“Savidge has mastered the ‘finger nail curve.’ He believes it is an improvement on the ‘fade-away,’ the ‘boomerang,’ the ‘spitter,’ or ‘knuckle curve,’ and Manager Babb and veteran first baseman George ‘Scoops’ Carey, who have seen all sorts of new wrinkles from modern and ancient slab men, agree with Savidge.
“The ‘finger nail’ curve is pitched with thumb nail and as many other nails as possible penetrating the covering. The fingers are kept rigid and the ball is thrown with full force.
“In practice Savidge has baffled the efforts of the best batters. The ball floats lazily toward the batter. There is no revolution at all, but just before the ball passes the plate it takes a quick dart in one of three directions, as desired by the pitcher, certain movement being used to throw the ‘drop’ and different movements being used to cause the ‘finger nail’ curve to dart out or in toward the batter.”1
Thus was born the legend of the pitch invented by the “Human Ripcord,” Ralph Savidge.
Ralph Austin Savidge was born on February 3, 1879, in Jerseytown, Pennsylvania, to Rev. George V. Savidge, a Methodist minister, and Maria Blanchard Savidge. Ralph had two sisters, Annie and Minnie, along with one brother, Fred.
Ralph made the honor roll at the First Ward Secondary school in Sunbury in 1896.2 In 1896 and 1897, Ralph attended Dickson Seminary (now Lycoming College) in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.3 In January 1899, the Sunbury Northumberland County Democrat reported that Savidge had suffered a “severe illness,” but later recovered.4 At the turn of the century, he attended and played ball for the Bloomsburg Normal School, where one of his One of his teammates was John Hummel, who later played for Brooklyn in the National League.5
For 1901, Savidge enrolled at and pitched for Wyoming Seminary, in Kingston, Pennsylvania. He played for the Seminary ball team in a 17-3 loss to Wyoming’s rival, his former Bloomsburg squad.6 In August he and local hurler Ed Walsh, from nearby Plains, were given tryouts with the local Wilkes-Barre Bankers in the new independent Pennsylvania State League.7 On August 10, Savidge started, and Walsh relieved, in Wilkes-Barre’s 10-3 defeat at Pottsville.8 Even with the defeat, Savidge “made a very favorable impression on the whole team, and will be given another chance to show his worth.”9
Savidge returned to pitch and play center field for Wyoming Seminary in 1902. The following year he attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, where he attracted the attention of Charles “Togie” Pittinger, a Boston Braves pitcher from nearby Greencastle who worked out with the Dickinson College varsity before heading to spring training.10 He spent parts of three years studying at Dickinson. He also spent two partial years teaching in the Mifflin (Pennsylvania) Township schools before fully committing to professional baseball.11
In the summer of 1903, Savidge played summer ball with a local semipro team from Penn Yan, the Grape Pickers, for whom he compiled a reported 19-1 record.12. With some vouching from major-leaguer Pittinger, Savidge began his professional career in 1904, posting a 17-13 record for the Savannah Pathfinders of the Class C South Atlantic League. After the season, he was placed on the Pittsburgh Pirates reserve list.13 The Pirates returned him to Savannah in 1905, but he finished the season with Charleston in the same league. He remained in the Sally League through 1907, the latter year with Jacksonville, before Memphis of the Class A Southern Association picked him up in 1908.
Before reporting to Memphis, Savidge married Nola Belle Snyder. They would have one son, Donald, who would reach the major leagues as a pitcher with the Washington Senators in 1929, and four daughters.
Spring training with Memphis started off rough for Savidge; he surrendered five runs in one inning in a March exhibition against the Philadelphia Athletics,14 then three more runs in two innings against the Boston Red Sox.15 Still, once the regular season commenced, he took off like a rocket for manager Charlie Babb. finishing with a 20-11 record.
Much of Savidge’s success was attributed to the new pitch he had been honing for two years, dubbed the “finger-nail” ball. One of the first descriptions of this wrinkle was that it “glides off the nail of the index finger and floats up to the plate looking like a barn door. Then it takes a sudden jump, which may be in or out, up or down.”16
“Savidge has introduced the finger nail ball, so-called because it is pitched with the nails of the thumb and first three fingers penetrating the leather sphere. The finger nail ball is thrown with all the force possible … so that it floats toward the plate and breaks fast as it passes the batter.“17
He didn’t throw a spitball, and it wasn’t just a knuckle curve. It was as if there was a parachute, opened by a ripcord attached to the ball, to slow it down. Thus, the moniker “Human Ripcord” was launched.
Brooklyn Superbas owner Charlie Ebbets was interested in Savidge, but the Cincinnati Reds, on the advice of scout Louie Heilbroner, bought him in July for $2,500,18 with instructions to report after the minor league season. The Cincinnati Enquirer touted that Savidge “has steam, curves, height, weight, and everything, ball players say, to make him a great pitcher.”19 Reds President Garry Herrmann preened that, in regards to his new recruits, “it looks as though we have picked up a bunch of good ones this year.”20
Savidge had a spectacular late-summer stretch for Memphis, allowing only one run over 45 innings, with four shutouts.21 He reported to the Reds on September 16,22 and made his debut on September 22, pitching the final three innings of a 10-2 loss to the Phillies, allowing two runs on one hit and one walk. Two days later, he was given his first and only start, against the same Phillies. He tossed a complete game, but surrendered 10 hits and four walks in the 5-0 loss. The reports were that “Savidge was quite wild at the getaway, having so much trouble in locating the plate that he was easy to hit when he did get it over. He was plunked viciously in the first four innings,” although the “young Red twirler managed to keep the safeties pretty well separated toward the finish.”23 He later tossed two shutout innings in a loss to Chicago on September 29. Three days later, the Reds, heading for a fifth-place finish, were still hosting the Cubs. Savidge pitched the final eight innings in relief, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out four in a 5-0 loss.
Savidge returned to pitch one game for the Reds and new manager Clark Griffith in 1909, on May 19 against the Giants. He relieved Jean Dubuc in the bottom of the second inning and pitched four innings, allowing a whopping 12 runs on 10 hits in the 18-3 blowout.
Savidge was soon sent down to the Montreal Royals of the Class A Eastern League, where manager Doc Casey eventually declared that he was “the best master of the slow ball delivery in the minors.”24 Even while averaging an amazing 10 innings per start, and allowing only 50 walks in 260 innings, Savidge only posted an 11-15 mark for the Royals. Nonetheless, in September, the Detroit Tigers drafted him from Montreal for $1,000.25
Savidge, however, refused to report to the Tigers training camp in 1910. He stated, in a polite note, that “he did not care for spring training, and was past the stage of the game where he needed six weeks or more of hard work in a warm climate to get him into condition.26 A competing report contended that he would not sign because he had received more money the year prior in Montreal.27 To break the stalemate, he was sent on option by Detroit to the Rochester Bronchos in the Eastern League. Despite his 13-12 record, Detroit chose not to exercise their option.28
Savidge began 1911 with Montgomery of the Class A Southern League and finished it as the player-manager of Selma (AL) in the Class D Southeastern League. The following year he bounced around among four minor league teams, his last stop being York in the Class B Tri-State League, where he closed out his pro baseball career giving up seven runs on 10 hits in three-plus innings against Harrisburg on July 25.29
Savidge registered for the draft in 1917, declaring his occupation as a press operator for American Car and Foundry, which built several vehicles for use in World War I.30 After the Great War, he worked as a steel plant foreman at ACF until his retirement in 1944. He was also “an ardent hunter who was known through the state for training bird dogs.”31
After being “in falling health for the past four years and bedfast since May,”32 Ralph Savidge passed away from lung cancer33 on July 23, 1959, at the age of 80, in Berwick, Pennsylvania. Savidge is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Berwick.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.
MyHeritage.com Birth, Marriage, Death Records.
The author would like to acknowledge Jack Major and the website www.major-smolinski.com for the insightful write-up on Savidge and his colorful nickname: http://major-smolinski.com/BSBLNAMES/RIPS.html.
1 “New Curve Invented by Memphis Pitcher” Chattanooga Times, May 3, 1908: 11.
2 “Roll of Honor of First Ward Secondary Grade” (Sunbury, Pennsylvania) Item, March 11, 1896: 1.
3 “Record of Students 1886/87-1951” Lycoming University Archives, Website: http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/alycc-wmhis/id/6568
4 “Rush Township” Northumberland County Democrat (Sunbury, Pennsylvania), January 12, 1899: 4.
5 “Nescopeck Easy for Bloomsburg” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 1900: 15.
6 “Bloomsburg Outplays Wyoming” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 1901: 6.
7 “Amateur Base Ball Notes” Wilkes-Barre News, August 8, 1901: 3.
8 “Pottsville Won in the Seventh” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 11, 1901: 27.
9 Wilkes-Barre News, August 13, 1901: 1.
10 “Savidge’s Father Made Real Record as Mound Artist,” Morning Press (Berwick, Pennsylvania), August 27, 1929: 1.
11 “Area Deaths,” Danville (Pennsylvania) News, July 23, 1959: 3.
12 “Savidge’s Father Made Real Record as Mound Artist,” Morning Press, August 27, 1929: 1.
13 Atlanta Constitution, October 2, 1904: 4.
14 “Athletics Meet Memphis,” Pittsburg Press, March 22, 1908: 20.
15 “Boston Americans 7, Memphis 0,” Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1908: 8.
16 “Memphis Giants Bids for Fame,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), September 22, 1908: 7.
17 “Southern League Pitcher Invents Finger Nail Ball,” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, May 9, 1908: 5.
18 “Pitcher Savidge Gets Pink Slip,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph, July 22, 1912: 5.
19 “Recruit for Reds’ Pitching Staff is a Giant in Size and Has a Fine Record,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 19, 1908: 33.
20 “Pleased with the Showing Made by the Red Recruits,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 16, 1908: 4.
21 “Memphis Giants Bids for Fame,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), September 22, 1908: 7.
22 “President Herrmann Pleased with the Showing Made by the Red Recruits,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 16, 1908: 4.
23 “Recruits in a Pitchers’ Battle,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 25, 1908: 4.
24 Buffalo Evening News, February 11, 1910: 28.
25 “Detroit Drafts Savidge,” (Montreal) Gazette, September 3, 1909: 2.
26 “No Spring Training for Ralph Savidge,” Buffalo Evening News, February 25, 1910: 10.
27 Buffalo Evening News, February 11, 1910: 28.
28 “Will Recall Ness, Harden, Drake and Kirk,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 5, 1910: 8.
29 “Fans are Tiring of Poor Baseball,” York (Pennsylvania) Dispatch, July 26, 1912: 10.
30 David D Jackson “American Car and Foundry in World War Two,” Website: https://usautoindustryworldwartwo.com/americancarfoundry.htm
31 “Sports Lovers Mourn Death of Ralph Savidge,” Berwick (Pennsylvania) Enterprise, July 24, 1959: 1.
32 “Area Deaths,” Danville News, July 23, 1959: 3.
33 Baseball Hall of Fame File, Ralph Savidge, Death Certificate.