Cheating – Losing that Edge

Continued from Yesterday

Act Two:

Originality is the art of concealing your sources
Benjamin Franklin

Ford was convinced that his secret was just that, a secret. His 1912 and 1913 seasons were not particularly fine, especially in the shadow of the achievements he garnered in his initial trips through the circuit. With contentment often comes carelessness, or so I’ve heard. The point is that Fords secret wasn’t exactly as secret as he thought.
Over in Cleveland 6’5” Cy Felkenberg was about to step into the story. Cy could be a formidable figure on the mound, however he most often wasn’t, mostly due to his thin frame and less then impressive stuff. An educated man Cy knew that his time in the league was drawing to a close, he was over 30 and he was in his fourth organization and wasn’t counted on to help them out much in 1913. A friendly tip from a minor league catcher in Toledo was the first time someone had revealed Fords secret to an opposing hurler. Knowing that it might be his last chance Cy decided that he had nothing to lose. And losing wasn’t something he experienced as he won his first eight starts of the season in complete games and after a no-decision he won two more. By seasons end Cy had a 23-10 record and a 2.22 ERA, all records for the beanpole from Illinois. Cy’s sudden surge wasn’t missed by his fellow players and he claimed that Clark Griffin himself examined several balls after Cy stepped off the mound. Cy also was haphazard in hiding the trick from his teammates, his trick was to sew an emery cloth in his glove and using that to roughen the sphere. Because of this carelessness, not many were convinced that the real Cy Felkenberg could suddenly put so much stuff on the ball. Mainly a changeup pitcher with and occasional fastball to keep the hitters honest, Felkenberg wasn’t able to hide his success behind the spitter like Ford and he made no deceptive moves to hide his erratic new pitch, so suspicion was at a higher level when he was on the mound than there was when Ford toed the rubber. At the seasons end Cy had surpassed Ford as the premier trick hurler in the league and Ford was experiencing a salary dispute with the Yankees after a poor season.

Act Three:

The salary dispute was a symptom of the larger issue the league was facing, and that was a challenge to their monopoly by the Federal League. In an attempt to legitimize itself the FL like the AL years before was content stealing players from the older, more established league.

Both Ford and Felkenberg parlayed their success into contracts extending their careers and topping the prior paydays they had enjoyed. The pitch had not only saved their careers, but had enhanced their bank statements as well.

After being offered only a raise of $250 for the 1914 season Felkenberg followed Ford to the rival league, and in the two season they pitched there both still were top line hurlers.

Best Hits per Nine in Federal League

HITS/9 IP                      H/9 IP   BB/9 IP  SO/9 IP
Gene Krapp                     7.18     4.43     3.70
Claude Hendrix                 7.21     2.24     4.12
Dave Davenport                 7.46     2.60     5.49
Fred Anderson                  7.82     2.45     5.14
Russ Ford                      7.93     2.14     3.77
Al Schulz                      7.94     4.23     4.62
Nick Cullop                    8.04     2.32     3.91
Happy Finneran                 8.06     3.39     2.81
Earl Moseley                   8.08     3.42     5.34
Cy Falkenberg                  8.11     2.23     5.00

Act Four:

It was in the middle of the 1914 season that the secret hit the streets and it seemed that all over the league pitchers were taking up the new pitch. Confronted by the press in Baltimore Ford finally admitted that he knew of the pitch, despite the insistence by Federal League officials that he deny it.

”Why should I deny it? It’s been my secret for seven years and I should not expect to keep it forever.”

As the pitch grew in popularity it became the bane of many officials and fellow players as well.

The Emery Ball requires little or no skill on the part of the pitcher, an outfielder with a good arm and fair speed could come in and pitched the Emery ball.”
Walter Johnson

By the 1914 all three leagues took a stand.

Russell Ford had this to say about the Emery Ball in early 1915

As for me, I’m through with the Emery Ball for all time. I have no complaints to make. The Emery Ball has been good to me, it round out the years that I needed it most and won many a close game for me.”

By seasons end Fords career had come to a close.

Now with a possible $200 fine attached to it the pitchers looked away from the emery ball and spawned similar pitches like the “Mud Ball” and “Shine Ball” pitches that depended on dirt to provide the abnormality in the spheres flight. The Mud Ball was the first to take a fall.

The Shine Ball would linger a few more years and was particularly kind to the Cincinnati Reds in 1919, however all freak deliveries would vanish when he spitter was abolished in February of 1920 when the game tilted back towards the hitter.

Sure folks try to replicate these pitches, Kevin Gross, Don Sutton, Joe Niekro to name a few. But it gets harder and harder with all the new balls in play, video and the gaggle of umps at each contest. So cheating becomes more of an inward journey, players try and beat the system physically with HGH and steroids, condemned by those who know and chasing the same golden ring that enchanted Russ Ford and Cy Felkenberg, financial success and baseball immortality.

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