August 11, 2016
"I Decided to Cheat"
Slick: My Life In and Around Baseball, Whitey Ford with Phil Pepe (1987)
I felt I was nearing the end of my career. My slider was not as fast and I had lost a little off my fastball. ... I had to come up with a new pitch. I decided to cheat.
I had experimented with a spitball earlier in my career, even tried it a few times in games, but I never could perfect it. Joe Page taught it to me when I was just breaking in with the Yankees. ...
Lew Burdette had the reputation of throwing the best spitter in baseball. ... I went to Lew before a game one day ... I asked him if there was anything he could suggest. He was only too happy to help. "I'll show you how to throw it even though I don't throw it myself," Lew said with a straight face. ... Burdette showed me how to apply mud to the ball so it would dip and dart. I tried it on the sidelines and I couldn't believe the movement I was able to get on the ball. This was the new pitch I was looking for. All I had to do was perfect it and figure out how to do it so it wouldn't be picked up by the umpire or the opposing players and managers.
What I did was spit in my left hand, which was perfectly legal, then pretend to rub up the ball. Also legal. But I wasn't really rubbing up the ball at all. Only one hand was moving, the hand that was dry. The hand with saliva on it was not moving, and saliva was being transferred from the hand to the baseball while the dry hand was rotating around the ball. ... Now the saliva was on the ball, and the next thing I did was reach down and pick up the resin bag with the hand that still held the baseball. As I grabbed the resin bag with my thumb and forefinger, I gently touched the baseball on the dirt on the mound. I had to make sure that the portion of the ball that was wet with saliva hit the dirt. What would happen is that the dirt would stick to the wet baseball. Now I was "loaded up" and ready to throw my "mud ball" or "dirt ball."
I threw it just like my fastball, as hard as I could. If I kept the dirt on the top when I released the pitch, the ball would have the action of a screwball. It would move away from a right-handed hitter and it would sink. It became a very effective pitch for me.
The hitter was never the wiser, because unlike the spitter, the mud ball would be rotating when it came up to the plate. A spitball comes in more like a knuckleball, with no rotation, and the bottom just drops out of it at the last moment. Since my "mud ball" had rotation on it, nobody ever suspected me of throwing a funny pitch. ...
L-R: Whitey Ford, Joe Page, Lew Burdette
I was never caught throwing the mud ball. ... If somebody asked the umpire to check the ball after I had "loaded" it up with mud and before I pitched, just as I was reaching up to throw it to the umpire, I would hit the ball on the side of my pants leg and the mud would come off. ...
Once I started getting away with the mud ball, I started experimenting with other things. I guess I got bored and I needed a new challenge. I found I could get the same action on the ball by scuffing one side of it, or by nicking the baseball on one side. All of a sudden I was getting pretty sophisticated in my cheating. I figured it didn't hurt a pitcher to have more than one pitch in his repertoire. Besides, if they ever caught on to one of my tricks, I had to have another one to take its place.
I had this friend named Joe Piser. ... I asked him if he could get his jeweler friend to make me up a ring with a rasp attached to it. I figured I could wear the ring and cut the baseball with the rasp. ... About two weeks later, Joe presented me with a stainless-steel ring. Welded onto the ring was a rasp ... It was exactly what I wanted. ...
I started wearing the ring when I pitched. I would put the part of the ring with the rasp underneath my finger. On top, I covered the ring with flesh-colored Band-Aids, so you couldn't tell from a distance that I had anything on my finger. Now it was easy to just rub the baseball against the rasp and scratch it on one side. One little nick was all it took to get the baseball to sail and dip like crazy. It was even more effective than the mud ball.
Elston Howard, my catcher, had a pretty good idea what was going on, but even he didn't know how I was doing it. Joe Pepitone, our first baseman, tried to help. One time I had the ball fixed just the way I wanted it. I threw the damnedest sinker you can imagine and the batter just barely got a piece of it and trickled it foul along the first-base line. Pepi picked up the baseball, looked at it, and tossed it to the first-base umpire. "Here," he said, "this ball's no good. It's all scratched up." Later when I retired the side and returned to the dugout, I went up to Pepi. "Listen, you jackass," I told him, "If you ever hand one of my balls to an umpire again, I'm going to hit you right in the head with it."
Once we were playing the Chicago White Sox and I was cutting baseballs with my ring, and Al Lopez, the Sox manager, started complaining to the plate umpire, Hank Soar. ... So Soar came out to the mound and said, "What have you got on your hand?" "It's just my wedding ring, Hank," I said. "I have it covered with a Band-Aid so it doesn't reflect in the batter's eyes." I was afraid he was going to ask to see it, so I tried to hide the cutting side as best I could. "Well, take it off," he said. ... Later Lopez was talking to the press about it. "He said he was wearing his wedding ring," Lopez said sarcastically. "Well, I love my wife, too, but I always take my wedding ring off and put it in a safe place when I put on my uniform." ...
Another time, we were playing Cleveland and Alvin Dark was their manager. I noticed any time a foul ball was hit near the Indians' dugout, it would never be thrown back into the game. What Dark was doing was gathering the baseballs as evidence. Later in the game, he had collected about six baseballs, all with scratches on them in the same place, and he showed them to the umpire. The umpires never said anything to me, but after that I cooled it for a while and didn't cut the baseball until the heat was off. ... I used the ring until I retired. ...
I used to do a few other things, too, which also went undetected. Occasionally, I would quick-pitch a hitter, catch him between practice swings or when he wasn't ready. ... Another thing I found I could get away with and never be caught was pitching in front of the rubber. I did that a lot and nobody ever caught on. If you covered the rubber up with dirt, it was easy to do. It's just something nobody's ever looking for.