Baseball cracks down on the spitball
DECEMBER 10, 1919
NEW YORK CITY
– National League owners went on record on this date to ban the spitball and other “freak” pitches. It was considered an unfair advantage for the pitcher to put a “foreign” substance, such as saliva, petroleum jelly or mud on the ball because it changed its aerodynamics giving it movement making it hard to hit.
The spitball was mastered by a number of pitchers in the early 1900’s. According to
the pitch was invented by George Hildebrand and popularized by Elmer Stricklett. Jack Chesbro and Ed Walsh
got the most out of the spitter, each winning 40 games one year – the only American League pitchers to do so.
The spitball was always controversial. There had been rules against altering the baseball since the 1870’s, but they weren’t enforced. The National League owners’ vote at their annual meeting on this date was a big step toward finally cracking down. The Major League Baseball Rules Committee formally banned the spitball before the start of the 1920 season, and enacted tough penalties.
Pitchers caught using a “foreign substance” on the ball faced a ten game suspension.
In fairness to established pitchers who relied on the now illegal pitch, those who had been using the spitter could continue using it for the rest of their careers. Burleigh Grimes was the last pitcher to legally throw a spitball in 1934.
The New York Times
, December 11, 1919
is a member of SABR (The Society for American Baseball Research)