11 June 2012

Did Jose Valverde throw a spitball?

Last night's Tigers-Reds game has been making headlines for not quite the right reasons. The topic at hand is not the Tigers' late comeback to rally to win the ballgame but rather if Tigers closer Jose Valverde threw a spitball to strike out Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco. Let's go to the videotape and then my analysis of whether it was indeed a spitball.

The spitball has quite a funky place in the history of baseball. It was at one point one of the most popular pitches in the game with many notable spitballers using it as their go-to pitch. There was a strong movement to outlaw the pitch throughout the 1910's, likely to help drive up offense. A variation of the spitball led to the ball being covered with tobacco spit and mud, making the pitch hard to see, particularly in poorly lit ballparks. One of which was thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays on August 16, 1920 and hit Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in the temple, leading to his death the next day. Chapman's death became one of the drivers to outlaw the spitball (as well as the need for batting helmets). The spitball, and any other pitch altered by some other substance, like dirt or vaseline as guys like Gaylord Perry famously would doctor the baseball for great effect, became outlawed by Major League Baseball and result in automatic ejection as well as an automatic ten game suspension.

Now back to Valverde. The video makes it pretty clear that Valverde did spit into the glove but it is not clear at all that he did doctor the baseball. As Kevin Kaduk noted at Big League Stew, the spitball traditionally makes the ball drop but Valverde's pitch did the opposite as it rose towards Mesoraco as he did not throw his noted split-finger fastball, which would have made sense for a spitter, but rather a four seamer.

So ultimately, the evidence does not make it completely clear that Valverde did spit on the ball so I would give him the benefit of the doubt. Then again, I think the spitball should be brought back but I'm certain that I am in the majority with that viewpoint.

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