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Trick Pitches

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

The second decade of the 20 th century saw the proliferation of "freaks," or trick pitches. Pitchers put all kinds of foreign substances on the ball, which affected its flight and made it hard to hit. These excesses were one of the factors that led to the ban on trick pitches before the start of the 1920 season.

In 1907, when the spitball (often spelled out as two separate words in that era) was the rage and there were few other trick pitches, Sporting Life somewhat prophetically warned of the danger of not strictly enforcing the rules (September 21, 1907):

"Two years ago that illegitimate method of pitching could have been squelched with little effort; today it is widely; in a few years it will be so strongly entrenched as to make the most radical legislation necessary to modify or extirpate it. Abuses spring from irregular or illegal practices, and, tolerated, grow to what they feed on."

Yet just two years later, Sporting Life (also on the Editorial page) took a very different position, thinking the spitter would die a natural death (March 20, 1909):

"It was well that the Joint Rules Committee took no action against the 'spit ball. Delivery, as that evil is sure to cure itself-and the reformation has already set in even in spring practice. The best pitchers have found it has killed their curve ball, and the catchers won't stand for the young fellows experimenting with it. Its abolishment by the players themselves is only a matter of time."

While the spitter seemed to be on a downward trend in 1909, Sporting Life's prediction was incorrect. In the second decade of the 20 th century, some of the greatest spitball pitchers of all time rose to stardom or started their careers: Stan Coveleski, Red Faber, Burleigh Grimes, Jack Quinn, and Urban Shocker.

When Trick Pitches were finally banned in 1920, one of the reasons the spitball was included was to prevent pitchers from continuing to throw other trick pitches and using the excuse (or cover-up) that it was only the spitter.

This section will discuss those other pitches, starting with the Licorice Ball.

Tom Seaton pitched from 1912 to 1917. He led the National League with 27 wins for the Philadelphia Phils in 1913. He then jumped to the Federal League, where he won 25 games in 1914 for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops. He was still in that league the following year and thus missed out on the pennant-winning season of the Phils in 1915.

Seaton spoke openly about the licorice ball before the start of that 1915 season, which the article credits him with discovering. (Oregon Journal, March 14, 1915):

"And lemme tell you, that ball is going to be some fooler-some fooler, believe me. ..first of all, I get 5 cents worth of licorice. Then I put a chunk of it in my mouth. Pretty soon the saliva gets very black.Now as soon as I get that licorice worked up nicely I smear half of the ball with the black saliva. Then I let loose with the ball-let loose with all my speed.

"Well, when the ball whistles up toward the plate, it's sure to confuse the batter. As the ball whirls round and round the batter alternately sees black and white. . That'll cause him to pause, in fascination. While he's in that pause, bing! The ball has whistled over the plate for a strike."