Speaking Out Against the Spitter
"The reason I don't pitch the 'spitball' is because it injures the arm. It has to be thrown with a jerk, and it won't take long for this to throw a man's arm out. Furthermore, if a man uses the 'spitball' all the time, he will find that it interferes with his ability to throw any other kind of curve."
Rube Waddell, Hall of Fame pitcher, 1897-1910 , Washington Post, June 4, 1905
"In my opinion the 'spit' ball is doing a great injury to the game..it is not cleanly [sic]. Lots of people do not like to go out to the park and watch a pitcher slobbering all over a ball.when a 'spit' ball pitcher has good control of his 'spitter,' the opposing team can consider itself lucky if it gets a hit. I do not care what some others may say, but a hit off a 'spit' ball is nothing but luck."
Fielder Jones, Manager of the 1906 World Champion Chicago White Sox, the Hitless Wonders , quote in Sporting Life, August 3, 1907
Chance fears that the spitter will become so popular with minor league pitchers, that they won't develop other pitches. It will lead to a dearth of good catchers, he feels, and will increase scoring runs on errors. The paper then adds humor to its account:
"The only effective way [to stop spitball pitching] seems to be to gag all pitchers with rubber dams used by dentists. Should this be adopted it is believed the umpires will demand it be extended to include all players, and later on all rooters, so as to conserve the sensitive feelings of the aforesaid arbitrators."
Frank Chance, Hall of Fame First Baseman and Manager, Chicago Cubs, Sporting Life, August 8, 1908
McAleer says that a ‘spit ball’ pitcher is a parasite. Then in the next breath he wishes he had one. What’s the matter with [pitcher Harry] Howell as a 'spit ball' pitcher par excellence?
Jimmy McAleer, star outfielder (primarily 1889-1898) and manager (1901-1911), Sporting Life, July 3, 1909
"The spit ball is a novelty, I'll admit, but it ruins a pitcher's arm in time. If Ed Walsh, for instance, had never used the spit ball, he would have had no trouble with his wing. The same applies to Russell Ford, who seems to have lost his effectiveness last season."
[Note: Russell Ford threw the emery ball, which took an unpredictable flight because one part of the ball was roughened by a piece of emery paper, usually hidden in the glove.]
Walter Johnson, Hall of Fame pitcher, 1907-1927 , quoted in The Sporting News, December 18, 1913
The spitball is such a wonderful thing that I would like nothing better than to face an all-star team of the best batters in both leagues and show what I could do against them with my spitter—you know, some time when I am feeling just right. After you learn it, a spitter is an assassinator [sic] of batting averages...
The spitball is less trying to the arm than an ordinary curve ball. It is not such a strain on the muscles. It does not involve such a twist as you deliver the ball.
Ed Walsh, Hall of Fame spitball pitcher, Washington Post, March 15, 1914
Less than three years after Jennings spoke out in favor of the spitter (see "Speaking Out for the Spitter"), he had changed his tune:
"It's tough for a curve ball pitcher to work against a fellow with a spitter. The spit-ball heaver gets the ball wet and keeps on adding moisture as the innings roll on. Pretty soon it is almost impossible to handle the ball. You take a curve ball pitcher, and he's got to get a grip on that ball in order to make his curves break right."
Hughie Jennings, Sporting Life, April 11, 1914
"The spitball is a freak delivery that was adopted by old pitchers who had gone stale on legitimate deliveries. It is not natural and a mistake was made in allowing its use in the first place. Its use is unsanitary and has an unsavory atmosphere from every angle to both spectators and the players.Hundreds of close games have been lost through wild throws made by fielders who had to throw the nasty, slippery ball."
Sam Crane, New York Sportswriter , New York Evening Journal , September 16, 1916
"The nasty, slimy, and unsanitary spitball should be made illegal, and that will do away with a dozen or more kindred deliveries that are cutting down batting and depriving baseball fans of that which they enjoy the most- hard and clean hitting.
"It is folly to attempt to stop other freak deliveries and still permit the spitball for it gives the chance for disguise under which other deliveries are prepared. The so-called emery ball is nothing more or less than a polished and a rough surface on opposite sides of the ball, the air resistance bringing about an almost unhittable shoot.
"As it is now, a pitcher with a good spitter or emery ball makes monkeys of almost all batters and turns the game into a one man band."
Emerson W. Dickerson, President of the Western League , The Sporting News, November 1, 1917
"My position as regards the spitball is well known. I have always been opposed to it. It is disgusting, unscientific and dangerous. I was the last manager in the major leagues [?] to sign a spitballer-Jeff Tesreau.Batting would be helped by a rule against the spitball, and the public wants batting. The chance of error making would be lessened, and the public wants cleanly fielded games. There would be less danger to batter and catcher with the freak deliveries out of the way, for not only are they hard to hit, but hard to catch."
John McGraw, New York Giants' manager, 1902-1932 , quoted in the World ( New York), February 26, 1918
"No delivery ever so taxed a pitcher's arm. It was like throwing a tennis ball as hard as possible. No genuine spitball pitcher ever lasted long." (Waddell died in 1914, after winning 193 games. Between 1902 and 1905, he won 97 games for the Philadelphia Athletics.) This quote appears in Jack Smiles's biography of Ed Walsh, Big Ed Walsh: The Life and Times of a Spitballing Hall of Famer.
Rube Waddell, Atlanta Constitution, December 22, 1925
"I feel that the era of trick pitching through which we passed some years back and more when we had the spitball, the emery ball, the shiner, etc., really kept our pitchers from acquiring the fine art of throwing the curve and the fast one."
Ty Cobb, batting champion , Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1927
"I've nothing against the spitball, and it undoubtedly would help the pitchers. But it would open the way to every deceitful pitch in the book."
George Hildebrand, one of the developers of the spitter and later a long-time major-league umpire (1913-1934) , quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1950
"If the spitball were legalized today, it would probably hurt more pitchers than it would help. It's a very delicate pitch to throw and usually it goes this way and that. A pitcher would get behind and then have to come up with something else to catch up."
Bob Feller, Hall of Fame pitcher, 1936-1956 , Washington Post, July 8, 1973