A Good Word for the Spit Ball
BHow Cleveland's Star Twirler Rises to the Defense of a Much Criticized Delivery As Revealed from an Interview with Stanley Coveleskie
BASEBALL MAGAZINE March 1920
John McGraw once said, "A club is as strong as its pitchers." Like most epigrams this is true only in spots. For example the Cubs last summer were by no means as strong as Alexander, Vaughn and Co. Conversely the White Sox were far superior to their pitching staff. In the main, however, McGraw is right. The foundation of a club is its pitching staff.
What is the application? Merely this. If Cleveland is as strong next season as Stanley Coveleskie, she will win the American League pennant beyond a doubt.
Last season there were just three busier pitchers in the circuit than Coveleski: Cicotte and Williams, the much overworked mainstays of the White Sox, and Shaw, the Iron man of the Washington Senators. Coveleskie appeared in 43 out of a possible 139 games played by his club and he toiled for 296 innings, a fine showing in an abbreviated season. He allowed slightly over two and a half runs per game, while unofficial records show that he won twenty-four victories, a greater number than any other pitcher save Cicotte of the pennant-winning Sox.
Once upon a time when John McGraw was trying to decide just which pitcher he would start in the coming world's Series, a tall gangling youth named Harry Coveleskie appeared in the ranks of the Philly hurlers and stood the proud New Yorkers on their heads. This was a painful accident but when Coveleskie, pitching out of turn, did it again and yet again, talk of accidents became subdued. McGraw decided that his World's Series cares were much lighter than he had anticipated for after all, the Giants didn't win. They were stopped cold in their tracks by this young pitching phenom who thus won for himself the title of Giant Killer.
Harry Coveleskie had a somewhat erratic career. Finally he drifted to Detroit where he became one of the most successful pitchers in the league. He was a likeable fellow and in his conversation with friends he would often mention a younger brother who, Harry so generously conceded, would become a greater twirler than himself. But baseball men listened good naturedly to Harry and promptly discounted the brother stuff. They remembered that Ty Cobb had a brother also, while Hans Wagner and Nap Lajoie were blessed with a whole raft of them. Some of these brothers played baseball too, but there was a noticeable difference between their work on the diamond and that of their more famous relatives.
In due course of mail, however, the younger Coveleskie brother appeared with the Cleveland pitching squad. Immediately a brothers' battle was arranged between Detroit with Harry on the Mound, and Cleveland with Stanley. But here Harry showed a streak of sentiment. He wanted to win the baseball games he pitched but he didn't want to do so at the expense of his brother's good start in life, so he refused to take the slab against him. Thus it came about that Stanley made a good beginning at someone else's expense and that good beginning has been followed by years of fine pitching which have stamped Coveleskie as one of the star pitchers of his circuit.
The baseball public welcomed the Coveleskie brothers- they were so different. The great American game was wide enough to embrace all nationalities in its ample circle. Strictly speaking it was American only in name. Two nationalities had grabbed most of the plums, the descendants of the Irish and of German immigrants. For Irish look over the rosters of the big league managers: McGraw, Jennings, Connie Mack, Jimmy Bourke, and Pat Moran. For German glance through the ranks of the new World's Champions: Daubert, Rath, Kopf, Groh, Roush and "Dutch" Ruether. The Coveleskies were of Polish descent and Poland, which has since become an independent nation, should properly have her representatives in the list of baseball celebrities.
Stanley Coveleskie was born in Shamokin, Penn., July 13, 1890. He is of proper pitcher's build, standing five feet eleven inches tall and weighing 170 pounds. For some years he drifted about the Minors always working hard, steadily improving. At length he appeared on the Pacific Coast where he spent three years in Spokane and Portland.
There he picked up and mastered the particular delivery which has been the foundation of his success- the spit ball. Just now, when all freak deliveries are under suspicion, the spit ball has received some terrific wallops. Doubtless most of those wallops are deserved, and yet if all spit ball pitchers had Coveleskie's easy delivery and his faultless control, the moist delivery would not now find itself on the ragged edge of public toleration.
Coveleskie is a warm defender of his pet delivery which is but natural. "I learned it on the coast." He says in explanation. "Up to that time I had never used it, depending altogether on speed and curves. Somehow the spit ball seemed to be just the thing I needed. I was warned that it was a difficult delivery to control but I never found it so. When I had once mastered it, I practiced until I could control it almost perfectly. In fact I can now control my spitter better than I can a simple fast one.
"I use the spitter fully half the time. The rest of the balls I throw are generally fast ones with some curves and a few slow balls. I don't deny that I depend mostly on the spit ball.
"Those who pan the spit ball ought to criticize a few pitchers who misuse it. The spit ball is all right and properly handled is no more to be condemned than any other delivery. Some pitchers mostly young fellows without any control try to fall back on the spit ball for the ability they lack, and misuse the spit ball because they didn't know how to handle it. They are wild and the spit ball in the hands of a fellow without any sense of direction, is a dangerous thing. Then they wet the spit ball altogether too much, so that it bothers the infielders. They make the spit ball unpopular with batters on the other clubs but with their own fielders. This isn't the fault of the spit ball. It is the fault of those who misuse it. I never find it necessary to wet more than a small spot on the ball. By the time the fielder gets his hands on it he wouldn't know it was a spitter. And there is no excuse for being wild in throwing the spit ball. I find I can control it better than any other ball.
If they abolish the spit ball they will turn pitching in both leagues bottom side up. It is all very well for fellows like Walter Johnson to say that they never use the spit ball and don't need to. How many pitchers have Johnson's speed? I am not criticising a man for not using the spit ball, but I can see no reason why pitchers who have spent years of their time in learning to use it until they can do so without injury to anyone else, should be robbed of that privilege. I think the spit ball will stay. There are too many pitchers using it, and no manager likes to see his pitching staff broken up to please anybody's fancy."
Coveleskie is one of the great family of Coal Mine ball players which embraces some of the greatest names in baseball. He worked about the mines for years but usually as a laborer rather than a miner. He drove teams, did various kinds of odd jobs, and like most young men in the mining country played baseball whenever possible.
Four of his brothers were miners before him and remained so.
"They all played baseball," says Stanley, "and perhaps if they had tried to be professionals they would have made good. But they didn't think they were good enough and they are too old to do anything in that line now."
Possibly, had it not been for his brother Harry, Stanley might also have remained in the obscurity of the mines. How many other potential major leaguers have thus been lost to baseball?
Part of Coveleskie's success as a pitcher is undoubtedly the spit ball but more is the result of his remarkable control. His team-mate and catcher, Steve O'Neill, is enthusiastic on this point. "I could catch Stanley while sitting in a rocking chair," he says.
Another of Stanley's valued characteristics is his ability to do hard work.
"I have always been a worker," he says. "Most of the seasons that I have been paid for playing baseball, I have pitched in forty to forty-five games."
Quality in pitching is the first thing the big league managers look for. "The twirler who can turn in victories is always in demand; the one who cannot is dear at any price. But there is never objection to the pitcher who, having demonstrated his ability to win games, is also able to win a lot of them. The fact that Coveleskie is a hard and willing worker, coupled with his ability to win, adds materially to his value as an asset of the Cleveland club.
Coveleskie does not impress the observer as being of iron man proportions either in size or weight. Nor is he. But he accomplishes the labors of an iron man by making hard work easy. Nothing rattles the Pole, nothing upsets his pitching equilibrium, and his easy delivery and grand control enable him to work through a game with much less racking of bone, muscle, and nerve than most pitchers experience.
Last year, Cleveland came through with a rush at the finish that all but upset the White Sox. Had the rush started a little earlier, had there been a little more punch in some of the games against Detroit and Chicago, the Reds might have battled another Ohio team for the world's supremacy in baseball. As it was Cleveland proved itself a team of great potential strength and one of the foremost contenders for the 1920 flag.
And if Cleveland, along with Cincinnati, is thus to see her first pennant, not a little of the credit must go to Poland's chief baseball representative, Stanley Coveleskie.