The Man who Invented the Spitball
In the 19th Century
Pope Sturgeon, a famous St. Louis amateur pitcher, has been credited with inventing the spitball.in 1882. He also was known for winning 106 straight games. He also defeated the St. Louis Browns, once at the peak of their reign in the late 1880s and twice in the 1890s. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat had a feature story on Sturgeon on April 3, 1927, with the help of the recollections of old-timers including noted St. Louis baseball figure John B. Quinn.
Pope grew up on West Broadway, from an established St. Louis family. He went to Central High and joined an amateur team in 1882. He mastered the curve ball as a youngster and also developed his "drop ball," what his spitter was called. He willingly showed people how he "wetted the thumb and two first fingers of his right hand to let the ball slip out easily when he jerked forward and down, the grip giving it a peculiar twist that pulled it far under the batter's club."
Pope had some memorable showdowns with St. Louis slugger Bug Holiday, even once striking him out four times in a game. Holiday went on to star for the Cincinnati Reds and twice led the National League in home runs before the turn of the century. Pope used the strikeout as a primary weapon. He pitched often, and he pitched well, including four complete game victories one weekend.
Pope Sturgeon never pursued a pro career, in part because of the opposition of his family and in part because of the low pay ballplayers got in those days. He went on to work at Mechanics' National Bank and later became a deputy clerk of the St. Louis Circuit Court. He passed away in April 1932 at the age of 64.