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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)


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. Kyle - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    Taking another look at it, I’m going to have to change my mind. I don’t see the spit going past the ball, but it’s possible that it just blended in with the background. What you can see clearly, however, is that he is holding the ball off the the side when he spits. Compare where the ball is when he’s looking at it to where it is after he pulls it away and then brings it back up while spitting. It’s pretty clear that he pulls it away from the camera (notice how the ball looks smaller from when he looks at it to when he spits).

  2. Douglas Traynor - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    This is a ridiculous topic. So what if he spit on the ball? Is a little spit (or tobacco juice, or a nick on the ball) equivalent to someone who hit about 300 extra homeruns, or won an extra sh*tload of Cy Young awards, because he used steroids? If no one did anything about guys juicing themselves up, then no one should even care if Mariano or any other pitcher puts a glob of something on the ball.

  3. Nick - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    Really? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. I can’t even believe I’m responding to it other than to say that this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Mo is always spitting…just like 99.9% of baseball players ages 8 and up. This is just stupid. Yankee fan or not…you know he’s not throwing spitballs. Spitballs? Really? REALLY!? You’re a jerk. Write about whatever team you’re a fan of…most likely one WATCHING the ALCS/NLCS on TV. Hater.

  4. Jon - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    Take another look at the video. If you pause it at the moment of the cross-disolve fade between shots you will see what I believe is the spit missing the ball. If you were to imagine the ball as a clock face, the spit looks to pass the ball at 3 o’clock as he pulls the ball to his left and toward his body. The angle and the depth of field contibute to the optical illusion that he is spitting on the ball when in fact I think that he was spitting beyond the ball to his right. As the cross fade occurs, you can see Sciocia’s white tag on his jacket which adds to the illusion that the spit hits the ball.

  5. Elwood Suggs - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    I’m a pretty big Red Sox fan and I have to tell you, to me this is a load of hooey. Mariano Rivera looked the same yesterday as he always looks. Tough, and plenty of it. He’s the best reliever in the game and has been for a number of years. I’ve always thought the small amount of success the Sox have had against him over the years spoke well of them. Whatever else Mariano might be, stupid he’s not. It’s hard to think of anything more stupid in these circumstances than spitting on a baseball in playoff game in front of tens of millions of people.

  6. lucasjackson - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:30 PM

    Wow. What a pile of steaming crap. It’s utterly amazing to see this sort of incompetence linked to a reputable (somewhat) news organization.
    Hey genius, did you even bother to watch the video? You can CLEARLY see Rivera move his right hand, the one with the ball, out to the right, away from the front of his body where he spits. It’s impossible to miss if you’re not completely and utterly incompetent.
    What’s your excuse?

  7. jp - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:32 PM

    Screen Grabs you might be interested in viewing!
    very interesting

  8. lucasjackson - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:34 PM

    More importantly, if you focus on his right hand throughout the incident, you can see that he started moving it off to his right side before he spits and continues moving it that way right up until the video cuts away.
    He CLEARLY did not spit on the ball.

  9. lucasjackson - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:39 PM

    Why don’t you look at how the position of his right hand changes between pics 3 and 5 of your little collage. Does that tell you anything, Einstein?

  10. Greg Hale - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    I saw it live and Mariano Rivera definintly spit on the ball ! Are you people blind. Everybody gets caught eventually, And he just did!!I m not a sox fan or an angels fan,, I’m a PHILLIES FAN And Yankees are going down, spitballer and all !!

  11. lucasjackson - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    Why don’t you look at how the position of his right hand changes between pics 3 and 5 of your little collage. Does that tell you anything, Einstein?

  12. Steve - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:46 PM

    Hey Greg !
    Your right ! Yankees might as well not even show up..THEY WILL BE ASCARED!! we are gonna repeat,,,GO PHILLIES

  13. Douglas Trayno - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    Was Mariano Rivera in Dealy Plaza when JFK was shot???. If you look closely at the trees behind the fence on the grassy knoll you can see Mariano spitting on the Magic Bullet. Geez!!!

  14. BruinsGirl - Oct 20, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    Seriously? Video proof and people are still defending him. He was a great pitcher for years but the spit clearly lands on the ball. Hey Lucasjackson…maybe you should get some glasses buddy cause his right hand in comparison to the fence in the background and his jersey is extremely consistant through frames 3-5. He was on the mound, turned his back to the plate, and looked up to see if the 2nd base ump was watching, then he spit. Not very hard to follow.

  15. unbelievable - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:00 PM

    Where’s the “video” proof? All we see here is a still picture at a bad angle. You guys are really reaching trying to do something to defame the Yankees. let it go.

  16. Greg - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    go to You will see your boy got caught… sorry ,, it happened… and its probubly been happening,, he just got caught,, simple as that cant deny it !! 😦

  17. lucasjackson - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:08 PM

    What sheer and utter stupidity. Honestly, I have no need to argue with someone who’s either delusional, willfully lying or dumber than a box of rocks.
    The video and pics are there for all to see. You do realize that, right princess?
    I’ll never get the masshole mindset…

  18. lucasjackson - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:14 PM

    And just for the record, ANYONE who believes that Mariano Rivera would stand on a field, with thousands of cameras with telephoto lenses zoomed in on him and multiple video cameras and angles, and just hock one on he ball, need some serious help.
    The stupidity of all this is frightening.

  19. Nick - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    He was looking at the 2nd base ump, huh? He couldn’t have possibly been looking up into center field at the scoreboard…maybe a bird…maybe Jeter was standing there and said something to him? None of that is even remotely possible? And if he spit on the ball that blatently, we’d be reading about this elsewhere…not on some stupid blog. If ANY pitcher is going to cheat…they are not going to be that obvious. Let’s be real about this.
    I’m not going to start bashing any other team like some people on this thread no matter how badly I’d like to. I doubt any team that’s made it this far is going to be “ASCARED” (Nice spelling, Steve. And are you referring to Greg’s comments as if he were correct or are you telling him to look to his right? You probably have no idea what I’m talking about anyway.) Der.

  20. steve - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:19 PM

    your right he spit on the ball,, yankees fans should not be callin you names,, they are just upset, and think there team is to good for that,, it happened… he is a good pitcher and a cheater,,

  21. MattD - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:21 PM

    Bruins girl, huh! Unless your from U.C.L.A. I’ll take it that you’re also a red sox fan. So your opinion is probably a little biased. Since my opinion that Rivera is not spitting on the ball is also probably biased lets just take everything into account. First the angle of the camera does skew the view, you can’t tell if the spit hits the ball or how close the spit comes to the ball. Also if he is being so secretive by checking on the umps from 2nd to 3rd and blocking the homeplate ump’s view… WHY doesn’t he look at the ump down the right field line or the one at 1st base? Also if you were a pitcher and you were going to spit on a ball would you face the only place on the field where a member of the other team is standing. This takes place when Rivera came in… THERE WAS A RUNNER ON 2ND BASE. Even if Mathis wasn’t looking would someone really take the chance and spit on a ball facing a member of the other team. I don’t know… but these are just some other factors to think of!

  22. steve - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    if it walks like a duck , what is it ? I will give you the answer.. a duck,, anyway good luck tonite against the Angels. we want to play the yankees as it would make a great world series… greg :)

  23. HalosHeavenFan - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    It has been illegal in MLB since the 1920s. There is a reason.

  24. Yankees fan - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    Craig, I like your contributitons in The Hardball Times and you’re better than this. This is absurd, but I’m not surprised that it’s being discussed as people love conspiracies. No pitcher trying to cheat would act in such a non-chalant, obvious manner. It would be akin to a steroid user taking out a syringe from his back pocket in the batter’s box. A pitcher is really going to spit two feet away to a ball in front of 40,000 people, multiple high-definition cameras, and SIX umpires?
    This is a guy who has been the greatest at his position for 14 postseasons, 28 series, 125 postseason innings. He’s pitched in six world series, completely blew game 7 of a world series and is still idolized as superhuman. I can’t fathom how he would pick game 3 of an ALCS in which the yankees are up 2-0 in the series to commit one of the gravest sins possible by a pitcher.
    Rivera spits a lot… he has always. This is nothing more than a telephoto lens compressing depth to create an illusion. “Spitballs” are not caused by pitchers actually hocking spit onto the ball anymore than koala bears are actually bears.

  25. Nick - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    Please keep replying to all of this, Steve. I’m way beyond reading what you think because your grammar is MUCH funnier.
    I think BruinsGirl should compile all of her evidence against Mariano Rivera, present it to MLB, and see how far that gets her. Steve can help. Just don’t let him write anything.
    If anything, you’re all just looking for future excuses in case the Yanks and Phillies meet in the world series and the Phillies lose.

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