San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig had never before seen Dwight Gooden pitch in the regular season, and though Dr. K had an off day, getting shelled by the Giants for seven runs in only four innings on a Thursday afternoon in Candlestick Park last month, Craig, as an old pitching coach, could see what all the fuss was about. "He's got a great arm," the manager said in his office after his team's 10-2 win. "A great arm. I can see why he's such a good pitcher. Of course," and he paused, smiling conspiratorially at the expectant audience of newsmen, "of course, he'd really be a good pitcher if he had the split-finger."
There was laughter all around. Craig was surely kidding. He knows how good Gooden is. Why, only the day before, he had introduced himself to the Mets' star during batting practice. "Hi, I'm Roger Craig," he had said. "How're you doing, son?" "Pretty good, sir," replied Gooden, looking shy and embarrassed. "Pretty good? Why, young man, you're doing about as well as anybody I've ever seen or heard of, and I've been around some pretty fair pitchers, like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. You just keep it up, son."
He knows how good Gooden is, but maybe he wasn't kidding after all, because in Craig's opinion, the pitcher has never existed who couldn't have been a better one if he had used the split-fingered fastball. "Jack Morris was a good pitcher," Craig will say of the Detroit ace. "With the split-finger, he's a great one." To hear Craig talk, Cy Young might have won 611 games, not just 511, if he had used the split-finger; Matty might have had four shutouts, instead of only three in the 1905 Series; and who can say how many strikeouts Walter Johnson would have had if he had had the split-finger to go with his famous hummer? Craig believes in the split-fingered fastball the way Cap Weinberger believes in Star Wars—as the ultimate defensive weapon. It may not be quite that, but it is, beyond dispute, the hottest pitch in baseball, the newest bane of the hitter's existence.
In truth, split-finger practitioners may well be on their way to dominating the pitching game. Bruce Sutter, the split-finger pioneer, had been the premier relief pitcher of his time until injuries felled him a year ago. At his peak Sutter threw the split-finger about 90% of the time, and 90% of the time it was unhittable. Morris, with 102 wins in the 1980s entering this season, is the winningest pitcher of the decade. Donnie Moore, who won 8 and saved 31 and had a 1.92 ERA for the Angels last year, is a split-finger man. The leading strikeout pitcher in the NL, Mike Scott of Houston and the second-best in the AL, Bruce Hurst of Boston, are split-finger pitchers. So is the Mets' Ron Darling, who is 6-1 so far this season. Ron Guidry has a split-finger. So have Bob Welch and Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers. Virtually every member of Craig's own revived Giants pitching staff throws it, including Mike LaCoss (5-1), Mike Krukow (7-3) and the relief aces, Jeff Robinson and Mark Davis, both of whom have more strikeouts than innings pitched.
June 8, 1986
Consider also how the pitch has transformed failing careers into successful ones. Sutter was about to be released by the Cubs in 1973 when he learned the pitch from Fred Martin, then a minor league pitching instructor in the Chicago organization. Martin, who has since died, felt that Sutter's exceptionally long fingers made him a natural for the pitch. He took him on as his first pupil. "It [the split-finger] did everything for my career," Sutter says now. "If it wasn't for that pitch, I'd be back in Pennsylvania working in a printer's shop." Instead he's earning $1.66 million a year throwing split-fingers for the Braves.
Scott had just completed a dreadful 5-11, 4.68 ERA 1984 season with Houston when Bob Lillis, then the Astros' manager and now a Giants coach, suggested he seek out Craig for some split-finger therapy. The Tigers, with Craig as their pitching coach, had led the American League in staff ERA that year on their way to winning the World Series. Craig, ever the evangelist, had no objection to tutoring a pitcher in the other league—little realizing at the time that this pitcher, at least, would come back to haunt him—so he invited Scott to join him at his home in San Diego for some private lessons. Scott spent eight days with the maestro and proved a quick study. In 1985, with the split-finger in his arsenal, Scott improved his record to 18-8 and his ERA to 3.29. He had career highs for starts, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. The banner season earned him a new three-year contract worth $2 million. This season he is averaging better than a strikeout per inning. The pitch not only saved a flagging career and made him a wealthy man, it also converted him into an iron man. Because the split-finger imposes relatively little strain on his arm, Scott says, "I can throw as well with three days' rest now as I could with five days' rest before I started throwing it."
Hurst didn't start using the pitch until the Red Sox demoted him to the bullpen in June of '85 after he had gotten off to a 2-5 start. Restored to the rotation and armed with his new weapon by late June, he allowed only one run in his next three starts and was 9-6 for the rest of the season. Never a strikeout pitcher before the split-finger, he has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning since he started using the pitch consistently, and this year, like Scott, he's whiffing opponents at better than a strikeout per inning.
Moore is also convinced it is the split-finger that separates him from the masses. He, like Sutter, learned it from Martin, Craig's predecessor as the split-finger guru. Moore, now 32, had spent most of his career trying to get out of the minor leagues until he saved 16 games for the Braves in 1984. The split-finger began to take form two years earlier, he estimates, or seven years after he first tried it. "It took me a long time to control it and gain confidence in it," he says. But when he had full command of it last year, "It made a big difference; I was like another pitcher. It made my slider and fastball better. I became a better pitcher."
If the slider was "the pitch that changed the game" in the '60s, the split-fingered fastball is, as Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez and Wade Boggs have proclaimed, "the Pitch of the '80s." When Tony Gwynn, San Diego's marvelous hitter, was first told that Craig would be managing the Giants, he heaved a mournful sigh. "That means all those guys in San Francisco will be throwing the split-finger," he said. "I saw enough of that in the '84 Series with Jack Morris." Morris had two complete-game wins in that Series, pitching, as Craig himself says, "at the highest level of supreme confidence." Afterward, an exuberant Morris told reporters he wondered if Babe Ruth could have hit the split-finger and, furthermore, "I have seen Ty Cobb swing on film, and I know he couldn't have."
No doubt about it, the pitch is catching on. Craig figures that half of the pitchers on every major league staff are at least flirting with it. Some traditionalists question this, but, as Mets announcer and former major league catcher Tim McCarver says, "I think a lot of pitchers are experimenting with it but not admitting it. They don't want to call it a split-fingered fastball until they've perfected it. It's getting more popular. It's almost epidemic since the Tigers." According to White Sox outfielder Harold Baines, "There's probably not a pitcher who doesn't practice it. I get the feeling they're all getting ready to try it in a game."
If Craig has his evangelical way, everybody will soon be throwing his pet pitch. He does like to spread the gospel. Before he became manager of the Giants, he would demonstrate the split-finger at the drop of a suggestion. At the 30th reunion of the 1955 Dodgers, Craig happily showed the grip to old teammate Ron Perranoski, who also happens to be the current Dodgers pitching coach. Perranoski, in turn, showed the pitch to Jerry Reuss, Tom Niedenfuer, Hershiser and Welch. Now all four of them throw it against the Giants. "We'll be fine," says Giants catcher Bob Brenly, "if we can just get Roger to stop teaching that pitch to opposing pitchers." In fact Craig receives at least 10 requests a day from players, many of them youngsters, and coaches for information on the split-finger. To save him the bother of personal responses, the Giants have prepared with his cooperation a question-and-answer form letter—ROGER CRAIG TALKS ABOUT THE SPLIT-FINGERED FASTBALL—for mailing. Craig has also filmed an instructional videotape about pitching fundamentals, which features, naturally, the split-finger.
The pitch, as Craig teaches it, is thrown with exactly the same motion and arm speed as a fastball. Only the grip is different, the fingers being spread far apart instead of placed close together, and parallel to instead of across the seams. Pitches held across the seams gain rotation—and therefore speed—and tend to rise in flight from mound to plate, creating the hopping effect that great fastball pitchers like Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan have had. Balls held outside the seams rotate more slowly and are thus less wind resistant. The knuckle-ball, which scarcely rotates at all, is at the mercy of the elements and will do almost anything in its languid journey to the plate. A pitch thrown as hard as the split-finger will start out briskly, then perceptibly slow down and finally, if thrown correctly, drop like a rock as it reaches the plate. Hub Kittle, the former Cardinals pitching coach, has rapturously described the Sutter split-finger: "As he comes over and down with very fast arm action, just like with his fastball, the ball squirts out with a sinker spin from his thumb. The ball comes in looking like a straight fastball with a velocity around 85 miles an hour. As it gets to the plate, it just seems to sit, like an airplane coming in for a landing."
It is this deceptive resemblance to the fastball that differentiates the split-finger from its ancestor, the forkball, a pitch much in vogue in the '40s and '50s when it was employed to great effect by such as Tiny Bonham, Elroy Face and Lindy McDaniel. There is still some confusion as to what distinguishes the two pitches; one major league pitching coach, Galen Cisco of San Diego, says, "I would like somebody to tell me the difference between the split-fingered fastball and the forkball." Well, the forkball is an off-speed pitch thrown with a slower arm action and generally with the ball held deeper into the palm of the hand. It is thrown with less rotation so that, according to Moore, "it flutters in like a knuckleball, which makes it easier [than the split-finger] for a hitter to pick up." Morris and Scott Garrelts of the Giants, for instance, will throw their split-fingers at speeds of up to 85 miles an hour.
Craig instructs his pupils to "think fastball" when throwing the pitch. In fact he advises them to warm up for it by simply throwing fastballs, as many as 20 or more, while gradually widening the grip and moving the thumb up the side of the ball. What has made Sutter's split-finger so effective over the years has been his skill in squirting the ball forward with his thumb to create the tumbling effect that makes that final drop so precipitous. Not every split-finger thrower has fingers as long as Sutter's, so Craig encourages his protégés to experiment on their own until they find a grip that is comfortable. In spring training he had his own pitchers—and every one of them was taught the split-finger—toting baseballs around the clubhouse in the split-finger grip. To simulate the throwing motion, he also had them bouncing balls off the floor. But split-finger pitchers must learn to grow with the grip. Darling of the Mets literally grew with his. When he first experimented with the pitch three years ago, Darling spent much of spring training with a ball wedged between his fingers. He estimates now that this bizarre exercise increased the distance between his index and middle fingers by nearly a half inch.
Craig defines three stages in the development of the split-finger. In the first, the pitch becomes more of a straight change-up, which, since it is thrown with fastball arm speed, makes it confusing enough. In the second, the pitch develops a knuckle-ball or forkball flutter—effective certainly, but not as deadly as the crash-dive effect it achieves in the final stage when it tumbles from the split fingers looking for all the world like a fastball down the middle. "If it looks like a strike, it's not," says catcher Brenly. Both Garrelts and Robinson of Craig's staff had split-fingered pitches before Craig joined the Giants, but neither had taken them to the final stage. Now, says their manager, both pitchers have "dandies"—imposter fast-balls that dip like Gaylord Perry spitters. The pitch is just that much more effective if the pitcher has. as Robinson and Garrelts do, fastballs in the 90s.
Craig never threw the pitch in his 12-year major league career, although after he hurt his arm in 1957 pitching in the Brooklyn Dodgers' last game ever, he was desperately in search of an alternative breaking pitch. "There was no one to teach me," he says. As a matter of fact, he didn't learn to throw the split-finger until the winter of 1980, when he was 50. He was teaching then at the San Diego School of Baseball, which he helped found, before starting his first season as Sparky Anderson's pitching coach in Detroit. Most of his students were teenagers. "I was trying to find a breaking pitch that those youngsters could throw that wouldn't put a strain on their arms," he recalls. "I remembered that at the end of my own career I'd tried everything, including a forkball." In his school, Craig found that if he used a variation of the forkball grip, holding the ball farther away from the palm, and threw with a fastball motion, strange and wonderful things happened.
It became an easy pitch to teach, and since throwing it involved none of the twists of elbow and wrist that curveballs and sliders require, it put no more strain on the young arms of his pupils than throwing a fastball would have. He was definitely on to something. If he could teach kids 14, 15, 16 years old to throw the thing—if, for that matter, he could throw it himself at his age—then why couldn't he pass it on to major leaguers? Milt Wilcox, a pitcher plagued for much of his career with arm problems, was his first student. Morris, intrigued by his teammate's progress, was his second, in 1983. In the glory year of 1984, Wilcox won 17 games and Morris 19. Suddenly, the split-finger was all the vogue. What before had been Sutter's freak pitch, one few pitchers deigned to try, now became, with the success of the Tigers, the pitch everyone wanted. Craig had established that a pitcher need not have the hands of a giant to throw it. He could teach it to anybody and, occasionally to the Tigers' dismay, he seemed prepared to teach it to everybody.
As with anything that suddenly becomes fashionable, there has been a reaction. Some pitching coaches claim that the pitch can be hard on the arm, and indeed both Moore and Sutter are on the disabled list with shoulder injuries. Anderson, once Craig's staunchest supporter and still a good friend, lashed out against the split-finger this spring after Morris, his ace, got off to a wretched start, throwing split-fingers that didn't drop and fastballs that didn't pop. After Morris' ERA climbed over 6.00, Sparky protested that one pitch was ruining the other. "Jack has reached the point where he relies on [the split-finger] and it has taken away from his fastball," said Sparky. "His fastball is too good to throw that many forkballs [sic]. You keep throwing that thing and you lose pop on the fastball. It affects velocity, and you don't get rise on the fastball. In the beginning, [the split-finger] was so wonderful because it was a freak thing for the hitters. But once you throw it, throw it, throw it, the hitters sit there and watch, and it's no longer the same pitch."
"I one hundred percent disagree with Sparky," says Craig. "The split-finger is a lot easier on the arm than the curve or the slider. It's just another version of the fastball. I think Jack's problems this season were the same ones he had in early '84. He had trouble then with his motion, and he lost about three miles an hour off his fastball. And it's cold in Detroit in the spring. The split-finger is tough to command on cold nights because the fingers become numb."
Morris also disagrees with his manager. "There ain't no doubt about it—and you can call me cocky—but if it is thrown properly, there's no one living who can even hit it, and if they do, it will be a ground ball. It has better movement, I think, than the slider. It moves on a vertical plane, which is a tougher pitch to hit. The rotation is also tougher to pick up than a slider. I don't throw it perfect all the time, but I have to give that pitch a lot of credit. It's turned me into a strikeout pitcher."
Nonsense, says Sparky. The split-fingered fastball is just "a new toy."
Baseball has always had its toy pitches, as Sparky well knows, but a lot of them have proved remarkably durable little trinkets. In the game's beginnings, even the curve was considered a toy. There has been as much argument about who threw the first curveball as there has been over who laid out the first diamond, but there is no question that William Arthur (Candy) Cummings, a 5'9", 120-pound righthander, had a real hook back in the 1860s and '70s. The mound was a mere 45 feet from home plate then, but little Cummings still couldn't get enough steam on the ball to get many people out. According to author Martin Quigley in The Crooked Pitch, the 14-year-old Cummings discovered the curve quite by accident. Fingering a clam shell he had picked up, he casually flipped it away. The shell spun sharply off" course. Candy puzzled over this phenomenon. He thought, "What a wonderful thing it would be if I could make a baseball curve like that."
And so he began experimenting with his grip, applying pressure with his outside finger, twisting his wrist so that, in essence, he was throwing only half a ball, just as on that fateful day he was throwing an empty shell. Eureka! He had it. Candy started a revolution. He proved that a pitcher who had a good breaking ball need not be an overpoweringly hard thrower. In 1872, Cummings was 34-18 with the New York Mutuals of the National Association. An inveterate contract jumper, he moved on to Baltimore in '73, where he was 29-14. He was 28-26 for Philadelphia in '74 and 34-11 for Hartford in '75. Whether he deserves the honor or not, Candy Cummings is in the Hall of Fame "for meritorious service" as the inventor of the curveball. There are many hitters who would have been wealthier and happier men had he never picked up the shell. Indeed, the curveball has made gas station attendants and grocery clerks out of generations of otherwise dangerous sluggers.
The screwball, first perfected by Christy Mathewson as his "fadeaway," became the reverse of the curve. As thrown by a righthander like Mathewson, it would break away from a lefthanded hitter the same way a lefthander's curve might. Carl Hubbell made the pitch famous in the '20s and '30s, and such latter-day experts as Tug McGraw and Fernando Valenzuela have kept it alive and well.
The spitter, as legend has it, was actually the invention of an outfielder, George Hildebrand, who taught it to, among others, one Elmer Stricklett in 1902 when both were playing for Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. Stricklett, whose career was on the rocks because of a sore arm, gained a reprieve with the spitter. He returned to the majors in 1904 and in 1906 won 14 games for Brooklyn. Some people also credit him with developing the first slider, or "nickel curve" as it was called for the better part of a half century. The spitter was a legal, if despised, pitch until 1920 when Rule 8.02 took effect, banning all substance pitches. Seventeen pitchers, including three who made the Hall of Fame—Stanley Coveleski, Red Faber and Burleigh Grimes—were granted grandfather clause immunity from prosecution, permitting them to continue using it to the end of their careers. Grimes, Ol' Stubblebeard, was the last of this salivary breed, completing his career in 1934 with 270 wins, all but 34 of them coming after the spitter was outlawed.
Most gimmick pitches since 1920 have been little more than arid imitations of the old wet one. The search for an equivalent pitch has taken pitchers along paths once explored only by the alchemists. Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons called his knuckleball of the '20s and '30s a "dry spitter." Jesse (Pop) Haines of the Cardinals had a knuckler even before him, but the pitch didn't really take hold until the '40s when, as more and more conventional fastballers departed for military service, only aging and sore-armed tricksters remained on the home front. The knuckleball's popularity remains steadfast, the pitch having been refined in more recent years by Hoyt Wilhelm, Wilbur Wood and the Niekro brothers.
The forkball was another dry spitter, and though it was a staple in the repertoire of Bullet Joe Bush in the 1920s (26-7 for the Yankees in '22), it reached an apotheosis of sorts with Elroy Face's nearly impeccable 18-1 season in 1959. The slider hit its crooked stride in the years immediately following World War II, when such experts as Robin Roberts, Sal Maglie, Larry Jansen and Bob Lemon broke it off with baffling regularity. "A slider," said Charlie Dressen, "is either a fastball with a very small slow break or a curveball with a very small fast break." This hybrid pitch became the dominant weapon of the 1960s when expansion first thinned the major league rosters and made it possible for pitchers with neither good fastballs nor curves to survive against hitters who were lucky to be playing. The quick-breaker became the "out pitch" of a generation. It is thrown now much more often than the orthodox curve, and it is the pitch that will someday take Steve Carlton to the Hall of Fame.
There have been other, much more fruitless attempts at creating the dry spitter—the palm ball, for instance—but the most imaginative of all had to be Rip Sewell's "eephus pitch" or "blooper ball," introduced in 1941. By pulling back on the seams as he released the ball, Sewell was able to deliver a pitch that soared as high as 25 feet in the air before it crossed the plate. Sewell, then pitching for Pittsburgh, first threw it in the regular season to Dom Dallessandro of the Cubs in the ninth inning of a game the Pirates were winning 1-0. There were two outs, the bases were loaded and the count on Dallessandro was 3 and 2—hardly the time, one would think, for the freak pitch of the ages. But Sewell decided to shoot him the eephus—so named by Sewell's teammate Maurice (the Belgian Bomber) Van Robays because "it's a nothin' pitch and eephus ain't nothin'." The ball rose high above the abashed hitter like a soaring hawk. Dallessandro stood transfixed. When the eephus finally came down it cut the middle of the plate for strike three and the last out of the game. Dallessandro pointed his bat at Sewell and snarled, "You son of a bitch, if this was a rifle, I'd shoot you right between the eyes."
The split-finger is but the newest of the substitute spitters, but with its breathtaking drop, it may yet be the closest to the real thing. In a recent game, Cub manager Jim Frey asked the umpires several times to check balls thrown by Houston's Scott for tampering.
If it accomplishes nothing else, the split-finger has at least advanced the career of its most fervent proponent, Roger Craig. The pitch has all but become his calling card. In a way it's a shame the split-finger should precede him thus, for his players will say with conviction that his personality has a greater impact than his pitch. The Giants were a sorry collection of malcontents last season. Lashed by Craig's relentless cheerfulness, they have been transformed this year into a merry and united band, and a contending team as well. Craig has convinced them that they are good, and they believe him. "I had the split-finger before," Garrelts has said. "Roger gave me the confidence to throw it." "Roger just won't ever let us down," says Mark Davis. For himself, the manager says, "I've never been happier. I've never been with a team that had more enthusiasm, more belief in itself, and that includes the 1984 Tigers."
Craig had pretty well wearied of the big league routine after the triumph of '84. The World Series ring was his fourth, following three he had won as a player: with the '55 Brooklyn Dodgers, the '59 Los Angeles Dodgers and the '64 Cardinals. That seemed reward enough. "I was tired of traveling, and my wife, Carolyn, was tired of me traveling," he says. "She'd been with me all those years—almost 35 of them now—and we wanted some time together at our ranch outside San Diego. I've got five grandchildren. I've got three horses and three dogs. The Tigers offered me a decent contract to come back as a coach, and San Diego also offered me a job. Well, I still wanted to keep busy, so I took a job with the Tigers as a scout of National League teams. That didn't involve much travel at all. I was beginning to like the life. I certainly had no aspirations to manage again."
Craig had replaced Alvin Dark as the Padres manager after Dark was fired during spring training in 1978. His team won 84 games that year, the most wins for any San Diego team to that point, but when the Padres won 69 games the following year, Craig got the ax. Sparky Anderson offered him the job as pitching coach even before he got back to the ranch after his last game. After five years in Detroit—and two team ERA titles—Craig was satisfied to accept a peripheral role, despite attempts by the Tiger brass to keep him coaching. One of his former Detroit pupils, Wilcox, now pitching for Seattle, is convinced that the Tigers' abrupt decline since '84 is directly attributable to Craig's absence. "Roger Craig's not being there is the biggest difference," says Wilcox. "Roger has demonstrated where a club can be with a positive attitude. It's amazing what a little positive thinking does."
It was Craig's optimism, coupled with his commanding 6'4" physical presence—he is, as it were, the spitting image of Lyndon Johnson—that most impressed Al Rosen when he interviewed him for the San Francisco job. "I liked him instantly," said Rosen. "He fills up a room. When he enters, you know somebody is there. At his first meeting with the players this spring, you could see they were drawn to him. He has that kind of magnetism. I think they were ready for someone to come and part the Red Sea for them, and along came Roger."
Craig actually took over as manager last Sept. 18. After the last 18 games of the season, he recognized that the Giants had an attitude problem, as most perennial losers do. They needed discipline and optimism, and he gave them double barrels of both this spring. No more high stirrups on the uniform socks—some black must show. No more drinking on airplanes. No more showing up at the ballpark late. No more griping about Candlestick Park. And, most important, no more downcast expressions. "I'm just dumb enough to think I can do anything," says Craig. "I want my players to feel the same way. I tell them I saw a guy [Don Larsen] pitch a perfect game in a World Series. You know after that that anything's possible."
Craig recalls that when he was pitching, one of his managers approached him on the mound with a hangdog expression and began reeling off a list of things that could conceivably go wrong with the next hitter. "Don't throw this guy a curve outside or he'll kill it. Don't get behind on the count. Don't this and don't that. By the time he left the mound," says Craig, "I felt the situation was hopeless. That's why when I go out there I never say anything negative to the pitcher."
Last winter Craig hosted five of his pitchers—Robinson, Davis, Bill Laskey, Jim Gott and the since-departed Rick Waits—for a split-finger seminar in San Diego. Davis, a potentially brilliant lefty reliever, came away convinced. "I'd hate to make a living hitting that pitch," he said. "Even if you throw a bad one, you've got a changeup. If you've got a good one, it looks like a spitball, and if a hitter thinks it's a spitter, that's O.K., too, because you know you've planted some doubt in his mind. If I was trying to hit one of those pitches, I'd say the same thing, that it was a spitter. I think everybody's aware of the pitch now."
The only sure way to handle a perfect split-finger, as Craig sees it, is not to swing at it. "Say you throw 50 split-fingers in a game. Well, 40 of those will be balls. But you can bet that the hitters will swing at 25 of those 40 because they all look like strikes. Still, I think the hitters are getting smarter. That's why I have my pitchers throw it only when they're ahead on the count. Then you sit back and watch the hitters chase it."
No pitch ever survives unhit. Curves and sliders hang, and split-fingers sometimes do not drop. But of all the devilish inventions to come down from the mound, from the curve to the eephus, the split-fingered fastball may be the most bewitching of them all. "At first, it looks like a fastball," says Braves star Dale Murphy, "and then you think it's a changeup, and then it drops. It's hard to lay off that pitch." Pittsburgh pitching coach Ron Schueler offers this reasonable, if not entirely comforting, assessment: "If you have a good split-fingered fastball, the hitters will never catch up with it. It's strictly in the hands of the pitchers. Some will be successful. Some won't. It's that simple."
Simple, maybe, but hardly reassuring to hitters unlucky enough to be born in time to swing at the Pitch of the '80s.
•The beauty of the split-fingered fastball is that the pitch appears to the batter to be a regular fastball until, as the diagram at the far left shows, the bottom suddenly drops out. The other diagrams illustrate how the curve, slider, screwball and knuckleball behave on their way to the plate.