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Was Mariano Rivera throwing a spitball?

Oct 20, 2009, 8:39 AM EDT

Watch the video here.  And check out the pic to the right.  This took place in the bottom of the 10th yesterday, right after he completed his warmup pitches.  He’s facing away from home plate.

Call me crazy, but it appears to me like Rivera looks up to see if anyone is watching, then looks down and spits right on the ball.  Is that the secret to his cutter? Anyone have an alternate explanation as to what is going on?

Holy smokes. I have to imagine we’ll hear more about this as the day goes on.

UPDATE:  I’ve had a bunch of conversations with a bunch of people on this in the past hour.  Some general observations/questions:

Q: Is Mariano definitely spitting on the ball?

A: Hard to say. Looks like it to me, but the cutaway is quick and the angle could be deceiving. I’m just going with my first impression of what the video and photo show.  I’d kill for another angle of this.

Q: Do you actually throw a spitball by, you know, spitting on the ball?

A: It’s not the most traditional way — according to everything I’ve read merely wetting the fingers is more common — but it’s certainly been done.  Really, anything that either (a) adds a viscous fluid to the ball to alter its flight; or (b) lubes it up to decrease friction upon release, thereby increasing the spin and thus the ultimate drop is sufficient.

Q: If it is a spitball, why would Rivera be so obvious about it?  He’s a smart guy. He’d try to hide it better, wouldn’t he?

A: Maybe so. But isn’t it just as valid to say that Rivera, one of the most talented pitchers ever, never had to use a spitball before, and thus if he is now, he’s less likely to be practiced at it than a guy who had to cheat just to keep his job?

I have no idea what he’s doing here — and I simply don’t want to believe that Rivera was throwing a spitter, because I’ve always admired and respected the guy – but it doesn’t seem satisfying to simply say “Mariano would never do this, so he didn’t do it.”  The video is very, very interesting.  It may be completely debunked by another angle — and if anyone has one, please send it ASAP and I’ll update.  But for now, it’s all we have.

I know I have a reputation for baiting Yankees fans, but I am sincere in asking whether or not Rivera was doing this.  I don’t know, and I’m open to alternate interpretations and evidence.

(thanks to Jason Epstein for the link)

UPDATE #2:

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that MLB “is investigating video that shows Mariano Rivera spitting toward a baseball before facing his first batter in the 10th inning of Game 3.”  Sherman notes that “the initial reaction by the league is that the video plus still pictures they have of the incident are inconclusive.”

UPDATE #3As Aaron notes, evidence was found of a spitter, which presumably closes the case.

  1. Grant - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    Here comes the deluge…

  2. Simon DelMonte - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    Interesting choice of words.

  3. rje49 - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    I didn’t see that, but I don’t see how he could keep that a secret for so many years. However, I have never forgotten a sight caught on TV in 1982. Pete Vukovich, the Cy Young winner that year for the Brewers, spitting a big gob on his glove, then smearing his fingers on it before making a pitch to Rick Miller at Fenway. Bob Montgomery, the Sox’ commentator, saw the obvious and says “oh, what’s this?” I was amazed that it was so obvious, and that nothing ever came of it.

  4. Patrick - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:51 AM

    Yeah, I can’t believe he’s been doing it forever… So… Why would he do it then? Etc.
    Bizarre! I can’t wait to see the reaction.

  5. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:56 AM

    If this is what he’s dong it here — and I’m being totally sincere when I ask for other opinions because I have a hard time thinking that Rivera would be so brazen about it — it doesn’t mean that he’s done it before.
    Assuming this is a spitball, my guess would be that this is a late career, “I don’t have the stuff I used to have” thing as opposed to something he’s done for years. Remember that quote in “Major League” “Some day you will too . . “

  6. yankeefan - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:13 AM

    You know, I pitched professionally for 10 years and knew and talked to guys who threw spitters, scuff balls and all of that jazz. Mariano has been a one pitch pitcher since he bacame a reliever. Ususally, guys who throw “spitters” throw it with a breaking ball or slider or split finger, like Mike Scott used to. But I have watched him pitch this postseason and he had the same type of movement on his cutter than he did during the season as well as during the past 10 or so years. When you throw a “spitter”, you hold the ball where the lubrication is, most likely between the seams on the leather. That will create a slippery surface that will make the ball bite a little more because of the kind of spin the ball will have.
    The cutter is thrown with the ball being offcenter in your hands and the middle and index fingers on the seams. When thrown the ball will come off the side of the hand creating an offcenter spin. The harder the wrist snaps the fingers through, the tighter the spin and the more movement the ball will have. Spit ball theory totally ludicrous.

  7. Patrick - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    I saw this live and he didn’t spit on the ball. It came close but it was right passed it. Let’s see the video of this and then we can pass judgement.

  8. peteinfla - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    I agree completely. Did you happen to notice that his velocity is way down in his last few appearances? As I was watching the last 2 games, he was topping out consistently at 89-90mph, considerably down from the 92-93 he was throwing at as recently as the Division series against the Twins.
    I think that if he was indeed throwing a spitter, it is probably due to being tired. Perhaps Girardi’s questionable use (overuse?) of him and the rest of the bullpen has a role here.

  9. notocraig - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    get a life craig. start doing articles on subjects other than your opinion.

  10. areyou kidding - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    you have to be kidding me craig…you are clearly hoping the yankees lose–possibly a redsox fan i dont know but i would love to know how you actually have a job doing this

  11. Patrick - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    “notocraig
    get a life craig. start doing articles on subjects other than your opinion. ”
    Oh you poor child. Clearly, the video above – about which Craig asks a question – is an example of his OPINION.
    …wait… it’s real? It’s not just in Craig’s head?
    Why don’t you think it was a spitball? Do you have another video? Did you see something? Do you have any real thoughts at all?

  12. CardsfaninCA - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:56 AM

    Yo Craig….”viscous.” Not “viscious.”

  13. chris - Oct 20, 2009 at 10:57 AM

    In the video is Rivera on the mound or is he in the bullpen? From the look of it, I would like to know if he is in the Bullpen. Do you realy think no one would have seen him do that on the mound? Especially the man on second base? Come on.

  14. Andy L - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:04 AM

    Yeah. As soon as I saw the video of Mariano Rivera spitting a huge gob of Craig Calcaterra’s opinion onto a baseball, I knew Craig would be the first guy to come out and trumpet it.

  15. GBS - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:05 AM

    Craig is not a Red Sox fan, though I imagine “notocraig” and “areyou kidding” are Yankees fans.
    Craig is raising a legitimate issue, based on the video he linked to. The cut-away and angle make it quite difficult – if not impossible – to tell where the spit is going. Maybe it hits the ball, maybe it goes past, maybe that’s the white stripe on Scioscia’s sleeve in the cut-away that I’m seeing. I don’t know, but it’s certainly worthy of mention.

  16. jacob - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:12 AM

    I noticed the spitting incident in the live broadcast. He was definitely on the mound and not in the bullpen.

  17. Jimbo - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    Seems like a really risky venture to pull out a spitter in the middle of a playoff game and try to place it for effect since the conventional wisdom is it’s not something he would have a lot of experience throwing. Chalk it up to an optical illusion that provided fodder for the blogsphere.

  18. Are you kidding? - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    I can’t believe that you get paid to write a column. I have only read your posts a handful of times and I have to say that they are the dumbest articles I’ve read in a long time.

  19. Kyle - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:18 AM

    It’s tough to see, but if you go frame by frame on the video you see the spit going towards the ball but not to the ground. Leads me to think it must have landed on the ball. It would have been nice if they didn’t cut away right away though.

  20. H25 - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:26 AM

    Spitter or not you still have to get the ball over the plate.
    I’ve seen Rivera pitch hundreds of times and he did throw one pitch that I thought “never saw him throw that before” It looked like it dropped off a table.
    But like I said you still have to get it over the plate doesn’t matter.
    Scuffed balls would be an issue because any jackass can make work.

  21. D.J. Short - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    If MLB really wanted to investigate, I’m sure they could get the tape of the footage we didn’t see when the FOX feed broke away.

  22. MatchDay5 - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:43 AM

    What was your signature again? Oh yeah, that’s right.

  23. Josh - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:48 AM

    Anybody who watches Rivera pitch every day knows that he chews sunflower seeds or something like that and frequently spits out the seeds while on the mound. I suspect that is what he was doing here.

  24. Bob - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    Get real. Nobody throws a spitball by actually spitting on the ball. Rivera’s been around long enough to know how to do it if he wanted to. You see pitchers (and everyone else for that matter) spitting on the mound all the time. It’s just the camera angle folks.

  25. Southpaw - Oct 20, 2009 at 11:56 AM

    He throws one pitch.. a NASTY cutter and with that amazing control of it… if you watch any of the slow motion video of him the rotation on his pitches is tight and has that ‘football’ spiral of sorts…
    i had the fortune of pitching for 10 years professionally and there is no WAY he is spitting on the ball.. if he would do anything it might be scuffing to get the extra bite on his cutter…

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