The Pitcher’s Art

Tim Murnane

Tim Murnane

I spotted this in the Brownstown, Indiana Banner of July 8, 1887, but it originates with the Boston Globe, for which Tim Murnane long served as sporting editor and columnist. I wrote elsewhere at Our Game: “In 1886 Murnane was engaged, together with John J. Drohan, to do baseball work as a staffer for the Globe. When Drohan soon left, Murnane was given full charge, rising to head the entire sports department for a generation….When he died at age 65 he was not only the voice of baseball in Boston; his opinionated style had become a national institution.” Much more about “The Silver King” here:

Clever and Scientific Curving, Shoots, Raises and Drops from the Box.

It was by slow stages, writes T. H. Murnane, 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. H e 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. The next day he invited some gentlemen 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, as 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 out with his catcher the next day and learned that the curve came from a certain twist he gave his wrist. He worked hard until he go  good 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 Caruthers’ of the St. Louis Browns.

1871 Kekionga, Mathews at center

1871 Kekionga, Mathews at center

Matthews [Bobby Mathews] was undoubtedly the first pitcher to work the raise ball, as far back as 1869. I never saw him pitch an out-curve until 1878, and I faced his pitching for several years before that. In 1878 Matthews was  with the Worcester 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 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 the inability of his catcher to hold him, as without doubt the “in-shoot” is the most difficult ball to handle, for in those days the catchers 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.

Harry McCormick, Syracuse

Harry McCormick, Syracuse

The next ball that seemed to bother the batters was introduced by [Henry] McCormick, of the Stars, of Syracuse [winner of 59 games in 1877]. 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 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,” at Columbus. O., in 1876. For several seasons he fooled the best batsmen. See: “The Only Nolan,” at

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 points and many more 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 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 a 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 could 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.—Boston Globe.

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