THE SPITTER HITS THE TRAIL
The Release of Jack Quinn, Oldest Player in the Major Leagues, Leaves but Three Active Pitchers Who are Devotees of the Once Popular and Effective Spitball
By NAIPH J. DAHER
BASEBALL MAGAZINE July 1931
Once there were 17, now there are 3. The following pitchers were registered as eligible to use the spitball when that delivery was abolished some years ago:
|AMERICAN LEAGUE||NATIONAL LEAGUE|
|A. W. (Doc) Ayres Jack Quinn||William Doak Phil Douglas|
|Ray Caldwell Allan Russell||Dana Fillingim Ray Fisher|
|Stanley Coveleskie Urban Shocker||Marvin Goodwin Burleigh Grimes|
|Urban (Red) Faber Allan Sothoron||Clarence Mitchell Dick Rudolph|
|Dutch Leonard||Only three remain, Faber of the American League and Grimes and Mitchell of the National|
It isn't so many months ago when a short bulletin was issued from the offices of the Philadelphia Athletics somewhat to the effect that the services of John Quinn Picus or John Picus Quinn, as you will, were no longer needed by Connie Mack and his band of World Champs. Short and terse, the bulletin was, at least insofar as it concerned old Jack Quinn, but to a number of old?time fans it brought back memories, pleasant memories of a bygone day. With those memories came the realization that it also meant the beginning of the end? the beginning of the end of the spitball reign.
And, sad to relate, there is all too much truth in that realization. The spitball, bane of the modern top?heavy scores, is on that long, long trail to Tipperary, or wherever such things go when they leave this mortal coil. Just a year ago the band of spitballers was a quartet. Then Jack Quinn hit the trail leaving a trio: Burleigh Grimes, basso; Red Faber, baritone and Clarence Mitchell, tenor. Their days are numbered.
But do not receive the impression that their passing will not be mourned! The spitter has been indicative of another day?when one to nothing shut?outs were the rule, rather than the exception? when scores of 25?7, 19?2, 16?11, such as have graced the box scores of the past season? were practically unheard of during an entire pennant fight.
Spitball hurlers have written into baseball history some of its most stirring and most important chapters. The spitball has given its share of tragedy as well as happy ending drama to the national game. When the Iast of the spitball trio has hung up his glove; braced his shoulders to hide the grief that will permeate his soul upon leaving the hurling mound and turn his back upon the major league firing line, the fans of baseball will then know that a great void has been created in their most loved of sports. The spitter will have passed on?and only the lapse of time will heal its loss.
Comparatively speaking, the spitter is generally considered to be a modern pitching delivery. The general consensus of opinion credits a minor league pitcher by the name of Stricklett with its discovery. However, there is considerable proof to bear witness to the probable fact that the spitball is almost as old as the game itself.
Al (Phoney) Martin, the first pitcher to ever put a spin on a pitched ball contends that a hurler by the name of Bobby Matthews, pitching for the famous Lord Baltimores in 1868, stood the Brooklyn Eckfords, of which team Martin was captain and pitcher, literally on their heads, by almost total use of what is today termed the spitter.
As Martin relates the incident: "Matthews rubbed the ball with his hands and kept one side of it perfectly white, then he would moisten it with his fingers and let it go. The ball not only would take a decided outcurve at times, but would sometimes drop and curve in, somewhat like Christy Mathewson's fadeaway. You may not believe it," he adds, "but I know I am right for I saw it. Reports of the game in the papers, clippings which I now have will bear me out too. Why Matthews beat the old Kekiongas (Fort Wayne of the old Professional Association), a very great team at that time, by a score of 1?0, and the ball, mind you, in those days was the old lively one with a full ounce of rubber in the center. Matthews too, pitched underhand as the rules called for at the time, not the overhand throw as now allowed."
Al Martin has long passed away, but he gave to baseball much of his life. He reveals that even in those days, there was a lively ball! And that the spitter did its share in curbing those impulsive batters, just as the moist shoots of Faber, Mitchell, Grimes, and Quinn as well, did the past few years.
Even though the spitball was comparatively old as a delivery it was not until more modern days that it achieved the prominence in the early years of the twentieth century. At that time it was the phenomenal success which Happy Jack Chesbro experienced with this delivery that brought it to general attention. The baseball world of today still points to the 1904 season when Chesbro kept his team, the old New York Highlanders, in the league race until the very last day of the season, losing the last and deciding contest by delivering an uncontrolled spitter which resulted in a wild pitch, losing the game. Another interesting incident in connection with Chesbro's spitter is also a thorn in the side of George Moriarty. Moriarty was then playing third for the New Yorkers and in one game which was a good old?fashioned pitching duel between Chesbro and George Mullin of Detroit, Moriarty picked up a drive down the third base line on the wet side, and in throwing the ball to first it slipped and went sailing into the grand?stand. Sam Crawford, the fortunate batter, due to lack of ground rules, ambled all around the bases,. The only score of the game!
A few years later than Chesbro, Big Ed Walsh, generally adjudged the greatest master of the damp fling, made his debut with the White Sox.
Walsh, however, was the kingpin of them all; at one and the same time the inspiration for other pitchers to attempt the spitter, and for some to be cautioned against its use. His exit from the game, suddenly, after but five years of real hurling was blamed on a supposed strain which the arm received from a throw of the spitter. It seems more logical to assume, however, that Walsh's premature departure from the mound was due to the strain because?of the number of games in which he participated and the percentage of spitters he actually delivered. It is no secret that Big Ed was a veritable workhorse during his last two years on the mound. At any rate, it seems that the long baseball lives other recognized spitball artists have enjoyed in the majors has exploded that timeworn theory.
Another great spitball hurler of that era was little Jimmy Dygert, who pitched for Connie Mack when the lean maestro of the Athletics won the pennant in 1910. Dygert, however, was exceedingly small of stature and managed to remain in the majors through economy of pitches while on the mound. He was always careful of each pitch, careful not to waste a throw intentionally. Yet he is generally thought to the greatest spitball pitcher, for his weight, of all time.
The magnates seem to have distrusted the moist ball delivery to a greater extent than the hurlers themselves. Many of the owners were avowed enemies of the spitter and refused to hire a pitcher whose principal stock was this feared delivery. Others hired them against their "better judgment"? though it seems they never found reason to regret their move.
Consequently, during the month of December, 1920, the owners, at their annual meeting in New York, legislated against the spitter. The rule which prohibited the use of any foreign substance on the ball, including saliva, contained one proviso to the effect that all bonafide spitball pitchers then in the majors would be exempted from operation of the rule for the balance of their major league careers if their names were registered at league headquarters by the owners.
The seemingly unnecessary apathy of most magnates toward the spitter caused one unfortunate happening. The late Hal Carlson was at the time on the payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates. His record for the year before the spitball ban had been 14 won and 13 lost, but Barney Dreyfuss, one of the spitball's bitterest enemies, failed to register Carlson's name. As a consequence he was not allowed the use of his spitter and within two years he was back in the minors. However, he toiled diligently to perfect other deceptive deliveries and finally came back to the big time as a Philly, from whence he drifted to the Cubs. There is little doubt but that had Carlson been allowed the use of his spitter his career in the majors, short as it unfortunately was, would have been a brighter one.
The reason for banning the spitter for the future was quite shrouded. The magnates contended that their motives were entirely to promote interest in the game. They pointed out that attendance seemed to be waning. The public was fed up on airtight pitchers' battles and wanted to see some real slugging. They certainly got what they wanted!
At the time that the anti?spitball rule was put in effect there were seventeen men throwing spitters in the majors, nine in the American and eight in the National Leagues. Those registered in the American were: A. W. (Doc) Ayres, Ray Caldwell, Stanley Coveleskie, Urban (Red) Faber, Hubert (Dutch) Leonard, Jack Quinn, Allan Russell, Urban Shocker and Allan Sothoron. The National Leaguers were: William Doak, Phil Douglas, Dana Fillingim, Ray Fisher, Marvin Goodwin, Burleigh Grimes, Clarence Mitchell and Dick Rudolph.
Some of the seventeen never did receive much prominence and many of them left the big time within a comparatively short period after the debarring order went into effect, Fillingim and Goodwin passed quickly, but neither had been more than moderately successful. Old Doc Ayres had seen considerable service with Washington and was the first of the more important contingent to go. Then the two Rays, Fisher and Caldwell went the way of all flesh, the latter in particular having hung up a very fine record.
When Caldwell broke in with the Yankees he was playing the outfield as well as pitching every fourth day. One stretch of three games he hit a home run in each of the three tussles, twice while pinch?hitting. In the box he was noted for his strikeout ball. With the bases full of Athletics on one occasion he struck out Amos Strunk, Eddie Collins and Home Run Baker on nine pitched balls. Later, sent by New York to Boston and then to Cleveland; he pitched the finest game of his long?career while with Cleveland, pitching a no-hit game against his former team, the New Yorkers.
Dick Rudolph was next in line, a pitcher noted for his great work during the pennant winning days of the Boston Braves. Then Shuffling Phil Douglas left organized baseball. Allan Sothoron soon reached the bend in the road and changed St. Louis uniforms, shifting from a Brown suit to that of the Cardinals where he was used for some time as relief man and coach.
Then Washington handed Allan Russell his unconditional release, and Detroit sent Dutch Leonard to the Pacific Coast in a trade. Leonard was probably one of the craftiest of the entire spitball family. With the passing of Leonard, only seven of the seventeen remained: Doak, Grimes, Mitchell, Coveleskie, Faber, Quinn and Shocker? each a star in his own right.
Coveleskie was the first of the septet to hang up his glove. After having been the mainstay of the Cleveland Indians for a number of years, Stan was waived down the line to Washington. To a great many fans it was the beginning of the end, but Covey held off the end for two years, in the meantime assisting Bucky Harris nobly in his work of winning two pennants and a world's championship. The end was inevitable, however, and after being given his release by the Senators, Coveleskie attempted a comeback with the Yankees, but to no avail. The old zip was gone.
Covey was something like little Jimmy Dygert. He never was extra?strong or rugged but he managed to last using the same type of pitching economy which prolonged Dygert's life in the majors.
The case of Bill Doak was an old one. Recognized as a brilliant and dependable pitcher, Doak possessed one bad habit. He invariably insisted on holding out for more salary and threatening to retire. After one prolonged seige of holding out, he did retire and entered into the Florida real estate splurge. He later tried a comeback but in vain.
Then tragedy wrote finis to the brilliant career of the much misunderstood but inherently gentle, Urban Shocker. His demise from the majors had been greatly hastened by chronic illness and a not too strong body. Shocker had been traded in his early years to St. Louis, a move which Miller Huggins regretted to his last day, but Miller gave heavily for his return to the Yankee fold and Shocker bid his beloved baseball what he thought was au revoir and not good?bye, while a Yank. His work as a Yank is recent enough to be well remembered by the majority of fans who also mourn his loss of a few years past. The season of 1927 had been his last, and a few months after the 1928 season opened be passed away.
This left but a quartet: Quinn, Faber, Mitchell, and Grimes. In age, Jack Quinn takes precedence, being a bit over forty?five. He also possesses the distinction of longest service in the majors, having worn a big league uniform for seventeen years. During his long life on the front line, during which time he wore the various uniforms of the New York Americans, Boston Nationals, Chicago White Sox, New York Yanks, again; Red Sox and finally the Athletics. Now even old Jack is gone.