How to Throw a Spitball Pitch

This guide reveals the secrets of the spitball and how you can throw it with confidence in no time.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

There’s no question that the spitball is one of the most unique pitches in baseball. But how do you throw a spitball? In this post, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to perfect this tricky pitch. So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced ballplayer, read on for all you need to know about throwing a spitball!

  • A spitball is a term used when a pitcher applies either their own saliva or some other slippery substance to the ball to prevent a hitter from making solid contact with it.
  • Spitball was legal in baseball until 1920, when MLB created a rule preventing adding any substances, including saliva, to the baseball following the death of Ray Chapman after being hit by a pitch from Carl Mays.
  • The beauty of the spitball is that it can move in random ways due to an uneven weight on one side of the ball and less spin than regular pitches. This makes it difficult for hitters to make solid contact with the bat.
  • To avoid getting caught throwing a spitball, pitchers will put substances like Vaseline or Crisco in inconspicuous places like under their uniform so they can apply it quickly without being detected.

What is a spitball pitch?

A spitball pitch is a term used when a pitcher applies either their own saliva or some other slippery substance to the ball to prevent a hitter from making solid contact with it. In the past, pitchers have claimed to use various lubricants like cooking fat (like lard or Crisco) or a mouthful of tobacco spit, especially in the early 20th century.

Why is it called a spitball pitch?

It is called a spitball because pitchers will apply saliva to the smooth parts of the baseball. Before 1920, there were no rules stating that a pitcher could not apply saliva or other substances to a ball, though they were not allowed to legally damage the ball. Once pitchers realized they could get away with this act, they moved from saliva to other substances, but the name spitball stuck as it was already a term in popular baseball culture in the early 1900s.

How to throw a spitball pitch

1. Grip

The grip on a spitball is much different than on other pitches. For pitchers to get the desired effect of a spitball, they apply saliva or some other substance to the smooth part of the ball and then grip it in that exact location. The finger placement will be that of a fastball, but with no grip on the seams. All fingers should be on the smooth part of the baseball.

2. Arm Angle & Movement

A spitball has the same arm angle and pitching motion as a fastball. The difference is that with uneven weight on the ball (liquid substances will increase the ball’s weight on one side), the ball will move randomly to confuse the hitter.

3. Spin Movement

For a spitball to be effective, it should not spin much. This is because with less spin, the ball will be more affected by wind speed and air pressure and drop more quickly than on a regular pitch. 

4. Release

The release is the most critical part of a spitball. Unlike with other straight pitches, the spitball should be squeezed out of the hand, almost like squeezing an orange. This action reduces the spin on the ball and allows the wind and foreign substances to create motion on the pitch.

In the video below, you will see a brief news special about Hall of Fame pitcher and notorious spitball pitcher Gaylord Perry. Perry won over 300 games in his career and struck out thousands of hitters, even though everyone believed he was cheating by putting substances on the ball. Pay close attention to Perry’s former pitching coach as he describes exactly where to hide substances from the umpires and how to apply them to the ball without getting caught. 

Is a spitball allowed in baseball?

Spitball was legal in baseball until 1920. It took a major tragedy for the rule to be created that year.

Carl Mays pitched for the New York Yankees and threw a spitball to Ray Chapman, who played shortstop for the Cleveland Guardians (then known as the Cleveland Indians) and hit him in the skull. The pitch broke Chapman’s skull, and he died the next day. Following this incident, MLB created a rule preventing adding any substances, including saliva, to the baseball.

How does a spitball pitch move?

The beauty of the spitball is that it can move in random ways. There are two reasons for this.

Adding a substance to the ball will create an uneven weight toward one side of the ball, which will cause the ball to move in that direction. Also, with the release, the ball should have a light spin, which will cause the ball to be more affected by wind and air pressure. The ball should start out straight when it leaves the pitcher’s hand, but as it reaches home plate, it should drop 4–10 inches away from the strike zone.

Why is a spitball pitch hard to hit?

A spitball is hard to hit for two reasons: First, the ball’s trajectory is very random. With a substance on the ball and a little spin, the ball will drop out of the strike zone but can also break left or right, depending on where the substance is on the ball.

Not only that, a slippery substance on the ball makes it more difficult for the hitter to make solid contact with the bat. If a hitter makes contact with the ball on a slippery surface, the ball will slide on the bat’s surface, forcing the hitter to pop the ball up or put it on the ground.

Additional Tips

Because the spitball is an illegal pitch in baseball, one of the most challenging parts of throwing a spitball is not getting caught. To avoid getting caught, pitchers will put substances like Vaseline, Crisco, or others in inconspicuous places like the bottom of the pant leg, the zipper and waist of the pants, and at the back of the hair. This way, the pitcher can adjust their uniform and apply a substance to the ball with less chance of being caught.

In the video below, you will see Hall of Famer Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds talk about the spitball, how difficult it was to catch, and how Gaylord Perry got away with throwing spitballs even after he was first caught doing it.


Who invented the spitball pitch?

Baseball historians credited Frank Corridon, who was a minor league pitcher in the 1800s, for inventing the spitball pitch. Legend says that Corridon taught other teammates, including Elmer Stricklett, who used the pitch with great success after 1900 in the major leagues.

Who are the famous spitball pitchers?

Since the spitball was outlawed in 1920, there have not been many well-known spitball pitchers other than one: Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. Other pitchers have been accused of doctoring the baseball, and some have been caught, but no one used it as much or got away with it more than Gaylord Perry in the 1970s and 1980s.

Why is the spitball pitch illegal?

The spitball is illegal because it gives the pitcher an unfair advantage and because of the tragic death of Ray Chapman in 1920. At the time of Chapman’s death, baseball created a rule stating, “No player is permitted to intentionally damage, deface, or discolor the baseball by rubbing it with any type of foreign item or substance, including dirt or saliva.”

Even though the pitch has been illegal for over 100 years, pitchers have still joked about spitballs ever since. In an interview in the 1970s, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton was accused of adding foreign substances to the baseball during a game. His response afterward is the stuff of legend: “Not true at all… vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States of America.”

What happens to pitchers caught throwing spitballs?

The penalty for pitchers caught throwing a spitball or doctoring the baseball in any way is immediately ejected from the game and getting an automatic 10-game suspension. But the punishment was not always this bad. In the 1930s, pitchers were fined $5 if they were caught, but no one followed up to make sure they paid.

When was the spitball banned from baseball?

The spitball was officially banned from MLB on February 9, 1920, by a collection of baseball executives known then as the “rules committee.” On this day, not only the spitball but any kind of manipulation of the ball was banned, regardless of the substance.

Final thoughts

Cheating to gain an advantage in sports is nothing new. Every athlete wants to win, and some want it so badly they will cheat.

While spitball is considered cheating in baseball, it is not a guarantee of instant success. A pitcher must have proper form, good mechanics, and control over the ball to have a successful career.

But, as pitchers age, they lose velocity and the strength to spin the ball hard. That is why the spitball allowed pitchers to be successful into their late 40s.

Now that you know how to throw a spitball, go out and give it a try!