"After I'd done that a while a lot of the boys thought I was getting the wetness from my belt. So that was another decoy. Sometimes I'd tug at the belt, and some of them would think the spitter was coming. Then I'd throw a fast ball past them, or catch them taking a curve."
What persuaded Roe to start using an illegal pitch?
"Why shouldn't I have?" Roe asked. "I was about through when I decided to get me the pitch. 'If I get caught,' I told myself, 'they'll kick me out. If I don't, I'm through anyway, so how can I lose?' "
That was in the winter of 1947—a fateful year for Roe. The previous summer he had won only four games for Pittsburgh while losing 15. Branch Rickey took a chance on The Preach, bringing him to Brooklyn along with Billy Cox in exchange for the aging Dixie Walker, and Vic Lombardi and Hal Gregg.
"Some people say Mr. Rickey made the deal with a gun," Roe said, "because it turned out so lopsided. But I think even Mr. Rickey doesn't know that it wouldn't have been such a good deal if I hadn't decided that winter to use my spitter."
It was pretty lopsided. With Roe's help, the Dodgers won pennants in 1949, 1952 and 1953.
"Maybe you wondered why the bases usually were empty when the other team hit a home run off me," Roe said. "That's because when I was in trouble, I'd use my money pitch. Oh, I'd throw it with the bases empty too, if it was late in the game and I was protecting a one-run lead, say, but mostly I'd use it in a real tough spot, with men on base.
"I remember one game at Ebbets Field, and against the Cardinals too. I had a 12-2 lead going into the last inning and both those runs were homers, then the Cards hit three more off me—each one longer than the other. After the third one landed upstairs in left-center, I turned around and waved toward Snider. I waved up. He moved a few steps to his right, thinking I wanted him to play over for the next hitter. I waved him back, then I pitched and got the last man out.
"After the game, Duke said to me:
" 'Hey, Preach. Wotinhell were you wig-wagging to me about?'