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The Origin of the "Spit Ball"

The Sun (New York), February 10, 1908,
quoted in G. H. Fleming's "The Unforgettable Season"

The origin of the "spit ball," used by nearly all the star pitchers nowadays, has been a matter of endless discussion. Billy Hart, a veteran boxman (whose career ended in 1901), has just thrown some interesting light on the subject.

"I notice they claim Chesbro and (Elmer) Stricklett were the first to discover the 'spit ball.' Well, back in 1896, when I was pitching for St. Louis, I met catcher Bowerman, who was with Baltimore that year. Calling me aside in St. Louis one day, he took the ball and requested me to get back of the catcher and watch his curves. I did so and was surprised to see how the ball acted as it neared the catcher. I asked Bowerman what made the ball act so. He explained that he simply spit on the ball, held onto it with his thumb at the seam and let it go. The odd part of it was that there was no speed to the ball that Bowerman pitched, whereas today they claim that the 'spit ball' can only be delivered with speed. I mastered it after a while, but found that it injured my arm, as it brought into play muscles not generally used. I advise any pitcher with good speed and curves to let the 'spit ball' severely alone. It will ruin an arm of steel in due time."

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