BREAK OUT THE BEECH-NUT
Preacher Roe's confession in SI (July 4) that he threw the illegal spitball for seven years now seems likely to become one of the events for which the 1955 baseball season will be remembered. In letters and porch-chair arguments, fans have continued to hassle over Roe's testimony in tones ranging from cheerful approval to indignation and tears. Baseball writers have kept up their strange and essentially intramural dispute as to whether the public should ever have been told about such questionable matters. In short, as Sports Editor Dan Parker headed his column in the New York Mirror the other day, PREACHER'S SPITTER YARN STARTS JOHNSTOWN FLOOD.
The "wet pitch" was Topic A among major leaguers themselves and the sum of their talk was: The Preacher wasn't the only one throwing it—nor will he be the last.
Down in Florida last spring, long before Roe's revelations, there were training-camp arguments about returning the spitball to the game. Into the midst of one of these discussions one day walked little Phil Rizzuto, who has been swinging at major league pitching since 1941. "Bring back the spitter?" Scooter said. "I didn't know it had been away."
And Ellis Kinder, Boston's ancient marvel, merely grinned: "I hope they do. I've got a dandy one already."
Red Schoendienst of the St. Louis Cardinals says, sure, the Preach was throwing the spitter. Roe told him about it once during an off-season hunting trip. But "that still didn't help you hit it." Stan Musial says that he used to do his best to keep Roe from getting two strikes on him, knowing the next one would surely be Preach's "wet curve."
The Preacher's teammates, more or less implicated in his slickery, just shrug the thing off. Pee Wee Reese says, "I hit against Preach in batting practice and he didn't throw a spitball then. So, as far as I know, he never did throw it." Catcher Roy Campanella takes a less cautious tack. "All I know," says Campanella, "is I swung at a lot more of them than I ever caught."
Exactly who is throwing the spitter and who used it in the past are questions difficult to answer for no one has really been accused, just as no one has been seriously condemned for sliding viciously into second base, spikes flashing, to break up a double play or for intentionally throwing just a little bit at a tough batsman's head, these too being illegal—and accepted—baseball practices.
This acceptance of the situation has convinced Manager Mayo Smith of the Phillies that officially or unofficially, the spitter is going to be used more than ever. Preparedness, he believes, is the next step. "As soon as we get a chance after the All-Star Game," he said last week, "I want my young pitchers to start brushing up on it. As you know, it's a difficult pitch to control, so it's high time we started practicing."
The Mirror's Dan Parker saved some of his best irony for colleagues who invoke an "unwritten law" as a reason for failing to report the use of the spitter. "I don't know who unwrites those unwritten rules," Parker said, "but offhand I'd say he would be more likely to be a club owner than a newspaperman. If a pitcher is violating a rule and a baseball writer has proof of it, he's a poor newspaperman if he doesn't break the story. One of the faults of sports writing is that it has too many unwritten rules for the protection of cheaters and not enough for the protection of the sport itself and the public."