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The Pitcher

Of all the players on a base-ball nine, the pitcher is the one to whom
attaches the greatest importance. He is the attacking force of the nine,
the positive pole of the battery, the central figure, around which the
others are grouped. From the formation of the first written code of
rules in 1845 down to the present time, this pre-eminence has been
maintained, and though the amendments of succeeding years have caused it
to vary from time to time, its relative importance is more marked to-day
than at any preceding period. In a normal development of the game the
improvement in batting would unquestionably have outstripped the
pitching, and finally overcome this superiority; but the removal of
certain restrictions upon the pitcher's motions, the legalization of the
underhand throw instead of the old straight-arm pitch, the introduction
of curve pitching, and, finally, the unrestricted overhand delivery,
have kept the pitching always in the lead. At several different times,
notably in the rules of 1887, an effort has been made to secure a more
even adjustment, but recent changes have undone the work, and the season
of 1888 will see the inequality greater, if anything, than ever.

The qualities of mind and body necessary to constitute a good modern
pitcher are rarely combined in a single individual. First-class pitchers
are almost as rare as prima donnas, and out of the many thousand
professional and amateur ball players of the country not more than a
dozen in all are capable of doing the position entire justice.

Speaking first of the physical requirements, I will not discuss the
question of size. There are good pitchers of all sizes, from Madden and
Kilroy to Whitney and McCormick, though naturally a man of average
proportions would have some advantages.

The first thing necessary before one can become a star pitcher is the
ability to throw a ball with speed. The rules, which at present govern
the pitching, place a premium on brute strength, and unless one has a
fair share of this he will never become a leading pitcher. There are a
few so-called good professional players whose sole conception of the
position is to drive the ball through with all possible speed, while
others whose skill and strategy have been proven by long service, are
forced out of the position because they have not sufficient speed for
the modern game.

Next, one must be possessed of more than an ordinary amount of
endurance. It is by no means a simple task to pitch an entire game
through and still be as effective in the ninth inning as in the first;
and when, as sometimes happens, the contest is prolonged by an extra
number of innings, the test is severe. This being true of a single game,
how much more tiresome it becomes when continued regularly for an entire
season, during the chilly days of the spring and fall, and under a
broiling July sun, can be appreciated only by one who has gone through
it. And what with all day and all night rides from city to city, broken
rest and hasty meals, bad cooking and changes of water and climate, the
man is extremely fortunate who finds himself in condition to play every
day when wanted. Only a good constitution, a vigorous digestion, the
most careful habits, and lots of grit, will ever do it.

Besides force and stamina, there are certain mental characteristics
necessary. A pitcher must be possessed of courage and of self-control.
He must face the strongest batter with the same confidence that he would
feel against the weakest, for it is only so that he can do himself
entire justice; and he must be able to pitch in the most critical
situations with the same coolness as at any other stage. He must control
his own feelings so as not to be disconcerted by anything that may
happen, whether through his own fault, that of a fellow-player, or
through no fault at all. He should remember that all are working for a
common end, and that the chances of victory will be only injured if he
allows his attention to be diverted by unavoidable accidents. And then,
too, it is more manly to play one's own game as best one can, no matter
what occurs, than to continually display an ugly temper at the little
mishaps sure to occur in every game.

The next point is to acquire a correct position in the box, and an
easy, yet deceptive, style of delivery. The position is, to a great
extent, prescribed by the rules, and so much of it as is not can be
learned by observing the different pitchers. The position which seems
most natural should be chosen. The ball should be held in exactly the
same way, no matter what kind of curve is to be pitched. Being obliged
by rule to keep the ball before the body, in sight of the umpire, any
difference in the manlier of holding it will be quickly noticed by a
clever batter, and if for a particular curve it is always held in a
certain way, he will be forewarned of the kind of ball to expect.

Some batters pay no attention to these little indications; but the
majority are looking for them all the time, and once they detect any
peculiarities, they will be able to face the pitcher with much greater
confidence. The correct manner of holding the ball for every kind of
delivery is between the thumb and the first and middle fingers, as shown
in the accompanying cut of Clarkson.

It is true there are some curves which may be better acquired by holding
the ball differently in the hand, but this fact is outweighed by the
other considerations of which I have just spoken. Pitcher Shaw might
still be a wizard had he not neglected this precaution; by noticing
his manner of holding the ball the batter always knew just what was
coming; and there are other pitchers yet in the field who would find
their effectiveness greatly increased by a closer observance of this

As for the style of delivery, it should be remembered that the easiest
movement is the best. A long, free sweep of the arm, aided by a swing of
the body, will give more speed, be more deceiving to the batter, and
allow of more work than any possible snap or jerky motion. Facing the
striker before pitching, the arm should be swung well back and the body
around so as almost to face second base in the act of delivery; this has
an intimidating effect on weak-nerved batters; besides, not knowing from
what point the ball will start, it seems somehow to get mixed up with
the pitcher's arm and body so that it is not possible to get a fair view
of it. It will be understood what motion is meant if there is an
opportunity to observe Whitney, Clarkson or Keefe at work.

Next comes the knowledge of how to throw the different curves. I have
yet to see an article written on this subject which is of the least
value in instructing a complete novice. In the chapter on Curve
Pitching will be found the theory of the curve, but as for describing
intelligibly the snap of the wrist and arm by which the various twists
are imparted to the ball, I am convinced it cannot be done, and will
waste no effort in the attempt. To curve a ball is not a difficult feat,
and a few practical lessons, which any schoolboy can give, will teach
the movement. But, while not attempting myself to tell how this is done,
to one already possessed of the knowledge, I may offer some valuable

Not only must the ball always be held in the same way before pitching,
but in the act of delivery the swing of the arm must be identical or so
nearly so that the eye of the batter can detect no difference. All this
means that the pitcher must not give the striker the slightest inkling
of the kind of ball to expect, so that he will have the shortest
possible time in which to prepare to hit. I advise against the use of
too many different curves. The accomplished twirler can pitch any kind
of curve, but there are some which he seldom employs. It is impossible
to be accurate when too many deliveries are attempted, and accuracy is
of far greater importance than eccentric curves. Almost all professional
pitchers now use the overhand delivery and pitch only a fast, straight
ball and a curve. The fast ball, on account of its being thrown overhand
and the twist thereby given, jumps in the air, that is, it rises
slightly, while the curve, pitched with the same motion, goes outward
and downward. The curve will necessarily be slower than the straight
ball, and this will give all the variation in speed needed to unsettle
the batter's eye and confuse him in timing the ball. Some pitchers
are able, keeping the same motions, to vary the speed even of the curve
and straight balls, but, as before said, this is apt to be at the
expense of accuracy, and should not be attempted by the young player.
Occasionally, say once an inning, a pitcher may make a round arm or
underhand motion simply to mislead the batsman, and if the game is
safely won he may use an underhand delivery if he finds it rests his
arm, but these are exceptional instances.

I have already spoken of the importance of accuracy, but it cannot be
too strongly emphasized. The more marked the control of the ball the
greater will be the success, for no matter how many wonderful curves he
may be able to get, unless he has perfect command he will never be a
winning pitcher; seasoned batsmen will only laugh at his curves and go
to first on balls. To acquire thorough control requires long and patient
practice. A pitcher should always pitch over something laid down to
represent a plate, and if possible get a batter to stand and hit against
him. Let him practice with some method, pitching nothing but a straight
ball, and trying to put it directly over the plate every time. He should
not be annoyed if the batter hits him, as he is only practicing. When a
pitcher is able to cut the centre of the plate eight times out of ten he
may begin with his curve and work it in the same way. Finally, when he
can also control the curve, he should try to alternate it with a
straight ball. He will find that he cannot do this at first and retain
command of each, but he should keep at it, an hour or more regularly
every day, till he can.

Up to this point he has been learning only the mechanical part of
pitching, and if he has learned it well he is now ready to try his skill
and mettle on the field of actual contest. And here comes in an element
not before mentioned, which is called strategy, or head-work. It means
the attempt to deceive the batter, to outwit him so that he cannot hit
safely. This may be accomplished in many ways, though the particular way
best suited to each case can only be determined at the time by the
pitcher himself. It depends, therefore, upon his own cleverness and
wits, and it is not possible for any one else to supply these for him.
An intelligent catcher may help him greatly, but there will still remain
many points which he himself must decide. I may be able, however, to
furnish some hints which will indicate the process of reasoning by which
the pitcher may arrive at certain conclusions; I can point out some
things he should notice, and describe what these generally mean.

Next: Signaling

Previous: Training

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