Keri: Tracing the lineage of the eephus pitch

From Jonah Keri at on May 20, 2015, with mention of SABR members John Thorn and John Holway:

If you ever want to watch 45 seconds of baseball magic, I direct you to this 1981 This Week in Baseball feature on Yankees relief pitcher Dave LaRoche. In the clip, LaRoche describes an at-bat against Brewers slugger Gorman Thomas: “Bob Lemon had just become the manager,” the veteran left-hander says. “He wanted to know if I wanted to put Gorman on, or what we wanted to do. And I said, ‘Well, how about if I just throw him my curveball?’”

Lemon had never seen LaRoche’s curveball in action. The skipper, and the 27,337 spectators at Yankee Stadium, was in for a treat. LaRoche’s curve was in fact a big ol’ blooper pitch. Unaccustomed to facing the pitch, Thomas swung hard, hitting a line-drive foul down the third-base line. Then came another one, this time ending with Thomas bunting the pitch foul. LaRoche tried to finish him with a fastball to the outside corner, but missed.

Then came another lob: A sloooow, high-arcing offering that went a good 15 feet in the air. To Thomas, the pitch had to look like a 24-ounce porterhouse, fat, juicy, and ready to be devoured. But to LaRoche, the pitch was a weapon, a tantalizer that could make a batter swing from his heels and come up with nothing but air. This was no ordinary curveball. This was “LaLob.”


Thomas had never seen anything like LaLob, and like many first-timers, he got eaten alive by it. LaRoche was a highly effective reliever for most of his career, and LaLob was his signature pitch, an offering that delighted fans and also made his fastball look like it was traveling 117 mph. Yet despite the success enjoyed by LaRoche and other devotees of the pitch, it’s become a dying art, a rarity that’s now even rarer.

So what happened to LaLob, or as most of the baseball world calls it today, the eephus pitch? To find an answer, let’s start by going back to the turn of the 20th century.

According to baseball lore and the work of dogged historians John Thorn and John Holway, the first pitcher to throw a big blooper pitch was Bill Phillips, who played in the National League on and off from 1890 through 1903. The practice then lay dormant for nearly 40 years.


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Originally published: May 20, 2015. Last Updated: May 20, 2015.