How To Throw A Spitball

Burleigh Grimes Demonstrates How To Throw A Spitter – July 12, 1929

The spitball was officially banned from baseball in 1920. Existing spitball pitchers were grandfathered to be allowed to legally throw the pitch. Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes was the last of these legal spitball pitchers playing when he retired in 1934 after winning 270 games over 19 seasons. Grimes pitched for nine teams during his career and is one of only fourteen players to play for all three New York teams: the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and New York Yankees.

In this news photograph, which looks like it was taken in a backyard rather than a ballpark, Grimes demonstrates his method for throwing the spitter.

The news caption reads:

World Wide Photos

The National League’s Leading Hurler

Philadelphia, PA. – Burleigh Grimes veteran spitball pitcher of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is leading the National League throwers with 14 wins and one defeat, demonstrates how he starts to throw his famous ‘spitter’ 7/12/29

illustration New York Times

Grimes won only three more games for the rest of the year and ended up with a 17-7 record. The Pirates finished in second place, ten and a half games behind the Cubs.

The object of the spitter is to have it sink. You first apply a good amount of saliva to an area of the ball. The two top fingers go over the wet part of the ball. The rest of the hand grips the ball tightly. You control the direction of the drop by tilting the top of the fingers slightly to the left or to the right. In order to be effective, your wrist must be straight and rigid when releasing the ball. This combination will give the ball a reverse spin. Controlling the location of the pitch is difficult and that is why when it was outlawed in 1920 there were only 17 pitchers using it effectively and they were grandfathered to keep using it.

Even though it has been banned for over 90 years, there are still many managers and batters who swear there are pitchers who throw the illegal pitch. In a 1967 Sports Illustrated article it was estimated that approximately 25% of pitchers were throwing spitballs.

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