For this installment of my blog, I will continue the observations of Umpire Bill Brennan, this time concentrating on how pitchers and managers would doctor a baseball to gain an advantage over opponent.
“One of the most common methods resorted to, although it was some time before it was detected, was to put the baseballs on ice overnight. This would deaden a ball so that no matter how hard it was hit, it would travel only a short distance. Naturally, when the home team assumed the lead, the visiting team would get ‘iced balls’ to bat.
“Another method was working into a game the so-called ‘rabbit ball.’ This ball was made just like the regular ball, but had a great deal of rubber in it and would travel a great distance and at high speed when merely met squarely. This kind of ball would be rung in when the home team was behind and at bat. Some smart methods were used in switching the balls. For instance, the home team, in order to get the ‘rabbit ball’ to bat, would endeavor to foul other balls out of the lot and there were some efficient ‘foulers’ in the old days.
“When I was working in a minor league, a player hit a high infield fly and none of the players got their hands on it. When the ball had quit bouncing, the player was on second base. I took the ball out of the game much against the wishes of the manager of the home team. That night I cut it open and found it nearly solid rubber. It was one of those ‘rabbit balls.’
“Another method of ‘doctoring’ or ‘doping’ balls and a very common one is to prick the cover in a number of places with a needle or any sharp instrument. This will loosen the cover from the yarn and serve to deaden the ball.
“Among the most common method resorted to by pitchers in doctoring balls is called the emery ball. This ball is rosined in a small spot by application of a piece of emery paper. It enables the pitcher to get a firm grip on that portion of the ball and literally sail it off his fingers.
“While the emery ball probably gained more notoriety and has been more commonly used than any other freak deliveries, there have been many other freak deliveries which were very effective. For instance, there were the mud ball, the shine ball and the talcum ball.
“The mud ball was thrown in the following manner. The pitcher would moisten the ball on one side, the same as if he was going to use a spitball. Then the pitcher would reach down and get some dust or dirt in his hand and apply it to the moistened part of the ball. This would enable him to get a grip upon the ball that would give it a weird hop.
“The shine ball was made possible by the pitcher carrying some foreign substance on his uniform, such as paraffin or wax, and, by rubbing the ball on his uniform where this substance had been applied. It would make the ball fairly sail over the pitcher’s fingers and take peculiar routes.
“The talcum ball was never used very extensively. The pitcher carried talcum powder in his pocket and, just before pitching, he would apply the powder to the ball. It will give the ball a slick surface and would have about the same effect as a spitball.”