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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. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    I’m not even wading into this pool of stupidity, but honest question for Greg and Steve:

    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,,

    First, it’s you’re or you are. Not your. This is 4th grade English.

    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 !! 😦

    Second, what’s with the weird use of commas as ellipses? You don’t even use the ellipses right, and then to top it off you use commas instead of periods. Why? Are you two the same commenter?

  2. vinny - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    Mo cheatin, mo cheatin. You guys have to be kidding me, no way is that video of Mariano spitting on the ball proof that Mariano cheated. IT obvious the ball was dirty and he was just cleaning it with his holy saliva. he hand moves so no way he spit on the ball. Hahaha its funny how yankee fans grasping at straws for “reasons” and proof Mariano never would….Denial is a river in Egypt
    Allusive as the communion in my mouth.
    Soon enough I’ll learn to…

  3. smb - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Pitches rub the sweat off their heads all of the time. If the spitter is thrown with something as simple as sweat or spit, then they all throw the spitter.

  4. Nick - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:45 PM

    Geese walk like ducks too but I’m glad you cleared that up for me because I would have never guessed the answer to be a ‘duck.’

  5. Nick - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:48 PM

    VERY good point.

  6. steev frank - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    Yes this is what hes doing, he just never got caught in the 13 years hes been pitching with every camera on him until now..
    This is just a stupid stupid blog.

  7. jessball - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    I think if you want to learn about spitballs, look at a guy like Joe Blanton. It looks as if it’s sliding on butter, then suddenly (sharply) zig-zags down and across. The best way to throw one is to make it so obvious that people focus on one thing (under the hat, wiping uniform, hair gel). While, in the meantime, the pitcher may be chewing bubble gum. Bubble-gum juice is one easy way.
    Greg Maddux used to PRETEND he was doctoring the ball to interrupt timing! Then, if asked to show the ball, it would totally disrupt hitters.
    The Mariano cutter behaves a bit like a knuckleball. Sometimes, his warm-up pitches may alarm fans… way outside. I don’t know if this would be a reason though. That signature pitch kind of acts like a spitball. Mark DeFilice of the Brewers, pre-injury, threw a beautiful cut fastball that had the “look” to it. My question; Was this photoshopped? I do find it to be believable that any pitcher would do this under stress, but this sure circulated quickly. I was doing a search on Joe Blanton, and Mariano is popping up everywhere! I’d wager “yes,” but I don’t think he should be ‘banned’. We see a lot of unfair things, and I’m sure those of you who are into learning about this have seen pitchers do it. The key is not to get too worked up. Someone will mention it if they feel their team is being slighted, or the umpire will give a quiet warning. Unfortunately, it seems low on the priority list for a player or coach to address this during play. Scioscia, out of anyone, would be one of the first to point it out, though! He points everything out.
    p.s. I’ve seen the SF Giants’ bullpen spit on the ball. That looked alot like water from Rivera. Somehow, I don’t think he’s done this often, and it probably doesn’t help him much with the type of pitch he uses. The spit looked too clear.

  8. mariano rivera - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    yes…i need to spit because my velocity, as has been pointed out, is all the way down to 90 and my frail aging arm is tired. it is no longer enough to rely on the most lethal combination of control, command, movement and velocity in the history of relief pitching.
    you people on the “spit on the ball” side of this are first, morons, second, know little to nothing about baseball, third, have clearly never watched Rivera’s pre pitching routine (after warm ups but before his first pitch).
    yes, i am sure MLB is ready to reach out to all of you “journalists” to lend your piercing observational skills and fearless intellect to get to the bottom of this scandal. I also am sure that Mariano will become a shell of his former self as his humiliation becomes complete.
    why dont you all just go back to stawking celebrity nip slips

  9. RedSux - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    It’s “PROBUBLY” the same guy! hahaha! The only reason I’ve continued to read this is because of STEVE/GREG. My only hope is that they really are 4th graders who are skipping school,otherwise, this country is doomed.

  10. Tomas Ortgea - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    “When no one is watching?” you’ve got to bit insane.

  11. Mode:Theif and Lair - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    Craig, I understand that people that do nothing but call you an “idiot” need a beat down reply.
    But here is a well thought out comment that I think deserves a reply from you.

  12. Mike - Oct 20, 2009 at 1:56 PM

    what about when he throws that pitch and it is fouled into the seats for strike 1… does he spit on every ball in order to be the dominating closer that he is?

  13. Patrick - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:09 PM

    I’m a Red Sox fan and I would have have every reason hope Moe is cheating but I don’t believe it for a second. First of all, what does he do for every other pitch besides his first pitch? Second, Moe thows a cutter. Lubricating the ball decreases the spin on the ball leading to less cut and more drop. It seems to me that the spitball would resemble a forkball in trajectory: A fast pitch with much less spin, creating less lift, thus more drop. This is not a cutter. A cutter requires a lot of spin.

  14. Patrick - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:12 PM

    I hope he had his H1N1 shot. lol.

  15. Pajomaca - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:13 PM

    C’mon, be fair – when these kinds of things are ‘out there’, it’s so hard to retract them, so responsible behavior should require A WHOLE LOT more evidence than this for NBC to pick up on this. Should I go on-line with some theory about how Pujols or Mauer or Howard might be cheating? Also, Tomas Ortgea is right on target – “when no one is watching” is totally absurd in these high-tech days, so that quote alone tells us that the author has an agenda.

  16. magumba - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:21 PM

    I agree. Most “spitballs” don’t use actual spit. Head sweat (from wiping ones brow, or hair when adjusting cap) works really well and is most often used. Legend has it that Perry put Vaseline on his cap headband, or used “hair tonic”. The point is, pitchers of this caliber are smart and wouldn’t actually “spit” on the ball; especially when they don’t have to.

  17. thefeel - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    Mo freaking spits all of the time but not on the ball! This pic is probably completely deceiving based on the direction he is actually spitting. He could literally be spitting a few inches to the right and you would never be able to tell in a pic like this. Are you joking me??? Do you think he would stand out there on the mound for all to see including the Angels and umpires and spit directly onto the ball like that? Give me a freaking break! People are just trying to stir something up to unravel the hated Yankees – GO YANKEES AND GET THIS THING OVER WITH IN FIVE!

  18. Nardfather - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    This is dumb, he doesn’t throw spit balls, get over it. He could just be spitting on the ground, the pic proves nothing. Sports media is slowly becoming crappy political media

  19. NOT A YANKEE FAN - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:27 PM


  20. Sunshine - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    I am a RED SOX FAN and I don’t believe that picture, people can make you think you see something by altering the angle of the shot or just editing it all together. Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest pitchers of all time and someone is just looking for another story to smear a great player who has been on the up and up for years. I wouldn’t believe it a picture but if it was caught on tape and there was clear evidence then I would be shocked. He is a class act unlike some of those guys caught up in steroid crap.

  21. WallaceN - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:28 PM

    Red Sox fan here – and no Rivera doesn’t throw a spitter (IMHO) but what would bother me if I was a NY fan is the way Giradi seems to micromanage. Christ, how many times does he come out to the mound, or change pitchers, batters, etc. I thought Francona didn’t do it enough but Giradi should get out of the way and let these guys play. That lineup speaks for itself.

  22. Lance Hoffman - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    Craig Calcaterra consistently posts the STUPIDEST things here, but MSNBC continues to carry his drivel. Other than the fact that one does not throw a spitball by spitting on the ball but by licking one’s fingers, Craig contends that Rivera waited “to see if anyone is watching”….other than 50,000 fans, 6 umpires, 30+ people on the Angels bench and a few million TV viewers.
    More disturbing than Craig’s idiotic column even raising the question, is MSNBC SPORTS carrying his columns. It’s like he’s a 9 year old fan who gets to write whatever he wants on the Internet. He claims to be a lawyer, but I think he is a 9 year old based on the ridiculous nature of what he posts.
    The more I read things on MSNBC (including travel columns by another idiot, Christopher Elliot) the more I think there is hope for printed newspapers. If I am going to read “news” I want it to be intelligently written and (hopefully) truthful, not stupidity such as what was posted here by Craig Calcaterra.

  23. Cato - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:31 PM

    Uh, besides being a really stupid blog idea, my recollection is that older pitchers who need to load up a ball because their velocity has tanked, are a bit more creative than what Rivera seems to be doing. As has been said before on this thread, there’s little “spit” on a spitball. The term “spitball” is now a generic term for a pitcher who tries to apply some advantage to a pitch. Whitey Ford, a Hall of Fame pitcher, acknowledged that he kept a nail file or a piece of sandpaper or whatever else was in his toolbox to mar the ball to make it do odd things on the way to the plate. I’ve watched Rivera pitch for years. His motion is never different. He’s a pitching machine. Same pitch everytime. With pinpoint control. A true spitball, even one loaded with actual spit, can look like a bobbing and weaving knuckleball because its aerodynamics have been tampered with. Get a life, all you Yankee haters. Mariano and the Yanks are the real deal this year.

  24. Talex - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:34 PM

    Unfortunately, the immutable laws of physics contradict the whole thing:

  25. genep - Oct 20, 2009 at 2:38 PM

    Craig – get a job. You sound like a tea bag hysteric.

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