“Those Freak Balls have no Place in the Game”

16 Dec

Billy Evans, “The Boy Umpire,” was a newspaper reporter in Youngstown, Ohio before he worked his first game as an umpire and continued writing about baseball in syndicated articles throughout his nearly 50-year career as an umpire and front office executive.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

In January of 1917 he wrote about a conversation he had the previous summer with Cy Young, the 49-year-old former pitcher, out of baseball for five seasons:

“I met him in the lobby of a Cleveland hotel.  Jokingly, I asked him how his arm felt and if he would be able to pitch that afternoon.  He looked as well as ever.  His waist line alone showed the effects of not being in constant training. At the mention of his arm and the chances of him pitching, Cy’s eyes flashed with the old spirit.”

Young told Evans he was “ready and willing:”

Cy Young

Cy Young

“’Honestly Bill, the old arm feels as good as ever,’ was his reply to my query.  ‘Never hurt me in my life, don’t know what it is to have a pain in that good old right arm.  When I quit I had more speed and a better curve than a lot of fellows who are still big leaguers, and I didn’t develop that curve until I had been a big league pitcher many years.  You know, it was excess weight, and not a glass arm, that made me quit pitching. My fielding failed me long before my arm showed signs of weakening, and when I was in my prime I was hardly (Napoleon) Lajoie on ground balls, bunted ones in particular.  During my last two or three years as a big leaguer the boys were wise to my inability to field, even as well as I once did, and they made life miserable for me in many a game.  You might say I was practically bunted out of baseball.”

Young said control “more than any other feature” was the key to his longevity:

“I saw many a pitcher come and go and it was lack of control that started most of them on their way to retirement or to the bushes.  Wasted effort ruins man a pitcher’s arm.  I never used any more energy than was necessary.  I have known a lot of pitchers who invariably did enough pitching for three games every time they were called.  It seemed as though they would have three balls and two strikes on every batter. “

Young said early in his career he learned to warm up differently than most pitchers:

“In the old days pitchers when warming up prior to pitching used to do so at random.  They would hurl the ball to the catcher without any definite purpose.  The sole aim was to get the muscles of the pitching arm loosened.  When I warmed up I always had the catcher take off his cap and set it on the ground for an imaginary home plate.  I figured this scheme would not only loosen up the muscles but help my control, for instead of throwing every ball aimlessly to the catcher, I made an effort to get every ball over the plate…Many pitchers used to warm up from any old distance.  They might pitch from forty to sixty feet.  I always insisted on warming up from the regulation pitching distance.”

[…]

“That I was right in many of my theories has been proven by the methods now used by every major league club.  Practically all have regular places for the pitchers to do their preliminary work.  I mean they have the distance carefully measured to conform to the rules, and have regular pitching rubbers and home plates.”

Evans asked Young what he felt about “new fangled” pitches like the spitball and emery ball:

“’I don’t think about them,’ answered Young.  ‘I just laugh.  We didn’t have to resort to that stuff in the old days, and there were some pretty good pitchers serving them up then.  Speed, curves and a change of pace ought to be enough for any pitcher.  Those freak balls have no place in the game, but it is a pretty hard matter to legislate them out.”

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