The spitball was a pitch that involved altering the surface of the ball with saliva or other substances to make it behave unpredictably. It was widely used in the early 1900s, but was banned by Major League Baseball in 1920 for being unsanitary, dangerous, and boring. However, 17 pitchers who relied on the spitball were allowed to continue throwing it until they retired. The last of them was Burleigh Grimes, who retired in 1934.
The spitball was considered a key factor in the low-scoring games of the Deadball Era, which ended after the 1919 season. The spitball was also associated with cheating scandals, such as the 1919 Black Sox, who allegedly used doctored balls to throw the World Series.
The spitball was a pitch that was so dominant, it changed the way the game was played, and then was legislated out of existence. The spitball was a pitch that was so disgusting, it made fans and players alike recoil in horror. The spitball was a pitch that was so deceptive, it made hitters look foolish and helpless. The spitball was a pitch that was so dangerous, it could kill a batter or a pitcher.
“The spitball was the most effective pitch in baseball history, and the most controversial,” said one historian. “It was a pitch that gave pitchers an unfair advantage, but also required a lot of skill and finesse. It was a pitch that challenged the integrity of the game, but also added a lot of intrigue and drama. It was a pitch that fascinated and repulsed the public, but also captivated and entertained them.”
The spitball was outlawed in 1920, but 17 pitchers were “grandfathered” in, meaning they could still use the pitch until they retired. These pitchers were known as the “designated spitballers”, and they had a special privilege and responsibility. They had to mark their balls with an “X” or a “S” to distinguish them from the regular balls, and they had to keep them away from the other pitchers. They also had to face the scrutiny and suspicion of the umpires, the opponents, and the fans.
The last of the designated spitballers was Burleigh Grimes, who played for eight teams in his 19-year career. He was known as a fierce competitor and a master of the spitball. He won 270 games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964. He retired in 1934, and with him, the spitball was officially gone from the game.
The spitball was a pitch that changed baseball forever. It was a pitch that defined an era, and then disappeared. It was a pitch that left a legacy, and a mystery. It was a pitch that will never be seen again, but will always be remembered.
– Spitball Outlawed but 17 pitchers were “Grandfathered” in, History of Cardinals, no date
– The Spitball and the End of the Deadball Era, Society for American Baseball Research, no date
– MLB History: Designated Spitballers Allowed to Use Pitch, Fox Sports, March 5, 2020
– MLB History: Designated Spitballers Allowed to Use Pitch, Call to the Pen, December 17, 2016