Emery ball

From BR Bullpen

The Emery Ball is a pitch, "invented" by pitcher Russell Ford, which relies on scarring or roughening part of the baseball in order to achieve an unnatural break. [1]

Russell Ford and the discovery[edit]

Ford had discovered the effects of scarring the baseball in 1907 while warming up with batterymate Jeff Sweeney while both were playing for the Southern Association Atlanta Crackers. He experimented with the idea of scuffing the ball in 1909 and parlayed it into an astonishing season with the Jersey City Skeeters limiting batters in the Eastern League to a league low 5.6 H/9 innings. [2] [3] [4]

Pitcher Bugs Reisigl would later claim to having used the pitch in 1906 and that roughing the ball to improve the break was somewhat common knowledge. [5]

Ford would manage to keep the emery ball a secret for nearly a decade due to the fact that he was a spitball pitcher as well as being discreet. Not only was the spitball a legal pitch at the time, it literally meant moistening the ball with saliva or mucus, as opposed to the modern day usage to refer to any doctored baseball. The exceptional break from the emery ball was merely seen as proof of Ford's excellence as a spitballer.

Cy Falkenberg and the secret exposed[edit]

By 1913 a second pitcher, Cy Falkenberg, caught wind of Ford's method of success and used it to revive his career with the Cleveland Naps. However, Falkenberg was less discreet with his new-found secret. Coupled with the facts that Falkenberg was a a thirty-three-year-old veteran when he debuted the pitch and that he was not a spitballer like Ford, the sharp, unnatural break was suspicious to opposing teams, notably pitcher Kid Gleason and manager Clark Griffith. [6]

Both Falkenberg and Ford jumped to the Federal League in 1914 and used the emery ball to great success, but Falkenberg left behind a number of Cleveland pitchers who had seen the emery stitched to his glove. From 1913 to 1915, there were "many pitchers were practicing it. There was a grand stampede for the emery ball." There was speculation that the entire Red Sox staff and several Yankee pitchers were using the pitch. [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

The banning of the Emery Ball[edit]

The use of the emery ball had become common in the American League by 1914. New York Yankees pitcher Ray Keating was taught how to throw the pitch by Sweeney. Keating was caught red-handed throwing the emery ball in his September 12, 1914 start against the Philadelphia Athletics. The American League responded by banning the pitch before Keating's next start.[14]

The Federal League threatened to fine players two hundred dollars for use of the pitch in an era where the salary for a star pitcher did not often top four thousand dollars. [15]

Mr. F. C. Lane,
New York City.
My dear Mr. Lane:
The following, which is Rule 38, Rules, Instructions and Playing Rules of the Federal
League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, was adopted by our organization because the
writer felt that it was not sportsmanlike to permit a pitcher to deface the ball:
“The use of what is known as the Emery Ball is positively prohibited. If Emery Paper,
Cinders, or any other substance is used by any player to roughen ball, the offender will
be fined $200.00 and suspended for 10 days without pay.”
Furthermore, with a ball so defaced, it was hard for a pitcher to keep control, and the
possibilities of hitting a batter were greatly increased.
For those reasons I recommended the abolishment of what is known as the “Emery Ball.”
Yours very truly,
J. A. GILMORE, President. [16]

The three major leagues all clarified that the emery ball would not be tolerated and the emery ball was effectively pitch non grata in professional baseball.

Ford was released from the Buffalo Buffeds with the management openly acknowledging his inability to win games without the use of the emery ball. [17]

Quotes about and issues with the Emery Ball[edit]

"The delivery might have been all right but the pitchers who were using it took all kinds of liberties with their new find. In their hands the emery ball speedily became the cinder ball. They would pick up a handful of cinders or gravel and roughen a large, surface on the ball. In this way they would disfigure the ball badly, which was an evil, without doubt, and should have been stopped. I handled the emery ball very carefully, sometimes even using the naturally roughened side of the ball that had been grazed on the ground or against the stand with no work at all on my part. In any case, I roughened only a limited surface, which was scarcely visible."
- Pitcher Cy Falkenberg [18]
"It caused a great decrease in batting, or would have caused it had it come into general use. The public like hitting and frown on any innovation that favors the pitcher. The emery ball would have interfered with the most spectacular part of baseball."
- Pitcher Russell Ford [19]
"The emery ball required little or no skill on the part of the pitcher. An outfielder with good control and fair speed could have come in and pitched the emery ball. To be sure, a proper use of the ball demanded training, as in any other delivery, but at the same time a person did not have to be a good pitcher to use it. It really discouraged pitching as much as it did batting, for it required nothing else from a man than the ability to roughen a part of the surface of the ball and control the ball when he pitched it."
- Pitcher Walter Johnson [20]
"The only freak delivery which I know of that was a freak pure and simple and valuable asset to at least two well-known pitchers, was the famous emery ball. Russel [sic] Ford discovered this ball and used it successfully for years. Later on Cy Falkenberg also used it to stage a sensational comeback with the Cleveland club. He won ten straight games before dropping a contest and succeeded in signing a big contract with the Federal League in consequence. But the Emery ball has been banished, and I believe it will be a long time before another freak delivery appears to successfully rival it. The main asset of the pitcher will always be a legitimate use of approved baseball methods. These rightly employed, will give him all the success to which he is entitled."
- Pitcher Eddie Cicotte [21]
"I had a habit as far back as I can remember, of hitting the ball on the spikes of my shoe before I started to pitch [and] what I was doing was really pitching an emery ball. [Russell] Ford, however, made an exact study of the thing and reduced it to a science. He made good use of the idea and it was only when he was about through as a pitcher that the secret leaked out, became common property, and was abolished by all the leagues. I never used the idea in such a thorough way as Ford did. Why didn't I do this? Simple. I didn't have sense enough."
- Manager and former pitcher Clark Griffith [22]
"The spit ball interferes with good fielding. Many an error has been made by an infielder who grabbed hold of a wet spit ball and threw wild to first base. The spit ball isn't fair to the fielders."
- Manager and former pitcher Clark Griffith, decrying the effects of the spit ball and emery ball [23]
"Whatever I am able to get on the fast ball in the way of sudden breaks comes wholly from the way in which I hold the ball and deliver it. I never use the emery ball, mud ball or any of the other varieties that have been so much talked about and so much criticized."
- Pitcher Ernie Shore

Effects of the Emery Ball on the Spit Ball[edit]

Prior to the known existence of the emery ball, the spit ball was sometimes seen as the natural evolution of pitching.

"The history of pitching science can be divided into four distant eras: The day of the underhand toss. The day of the overhand toss or throw. The day of the curve ball. The day of the spit ball."
- "Pitching, Past and Present: The Evolution of the Twirler’s Art" Baseball Magazine (Feb 1912) [24]
"There Are Four Great Types of Pitching Delivery, Namely: Speed, Curve, Slow Ball, and Spit-ball. Speed Was the Earliest Type and is Still the General Favorite. The Curve Revolutionized Pitching, but is Hard on the Arm. The Slow Ball Has, at Best, an Indefinite Place. The Spit-ball is a Wonder but Relatively Uncommon and Difficult to Master. All Are Potential Winners."
- "Pitching Science in all its Angles (Part II)" Baseball Magazine (Nov 1913) [25]

After the emery ball, Clark Griffith, a former spit ball pitcher, penned an article titled "Why The Spit Ball Should Be Abolished: An Unnatural and Unfair Delivery, It Should Be Prohibited In All Professional Ball Parks" in 1917 which derided the use of the spit ball and emery ball and advocated the grandfathering of current major league spitballers. [26]

Former Cubs owner Charles Webb Murphy lauded the American Association for banning the spit ball in 1919, a year before the National League and American League would. Special mention was made to Cy Falkenberg being traded out of the American Association which coincided with the enforcement of the no spit ball and emery ball rule. [27]


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  2. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  3. http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=21298
  4. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1915/VOL_65_NO_03/SL6503009.pdf
  5. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1915/VOL_65_NO_11/SL6511017.pdf
  6. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  7. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  8. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1915/VOL_64_NO_24/SL6424004.pdf
  9. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1914/VOL_64_NO_05/SL6405010.pdf
  10. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1915/VOL_65_NO_10/SL6510011.pdf
  11. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1915/VOL_65_NO_02/SL6502016.pdf
  12. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1914/VOL_64_NO_17/SL6417018.pdf
  13. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1917/VOL_68_NO_26/SL6826013.pdf
  14. https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/september-12-1914-yankees-hurler-ray-keating-caught-red-handed-american-league-bans-emery-ball/
  15. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  16. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  17. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1915/VOL_65_NO_21/SL6521010.pdf
  18. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  19. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  20. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1915/bbm3o.pdf
  21. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1918/bbm213g.pdf
  22. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1917/bbm193r.pdf
  23. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1917/bbm193r.pdf
  24. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1912/bbm84aa.pdf
  25. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1913/bbm121n.pdf
  26. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1917/bbm193r.pdf
  27. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/BBM/1919/bbm234o.pdf