Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are the latest pitches really new?

To me, a baseball pitcher just "throws a ball". I have no idea what pitch it is and no clue what the announcers are talking about when they say "he was lookin' slider but got a change-up". Just seems to me the pitcher threw a ball and the guy either hit it or not. What can I say? I'm not up on pitches.

During yesterday's disappointing Cubs game (it's no fun when you win because the opposing pitcher has a meltdown) the inimitable "Len and Bob" brightened the dismal goings-on by talking about when and how pitches were "discovered". I found it interesting.

Bob (I think that's who it was) said that back in the 1800s they had no idea about types of pitches because there were no types. He surmised that the first two pitches that appeared in baseball were a fastball and a slower version of the same pitch: an off-speed pitch, in other words. He then went on to name so many kinds of pitches that I was amazed. I didn't write them down, darn it, but I remember one was called a "palmball".  Many of the "new" pitches faded out over the years, but some stuck around and got new names. The palmball, for instance, turned into the change-up. Bob seemed to think that new pitches appeared on the scene one by one, periodically over the century-plus that baseball has been played in this country.

This doesn't ring true to me. In Bob's scenario, the pitch was in Unknown Space until one day a pitcher hauled it into our universe and tried it -- and the world saw its first curveball (or whatever). And this process continued, Len says, until the present day. All along the road, new pitches were invented.

I don't find this convincing. Let's make believe we're back in the late 1800s and the game of baseball has been played professionally for three years. Already, there are a number of pitchers that are considered great. I think that if a knowledgeable baseball fan from today was taken back to one of those games, he'd see sliders, screwballs, change-ups and more. It's just that there weren't names for them yet. Then again, I know nothing about pitches, as I said at the outset.

Chime in. What do you think? In the old days, did baseball pitchers know how to throw the kinds of pitches that are thrown today? Or were these pitches truly invented one at a time during baseball's long history?