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Must-click link: “The Unfair One” — tracking the demise of the Big Overhand Curve

Aug 7, 2014, 9:20 AM EST

Nolan Ryan Rangers

Pat Jordan wrote something fantastic. I know, shocking. I mean, he only writes something fantastic every single time he writes something and if you don’t read Pat Jordan stuff you’re basically living your life improperly. But know that he wrote something fantastic again.

It’s about the Big Overhand Curve. Or “The Unfair One,” as his minor league manager called way back in the late 50s. The crazy, nearly-unhittable pitch that made Sandy Koufax Sandy Koufax and which, for some reason, hardly anyone throws anymore. Adam Wainwright does. Clayton Kershaw does. Some others do. But it’s just not in most pitchers’ repertoire these days.

Jordan wanted to know why, so he talked to several pitching coaches, scouts, etc., down in spring training this year, asking them why no one throws it. The answers varied — it’s to hard to teach, the small strike zones make it hard to get over, the mound got lowered making the windup for it harder, the harder breaking things like sliders are preferred now — but the answers don’t matter nearly as much as the telling of the story. It’s fantastic prose but it’s even better education about pitching. How the pitch is thrown compared to sliders and cutters. Why it’s better, but why it can be worse if you do it wrong. He also add in several fantastic war stories. But they’re not the run-of-the-mill war stories. They are colorful and illustrative at the same time.

Just amazing baseball writing. I could read and re-read this article all day. Do yourself a favor and at least read it once.

  1. Ryan - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    I dunno, I’d read that article if its website had more slideshows about what Paulina Gretzky is up to these days.

    • asimonetti88 - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:52 AM

      Apparently she’s engaged to Dustin Johnson, who recently decided to take 6 months off from golf, right around the same time he tested positive for cocaine.

      Hooray sports radio for making me feel like TMZ.

      • genericcommenter - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:42 PM

        Don’t forget about him having affairs with at least one, possibly 2 or more other PGA golfers’ wives- allegedly. At least one wife only saying that she was already separated on the
        night of the rumor.”

    • Ryan - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:11 AM

      The best jokes are the ones you have to explain! (I am very sad that SoE has been crippled, and sadder yet that some people think sex would have prevented this from happening.)

      Had this guy actually reached out to me, I would have been happy to provide him with a statement: "You're a moron." http://t.co/ErMes6MnFZ— Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) August 7, 2014

  2. Jason @ IIATMS - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    I have a baseball on my desk and I found myself trying to recreate the grips as Jordan described. Even if I nailed them, I still can’t throw that BOC. Oddly enough, however, my 14 year old has one. Not that I want him to throw it, but I’ve seen it and it makes me laugh. Bastard.

    • jm91rs - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:47 AM

      He’s getting close to the age, but from I’ve read make sure he’s bulked up his upper body pretty well so his arm can handle the forces on the elbow.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:25 AM

        If it’s thrown properly, Dr. Andrews has studied that there are no more additional forces on the elbow than if you throw a fastball. Now if it’s thrown properly…

    • asimonetti88 - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      It is a real thing of beauty to watch when thrown correctly.

      • 78mu - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:39 PM

        2006 LCS -Game 7 – Bottom of the Ninth- Bases Loaded – Two Outs – Cardinal killer Carlos Beltran batting and rookie Adam Wainwright breaks off the prettiest 0-2 overhand curve in LCS history.

      • nolanwiffle - Aug 7, 2014 at 2:36 PM

        I was at Baltmore’s Memorial Stadium once and saw Mark Clear of the Bosox throw one to a rookie named Cal Ripken. Ripken ducked his head and buckled his knees……called strike.

  3. freedomofspeechyesway - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    This was an interesting read, thank you for sharing.

    If someone asked me (no one would ever ask me this question) why this pitch has all but gone away, I’d probably say that it’s because today’s strike zone is tough to get a 12-6 curve call since you’re not approaching it at a diagonal curve, thus less strike zone to work with. Hitters tend to be more patient these days as hitting coaches preach pitch count working more than they used to (or so they say).

    I’d also be interested in seeing if throwing motion in general has changed over the years, suggesting that pitchers just aren’t comfortable with it.

    Stephen Strasburg had a nasty 12-6 curve working for him during a game I was watching about a month ago and I was blown away at how successful he was with it, then thought to myself, “why am I wondering this”. The answer is because it’s become an increasingly rare pitch, hence the relevance of this article.

    Nice post.

    • clydeserra - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      when he was with the A’s the line from the TV/Radio booth was that catchers for Barry Zito would have to constantly remind the umpire not to give up on the pitch. There was even talk of the catcher tapping the umpire’s shoe when the curve was coming.

  4. sdelmonte - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    On the one hand, “A curveball’s arm motion is the most stress-free and natural arm motion of any pitch. It’s the fastball and slider that hurt a pitcher’s arm, because they are thrown with a vicious, traumatic, forward extension, which exerts a great strain on his shoulder and arm.”

    On the other hand, tell that to Strasburg and Harvey.

    • freedomofspeechyesway - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:56 AM

      I’ve always been under the impression that fastballs and sliders are muscle pitches and breaking pitches are tendon/ligament pitches due to the snapping of the forearm, thus the need for TJ surgery to do a nice figure-eight of the elbow parts.

  5. stex52 - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Great read. Thanks for the link, Craig. Hmmm…. Strasburg, Kershaw, Wainwright, Harvey? Do you suppose the curve ball might be due for a comeback. Hard to argue with that set of pitchers.

    • Jason @ IIATMS - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      “Strasburg, Kershaw, Wainwright, Harvey?” And three of these have had TJS…

      • stex52 - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:55 AM

        Several studies have shown that the curve is not an extra stress. The conclusion at this point is just too many really fast fastballs at young age. One researcher went so far as to suggest that his funding from MLB dried up when he didn’t tell them it was the breaking pitches because that is what they wanted to hear.

        Since all of these guys also throw fastballs, I don’t think you can draw any conclusion about the curve.

  6. nolanwiffle - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    I will never tire of hearing Nolan Ryan stories as told by opposing batters. Great article.

    • larrytsg - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      Yeah, Nolan Ryan stories are great.

      I liked the last line of the story. Al Kaline saying that with a smaller strike zone and not a lot of curveballs “It would be a good time to hit”

    • numbertenox - Aug 7, 2014 at 4:14 PM

      The new Ryan bio has a lot of commentary like that. A fine book.

  7. geejon - Aug 7, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    Great article! I’ve been in love with the BOC since I was a pre-teen. Loved watching people throw it. Love throwing it myself. I remember a pitcher with the White Sox in the mid-90’s (Latin guy, drawing a blank on his name right now) who had the sickest curve. I think he even threw a no-hitter. Man, I could watch that guy throw that pitch all day.

    • Mikhel - Aug 7, 2014 at 7:30 PM

      Mélido? Álvarez? Mélido had that shortened no-hitter vs the Yankees (i think the same year Andy Hawkins had his no-hitter vs the chisox and lost, though MLB says it is not a no-hitter because he was the visitor and thus couldn’t pitch 9 innings). Wilson Álvarez pitched a no hitter the next season (1991) in only his second MLB start (his first start was with the Rangers).

      • chad10 - Aug 7, 2014 at 8:11 PM

        Alvarez threw his no-hitter in Baltimore. I took my wife to it on our putative honeymoon. It was the last baseball game she ever went to with me. I’d like to think it was because she wanted to go out on a high note but really I think she just decided she could stop indulging me.

        It was his second start. The cool thing is, it was his second game overall and he didn’t even get anybody out in the first one. That must be some kind of record, like “first game you ever played where you had measurable success.”

    • chad10 - Aug 7, 2014 at 7:33 PM

      Wilson Alvarez

  8. Walk - Aug 7, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    That was a long and great read. Longest single baseball article that i have read in a while. Feel like oprah should add it to her book of the month club. Great read though, the varied viewpoints from multiple pitchers and hitters was amazing to me.

  9. Wesley Clark - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    When watching a pitcher drop a huge breaking curve it always takes me breath away. One of the most beautiful pitches in baseball.

  10. jtorrey13 - Aug 7, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Thanks for that Craig. Sports on Earth is often towards the bottom of my feed aggregators.

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