brewers baseball and things

A Little Dab’ll Do Ya


with the control freak out of their hair, conversations drifted to life on other planets and the beers served there; with a lime or without? And what would those beers be made from? Dead conquered aliens, of course, intergalactic cannibalsitic delight.

talk then turned towards Tequila bottles and the worm at the bottom followed by mescaline and if a pitcher ingested copious amounts of the psychedelic alkaloid and then spit on a baseball in say a regular season game of the Diablos Rojos del Mexico; would that pitch appear to the batter in hallucinating waves?

Amanda Wurlitzer of the Bad News Bears got away with it, not ingesting mescaline, but spitting on the ball and so did Gaylord Perry. It goes by many names. MLB rule 8.02 refers to it as “shine, spit, mud or emery ball.” Vaseline and pine tar do the trick too. There’s no shortage.

It makes the stitched spheroid cut and dive a little more, gives pitchers an edge, but it’s not so easy to throw and even harder to detect. It arouses the puritan in some fans and yet the knuckle ball takes an even wilder, more unpredictable course to reach the catcher and it’s raised up to holy cult like status, guru ship of grip passed from one pitcher to the next.

Spitball is the low life greaser I guess that no parent wants watching their precious child. They ride in disguise. Most don’t get caught, but Mike Scott, Don Sutton, Rick Honeycut, Joe Niekro, Lew Burdette, and Whitey Ford did, all of ’em  ejected for doctoring baseballs. Preacher Rowe confessed in a 1955 Sports Illustrated interview entitled, “The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch.”

We’ll never know the entire family. It’s another cat and mouse in baseball. Makes it exciting. To doctor a baseball reminds us that pitchers are medicine bag minds with all kinds of potions under their caps, behind their ears….sun screen, lighter fluid, hand creams, emery board, thumb tack, paper clips, safety pin, scuff, scuff, scuff and God gave us fingernails for a reason dammit……to scuff some more.

The doctored ball, like any other innovation, was not the sole genius of one person, but the consensus is that Ed Walsh made it popular back before it was banned. That was in 1920. Seventeen pitchers were given a get out of jail free card to keep doctoring until they retired. And of course they were good little boys and didn’t perform spit lineage and pass on the spit and trick. The spitter was extinguished and everyone lived happily ever clean spit sober after. Fat chance.

Gaylord Perry was born in 1938. He became the spitball master, for either throwing one or planting an idea in the opposition’s head that he might. Perry says Bob Shaw taught him how to throw the pitch in 1964 and yet, it wasn’t until 1982, at the Kingdom in Seattle, before Perry at 43 years old was caught doctoring a ball, ejected, and suspended for the first and only time of his career, after so many years befuddling everyone.

Perry won 314 games and was elected into the HOF in 1991. Vaseline was his substance of choice, so much so that former manager Gene Mauch suggested a tube of KY Jelly should be attached to his plaque.


Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

7 thoughts on “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

  1. The notion of a Hall of Famer having a tube of KY Jelly attached to his plaque sets my mind spinning off in several directions, some of them borderline abhorrent.

  2. As you may know, I’m familiar with legitimate and illegitimate treatment of a ball in play, as a cricket fan.

    • I did not know that. Does the possibility keep fans wondering? In other words, does a pitcher heave a ball that moves more than normal causing eyebrows to raise and hands to grab rule books?

      • Movement of a cricket ball is quite a skilful thing. The basic technique is to polish one side of it on your pants, causing it to remain as shiny as possible whilst allowing the other side to roughen from use. This causes uneven airflow, and often a fast bowler can make a ball swing in the air either way. Standard ‘swing’ is away from the batsman, with a view to causing him to nick a catch to one of the slip fielders. But a swing bowler can surprise the batsman with ‘reverse swing’ that curves into him. Swing is just one of the items in a bowler’s armoury. Some things are illegal, such as rubbing dirt into a ball, but most swing deliveries are greeted by praise from the commentator.

        You couldn’t have a better coach than this:

      • Yes, in First Class cricket, there are new balls at the start of every innings, and after 80 overs. A new ball really zips for a fast bowler.

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