The Sinister Minister of the Spitball: Frank Shellenback

From Mat Kovach at The Hardball Times on March 11:

Between 1920 and 1940 it is hard to find stories about anybody throwing an illegal spitball. In 1939 talk of the now-illegal moist one heats up. As home runs begin to grow faster than purists like, thoughts of bring back the slippery pitch are brought up. Ford Frick makes a large push to legalize the pitch in 1961 as Roger Maris slowly creeps closer to Babe Ruth‘s 60 home runs.

Yet the spitter remained illegal. Practitioners, including, Bob Shaw and Gaylord Perry, befuddled batters, enraged opponents, and had hands-on meetings with umpires. So effective were spitballs in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that there was more talk of legalizing the spitball. In the mid 1970s you could find stories of people admitting to defeat in enforcing the spitball ban and asking for the reinstatement of the spitter.

The mid 1980s came around and labor issues, new ball parks and stronger, bigger and faster athletes changed the talk of the game. The spitball was pushed to the side, discussed rarely unless people talked about Gaylord Perry.

What the heck happened around 1939?

The sinister minister of the spitball, [Frank Shellenback], became a pitching coach and would teach the pitch to anybody that asked.

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Originally published: March 12, 2011. Last Updated: March 12, 2011.