At the time of banishment there were 17 active spitball pitchers who, after registering in their league offices, were permitted to continue using the pitch for the remainder of their careers on the justifiable ground that to deprive them of it would also cut off their earning power. Their number included future Hall of Fame inductees Burleigh Grimes, Urban (Red) Faber and Stan Coveleski. Grimes, who won 270 games, was the last of the legitimate spitters when he retired after the 1934 season. Faber, who won 253 games, quit a year earlier. But their departure hardly represented the end of an era. Their clandestine successors comprise a Hall of Fame all their own. Alas, theirs is largely a secret fraternity. Of the more prominent brothers, only Preacher Roe and Joe Page have publicly confessed to the crime. It is said, however, that Lew Burdette, the Gaylord Perry of the '50s and now the Atlanta pitching coach, still throws the pitch for amusement in batting practice.
Don Drysdale, the famed Dodger pitcher of the '60s and a notable spitball suspect, protests that since all of the recent baseball innovations—lowering the mound, installing artificial turf, creating the designated hitter—have favored the batter, the poor pitcher must take measures to protect himself from further abuse. It is also Drysdale's contention that the pitchers have gained the upper hand in recent years because the hitters have not worked as hard at their craft.
"You see little guys who don't have the strength to swing a quick bat go for the fences," he said last weekend in Cleveland, where he was broadcasting the Angels-Indians series.
The spitball, he said, may well be retaliation by the poor pitchers for the favoritism being heaped upon indolent batsmen. "Besides, nobody has ever shown me a good reason why the pitch should not be legalized."
"It's just another pitch," says Umpire Pelekoudas, "but if they don't legalize it, they've got to put some teeth in the rule. They've got to back the umpires, and all 48 of us have to enforce the rule."
Talk like that invariably brings a condescending smile to Gaylord Perry's world-weary features. There ain't no damage yet.