by Frank Hyde
November 14, 1961
Baseball's Old Guard Here Who Threw It, Endorse Cronin's Return The Spitter Crusade
Major League baseball's old guard here favor the return of the spitter - one of them wholeheartedly and the other with a reservation.
President Joe Cronin of the American League is battling baseball's lawmakers, pressing for legalization of the expectorating special.
"I'm with him. Bring it back and swing the balance of power back towards the pitchers just a little," Ray Caldwell said emphatically.
"Something certainly ought to be done," added Hugh Bedient. "Everything favors the batters now."
Both Ray and Hugh were pitchers, and both admit they might be "just a little prejudiced." Caldwell went from nearby Corydon and Onoville to the majors and was up from 1910 through 1921 with the New York Highlanders, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland. Bedient pitched for the Red Sox for three seasons, 1912-14, then drifted to Buffalo in the Federal League, the so-called "outlaw league."
Caldwell, recovering from two cataract operations on his eyes, is awaiting a call to return to Cleveland for a special lens fitting. Ray didn't start throwing the wet pitch until 1919, a decade after he hit the big time. "It helped me a lot, in fact, kept me in the Majors several more years," he explained.
Ray added most pitchers in his days could control the spitter much better than is generally believed today. "It broke down and away; sometimes it sailed, depending on where you released it. Stan Coveleskie could control it real well. He broke it down and out sharper than anyone I ever saw." Both Caldwell and Bedient, however, agreed Burleigh Grimes, the old National Leaguer of many stops, was the master of the moist toss.
"It's messy, and the young pitchers would have to learn to control it," Bedient added. "I'd like to see the ball deadened a little and not return the spitter. However, if the ball can't be changed, then I favor something to help the pitchers. This homer craze will, just as Joe Cronin says, hurt the game in the long run."
Bedient, incidentally, was a teammate at Buffalo of Russ Ford, the old Yankee, inventor of the emery ball. "He had a small piece of emery sewed on his glove. He escaped detection for years because he always stuck his glove in his pocket when he came in at the end of an inning." Players now must bring in their gloves, but up until a few years ago, most left them on the field.
The subject got around to the late, great Ty Cobb. "I pitched to him many times," Bedient went on. "He was all right. I never had any trouble with him. Ty wanted to win, and he went all out. That created a lot of jealousy both among his teammates and his opposition. I never had a word with the man out of the way. He was a great ballplayer who was victimized by a lot of cock and bull stories."
Hugh, still in excellent health, is retired, living in Falconer. He hunts, helps the kids' baseball programs and has a field named after him in the village. Bedient, of course, will always be remembered here for his fifth game, 2-1, victory over Christy Matthewson in the 1912 series between Boston and the New York Giants.
Caldwell is listed by John Drebinger of the New York Times in a recent article as one of the American League's better spitball artists. Other he named were Doc Ayers, Stan Coveleskie, Red Faber, Dutch Leonard, Jack Quinn, Allan Russell, Urban Shocker and Allen Sotheron. Best in the National League were Grimes, Bill Doak, "Shufflin' Phil" Douglas, Dana Fillingim, Ray Fisher, Marvin Goodman, Clarence Mitchell and Dick Rudolph.
Proof that the spirit can help is offered by Caldwell's record. He started throwing it in 1919, perfected it in the spring of 1920 and had his best season, winning 20 and losing 10, a feat that helped put Cleveland in the '20 World Series against Brooklyn. The pitch was outlawed in December of 1920, although 17 established spitballers were allowed to keep using the pitch.
The spitter, as explained by both Bedient and Caldwell, is thrown with terrific spin, but opposite spin to that of the fastball. The spitter spun forward toward the plate. The fastball spins backward toward the mound. A liberal application of saliva on a spot about the size of a half-dollar formed the "launching pad." The two middle fingers rested on this spot. The thumb and outside fingers gripped the dry portion. The throw was the same motion as the fastball, but because of the wet surface, the ball left the two middle fingers first instead of last, giving it the down break.
Bill Doak, old-time Dodger and master of the pitch, told Drebinger, "The ball must break down or it's no good. You control the direction of the drop by tilting the top fingers slightly to the left or right. If they remain directly on top when you deliver, the ball will break directly down."
Most old-timers, Caldwell and Bedient included, say the spitter was not as dangerous as it was branded. In a period when dusters were thrown far more than now, they spitter was often blamed when a batter was forced to hit the dirt. Actually, it was the pitcher's high, hard one aimed at the guy's head. When objections arose, he often explained: "I was throwing a spitter and it got away." Opposing batsmen seldom believed that line of talk, but apparently the rules makers did.
Now Cronin, aided by Commissioner Ford Frick, is favoring the return of the moist delivery. The debate comes up at the rules meeting this winter. It is pretty apt to be a hotter session than the1920 meeting at which it was outlawed - a session that rumbled through the night before the spitter finally became illegal, just as the dawn was breaking. "It was the wrong thing to do," Ray Caldwell said at the time. He's still saying it.