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.