Spitball Regulations: Grandfathers and Orphan. The spitball was regulated during successive offseasons, before and after the 1920 season. At its annual meeting in December 1919, the National League voted to ban the spitball pitch by new pitchers. The Joint Rules Committee determined the details and reported Monday, 9 February 1920.
IN THE NEWS: The Joint Rules Committee bans all foreign substances or other alterations to the ball by pitchers, including saliva, resin, talcum powder, paraffin, and the shine and emery ball. A pitcher caught cheating will be suspended for 10 days. The AL allows each club to name just 2 pitchers who will be allowed to use the pitch for one more season. The NL allows each club to name all its spitball pitchers. No pitchers other than those designated will be permitted to use it, and none at all after 1920.At their annual meetings in December 1920, both leagues voted to permit the spitball indefinitely, for active major-league users who were registered by their ballclubs. There were 17 registered "grandfathers". One, Ray Fisher, did not play in Organized Baseball after 1920. Four were still active 1930-32, three in 1933, one in 1934. The last legal spitball pitcher was Burleigh Grimes, with the Pittsburgh Pirates in September 1934, a few days after his 41st birthday. At least one spitballist active in 1920, Hal Carlson, was not registered by his club and was thereby forced to reconstruct his career. Were there other unregistered "orphans"?
[--Jim Charlton, et al, The Baseball Chronology: February 1920]
1920 career club span American League Det Doc Ayers '13-'21 Cle Ray Caldwell '10-'21 Cle Stan Coveleski '12-'28 (note) Chi Red Faber '14-'33 (note) Det Dutch Leonard '13-'25 NY Jack Quinn '09-'33 (note) Bos Allan Russell '15-'25 SL Urban Shocker '16-'28 (website) SL Allen Sothoron '14-'26 National League SL Bill Doak '12-'29 NY Phil Douglas '12-'22 Bos Dana Fillingim '15-'25 Cin Ray Fisher '10-'20 (note) SL Marv Goodwin '16-'25 Bro Burleigh Grimes '16-'34 (note) Bro Clarence Mitchell '11-'32 (note) Bos Dick Rudolph '10-'27
"Orphan" Spitball Pitchers, 1920 (not registered)Pit Hal Carlson '17-'30
Barney Dreyfuss, one of the spitball's bitterest enemies, failed to register Carlson's name. As a consequence he was not allowed the use of his spitter and within two years he was back in the minors. However, he toiled diligently to perfect other deceptive deliveries and finally came back to the big time . . . .
[--Naiph Daher, "The Spitter Hits the Trail", Baseball Magazine July 1931 (reprint)]
Three of the 17 grandfathers were elected to the Hall of Fame: Coveleski, Faber, and Grimes. Shocker was also a great pitcher and some of the others were very good, perhaps great for a brief time. Naiph Daher, Baseball Magazine July 1931 (reprint), called Leonard "probably one of the craftiest" and the seven who survived him in MLB "each a star in his own right": in order of exit, Shocker, Coveleski, Doak, Mitchell, Quinn, Faber, Grimes.
Ray Fisher did not pitch in the Majors after 1920. He played independent baseball and was ruled ineligible by Organized Baseball. He coached at the University of Michigan for two generations and UMI now plays intercollegiate baseball in Ray Fisher Stadium.
Stan Coveleski (born Stanislaus Kowalewski) pitched in 14 MLB seasons, 1912 and 1916-28, mainly for the Cleveland Indians. He was a regular starting pitcher through 1926, age 37.
Clarence Mitchell pitched in 18 MLB seasons, 1911 and 1916-32, in the NL after 1911; he pitched 300+ innings for five different NL clubs. Mitchell was consistently worse than league-average, by Earned Runs, until the dessert course of his major league meal: 1928-30, age 37-39.
Jack Quinn (born John Quinn Picus) pitched in 23 MLB seasons, 1909-33, for eight ballclubs in three leagues, mainly AL New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He was a regular starter through 1929 and led the NL in saves, pitching 40 games a year in relief, 1931-32 in Brooklyn, age 48-49.
Red Faber pitched in 20 MLB seasons for the Chicago White Sox alone, 1914-33. His last start was 9 September 1933, a few days after his 45th birthday; his last win, 27 August 1933.
Burleigh Grimes pitched 19 MLB seasons, beginning and ending in Pittsburgh. He pitched 60% of his innings during 9 seasons in Brooklyn, 1918-26; otherwise, he was a literal journeyman (8 team changes after 1926) and finally a figurative journeyman (mediocre in five stints after 1931). He pitched only in the National League but for a 1934 stint with the New York Yankees, when he was the last legal spitballer in the AL. His last win was 10 September 1934, a few days after his 41st birthday; his last start, 28 August 1934.
Acknowledgments. Steve Steinberg provided a boost and later helped clarify several points. He provides a wealth of information in his biography Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball's Golden Age and at his Urban Shocker and spitball subsites, which include contemporary photos and magazine articles. Stuart Schimler distributed the basic list of spitball grandfathers to the 'deadball' egroup, which spurred me to put this together. The Baseball Chronology, by Jim Charlton, et al, is invaluable. In its online edition, The Baseball Chronology incorporates other material, and welcomes contributions from visitors.