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About Trick Pitching

The following overview of Trick Pitching appeared in the New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser on July 9, 1918.

Clark Griffith is leading a revolt against "trick" pitching, now so prevalent in baseball-the American League particularly. Griffith is arguing for the abolition of the "spit ball," "shine ball," "mud ball," "emery ball," "tallow ball," and every other kind of trick pitching in which the ball is "doped" in any way. "Griff" has become so exasperated in his fight against this unfair and unnatural advantage taken by some pitchers that he has ordered all of his staff to adopt trick methods in order to force the issue. Already Doc Ayers has proved one of the season's sensations since he began "loading" the ball, and Griff says that Walter Johnson is now practicing with the shiner that will upset the league, but he has been afraid to use it in a game through fear of killing someone.

The spitball, the most common and best known of these freak deliveries, has been in use for a good many years, and is the only stock in trade of many hurlers. Chesbro, Ed Walsh, Tesreau, and Fred Anderson have won fame and fortune mainly through the use of a "spitter." The secret of this ball is generally well known. The twirler usually chews a bit of "slippery elm" and applies the saliva to one side of the ball, which causes the fingers to slip off when the ball is thrown. The ball sails up to the plate without revolving; the seams can be seen plainly, and then suddenly swerves and drops as if dead. Ed Walsh used to say that when he was working right it was impossible for any batter to hit his "spitter"-except by accident.

The shine ball is the newest freak, and is generally associated with Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox, although he did not invent it. Cicotte's shiner has been protested repeatedly-but with no avail. Ban Johnson refused to interfere on the evidence presented to him. Cicotte has had his glove stolen often, and even his uniform has been taken in order to discover the secret of his mysterious curve, but the little fellow calmly goes on rubbing the ball in his glove and against that spot on his trouser while the batters rave and go hitless.

Danforth, also of the White Sox, is credited with introducing this delivery into the big leagues. He taught Cicotte, and Cicotte merely perfected it. Erickson of Detroit is also very adept with the shiner.

The only trick delivery barred is the emery ball. This weird swerving ball was the discovery of Russ Ford, who was with the Yankees several years ago. Ford used this ball for two years without discovery, and might have retained his secret yet had he not confided in his pal and catcher, Ed Sweeney. Sweeney told it to Ray Keating of the same team, and Keating was not clever enough to hide it from the umpires.

Ford had attached a piece of emery paper to an elastic up his left sleeve, which he would pull down in his glove before each pitch. He would roughen a spot on the ball about the size of a dollar at a point where the seams were farthest apart. The effect of the air on this rough surface as against the opposite smooth surface was uncanny. Ford was one of the leading pitchers in baseball solely due to its unusual swervings.

The mud ball, used by "Doc" Ayers of Washington, is more of an optical illusion than anything else. One side of the sphere is stained dark with licorice or tobacco juice and dirt, and the other side of the ball is kept as white as possible. When this comes up revolving, it is very hard for the eye to judge its flight correctly enough to hit it squarely. The umpires usually throw the ball out if stained too much.

Joe Finneran of the Yanks has a spot in the leg of his trousers smeared with parafine [sic], against which he rubs the ball. This fills up the seams of the ball on one side, making it smooth as against the other side. This has been called the tallow-ball. Thormahlen uses a similar ball.

Some of the other trick pitchers use beeswax, vaseline, tallow, and such substances. Al Demaree, and others, have their back pockets filled with resin dust, in which they dip the ends of their fingers, thus insuring a firmer grip on the ball. Even Griffith himself was the first to use a trick ball. "Griff" roughened the ball on his spikes, but was really ignorant of the phenomena.

Although the methods of doping the ball are varied, the principle of the phenomena is the same. The curve of the ball is due to the inequality of air pressure on a given side of the sphere. It makes no difference whether one side of the ball has been roughened or whether one side of the ball has been smoothed, or "shined."

The roughened side of a ball offers more resistance to the air than the smooth side, and consequently the ball follows a course of the least resistance-namely, swerves toward the side on which the smooth side is revolving.

To prove this you can try this experiment in your own bathtub. The medium is water instead of air. Attach a string to any symmetrical object of which one side has been roughened enough to offer resistance to the water. Pull the object along through the water by the string and you will see that its course deviates towards the smooth side.

However, the spitball is a queer one and has its peculiar drop from the partial vacuum formed behind the ball. The ball does not revolve and pushes a column of air before it, at the same time forming the vacuum in the rear. In its course it reaches a point where the difference in pressure is enough to affect the flight-namely, decrease the momentum enough to cause the ball to die.