April 11, 2014
Even the Browns: The Zany, True story of Baseball in the Early Forties,
William B. Mead (1978)
A game in St. Louis on July 20, 1944. Nelson Potter was pitching for the Browns; Cal Hubbard was umpiring behind the plate. Hubbard:
Nelson was one of the ones they all accused of throwing spitters. I don't know whether he did or not. He was a kind of sidearm pitcher and the ball broke down a little bit. But [licking motion] he'd do that; go to his mouth, see, and that was against the rules.
This night ... Hank Borowy was pitching for the Yankees. Every once in a while Borowy would do that [licking motion]. He was just kind of wetting his fingers. He wasn't throwing spitters. But Luke Sewell came out and he said to me, "Make Borowy keep his fingers out of his mouth." Course I knew that was going to kick up a storm because they were going to holler like hell about Potter, too.
So I went out to Hank when the inning started. I said, "Hank, Sewell's complaining about you putting your fingers in your mouth. Let's not do it any more." He said, "O.K., my God, I didn't even know I was doing it." ... Art Fletcher was coaching third base for the Yankees and he came by me and he said, "What's Sewell squealing about?" I said, "About Borowy putting his fingers in his mouth." And Fletcher said, "Holy cow! Well, make Potter keep his out of his mouth, too." I said, "All right."
L-R: Cal Hubbard, Hank Borowy, Luke Sewell, Nelson Potter
So the inning was over, and Potter went out to the mound. I said, "Nellie, they're complaining about you putting your fingers in your mouth. Sewell complained about Borowy, so we're not going to have any more of that today. Let's don't do it."
He did it again, so I went out to him again, and here comes Sewell running out there. I said, "Now, Luke, I've already told him twice. You're the one that started it, complaining about Borowy ... Potter does it all the time. I've already told him twice. You tell him now that if he does it any more, we're going to run him the hell out." ...
So Luke talked to him. I don't know what in the hell he told him, but when we got ready to play Potter just did this [an obvious and exaggerated licking motion]. He just did it on purpose, see. I said, "Come on, you're through." I never did say he was throwing spitters. I just said he was violating the pitching rules. I had to put Sewell out, too. I knew he was going to raise hell. But he started it all, and he was a louse anyway, that Sewell; he was always bitching about something.
When I threw Potter out the Yankees had two men on base, and the pitcher they put in got them out without scoring. Dizzy Dean was the broadcaster. So Diz said, "Looks like 'ol Hub changed pitchers just at the right time."
I made out a report to the league, and they suspended Nellie for ten days. He had a wife and I think he wanted a vacation anyway. They said his wife gave birth to a child nine months later. I gave him the chance to be home.
So we kept moistening our fingers. For some reason, Luke Sewell hollered at Hubbard about Borowy going to his mouth. He should never have done it ... So Cal kept telling me I couldn't go to my mouth. Well, I started to blow on my hand. I'd make a fist and blow on it. He said, "You can't do that." I said, "Cal, I'm blowing on my hand." He said, "I know what you're doing. You're wetting your fingers."
Which I was, but he couldn't prove it. So he kept warning me to stop it, and I knew that I either had to get a little moisture some way or I was going to have trouble. So I kept doing it and he just run me out of the ball game. Did I ever throw a spitter? No, no. And Cal Hubbard never accused me of throwing a spitball.
I was very surprised when they suspended me. I said to Sewell, "Heck, I might as well go home a few days." And I did; came home, went fishing a couple days. I kind of stretched it out a little bit, and then I got a wire from him. "You better get back here." It cost me about two starts.
Did my wife have a child nine months later? Yeah, this is true. [laughs] They used to kid me about it, but the rest of that story is not true. We did not name the baby Cal Hubbard Potter.