Imhoff: The story of baseball’s first curveball

From Michael Imhoff at SB Nation on December 1, 2018:

The pitcher’s ability to throw a ball that moves while approaching the plate is a fundamental cornerstone of the game of baseball. But that wasn’t always the case. The role of the pitcher has humble beginnings, and the name itself indicates that the ball wasn’t meant to be thrown, it was meant to be pitched. Underhand. Like a gentleman.


The rules surrounding pitching grew alongside the sport. At first, a swing and a miss was the only strike. A called strike didn’t exist until 1858. It wasn’t until 1879 that there was a limit placed on called balls. And in 1884 the National League voted to lift the ban on overhand pitching.

Throughout this time, the pitcher evolved from the initiator in a gentleman’s game to a major competitive force in a national sport. And to put the growth of competition in context, the creation of the first professional league, with the first players to legally get paid, was in 1871.

The story of the curveball, however, starts in 1863, two years after the start of the American Civil War. As the tale goes, a 14-year old boy by the name of William Arthur Cummings was throwing seashells with his friends on a beach in Brooklyn. They noticed the shells curved in the air when they threw them and Cummings thought to himself, “what if I could make a baseball move like that?”

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Originally published: December 6, 2018. Last Updated: December 6, 2018.