“I Believe that a Pitcher of a Slow Ball could make Monkeys out of Opposing Batsmen”

21 May

After the success of William Arthur “Candy” Cummings’ decades-long campaign to be recognized as the inventor of the curveball—his claim was supported by influential voices like A.G. Spalding, Cap Anson,  and Tim Murnane—culminated with his 1908 “Baseball Magazine” article “How I Pitched the First Curve,” Cummings was often sought out by the press for his opinions on pitching.

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

In 1910, an article “By Arthur Cummings, Discoverer of the Curve,” appeared in several newspapers, including The Boston Post.  Cummings took current pitchers to task for throwing too hard:

“Speed, speed, speed seems to be the cry of the pitcher today.  The more steam a fellow has, the more valuable he appears in the eyes of the managers.  It’s only once or twice in a game that a twirler will let loose his slow ball, and then he doesn’t put a whole lot of faith in it.  Of course there are some exceptions, like Mathewson, but I am talking about the general run.  To my mind, the speed craze is an obsession and many a pitcher would meet with greater success if he’d only revert to the old style of pitching and try slow ones oftener.  Players and managers of today think that the only way to win a ballgame is to have a pitcher who can throw a ball with such force that it will go through a six-inch plank, and if the fellow hasn’t got that amount of speed he is no good.

“If some managers would go back to the old-time style of pitching and send men in the box who would serve up slow balls there wouldn’t be as much base running as there is now, but the ball would be batted more and there would be better exhibitions of fielding.  Players of today can’t hit a slow ball with any degree of safety, they having become used to the swift article.  That’s why I believe that a pitcher of a slow ball could make monkeys out of opposing batsmen.

“Of course, there is a difference in the national sport, as now exemplified, when you compare it with the game when I was in it some thirty years ago.  The pitcher’s box now is further away from the home plate than it was when I used to pitch.  At that time it was forty-five feet from the home plate; now it is more than sixty, and it takes some speed to get over the plate.  I don’t know as I could go in a pitcher’s box, such as it is used today, and get a ball over the home plate, but if they moved it up to forty-five feet I could get my slow overshoots over the pan and I’ll bet a cigar the batsman wouldn’t hit it; he’d hit at it, though, and swing for all he’s worth.

“But even though the plate is further back, the pitchers have the curve worked down to such a science that they can make their ‘floaters’ break more sharply than we old timers could, and consequently they would much more easily fool the hitters.  Once in a while a genuine slow ball pitcher pops up and gets along but little confidence is placed in him; his victories are attributed to luck, and he is not used very regularly.

“Fans laugh these days when a pitcher takes it into his head to serve up a slow ball, which scorers call a change of pace, and see a heavy hitter almost break his back trying to kill the ball.  When he misses, it pleases the bugs immensely, but let me tell you, that the slower a ball is the harder it is for the batsman to connect with.  The hitting column wouldn’t have as big averages as it does now, and a man who could bat for .300 would be a wonder indeed, if slow balls were used by pitchers.

“But it seems as if the day of the slow ball has gone by.  A scout will not sign a pitcher unless he has got something good in the way of speed or a peculiarly curving swift ball, like Harry Howell’s or Eddie Cicotte’s knuckle ball.  It seems as if when we old timers dropped out of the game and the present generations took it up where we left off, they thought they would introduce new features to the game, and selected speed as the proper thing.  Of course, the invention of the mask, protector and heavy mitts had something to do with slow pitching passing out of existence, but it was the ideas of the young pitchers more than anything else that developed the desire of captains and managers for pitchers with great speed.

Ed Cicotte's knuckleball grip

Eddie  Cicotte’s knuckleball grip

“Perhaps you notice that these pitchers of today who have such great speed and assortment of curves do not work very regularly.  Well, when I played ball I was in the box one day and in the field the next and in that way I kept my arm in good shape and my batting eye keen, just because I was at the game all the time.  I never used much speed; therefore my arm was in condition to work.  Perhaps some manager will come along yet and decide that there was better pitching in the old days and give a slabbist with a slow curve ball a chance to work in the box.

“When that day arrives the fans will see some fun, for the long-distance hitters will find it hard to connect with the ball very often.”

In 1921 Cummings, then 72-years-old was sitting in the press box of Ebbetts Field, a guest of The Brooklyn Eagle, for a game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.  Cummings told The Eagle’s Sports Editor Abe Yager:

“I think I could out-guess   Babe Ruth if I were pitching right now.  I had to pitch against Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson and other sluggers of bygone fame and believe me it was some feat to fool them.  We did it often, but of course, they hit ‘em out just as often.  Ruth can be fooled by an outcurve, a high one in close or a drop the same as the sluggers of old, but of course, he will connect once in every three times by the law of averages.”

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5 Responses to ““I Believe that a Pitcher of a Slow Ball could make Monkeys out of Opposing Batsmen””

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