. "There are three guys on his club who go to the mound with a bucket of water and a sponge. And ask him about that guy he's got who uses Vaseline."
A month later Chance's hands were re-checked, and it was found that he had a sticky substance on them. Not the thing for the spitter, perhaps, but ideal for making the ball do tricks. The umpires made him clean his hands with alcohol.
Pitcher Jack Hamilton of the Angels, sometimes called "Hairbreadth Harry," throws "the most flagrant spitter I ever saw," says Washington's Gil Hodges, normally the most placid of managers. "It was the worst exhibition I've seen in baseball," he charged after one game. "He made a farce of the game. Everyone knows that 90% of the pitchers in our league have thrown a spitter at one time or another, but none continues to break the rule like Hamilton."
According to Jim Brosnan, who professes to have thrown but one in his life ( Bill Virdon hit it 400 feet), the spitter is widespread because "the bread of deceit is sweet." And it is true that the spitball is not always an effective pitch. If a spitter doesn't break, it's nothing but a damp fast ball. Ralph Terry, recently retired, says: "I tried a few, but guys hit such long home runs off them that I stopped."