Monday, January 21, 2008

The last of the 'spit ball" pitchers in baseball.. Burleigh Grimes ..... He tossed the slick ball till 1934

He was nasty on the diamond. He was scary in his actions. He did not shave on the day of a game. He would battle on a moments notice. He was quite the character.

But old Burleigh Grimes was the last pitcher who threw a spitball in professional baseball. It had been outlawed in 1920, however the remaining fellas who used the spitball were grandfathered in. All 17 of them.
At the time of his retirement in 1934, he was the last of the 17 spitballers left in the league.

He would often fake a spitball and then surprise the batter. He finally left the Field in 1934. With him went the notorious spitball and the last bit of the golden age of stunts of that game. Rules became paramount, and they standardized the game. Today's baseball is so very different from that of a century ago.

By the way I hope you all know what a spitball was? Well it was a ball whetted with saliva to make it slick, and to make it move in ways a dry ball would not.

In addition, there were many safety issues with the spitball, as at times pitchers would use tobacco spit from chewing tobacco as their spit. This was not only rather vulgar but nasty to the hitters.

In fact the spit ball is credited with the death of a batter. Many consider the death of Ray Chapman in 1920 partially as a result of the spitball, since Chapman could not see the ball coming before it struck him in the head, killing him.

After that incident the spit ball was banned save for the 17 users. I find that odd that it was not banned altogether. But that was the rule.

It is interesting that at the same time the entire country through prohibition went dry. However the baseball remained wet. In 1934 the entire country celebrated as the country became wet again as prohibition was repealed. Then baseball became dry. Rather ironic isn't it?