Why the Spit Ball Should Be Abolished
An Unnatural and Unfair Delivery, It Should Be Prohibited In All Professional Ball Parks By CLARK GRIFFITH Manager Washington American Baseball Club The spit ball ought to be abolished. It is one thing which has crept into baseball in fairly modern times which hasn't bettered the game. It ought to be prohibited for all time to come.
BASEBALL MAGAZINE July 1917
In making this severe charge against the wet delivery I realize that I am in a measure responsible for the spit ball. It is true that I never used it myself as it is used today. But I guess I was the first pitcher to employ the principle which makes the spit ball so effective. This principle in brief is that where one side of the ball is smoother than the other the ball can be released from the pitcher's hand in such a way as to completely alter its proper rotation as it shoots through the air. And the altering of this rotation is what gives the baIl its peculiar break as it ducks across the plate.
Now the spit ball pitcher accomplishes this end by wetting one side of the ball so that it slips away from under his fingers with the least possible friction. The same result couId be accomplished in a general way by roughening one side of the ball. For the principle would be the same. That is, one side of the ball would be smoother than the other.
This is precisely what I used to do. I had a habit as far back as I can remember, of hitting the ball on the spikes of my shoe before I started to pitch. At first I think it was nothing more than a habit, just as some pitchers are always hitching up their belts or shifting their caps. But after a while I noticed that when I had scarred one side of a new ball with my spikes it would break a good deal better when it crossed the plate. And right here is where I made a big mistake. I had a secret all to myself which would have been worth a good deal to me. What I was doing was really pitching an emery ball. It was the same idea that Russell Ford later used so effectively, an idea which made him a successful pitcher for a good many seasons. Ford, however made an exact study of the thing and reduced it to a science. He made good use of the idea and it was only when he was about through as a pitcher that the secret leaked out, became common property, and was abolished by all the leagues.
I never used the idea in such a thorough way as Ford did. I would hit the ball on my spikes once in a while to get a sharp break on it curve. But I never put enough thought into the thing to figure out just why the ball would break so well. Why didn't I do this? Simple. I didn't have sense enough.
The idea, if I had made the best use of it, would have made me a more successful pitcher than I was, and no doubt, would have added a good deal to my reputation and to the amount of money I got out of the game. I had a gold mine and didn't have intelligence enough to work it.
I don't blame a pitcher for using all the tricks that the law allows. When I was a pitcher I did the same and I would do the same over again. But that isn't the point. I can see now that such things as the emery ball which I first used and the spit ball which was a logical outcome of the emery ball, are bad for the game. The emery ball has been abolished and everybody agrees that it was rightly abolished. But why discriminate against the emery ball and allow the spit ball which is worked on the same general principle, to remain?
Some batters have claimed that the emery ball was actually dangerous. It broke so much that in the hands of a careless pitcher it might strike and injure the batter. That may be so. But the general effect of the emery ball was the same as the spit ball. The ball was being changed by some outside power and was not being used as it was intended to be used.
Why abolish the spit ball? For three reasons.
In the first place it is an unnatural delivery. If you are allowed to wet the ball why not put some glue on it or sew a piece of sand paper on it? All are on the same footing. The pitcher is merely doing something to the ball which ought not to be allowed. If you can do something to the ball, why not do something to the bat? Have the batter take a plane with him and shave down one side of the bat. He could hit better. Or have him take a hatchet and chop off a slice from the home plate. He would get more bases on balls. Baseball is supposed to be played with regulation bats and balls. The spit ball isn't a regulation ball.
Second. The spit ball interferes with good fielding. Many an error has been made by an infielder who grabbed hold of a wet spit ball and threw wild to first base. The spit ball isn't fair to the fielders.
Third. The spit ball is one more unnecessary weapon in the hands of the pitcher. The batter is already handicapped too much. With the development of team play and the great improvement in fielding it is hard enough to hit a ball safe at best. Why encourage the stranglehold which the pitcher already has on batting by allowing him any such unfair advantage as the spit balI? Batting is growing weaker all the time. The public doesn't like it and it shouldn't be so. Batting is the most interesting part of baseball. It ought to be encouraged. A good way to encourage it is to abolish the spit ball.
There is only one objection to reading the spit ball off the boards without delay. A number of pitchers have developed the spit ball and it would be a hardship to deprive them of the results of their study and practice without warning. But a date could be set in the near future limiting the further use of the spit ball. Such an act would work hardship to no one. All when the present spit ball pitchers had been given time to learn the regulation delivery of the ball the spit ball could be exiled from the game forever. And it would be mighty good riddance.