"The idea is to get part of your grip wet, and the other dry. When the ball leaves your hand, it slips off your wet fingers and clings, just tiny-like, to the dry part on your thumb. The ball jumps on account of it. If it's a good 'un, it drops like a dead duck just when it crosses the plate."
Roe was handed a ball. He gripped it on the slick leather. Neither the thumb nor the top two fingers touched a seam.
"When you let go you squeeze a little more on the fingers," he said. "Did you ever squeeze a peach pit, or a watermelon seed, and let it shoot out? It's like that. You don't need much spit; just enough to cover the ball under the fingers, a nice thin layer. Some pitchers like to use more, but you have to experiment and find that out for yourself. Every once in a while, I'd get a little more than I needed on a pitch, and the ball would come back to me from the catcher, still wet. So, I'd get another spitter out of the same load. Why waste it?
"This ball is good and smooth. That's the best kind. If you get a scuff mark on the bottom, it might work against the spit on the top; that was one of the reasons I used to ask for a new ball so often. Another reason is that it gave me a chance to load up without being watched.
"Another thing, if you've got even one little grain of sand under your fingertip—where you grip the wet part of the ball—the spitter won't break an inch. I reckon I had 'teacher's fingers.' I could feel the smallest speck of dirt or sand. Sometimes I'd be ready to pitch, and I'd feel in my fingertips it wasn't right. Then I'd back off the rubber or throw over to first base and load it up all over again. It wouldn't make any difference if the dirt or resin was on your third and fourth fingers because you don't use them to pitch anyway.
"Sometimes, when I was ready to throw a spitter and saw that the runner on first was taking too much of a lead, I'd throw a wet one over there, and the ball would do things. But Hodges was good at catching it. He'd give me a big know-it-all grin as he tossed the ball back to me. Other times, with a man on third, I'd be in the middle of my windup, and suddenly feel a grain of sand under my fingertips. I'd have to go through with my windup, or balk, so I'd waste that pitch by throwing it wide, and then I'd make sure I did it right the next time.
"One way I figured out to keep my fingers clean, was to wipe 'em on the visor of my baseball cap. It looked like I was adjusting it on my head. I always made certain the visor was kept clean. I even went to the trouble of brushing it off with a towel on the bench between innings.
"It didn't take long for some of the hitters to figure there was something going on between my spitter and the way I fingered the cap.
"That was just fine for me. I started using the gesture as a decoy. That was as good as the pitch itself. From then on, even when I wasn't going to throw a wet one, I'd go to my cap just to cross them up.
"Jim Russell was one of the guys who suspicioned I was getting the spit from my cap. He was playing with the Braves then.