Whatever happened to the spitball?


Jonah Keri has a great article over at Grantland today. It’s about the spitball. Its history. Its glory. Its grossness. And, ultimately, its decline.

But why did it decline? One reason cited, which I never considered, was the advent of the split-fingered fastball, which basically made the ball do the same thing all of that grease and spit and stuff did.

Another reason: much like the powers of the Jedi in the days following the end the of Clone Wars, there were no masters around to teach the young padawans:

The advantage Perry, Sutton, and their contemporaries had on today’s pitchers was infrastructure. Sutton and Drysdale could and would exchange notes on how to beat hitters using doctored pitches. If you didn’t have a teammate who threw a spitter, your pitching coach may have known how to throw one. Or a pitcher on another team. Or a recently retired pitcher willing to share his trade secrets. You apprenticed at the feet of the masters, learned the ways of deception, then passed your own knowledge on to the next generation. But Sutter’s emergence and the subsequent spread of the split-fingered fastball ate away at that support system. The incentive to throw a spitball dropped with a new weapon emerging, and then even if a pitcher wanted to learn to throw a spitball, there were far fewer teachers willing and able to show him how it was done.

That kind of stinks. But looking at it from a Moneyball perspective: in this saliva-barren environment, any pitcher who can master the fine art of the spitter will have a distinct advantage, no?

Keri talks about that too — and suggests some ways pitchers can maybe kinda sorta start doctoring balls in greater numbers than they currently are — but eh, let’s just forget that. It’s kinda gross.

Marlins have begun extension talks with Dee Gordon

Dee Gordon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote three weeks ago that the Marlins were probably going to explore an extension this winter with second baseman Dee Gordon. And it sounds like those talks are underway.

Via beat writer Joe Frisaro of

As a guest on MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” show Wednesday morning, Gordon confirmed his camp has been in talks with the Marlins regarding a multiyear deal. A source told that the discussions are preliminary and have just recently started.

“My agent is doing the talking,” Gordon said on the show. “They’re just keeping me in the loop. I think it’s going pretty well right now. We’ll see how that goes. I’m just playing the waiting game. We’re going to do the right thing.”

The 27-year-old carries three more seasons of salary arbitration, so there’s no real rush to get something done before next spring. Gordon carries quite a bit of leverage after posting a career-best .333/.359/.418 slash line in 145 games this past season for the Fish. He led all major leaguers in hits (205) and stolen bases (58).

Braves sign Bud Norris to one-year contract

Bud Norris

Bud Norris has found a home for his attempt at a bounceback season, signing a one-year deal with the Braves. Jon Heyman of says it’s worth $2.5 million, which is a huge cut from his $8.8 million salary this year.

Norris had established himself as a solid mid-rotation starter from 2009-2014, but had a brutal 2015 season split between the Orioles and Padres with a 6.72 ERA in 83 innings and a late-season move to the bullpen.

In announcing the signing the Braves referred to Norris as a starting pitcher, so joining the rotation for a rebuilding team gives him a chance to get his career back on track with an eye on hitting the open market as a free agent again next offseason. And if he fares well, the Braves could use him to add a prospect or two at the trade deadline.

The Cubs acquire Rex Brothers from the Rockies

Rex Brothers Rockies

The number of people who, if you held a gun to their head, would say that “Rex Brothers” was a game show host and/or local TV news personality from the late 1970s or early 80s is not insignificant. But if you’re a Rockies fan or if spend all day thinking about baseball you know that he’s a reliever who has played in Colorado for the past five years. Now you know him as a reliever for the Cubs:

Brothers — a former Best Shape of His Life All-Star — was pretty good until he hit a brick wall in 2014 and spent most of 2015 in Triple-A. He had something of a bounceback after being called up when rosters expanded in September, but that’s not the sort of thing to excite anyone. He could be useful for the Cubs or just spring training cannon fodder and organizational depth.

Cabrera just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and pitched a grand total of 14 games in the Dominican Summer League. He’s young and was a $250,000 signee from the Dominican as a 16-year-old so, by definition, he’s a project. Worth giving up Rex Brothers for him if you’re the Rockies, worth risking for some depth in the pen if you’re the Cubs.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.