Baseball 101: Doctoring the baseball

Doctoring the baseball is something that has existed pretty much as long as the sport itself has existed.  But what does it mean to doctor a baseball?

In short, to doctor the ball is to apply a foreign substance to the ball or otherwise alter it in order to put an unnatural spin on a pitch.  A doctored baseball, therefore, is more difficult to hit.  

The most notorious type of doctored baseball, of course, is the spitball.  As the name implies, the spitball involves applying saliva to the surface of the ball.  Other substances utilized in doctoring baseballs have included Vaseline (petroleum jelly), pine tar, sunscreen, and shaving cream.  Altering the baseball isn’t just limited to applying a substance to it, though.  Other forms of doctoring a baseball include scuffing it with sandpaper or an emery board or rubbing vigorously to create a shiny area on the ball (known as a shineball).

Doctoring baseball - Deadspin

Deadspin

Prior to being banned, doctored baseballs gave pitchers all kinds of advantages, and the practice was rampant.  In the period known as the Dead Ball Era, game balls were in short supply, which meant that dirty baseballs were commonly used throughout ballgames.  On top of this, pitchers slathered mud on balls to make them even dirtier and, thus, harder to see.  They rubbed wax, soap, or grease on them, or they would scuff or cut up a ball using sandpaper, or a tack, or anything else they could find.  As a result, pitchers could make pitches drop, fade away, or ride in on hitters all while using their same old throwing motions.  Thus, the Dead Ball Era was characterized by low-scoring games and a lack of home runs.

Then, in August 1920, Ray Chapman was killed when he was struck in the head by a spitball thrown by pitcher Carl Mays.  After the 1920 season, the use of the spitball was banned with the exception of a group of 17 existing spitballers, who were grandfathered in and permitted to throw the pitch legally until they retired.  With the league now cracking down on doctored baseballs and using clean balls throughout games, the live ball era was born.

The spitball hasn’t been legally used since Burleigh Grimes retired in 1934.  That’s not to say that baseballs never get doctored today, of course.  Doctoring pitches can help extend the career of an aging pitcher, helping him to maintain am edge on the mound.  There’s an old saying that says that it’s not illegal if you don’t get caught, and that mindset can be found all over the league.  

According to the Official Baseball Rules (8.02), the rules against doctoring a baseball are as follows: 

8.02 Pitcher Rules

The pitcher shall not –

(a) (1) bring the pitching hand in contact with the mouth or lips while in the 10-foot circle (18-foot circle in Intermediate (50-70) Division/ Junior/ Senior/ Big League) surrounding the pitcher’s plate; EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire, prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his/ her hands while in the 10/ 18-foot circle.

PENALTY: For violation of this part of the rule the umpires shall immediately call a ball and warn the pitcher that repeated violation of any part of this rule can cause the pitcher to be removed from the game. However, if the pitch is made and a batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a hit batter, or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall proceed without reference to the violation.

(2) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;

(3) expectorate on the ball, either hand or the glove;

(4) rub the ball on the glove, person, or clothing;

(5) deface the ball in any manner; or

(6) deliver what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball, or “emery” ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub off the ball between the bare hands;

PENALTY: For violation of any part of Rules 8.02( a)( 2) through (6) the umpire shall: Call the pitch a ball and warn the pitcher. If a play occurs on the violation, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire of acceptance of the play. (Such election must be made immediately at the end of play.)

NOTE: A pitcher may use a rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to the bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to their glove or dust any part of the uniform with the rosin bag.

(b) Intentionally delay the game by throwing the ball to players other than the catcher, when the batter is in position, except in an attempt to retire a runner, or commit an illegal pitch for the purpose of not pitching to the batter (i.e. intentional walk, etc.)

PENALTY: If, after warning by the umpire, such delaying action is repeated, the pitcher can be removed from the game.

(c) Intentionally pitch at the batter. If in the umpire’s judgment, such violation occurs, the umpire shall warn the pitcher and the manager of the defense that another such pitch will mean immediate expulsion of the pitcher. If such pitch is repeated during the game, the umpire shall eject the pitcher from the game.

 


This day in baseball: The Detroit Tigers are born

On April 16, 1895, the Detroit baseball team became known as the Tigers. The team was renamed after a year of being known as the Detroit Creams, inspired by owner George Vanderbeck who boasted the Western League team would be the “cream of the league.” When Detroit Cost-free Press editor Philip Reid headlined a story, Strouthers’ Tigers Showed Up Very Nicely, the team’s new moniker was born.

Detroit Tigers logo


This day in baseball: The National League is formed

The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs formed on February 2, 1876 with eight charter teams located in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Hartford, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. After playing the 1876 season in Hartford, Connecticut, the Hartford Dark Blues played the 1877 season in Brooklyn as the Brooklyn Hartfords before disbanding at the end of the season.

The National League’s formation meant the end of the old National Association, which lasted only five seasons. The remaining clubs in the NA shut down or reverted to amateur or minor league status. 

Hartford_Dark_Blues, 1875

1875 Hartford Dark Blues (Wikipedia)


This day in baseball: Charles Ebbets becomes president of the Dodgers

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Charles Ebbets, c. 1915 - Wikipedia

Charles Ebbets, c. 1915 (Wikipedia)


This day in baseball: The Alleghenys jump to the National League

The Pittsburgh Alleghenys left the American Association on November 18, 1886 to join the National League as an expansion team. In 1891, the Pittsburgh team would become known as the Pirates, a name derived from an incident involving the franchise accused of being “piratical” for taking players from rival teams in other leagues.

mlb.com

This day in baseball: Bumpus Jones throws a no-hitter

Charles “Bumpus” Jones of the Cincinnati Reds threw a no-hitter in his first major league appearance on October 15, 1892, which also happened to be the last day of the season. Jones’s performance came against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the Reds were victorious, 7–1. Jones gave up four walks in the outing, and an error led to an unearned run to prevent a shutout. Nevertheless, Jones became the first major league rookie to throw a no-hitter.

Bumpus Jones circa 1897-1898 with the Columbus Senators - SABR

Bumpus Jones, c.1897-1898 with the Columbus Senators (SABR)


Baseball 101: Road grays

Major League Baseball fans watching a ballgame today can usually differentiate between the away team and the home team due to the color of the teams’ uniforms. Most teams will wear white uniforms (or team-colored jerseys with white pants) when playing at home, whereas when a team is playing on the road, uniforms are typically gray.

Much of this has to do with history. Looking back in baseball history, traveling teams did not have time or access to laundry service to wash their clothes in the late 1800s. As a means to hide the dirt and the mud that would accumulate on the road, teams opted to wear gray uniforms. Over time, with the expansion of the laundromat industry and the ability of teams to bring along multiple uniforms, hiding dirt became less of an issue. It became simply a matter of tradition for teams to wear gray for away games.

dodgers home-road uniform


This day in baseball: Reilly hits for the cycle

At the Bank Street Grounds on September 12, 1883, John Reilly of the Red Stockings hit for the cycle, collecting three singles, a double, a triple, and a home run in Cincinnati’s 27-5 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Alleghenys.  The following week, the 24 year-old first baseman accomplished the feat once again at the same ballpark when the Red Stockings defeated the first-place Philadelphia Athletics, 12-3.

Long_John_Reilly_baseball_card - LoC

John Reilly (Library of Congress)


This day in baseball: Welch’s consecutive strikeouts record

On August 28, 1884, New York Gothams pitcher Mickey Welch struck out the first nine Cleveland Blues hitters to come to the plate, establishing a major league record for consecutive strikeouts. Welch’s mark lasted until 1970, when New York Mets right-hander Tom Seaver would strike out the last ten San Diego batters he faced in a game at Shea Stadium.

800px-Mickey_Welch_plaque_HOF

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum


This day in baseball: First bases loaded intentional walk

On August 2, 1881, Abner Dalrymple became the first known player to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded. The Chicago White Stockings were leading 5-0 in the eighth inning when Buffalo Bisons pitcher Jack Lynch gave up the free pass and the free run. Chicago went on to win the game, 11-2.

Abner_Dalrymple - Library of Congress

Library of Congress