Muscle Sport Magazine

NL Bans the Spitball – TDI Baseball 1919

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Pitchers have always looked for an advantage and it was even easier before the banning of the ‘spitball.’ Adding some kind of liquid or slippery substance to a baseball can make it dance in a way that would not be possible otherwise and when tobacco juice is added, the ball darkens and makes it difficult for the batter to pick up on it. These were the days when umpires didn’t throw out a new ball as soon as it touched the earth, mind you.

On this day in baseball in 1919, the National League banned the pitch but allowed the hurlers who had used it to be ‘grandfathered’ in and still able to throw it. The American League adopted the rule only a year later.

This would be akin to allowing players who are using performance-enhancing drugs to continue doing so, but banning their clean brethren from pinning testosterone. But the early days of Our National Pastime did have some esoteric moments that are part of its charm.

There were 17 pitchers in MLB who relied on the spitter and they continued to trick batters with it until they retired. Burleigh Grimes was the longest benefactor, pitching another 15 years after the ban was put in place. He was on the Brooklyn Robins (nee Dodgers) when the pitch was outlawed, but was a journeyman throughout his 19-year career, playing for 10 teams.

Grimes was the NL strikeout leader in 1921, led the Senior Circuit in wins on two occasions (1921, 1928) and was part of the 1931 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. He finished with a career mark of 270-212 with a 3.53 ERA and 1,512 strikeouts. Grimes was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964 by the Veterans’ Committee.

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