May 14, 2021

The Spitball Has Been Contraband for a Century (FanGraphs)


We credit baseball in its classic days as being unadulterated novelty: Sportsmen in high socks bouncing around the diamond, inspiring poetry among spectators with wide-brimmed hats and rolled-up newspapers. But in truth it was a filthier, greasier game, in which you were perhaps as likely to muscle a ball over the fence with a stomach full of spam and lungs full of coal dust as you were to receive a very clear death threat from your pitcher for muffing a groundball.

In such a competitive sport, perhaps peppered with undiagnosed personality disorders, everybody was looking for an advantage. With that in mind, it makes sense that pitchers turned to their own bodily fluids in search of one. And boy, did they find an advantage! The formulation of the spitball led to some of the game’s highest pedigrees in the early 1900s.

There was a young hurler named Elmer Stricklett who’d began as a minor league phenom noted for his velocity and movement before melting into a deeply hittable pitcher whose outfielders were always on the move. Talking shop with his Sacramento Senators teammates in 1902, Stricklett got a hot tip that the key to rediscovering his effectiveness on the mound…

Read “The Spitball Has Been Contraband for a Century” at FanGraphs