All baseball fans are excited over the tight pennant races in both major leagues this year, but no one is enjoying it more than SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Writer-Reporter Herman Weiskopf. Weiskopf's business is baseball. He begins thinking about the forthcoming season in January, and by February he is at work on the scouting reports for our annual Baseball Issue. From April through September he writes the excellent weekly summaries of the action in both leagues—BASEBALL'S WEEK. In October, of course, you can find him at the World Series.
Weiskopf's continuing love for baseball is something like the undying affection one has for the girl who married somebody else. As a boy in Brooklyn his only ambition was to play ball. Although New York had the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers in those days, his family's modest circumstances usually kept him from attending major league games. But he recalls stoically that, anyway, Sundays were the best days for playing stickball and sandlot games himself. He says now with gloomy modesty that he never really was any good, but sheer doggedness might have made up for a lack of talent except for a series of infuriating accidents. When he was 15 a bicycle crash left him with a badly broken right leg. He spent six weeks in a cast and then, only 10 days out of it, was smashed while covering first base by a runner who outweighed him by some 100 pounds. This time he had a rebroken right leg and a broken right arm. "I used to think that there was no way for me not to be a professional ballplayer," he says wistfully, "but the harder I tried, the worse I got."
If he couldn't play ball, Herman could write about it, and last year, in addition to his work for us, he stayed up all night virtually from July to December writing a book on Felipe Alou. It was during these interviews that he idly thought to ask Alou whether there really was such a thing as a spitter. "Definitely. I know it," Alou told him, and Herman was hooked. He estimates now that he interviewed some 75 ballplayers, made between 150 and 200 phone calls and took 40,000 words of notes. He was informed that a spitballer should chew slippery elm, so he went out and purchased slippery elm tablets to see what really happened when he chewed them. "They hardly taste at all," he reports, "but they really make you salivate." The feel of them, he says, is ooky. He practiced throwing the spitter in front of a mirror in a Chicago hotel room. He was approached by a major league pitcher, who had best remain nameless, and asked, "Do you know how to throw it? Could you teach me?" Herman thought that perhaps he could, but he did not. What he did do was write the article beginning on page 12 of this issue.