From The California Spirit of the Times & Underwriters Journal, September 17, 1887
Note: I found the following article on pitching quite interesting, and thought I’d share it. The baseball section of the paper was edited by Waller Wallace, who began his sports writing career under tutelage of Henry Chadwick at the Clipper in New York City. The California Spirit of the Times & Underwriter’s Journal was the paper of record for California baseball in the 1870s and 1880s, and I will print some other interesting articles from time to time from this long-forgotten periodical. There have been many who have opined on where the curveball came from, many of whom state it was Candy Cummings, but this is from a player who saw it firsthand, and he goes into a lot of detail about the various types of pitches he face during his career.
The Pitcher’s Art
Our old friend Tim Murran thus most eloquently discourses on the above interesting subject. He will be remembered as the first base man of the famous Hop Bitters Team, a nine that wintered out here some years ago [the winter of 1879—c.b.]. It will be seen that Charlie Sweeney tops the record:
It was by slow stages that the present high standing of the pitcher’s art was attained. Arthur [Candy] Cummings, a Brooklyn youth, was the first to bring into use the out-curve. He was known as the boy wonder, back in 1869, with the Stars of Brooklyn. I have heard him tell how he first discovered the curve. He was pitching against a picked nine one day, and noticed the ball curving. He had no difficulty in striking the batsman out, and went home that night and tried to study out the phenomenon. Next day he invited some gentleman friends out to see him work. They laughed at him, and when he tried to convince them that he could accomplish what he claimed he failed; no doubt in his anxiety he sent the ball too fast, and very little curve can be got on a speedy-pitched ball. He was not discouraged, however, but went with his catcher next day and learned that the curve came from a certain twist he gave his wrist. He worked hard until he got control of the new move and then astonished the scientific world. Cummings was of slight build, his pitching was very graceful, and his curve was of the sailing kind, much like Crauthers’ of the St. Louis Browns.
Matthews [actually Bobby Mathews] was undoubtedly the first pitcher to work the raise ball, as far back at 1869. I never saw him pitch an out-curve until 1878, and faced his pitching for several years before that. In 1878, Matthews was with the Worcesters and pitched against the Bostons, defeating them. He had changed his style altogether from previous years, and adopted one-arm Daily’s style, that is, making a double motion by drawing back before delivering the ball. With his headwork and the addition of the curve, he jumped into the front ranks once more.
In 1872 [William] Avery, the famous Yale pitcher, discovered the “in-shoot.” I don’t think he could curve a ball, at least I never saw him do it, and I hit against his pitching several times. His effectiveness was handicapped by his inability of any catcher to hold him, as without doubt the “in-shoot” is the most difficult ball to handle, for in those days were not protected with gloves or masks.
Fred Nichols, better known as “Tricky Nick,” was the first to make good use of the drop ball. He was a great puzzle to the heavy hitters in 1875-6. At Bridgeport and New Haven, Conn., Nichols got a great drop on the ball, when pitchers had to keep their hand below the belt, which would puzzle any of our twirlers of the present day to accomplish.
The next ball that seemed to bother the batters was introduced by [Harry] McCormick of the Stars, of Syracuse. This young pitcher had Mike Dorgan, now of the New Yorks, for catcher. They shut out about all the crack clubs of the country that paid them a visit. The ball he deceived the batsmen with was a raise curve, now used by [Old Hoss] Radbourn, of the Bostons. He gave his field easy chances; the out-field had most of the work to do off his pitching. I never saw him pitch a ball below a man’s belt. He had perfect control of the ball and a cool head.
The curve-drop was first worked by the “only Nolan” [now listed in encyclopedias as “The Only Nolan”] at Columbus, Ohio, in 1876. For several seasons he fooled the best batsmen.
All these different curves, raises, shoots and drops were discovered by different people. It is now no unusual thing to find a pitcher with all these wrinkles that they keep working up. Change of pace was most beautifully illustrated by Al. Spalding in the old Boston champions. Tim Keefe, of the New Yorks is now the most successful in that line, while [John] Clarkson of the Chicagos, is also working the change of pace to good advantage. Will White and John Ward were about the first to work the sharp curve and “in-shoot” as far back as 1878. One of the greatest pitchers, if not the greatest that ever twirled the ball, was Charley Sweeney, who was with the Providence club in 1883-4. He was the first and only man that I ever saw who would curve an out-ball to a left hand batsman. Several of the pitchers can get a shoot, but his was a clean curve. He has the unequaled record, up to the present day, of nineteen strike-outs in one game.