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Clay Buchholz, The Spitter and The Good Ol’ Days

There’s no crying in baseball, but cheating has always been a part of the game.

There’s no crying in baseball, but cheating has always been a part of the game.

MLB pitchers have always experimented with making the ball do weird things. During baseball’s Dead Ball Era, they did it to maintain their advantage over hitters. When steroids popped, teams like the Braves of the ‘90s did it for survival.

When a pitcher’s stuff starts looking too superhuman and the ball’s dancing around the plate like a firecracker Krumping — the pitcher can be accused of “doctoring” the ball.

Two Toronto Blue Jays analysts have accused Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz of throwing “spitters.”


Dirk Hayhurst tweeted that he saw Buchholz “loading the ball” with a substance during Wednesday’s broadcast. Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris also accused Buchholtz of throwing spitballs.


It’s understandable why division-rival Toronto would engage in such gamesmanship. The Red Sox are pounding the AL East and the “new-look” Blue Jays are sitting at the bottom of the standings and staring at major failure. Anything they can do to slow down Buchholtz, who leads the majors in E.R.A. (1.01) and wins (6), could help.

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In any event, the drama this “cheating” scandal’s created is dope to hardcore baseball dudes who constantly talk about the glory days of baseball like it’s an old friend that got clapped in a drive by.

The “spitter” was a frequently used pitch in the repertoire of the game’s post-modern hurlers. It’s also been referred to as a shineball, mudball, emeryball and scuffball.


There are different variations of the pitch and different substances are used to reach the desired effect. Whether spitting on it, filing it down, mucking it up or greasing it, the singular purpose is increased movement – making the ball harder for the batter to hit.

In the ‘50s, the Dodgers had a cat named Preacher Roe, who played with Jackie Robinson. Roe perfected the art of the spitball. He had sick control and never got caught.


Throwing a “spitter” – and most other forms of doctoring the baseball — are old school, mainly because it’s almost impossible cheat given today’s technology. Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers tried and failed in the ’06 World Series.

Morris — now obviously a full-fledged TV-suit  — and hurlers like Mike Scott helped revolutionize the controversial split-fingered fastball in the ‘80s and made their living throwing a pitch that moved like a version of the Harlem Shake. So it was a bit strange that he would call Buckhholz out like that. That’s not respecting the G-Code.

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One of the last pitchers to get caught for tossing a spitter was Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry in ‘82. In his book, “Me And The Spitter”, Perry admits to sniffing red peppers to make his nose run and putting Vaseline on the zipper of his uniform pants.

After his tweet late Wednesday night, Hayhurst told Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Thursday that Buchholz was “absolutely” cheating.

It did look as if Buchholtz was rubbing a glossy substance off the wrist and forearm area of his glove hand with his pitching fingers. It was a bit shinier than sweat. That’s classic spitter activity.



Buchholz and manager John Farrell were perturbed and reasoned that Buchholtz legally loads his arm with rosin and occasionally wets his fingers to enhance his grip.


“As soon as someone pitches well or does well, they’re cheating,” Farrell told philly.com.

Well…yeah skipper John (He’s a funny dude). Baseball hasn’t exactly been the moral standard for player-ethics in pro sports lately.

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Don’t get it twisted: Buchholtz is no scrub. Back in 2010, he posted a 2.33 ERA to lead the American League. Problem is, he’s coming off an 11-8 season with a 4.56 E.R.A. Now he’s dishing Koufax numbers. It’s a bit shady, but very possible for a guy with Buchholtz’s wicked stuff.

Watching players cheat — and get away with it — was always embedded in the light-hearted culture of the sport. Players don’t like it, but they adjust to it and don’t “usually” snitch about it. It took for years for Jose Canseco to run his jibs about steroids. Look at how long it took for the commissioner to take it serious.


If Buchholtz is throwing “spitters,” at the very least he’s brought new interest to an ill old school baseball practice and baseball’s forever-blurred line between cheating and playing for keeps.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The Deputy Editor and Senior Writer is in his 23rd year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, magazines and national TV.

His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.