Big League Pitchers And Their Peculiarities
Nearly Every Pitcher in the Big Leagues Has Some Temperamental or
Mechanical Flaw which he is Constantly Trying to Hide, and which
Opposing Batters are always Endeavoring to Uncover--The Giants Drove
Coveleski, the Man who Beat them out of a Pennant, Back to the Minor
Leagues by Taunting him on One Sore Point--Weaknesses of Other
Like great artists in other fields of endeavor, many Big League pitchers
are temperamental. "Bugs" Raymond, "Rube" Waddell, "Slim" Sallee, and
"Wild Bill" Donovan are ready examples of the temperamental type. The
first three are the sort of men of whom the manager is never sure. He does
not know, when they come into the ball park, whether or not they are in
condition to work. They always carry with them a delightful atmosphere of
In contrast to this eccentric group, there are those with certain
mechanical defects in their pitching of which opposing clubs take
advantage. Last comes the irritable, nervous box artist who must have
things just so, even down to the temperature, before he can work
"As delicate as prima donnas," says John McGraw of this variety.
He speaks of the man who loses his love for his art when his shirt is too
tight or a toe is sore. This style, perhaps, is the most difficult for a
manager to handle, unless it is the uncertain, eccentric sort.
As soon as a new pitcher breaks into the Big Leagues, seven clubs are
studying him with microscopic care to discover some flaw in his physical
style or a temperamental weakness on which his opponents can play.
Naturally, if the man has such a "groove," his team mates are endeavoring
to hide it, but it soon leaks out and becomes general gossip around the
circuit. Then the seven clubs start aiming at this flaw, and oftentimes
the result is that a promising young pitcher, because he has some one
definite weakness, goes back to the minors. A crack in the temperament is
the worst. Mechanical defects can usually be remedied when discovered.
Few baseball fans know that the Giants drove a man back to the minor
leagues who once pitched them out of a pennant. The club was tipped off to
a certain, unfortunate circumstance in the twirler's early life which left
a lasting impression on his mind. The players never let him forget this
when he was in a game, and it was like constantly hitting him on a boil.
Coveleski won three games for the Philadelphia National League club from
the Giants back in 1908, when one of these contests would have meant a
pennant to the New York club and possibly a world's championship. That was
the season the fight was decided in a single game with the Chicago Cubs
after the regular schedule had been played out. Coveleski was hailed as a
wonder for his performance.
Just after the season closed, "Tacks" Ashenbach, the scout for the
Cincinnati club, now dead, and formerly a manager in the league where
Coveleski got his start, came to McGraw and laughed behind his hand.
"Mac," he said, "I'm surprised you let that big Pole beat you out of a
championship. I can give you the prescription to use every time that he
starts working. All you have to do is to imitate a snare drum."
"What are you trying to do--kid me?" asked McGraw, for he was still
tolerably irritable over the outcome of the season.
"Try it," was Ashenbach's laconic reply.
The result was that the first game Coveleski started against the Giants
the next season, there was a chorus of "rat-a-tat-tats" from the bench,
with each of the coachers doing a "rat-a-tat-tat" solo, for we decided,
after due consideration, this was the way to imitate a snare drum. We
would have tried to imitate a calliope if we had thought that it would
have done any good against this pitcher.
"I'll hire a fife and drum corps if the tip is worth anything," declared
"Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!" came the chorus as Coveleski wound up to
pitch the first ball. It went wide of the plate.
"Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!" it was repeated all through the inning.
When Coveleski walked to the Philadelphia bench at the end of the first
round, after the Giants had made three runs off him, he looked over at us
"You think you're smart, don't you?"
"Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!" was the only reply. But now we knew we had
him. When a pitcher starts to talk back, it is a cinch that he is
irritated. So the deadly chorus was kept up in volleys, until the umpire
stopped us, and then it had to be in a broken fire, but always there was
the "Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!" When Coveleski looked at McGraw
coaching on third base, the manager made as if to beat a snare drum, and
as he glanced at Latham stationed at first, "Arlie" would reply with the
The team on the bench sounded like a fife and drum corps without the
fifes, and Coveleski got no peace. In the fourth inning, after the game
had been hopelessly lost by the Philadelphia club, Coveleski was taken
out. We did not understand the reason for it, but we all knew that we had
found Coveleski's "groove" with that "rat-a-tat-tat" chorus. The man who
had beaten the New York club out of a pennant never won another game
against the Giants.
"Say," said McGraw to "Tacks" Ashenbach the next time the club was in
Cincinnati, "there are two things I want to ask you. First, why does that
'rat-a-tat-tat' thing get under Coveleski's skin so badly, and, second,
why didn't you mention it to us when he was beating the club out of a
championship last fall?"
"Never thought of it," asserted Ashenbach. "Just chanced to be telling
stories one day last winter about the old times in the Tri-State, when
that weakness of Coveleski's happened to pop into my mind. Thought maybe
he was cured."
"Cured!" echoed McGraw. "Only way he could be cured of that is to poison
him. But tip me. Why is it?"
"Well, this is the way I heard it," answered Ashenbach. "When he was a
coal miner back in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, he got stuck on some Jane who
was very fond of music. Everybody who was any one played in the Silver
Cornet Band down in Melodeon Hall on Thursday nights. The girl told
Coveleski that she couldn't see him with an X-ray unless he broke into the
"'But I can't play any instrument,' said the Pole.
"'Well, get busy and learn, and don't show around here until you have,'
answered the girl.
"Now Coveleski had no talent for music, so he picked out the snare drum as
his victim and started practising regularly, getting some instruction from
the local bandmaster. After he had driven all the neighbors pretty nearly
crazy, the bandmaster said he would give him a show at the big annual
concert, when he tried to get all the pieces in his outfit that he could.
Things went all right until it was time for Coveleski to come along with a
little bit on the snare drum, and then he was nowhere in the neighborhood.
He didn't even swing at it. But later, when the leader waved for a solo
from the fiddle, Coveleski mistook it for his hit-and-run sign and came in
so strong on the snare drum that no one could identify the fiddle in the
"The result was that the leader asked for waivers on old Coveleski very
promptly, and the girl was not long in following suit. That snare drum
incident has been the sore point in his makeup ever since."
"I wish I'd known it last fall about the first of September," declared
But the real snapper came later when the Cincinnati club was whipsawed on
the information. In a trade with Philadelphia, Griffith got Coveleski for
Cincinnati along with several other players. Each game he started against
us he got the old "rat-a-tat-tat." Griffith protested to the umpires, but
it is impossible to stop a thing of that sort even though the judges of
play did try.
The Pole did not finish another game against the Giants until his last in
the Big League. One day we were hitting him near and far, and the
"rat-a-tat-tat" chorus was only interrupted by the rattle of the bats
against the ball, when he looked in at the bench to see if Griffith wanted
to take him out, for it was about his usual leaving time.
"Stay in there and get it," shouted back Griff.
Coveleski did. He absorbed nineteen hits and seventeen runs at the hands
of the Giants, this man who had taken a championship of the National
League away from us.
That night Griffith asked for waivers on him, and he left the Big Leagues
for good. He was a good twirler, except for that one flaw, which cost him
his place in the big show. There is little mercy among professional ball
players when a game is at stake, especially if the man has taken a
championship away from a team by insisting upon working out of his turn,
so he can win games that will benefit his club not a scintilla.
Mordecai Brown, the great pitcher of the Chicago Cubs and the man who did
more than any other one player to bring four National League pennants and
two world's championships to that club, has a physical deformity which has
turned out to be an advantage. Many years ago, Brown lost most of the
first finger of his right hand in an argument with a feed cutter, said
finger being amputated at the second joint; while his third finger is
shorter than it should be, because a hot grounder carried part of it away
one day. In some strange way, Brown has achieved wonders with this
crippled hand. It is on account of the missing finger that he is called
"Three Fingered" Brown, and he is better known by that appellation than by
his real name.
Brown beat the Giants a hard game one day in 1911, pitching against me. He
had a big curve, lots of speed, and absolute control. The Giants could
not touch him. Next day McGraw was out warming up with Arthur Wilson, the
young catcher on the club.
"Wonder if he gets any new curve with that short first finger?" said
McGraw, and thereupon crooked his own initial digit and began trying to
throw the ball in different ways off it to see what the result would be.
Finally he decided:
"No, I guess he doesn't get anything extra with the abbreviated finger,
but that's lucky for you fellows, because, if I thought he did, I'd have a
surgeon out here to-morrow operating on the first fingers of each of you
Brown is my idea of the almost perfect pitcher He is always ready to work.
It is customary for most managers in the Big Leagues to say to a man on
the day he is slated to pitch:
"Well, how do you feel to-day? Want to work?"
Then if the twirler is not right, he has a chance to say so. But Brown
"Yes, I'm ready."
He likes to pitch and is in chronic condition. It will usually be found at
the end of a season that he has taken part in more games than any other
pitcher in the country. He held the Chicago pitching staff together in
"Three Fingered" Brown is a finished pitcher in all departments of the
game. Besides being a great worker, he is a wonderful fielder and sure
death on bunts. He spends weeks in the spring preparing himself to field
short hits in the infield, and it is fatal to try to bunt against him. He
has perfected and used successfully for three years a play invented by
"Joe" McGinnity, the former Giant pitcher. This play is with men on first
and second bases and no one out or one out. The batter tries to sacrifice,
but instead of fielding the ball to first base, which would advance the
two base runners as intended, Brown makes the play to third and thus
forces out the man nearest the plate. This is usually successful unless
the bunt is laid down perfectly along the first base line, so that the
ball cannot be thrown to third base.
The Cubs have always claimed it was this play which broke the Detroit
club's heart in the world's series in 1908, and turned the tide so that
the Cubs took the championship. The American League team was leading in
the first game, and runners were on first and second bases, "Ty" Cobb
being on the middle sack. It was evident that the batter would try to
sacrifice. Brown walked over to Steinfeldt, playing third base, pulling
out a chew of tobacco as he went.
"No matter what this guy does or where he hits it, stick to your bag,"
Then he put the chew of tobacco in his mouth, a sign which augurs ill for
his opponents, and pitched a low one to the batter, a perfect ball to
bunt. He followed the pitch through and was on top of the plate as the
batter laid it down. The ball rolled slowly down the third base line until
Brown pounced on it. He whirled and drove the ball at Steinfeldt, getting
Cobb by a foot. That play carried Detroit off its feet, as a sudden
reversal often will a ball club, when things are apparently breaking for
it. Cobb, the Tigers' speed flash, had been caught at third base on an
attempted sacrifice, an unheard of play, and, from that point on, the
American Leaguers wilted, according to the stories of Chance and his men.
It is Brown's perfect control that has permitted catchers like Kling and
Archer to make such great records as throwers. This pitcher can afford to
waste a ball--that is, pitch out so the batter cannot hit it, but putting
the catcher in a perfect position to throw--and then he knows he can get
the next one over. A catcher's efficiency as a thrower depends largely on
the pitcher's ability to have good enough control of the ball to be able
to pitch out when it is necessary. Brown helps a catcher by the way in
which he watches the bases, not permitting the runners to take any lead on
him. All around, I think that he is one of the most finished pitchers of
Russell Ford, of the New York American League club, has a hard pitching
motion because he seems to throw a spit ball with a jerk. He cannot pitch
more than one good game in four or five days. McGraw had detected this
weakness from watching the Highlanders play before the post-season series
in 1910, and took advantage of it.
"If Ford pitches to-day," said McGraw to his team in the clubhouse before
the first game, "wait everything out to the last minute. Make him pitch
every ball you can."
McGraw knew that the strain on Ford's arm would get him along toward the
end of the game. In the eighth inning the score was tied when Devore came
to the bat. No crack in Ford was perceptible to the rest of us, but McGraw
must have detected some slight sign of weakening. He stopped "Josh" on the
way to the plate and ordered:
"Now go ahead and get him."
By the time the inning was over, the Giants had made four runs, and
eventually won the game by the score of 5 to 1. McGraw just played for
this flaw in Ford's pitching, and hung his whole plan of battle on the
chance of it showing.
"Old Cy" Young has the absolutely perfect pitching motion. When he jumped
from the National League to the Boston American League club some years
ago, during the war times, many National League players thought that he
"What," said Fred Clarke, the manager of the Pittsburg club, "you American
Leaguers letting that old boy make good in your set? Why, he was done when
he jumped the National. He'd lost his speed."
"But you ought to see his curve ball," answered "Bill" Dineen, then
pitching for the Boston Americans.
"Curve ball," echoed Clarke. "He never had any curve that it didn't take a
microscope to find. He depended on his speed."
"Well, he's got one now," replied Dineen.
Clarke had a chance to look at the curve ball later, for, with Dineen,
Young did a lot toward winning the world's championship for Boston from
Pittsburg in 1903. The old pitcher was wise enough to realize, when he
began to lose his speed, that he would have to develop a curve ball or go
back to the minors, and he set to work and produced a peach. He is still
pitching--for the National League now--and he will win a lot of games yet.
When he came back in 1911, the American Leaguers said:
"What, going to let that old man in your show again? He's done."
Maybe he will yet figure in another world's championship. One never can
tell. Anyway, he has taken a couple of falls out of Pittsburg just for
good luck since he came back to the National League.
Some pitchers depend largely on their motions to fool batters. "Motion
pitchers" they might be called. Such an elaborate wind-up is developed
that it is hard for a hitter to tell when and from where the ball is
coming. "Slim" Sallee of the St. Louis Nationals hasn't any curve to
mention and he lacks speed, but he wins a lot of ball games on his motion.
"It's a crime," says McGraw, "to let a fellow like that beat you. Why, he
has so little on the ball that it looks like one of those Salome dancers
when it comes up to the plate, and actually makes me blush."
But Sallee will take a long wind-up and shoot one off his shoe tops and
another from his shoulder while he is facing second base. He has good
control, has catalogued the weaknesses of the batters, and can work the
corners. With this capital, he was winning ball games for the Cardinals in
1911 until he fell off the water wagon. He is different from Raymond in
that respect. When he is on the vehicle, he is on it, and, when he is off,
he is distinctly a pedestrian.
The way the Giants try to beat Sallee is to get men on the bases, because
then he has to cut down his motion or they will run wild on him. As soon
as a runner gets on the bag with Sallee pitching, he tries to steal to
make "Slim" reduce that long winding motion which is his greatest asset.
But Sallee won several games from the Giants last season because we could
not get enough men on the bases to beat him. He only gave us four or five
hits per contest.
For a long time, "Josh" Devore, the Giants' left-fielder, was "plate shy"
with left-handers--that is, he stepped away--and all the pitchers in the
League soon learned of this and started shooting the first ball, a fast
one, at his head to increase his natural timidity. Sallee, in particular,
had him scared.
"Stand up there," said McGraw to "Josh" one day when Sallee was pitching,
"and let him hit you. He hasn't speed enough to hurt you."
"Josh" did, got hit, and found out that what McGraw said was true. It
cured him of being afraid of Sallee.
As getting men on the bases decreases Sallee's effectiveness, even if he
is a left-hander, so it increases the efficiency of "Lefty" Leifield of
Pittsburg. The Giants never regard Sallee as a left-hander with men on the
bases. Most southpaws can keep a runner close to the bag because they are
facing first base when in a position to pitch, but Sallee cannot. On the
other hand, Leifield uses almost exactly the same motion to throw to first
base as to pitch to the batter. These two are so nearly alike that he can
change his mind after he starts and throw to the other place.
He keeps men hugging the bag, and it is next to impossible to steal bases
on him. If he gets his arm so far forward in pitching to the batter that
he cannot throw to the base, he can see a man start and pitch out so the
catcher has a fine chance to get the runner at second. If the signal is
for a curved ball, he can make it a high curve, and the catcher is in
position to throw. Leifield has been working this combination pitch either
to first base or the plate for years, and the motion for each is so
similar that even the umpires cannot detect it and never call a balk on
A busher broke into the League with the Giants one fall and was batting
against Pittsburg. There was a man on first base and Leifield started to
pitch to the plate, saw by a quick glance that the runner was taking too
large a lead, and threw to first. The youngster swung at the ball and
started to run it out. Every one laughed.
"What were you trying to do?" asked McGraw.
"I hit the ball," protested the bush leaguer. That is how perfect
Leifield's motion is with men on the bases. But most of his effectiveness
resides in that crafty motion.
Many New York fans will remember "Dummy" Taylor, the deaf and dumb pitcher
of the Giants. He won ball games for the last two years he was with the
club on his peculiar, whirling motion, but as soon as men got on the bases
and he had to cut it down, McGraw would take him out. That swing and his
irresistible good nature are still winning games in the International
League, which used to be the Eastern.
So if a pitcher expects to be a successful Big Leaguer, he must guard
against eccentricities of temperament and mechanical motion. As I have
said, Drucke of the Giants for a long time had a little movement with his
foot which indicated to the runner when he was going to pitch, and they
stole bases wildly on him. But McGraw soon discovered that something was
wrong and corrected it. The armor of a Big Leaguer must be impenetrable,
for there are seven clubs always looking for flaws in the manufacture, and
"every little movement has a meaning of its own."
Next: Playing The Game From The Bench
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