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The Spitball Pitcher for Grand Forks, Steve Morse

8/3/2015:

A long time ago, pitcher Steve Morse was a “spit ball artist” for the Grand Forks Flickertails baseball team. On this date in 1912, the Grand Forks Herald reported that Morse and the Flickertails had lost a tough game to Duluth, 6 to 4, but the paper didn’t blame Morse, saying the “young gentleman did everything in his power to save the team . . . but his fellow players wobbled and floundered [all] over the diamond.” The Flickertails catcher, trying to excuse his wild throws, blamed the leftover saliva from Morse’s soggy pitches for his own inaccuracy.

Steve Morse, formerly of St. Paul, was one of the best players for the team, which played in the Central International League. Spitballs were legal at that time, but were banned a few years later.

The spitball was “probably the most deceptive ball that a batter ever struck at,” according to N.Y. Giants manager John McGraw. “To throw a spitball,” McGraw explained, “wet the first and second fingers so the ball will slip away, instead of rolling away.” The curve it produced was sharp, sudden and “sometimes startling.” It had “very little rotary motion,” so it came up to the batter “big and slow, and the batter” could “almost see the seams” on the baseball, but just as the batter drew back to hit it, the ball dropped or jumped “as if struck down from behind.” If the batter would hit where he aimed, he would miss the ball by about a foot. “The perfect spitball drops from a batter’s hips to his knees.”

It took time for Steve Morse to master the spitball. It had to be thrown at “medium speed,” for if thrown too fast, it lost its drop, and if thrown too slowly, it would hit the ground before it reached the plate.

Steve Morse pitched for Grand Forks from 1912 to 1915, and when his spitter was working, he was considered “unbeatable,” but when his control was ‘off,’ he was vulnerable.

The slippery spitball made “absolute control . . . impossible.” In one notable game, Morse walked 10 batters.

But for a time, Steve Morse was known as a “spit-ball artist,” slinging the “saliva-smeared sphere” for the Flickertails of Grand Forks.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “Heartbreaking Slaughter of Flickertails,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, August 3, 1912, p. 2.

“Flickertails Defeat The Maroons,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, May 21, 1914, p. 6.

“St. Paul Boys With Forks,” Virginia [MN] Enterprise, May 7, 1915, p. 2.

“Morse At the Opening Game,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, May 4, 1915, p. 8.

“Twins Take Third Straight By Score Of 3 To 1 Though Outhit,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, July 1, 1914, p. 2.

“How To Throw ‘Spitball; Although Not a Pitcher, Muggsy McGraw Tells How to Manage It,” Washington Post, April 30, 1905, p. S3.

“Spit Ball, Hard To Hit, Easily Thrown,” Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1905, p. III 4.

“The Batter and the ‘Spit Ball,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 9, 1905, p. A1.

“Spitball Under Ban In Western League,” Grand Forks Herald, April 29, 1919, p. 8.