That wasn't the end of it, however. Thanks to the research of such pioneers as Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale and Gaylord Perry, the spitball has given way to the mudball, the shineball, the shampoo ball, the pine tar ball, the sandpaper ball, the petroleum jelly ball, the belt buckle ball and the puffball.
Players are willing to reveal which pitchers throw a less-than-kosher cowhide, although they make it clear that nobody on their team would ever do such a thing. Nearly every sinkerball pitcher gets accused—one of the things that burned Honeycutt was that during his unbeaten string at the start of last season, he was constantly being suspected of loading up the ball, even though he was strictly legit. The names most frequently mentioned are those of Perry, Don Sutton, Tom Burgmeier, Pete Vuckovich, Tommy John, Dave Goltz, Jim Barr, Enrique Romo, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Lee, Mike Torrez, Stan Bahnsen, Mike Caldwell, Paul Splittorff, Ross Grimsley, Bill Castro, Glenn Abbott, Bob Stanley and Doug Corbett, not to mention 99 and 44/100% of the Oakland staff. The A's, under the tutelage of Pitching Coach Art Fowler, are said to be fond of rubbing Ivory soap on the insides of their pant legs at the spot where their throwing hands touch their thighs. When the pants become wet with sweat, the soap just happens to come through to the other side for easy application. The only pitcher on the A's who wasn't accused last year was Dave Beard, who made all of 13 appearances. Apologies to any pitcher left off the above list.
By scuffing, soaping, greasing, etc., a pitcher is able to grip the ball conventionally and throw it with the force of a fastball but achieve exaggerated movement. None of the pitchers has probably ever heard of Dr. Hermann Schlichting, a former southpaw for the Engineering University of Braunschweig, West Germany, but in his 1951 classic. Boundary Layer Theory, Schlichting explained the magic behind the spitball as follows: "Integrating the pressure distribution and the shearing stress over the surface of the sphere, we obtain the total drag
D = 6πµ R U∞.
This is the very well known Stokes equation for the drag of a sphere."
Got that? In other words, by messing with the baseball, the pitcher creates a kind of a drag (The Buckinghams, 1966) that changes the flow lines around the ball, making them asymmetric. Even the slightest change will give the ball a more pronounced wiggle, producing a funkier pitch than can be thrown without tampering with the ball. For instance, a sinkerball pitcher will most often throw from the side or three-quarters with topspin on the ball. A normal sinkerball drops three or four inches. By scuffing the ball, usually on the topside just behind the horseshoe of the seam, a pitcher can make it drop by as much as half a foot. A fastball pitcher who comes over the top, putting backspin on the ball, can make his pitch take an extra hop by scuffing the underside.
The spitball is often the last refuge of the marginal pitcher, who is either losing his stuff or didn't have all that much to begin with. When erstwhile Oriole Ross Grimsley, in 1975, got in a jam one day, his pitching coach, George Bamberger, went out to the mound and said, "If you can cheat, I wouldn't wait one pitch longer." This wasn't idle talk, because Bamberger is said to have taught his pitchers in Baltimore and Milwaukee "the Staten Island sinker," which is named after Bambi's home borough.
Of course, the mahatma of the debase-ball is Perry. Over the years he has progressed from Slippery Elm (pronounced ELL-um) lozenges, all the better for keeping a ready supply of saliva; to K-Y jelly, ideal for lubing a greaseball; to Pillsbury flour, which he mixes with resin to produce the puffball—a dry rather than wet pitch that the batter has to locate amid a cloud of dust. Billy Martin, then managing the Tigers, once brought a bloodhound to the ball park just to sniff out the Indians' ball bag when Perry was pitching. Ralph Houk suspected Perry of supplanting spit with a fly-line cleaner favored by fishermen because it's clear and dries quickly. Such attention no doubt pleases Perry, who believes that a batter's anxiety over the prospect of being thrown a spitball can serve as useful a purpose as the spitter itself.
Pete Rose says that if he were a pitcher, "I'd try to get every edge I could." But Honeycutt has had second, third and home thoughts about what he did: "I hadn't been in any trouble since the last time I was sent to the principal's office. But there I was, sitting in the tunnel after they threw me out. All the other guys were coming up to me, making jokes—the whole season was a joke. Then it hit me. What are they going to do to me? Is the commissioner going to ban me from baseball forever? What an ordeal.
"Crime never pays."