baseball "shoot"--Peter Morris' reply (pt. 2)

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sun Nov 4 17:10:21 UTC 2001

   Here is the continuation of the message sent to me by baseball
researcher Peter Morris. I sent the first part to ads-l a few minutes

---Gerald Cohen

>The first one is from 1883 and cites one of the earliest masters of the
>curve ball, Bobby Matthews:
>"Today he [Matthews] is pitching the same old curve, with all the tricks in
>delivery that years on the diamond have taught, and the batters don't seem
>to hit him much better than they used to.  Other pitchers had to take up the
>curve or quit playing.  Every pitcher was popularly supposed to have a
>choice selection of curves which he sent in at pleasure, and his value was
>usually reckoned on the number of different ones he could use.  That idea,
>by the way, is still prevalent, and there are many people who believe in an
>'up' curve and a 'down' curve, an 'in' curve and an 'out' curve, a 'zig zag'
>and a 'double' curve, and 'shoots' and 'jumps,' and fast and slow balls to
>match.  'That's all a mistake,' said Matthews, while talking over some of
>his experiences.  'I never saw but one curve, and never made any more.  Of
>course, a ball will shoot in a little distance, but you can't call it a
>curve, because you can't hold that kind of a ball so as to make a curve out
>of it.  The only genuine curve is the one that turns out from the batsmen;
>but after two or three of that kind a straight ball, if it is properly
>pitched, looks as if it was turning the other way.  'Drop' balls, or balls
>which apparently shoot or curve downwards, are all deceptive work, and are
>thrown from the highest start the rules allow.  Rising balls are the same
>thing, started from as near the ground as possible and pitched upward.
>'Slowed' balls are started slow with an apparently fast flourish, for if
>they were ever started fast I don't know what skill could hold them back,
>and, as to balls which go both in and out, why that is a manifest
>impossibility.  No, sir.  Good, straight pitching, thorough command over the
>ball, a good 'out-curve' and a good 'in-shoot' are what the great pitchers
>are working with today, and I, for my part, don't believe in anything else.'
>I infer from this that by "shoot," Matthews means a type of breaking pitch,
>and that to him there was a very clear distinction between the curve and the
>shoot, which involved the sharpness and direction of the break.  It is easy
>to see why such a subtle distinction would be difficult to preserve in
>common use, especially by speakers who were not the masters of throwing
>these pitches.  (Skip, note also an early occurrence of one of your favorite
>terms, "command.")
>Further complicating matters, I believe that to Matthews a curve is a pitch
>thrown by a right-handed pitcher that breaks away from a right-handed
>batsman.  When Matthews started throwing the curve, right-handed pitchers
>and hitters were the norm and that was a reasonable definition.  However, in
>large part because of the curve ball itself, a significant increase in
>left-handed batters and pitchers soon followed.  Does one then need four
>different words to designate the pitch based upon the handedness of the
>batter?  There may initially have been an effort to incorporate such
>complexity.  In this quotation from the Detroit Free Press in 1884 -
>"[Dupee] Shaw's left-handed out-shoots are responsible for [Walter] Walker's
>sore hand" - note that an out-curve becomes an out-shoot when thrown by a
>left-hander.  But such painstaking usage would be virtually impossible to
>sustain.  I submit that the inevitable result would be the
>interchangeability of initially distinct terms that I have already
>Here are some additional citations:
>Grand Rapids (MI) Herald, May 17, 1903, claimed that Arthur Cummings
>invented the curve ball that broke away from the right-handed batter but
>that [Fred] Goldsmith "discovered the 'in shoot,' that is, he was able to
>deliver a swift ball with a distinct swerve toward a right-handed batter."
>Washington Post, September 4, 1904, "a few years ago there was a story
>afloat that some exponent of the pitcher's art had invented a 'double
>shoot,' a ball which so defied the laws of gravitation that it would curve
>twice in its course, first in and then out, or combining a drop and an up
>curve.  This year, however, Jack Chesbro has introduced a novelty into
>pitching, which, while it is not as wonderful as the visionary double shoot,
>still is very effective in aiding its possessor to puzzle the opposing
>batters.  This innovation is known as 'the spit ball.' "
>Cy Young, quoted in 1905: "This talk about the bewildering shoots that are
>expected to make the batsmen hammer the atmosphere until they are blue in
>the face is enough to make one smile.  When the season opens such twists as
>the 'spit ball,' 'snake twist,' and the 'grasshopper shoot' will be
>relegated to the icebox, and it will be a case of play ball."
>In 1910, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Eddie Wray wrote of an idea that
>pitcher Ted Kennedy had devised in the 1880s:  "Ted set to work to devise a
>pitching gun that would serve up any kind of a curve, at any given height,
>at any rate of speed desired.  He could mix a high inshoot with a low drop,
>a straight fast one with a slow floater - in short, anything."
>I don't think much commentary on these quotations is necessary, as their
>meaning seems quite apparent.  As I mentioned in a previous message, and for
>reasons that should be apparent from the foregoing, new meanings for shoot
>appeared in the twentieth century and the original one became obsolete.  But
>while the history of this term has had an appropriate number of twists and
>bends, I do not believe that it has ever meant a fastball and I believe I
>have shown that to be the case.
>Peter Morris

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