Did Mariano Rivera throw a spitball?!

Check out the video here. I’ll hear all evidence to the contrary, but that looks to me like he (a) looks up to see if anyone is watching; and (b) spits right on the damn ball.

Is that the secret to the unhittable cutter?

UPDATE: The Yankees’ bad day in multimedia continues . . .

UPDATE #2: A Q&A on Mariano:

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 heads up)

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Comments

  1. YankeesfanLen said...

    I can see the write-up in the NYT and WSJ now:

    “Mr. Rivera, a closing pitcher of some renown with the New York Yankees of the Bronx NY, seemingly expectorated on a baseball, as was transmitted by some gol’darn invention called (sniff) YouTube

  2. Patrick said...

    … wow.  I was expecting something vague, or distant.  No – It’s a close up, and very clear.

    He’s like.. spitting right on the ball.  What the hell.

    Damn, Craig.  Um.  Damn.

  3. Yair said...

    Look carefully and you’ll see the angle is slightly off. He’s spitting to the side of the baseball. It’s a shame we don’t have the rest of the footage to show it falling away.

    Historically, no one ever spits on the ball that way (check wiki for some of the more famous tricks). You’d have to be an idiot to do it in the open.

  4. Rob² said...

    Nice fade by Fox, too.  You can just hear them screaming in the control room, “CUT TO 3!! CUT TO 2!!  CUT ANYWHERE!!  Get a camera on someone else!!  Where’s the Jeter-cam?!?  I’ll take Scioscia for cryin out loud!!”

  5. Tom said...

    I can’t believe I’m writing (since it involves watching spit in slow motion) this but if you pause the video at just the write moment you can see the spittle move past the ball.  It happens at about 5 secs but you still have to pause it at the right moment just before the fade.

  6. Tom said...

    I can’t believe I’m writing this (since it involves watching spit in slow motion) but if you pause the video at just the write moment you can see the spittle move past the ball.  It happens at about 5 secs but you still have to pause it at the right moment just before the fade.

  7. Lou said...

    This is ridiculous. There is no way he is spitting on the ball.  How stupid would you have to be to set up a spitball this way.

  8. Tom said...

    Upon further review, to hard for me to tell.  The video is to blurry on my computer to tell if what I’m seeing is actually the spit traveling.  Okay, I’m done looking at spit.

  9. Daniel said...

    I don’t think he’s spitting on the ball.  I’m an Angels fan, and I’ll take whatever advantages I can get, but I don’t think this is what it looks like.  As far as I know, this isn’t even how you throw a spitball.  And the angle of the camera is such that it could easily be going on the other side of the ball.

    I won’t rule it out, but I’m skeptical that we’re really seeing Mariano hawk a loogie onto a baseball to make it harder to hit.

  10. Richard in Dallas said...

    When I saw this during the game last night, all I could think of is how this will bring disgrace to the Yankees, and Rivera, and how there is now no way they will EVER retire his number in Yankee Stadium.  Oh, That’s right….

  11. MooseinOhio said...

    The video provoke me to consider several questions.

    First – did we just see behind the wizard’s curtain?  If Rivera is using a spit ball on a frequent basis then I certainly question his past performances much as I would a PEDs user. 

    Second – if he has been using a spitter all these year, why is this the first evidence we have seen of is spitting on a ball? With all the exposure he has gotten over the years I wonder why this is the first time we are seeing footage of what appears to be a pretty blatant act.  While I haven’t spent much time pausing the video I can see Tom point that it may be a camera angle issue making it appear like a direct hit.  As evidence to support the bad angle argument I refer you the ‘The Pick’ episode from Seinfeld in which Jerry clearly was just scratching his nose.

    Third – if this is truly a spitter will it get the Kenny Rogers treatment in that pretty compelling evidence of doctoring the baseball was never truly investigated by MLB due to the embarrassment/scandal that could result.

    Last – is Craig actively trying to set a record of hits on his other site as I think this may just outdo any entry questioning Jeter in any way whatsoever?  My sense is that the tech guys over at NBC are rerouting traffic to new and bigger servers to handle the volume of traffic Craig has generated with the stick he keeps poking into the side of Yankee fans.

  12. Mark said...

    Um, you don’t actually spit on the ball for a spitball.  Additionally, for a spitball to work, you need the foreign substance (usually mud or pine tar) to stick to the ball. Do you really think saliva is going to adhere to a baseball being hurled at 90 mph?

  13. Lara said...

    15 years in the big leagues and this is the first time we see something like this from Mo? Yeah, I seriously doubt this is commonplace for Rivera. Non-story.

  14. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Mark:  it’s not the most common way to doctor a ball, but it’s been done. I have a book at home about spitters and knucklers and there were some dudes who would spit right on the ball.  Most wet the fingertips. Pete Vukovich used to spit right into his glove and rub the ball around in it.  With a spitter—unlike a scuffed ball—the point is not so much to keep the foreign object on the ball to affect its flight as much as it is to decrease friction and increase spin at the point of release, thereby increasng spin.  The spit can be gone the second the ball is released and it has still done its job.

    Lara: Remember “Major League”?  The veteran doctored the ball because he lost the stuff of his youth.  Again, I have no idea what’s going on here, but I don’t think it’s enough to simply say “Mo didn’t do this because he wouldn’t.”  The video is not conclusive, but I think it requires more than merely character evidence to render it meaningless.

  15. Yair said...

    People haven’t pointed to character evidence once, Craig.

    Here’s what I read above:

    1) Angle is inconclusive. Just like off-center center field cams, we get a distorted view from this video. One viewer thought that under slow-mo, the spit passed the ball.

    2) In light of Rivera never being seen in 15 years of intense scrutiny within baseball and in the media (e.g. the patented YES and ESPN Rivera cam during the post-season and all star games), the off-angle, normal spitting explanation gains currency.

    3) Rivera is not a moron, especially if as you claim he’s been getting away with this a a lot (as you do in your first sentence), and would not spit openly onto the ball in full view of fans, the opposing dugout and other umps. If he was indeed a seasoned spitter, there’s no way he’d do this.

    4) Further, the method inconclusively displayed in the video does not accord with any of the common traditional methods for making a spitball.

    You’ve responded to only #2 (and maybe #3) by limiting your initial claim and saying that Rivera’s recently added this pitch to make up for diminished stuff. This is speculation that doesn’t overturn all the arguments to contrary you do not address (blatant stupidity/unskilled nature of move easily explained by this being a trick of the camera angle; likewise the unusual method for creating said “spitball”).

  16. Aaron Moreno said...

    Just because if how odd it is when he does it, I’m going with “he was looking at the ball and he also spit, not thinking that he probably shouldn’t do those things all at once.”

  17. Yair said...

    Apologies, you updated while I was commenting on the very stuff you were writing about.

    I stand by my point though – if the best you can come up with is that on an inconclusive camera angle, Rivera appears to be throwing a rare spitball he has little experience with to make up for declining stuff, that’s a weak and limited argument indeed.

  18. Craig Calcaterra said...

    “People haven’t pointed to character evidence once, Craig.”

    You are saying that he’s not a moron and “there’s no way he’d do this.”  Others doubt this is commonplace because he’s never done it before as far as they know. Maybe “character evidence” is too broad a term, but people are certainly saying “he’d never do this,” and that’s based totally on things other than the evidence set forth in the video I link.

    “Angle is inconclusive”

    Refresh this post and read again. I admit that the angle could be decieving. At no point have I claimed that this video is damning evidence. It’s anough to base some questions on, and that’s all I’m doing.

    “Method does not accord”

    From Baseball-Reference.com (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Spitball):

    “Descriptions of how to throw the spitball vary enough that it seems likely that the term actually refers to at least two different pitches. Some pitchers described a pitch in which saliva was placed on one side of the ball, which was then thrown conventionally. Such pitches would tend to break sideways, with the direction of break controlled by which side of the ball was modified. The same general approach works with a ball that was defaced in any way, either by adding any kind of foreign substance or by scuffing the ball’s surface.

    “In a second approach, the pitcher would grip the ball so that his fingers didn’t touch the seams, and use saliva or another slippery substance to lubricate the area where his finger tips touched the ball.”

    I’ll grant that it’s far more common to see scuffing and/or wetting the fingertips, but spitting right on the ball is not unheard of.

    Again, I make no claim that he’s doing this here.  I have no idea, and I don’t suspect you do either, unless you have another angle to provide us.

  19. Yair said...

    And absolutely no one in the comments made a character claim (“He’s Rivera, he wouldn’t!”). Look them over again and you’ll see that’s a straw man. No one needs to resort to that to question this allegation.

  20. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Yair—

    “if the best you can come up with is that on an inconclusive camera angle, Rivera appears to be throwing a rare spitball he has little experience with to make up for declining stuff”

    I’m not trying to burn a witch here. You’re reading more into my argument than is really there. I think the video is notable and newsworthy. It may not show anything, but the world of baseball has gotten worked up by far less than this in the past.

  21. Yair said...

    Thanks for responding. Sorry for the comment you address prior. Server lag!

    You’re absolutely right to post this. It is surely fair baseball news. I didn’t mean to question that or your journalistic ethic!

    I just think logic dictates it’s an unlikely scenario that you initially paint. If this is the secret of Rivera’s cutter, then one must assume he a deception artist to avoid being caught under intense scrutiny – and thus this blatant instance makes no sense.

    If one changes tack and says he’s improvising due to declining stuff, since the above mitigates against him being a seasoned spitballer, you’ve entered the realm of speculation based on a bad camera angle.

  22. J. McCann said...

    As far as the “he has never been caught before” angle:

    There were numerous pitchers who everyone KNEW were doctoring the ball, and they they were very rarely caught in the act over very long careers.

    You can bet that 10,000 cameras will be trained on every Mo every second he is on the field for the rest of the post season, so let’s see if he get’s caught again (which I doubt) or gets lit up (more likely).

  23. DonCoburleone said...

    “the world of baseball has gotten worked up by far less than this in the past.”

    Thats the best point you’ve made. I get what you’re saying Craig, the video is inconclusive but that doesn’t mean its not worth talking about.  If this was a video of Kevin Jepsen doing the same exact thing Yankee fans would be crying like the little girls that they are.

  24. Mode:Theif and Lair said...

    I would chalk this up to:

    1. Rivera spits a lot.
    2. Video is a 2 dimensional showing of a 3 dimensional world
    3. Rivera is on camera a lot
    4. At some point there will be a time when he spits with a camera angle that makes it look like he is spitting on a ball.

    On the 2-3 dimensional thing – you ever notice how it always looks like the rain is really heavy but nobody on camera seems to be bothered?  It’s because you are seeing all the rain in 2 dimensions making it seem like there there are many more drops in the same place.

    /JMHO

  25. Yair said...

    Irony alert: The only childish, immature remarks made thus far on this thread have been from Yankee/Rivera detractors. I don’t normally follow the comments here so closely, and do know my fellow Yankee fans can be insufferable, but I do think it’s notable that the only people resorting to insults and ad hominems here instead of logic are the anti-Yankee fans. Sheds light on the objective merits of this video – what is actually shows vs. what people want it to show.

  26. Rob² said...

    A minor quibble, but wouldn’t reduced friction upon release result in *less* spin?

    Another possibility (admittedly hypothetical), is that Rivera was trying to get more spin on the ball and spit some sticky fluid (Gatorade perhaps?) on it so that he could get the movement that his cutter depends on.  Didn’t we see Fuentes do something similar for the Rockies two years ago?

    The angle is bad, but it looks almost like Rivera has a mouthful of something just prior to spitting it out.  That could be saliva, or it could be something else.

  27. Mark Armour said...

    Absolutely he is spitting (or drooling) on the ball.  To throw a spitball, you just need a ball and some spit.  It hardly matters how you do it.

    I, for one, am glad.  I admire Rivera, and balance would be restored for me if I could somehow not admire him.  So this could help.  On the other hand, I also admire pitchers who doctor the ball.  So, I am torn.

  28. Rhubarb_Runner said...

    One other question: was his next pitch actually a “cutter”?  If it was a fastball, for instance, the point is moot.

  29. Mode:Theif and Lair said...

    Yair, you are right about the irony.

    This is Craig’s blog and he runs it how he sees fit.  He admittedly enjoys doing posts that will tweak Yankee and Red Sox fans.  He will tar and feather really idiotic commentors who desrve it..

    The exception to this rule (IMO)is that really idiotic commentors that are anti-Yankee or anti-Red Sox do not get the same tar and feathering.

  30. Beanster said...

    Just last night, my wife and I were trying to think of another human activity where spitting continuously in a public area and grabbing one’s crotch is as nonchalantly accepted as in baseball.  Couldn’t think of any.

    So #1 that’s my indirect defense of Mo.

    #2 that’s some outstanding investigative journalism on the A-Rod pic.

  31. DonCoburleone said...

    Yankee fans are the best. They’re going on about how hes never been caught in the past and certain angles make things look funny and 2nd and 3rd dimensions all played a role in making it seem like he spit on the ball. Just ridiculous.

    Tell me something then Yankee apologists (although I know there is no way i get a truthful answer here): What if the exact same thing happened in game 3 of the ALCS vs. Boston and instead of Mo Rivera it was Jonathon Papelbon? Would you be talking about wierd angles and alternate dimensions then?  I think not…

  32. Mode:Theif and Lair said...

    Don C,

    Yankee fans are the best.
    That’s debatable apparently. (see yesterday’s post on the subject)

    They’re going on about how hes never been caught in the past and certain angles make things look funny and 2nd and 3rd dimensions all played a role in making it seem like he spit on the ball. Just ridiculous.

    Maybe ridiculous to you, but defenses based on a person’s character and/or the point of view of a witness, I think, are valid.

    Tell me something then Yankee apologists (although I know there is no way i get a truthful answer here): What if the exact same thing happened in game 3 of the ALCS vs. Boston and instead of Mo Rivera it was Jonathon Papelbon? Would you be talking about wierd angles and alternate dimensions then?  I think not…

    I call this Freudian Projection. And Don, with your generalizations and name calling I’d say you would have been a good subject for Freud himself.

  33. Aarcraft said...

    Probably not Don, but I guarantee that any Red Sox fan would be. And I would be if this was Roy Oswalt. The arguments in response have been rational and, in some cases, compelling. They might not be right, but thats another issue altogether.

  34. ralf said...

    I’d be shocked if at least one of the 30+ guys in the Angels’ dugout and on the field didn’t happen to see it.  If they had any suspicions, Sciosia would’ve been out of the dugout and in the ump’s face instantly.

  35. Wells said...

    I’m going with not cheating just because, jeezum, he knows how many cameras are trained on him at any given moment in and out of the game and this is just so blatant. He can’t be that dumb. He can’t be that… absentminded. No way.

  36. Adam said...

    “*decrease* friction upon release, thereby *increasing* the spin”

    this does not make intuitive sense.  the spin applied to a baseball is from the fingers pushing off on it upon release.  putting a substance between the finger and the ball should lessen spin.  now, if a fastball were thrown with less backspin (like a 2-seamer), it would sink more, which could be effective.  but a non-sticky substance making a ball spin *more*?  not so sure.

  37. MJ said...

    I’m going with not cheating just because, jeezum, he knows how many cameras are trained on him at any given moment in and out of the game and this is just so blatant. He can’t be that dumb. He can’t be that… absentminded. No way.

    A lot of people keep bringing this up, but doesn’t this argument fall flat on its’ face considering we don’t have one conclusive shot of whether he did or didn’t?  How can you say we’d know for sure that he did if he did, since we can’t even get a good look at the ball now?

    The exception to this rule (IMO)is that really idiotic commentors that are anti-Yankee or anti-Red Sox do not get the same tar and feathering.

    I’m doing my best over there, but the Church of the Perpetually Outraged has been busy, and the level of idiocy in the comments section is becoming nuclear :(

  38. SomeCallMe...Tim said...

    That is one magic loogie. There must be a second spitter. Probably Roger McDowell behind the bushes on the gravelly road.

  39. Mike Fast said...

    @Craig, re the Baseball Reference description of the two types of spitballs.  Mariano surely does not use the second kind of spitball.  Lubricating the fingers to release what looks like a fastball but doesn’t spin as hard or get the extra several mph of oomph from the fingertips snapping basically produces a low-rotation splitter/changeup type of pitch.  Mariano doesn’t throw such a pitch and hasn’t in all the pitches that were recorded by PITCHf/x in 2008 and 2009.

    The other type of spitball (glob of spit on the side of the ball to make the pitch break in that direction) might produce more of a cutter action, in line with Mariano’s actual stuff.  However, the simpler explanation is that his unique grip on the ball is sufficient to explain the movement on his cutter.  He grips the ball a little off center like most pitchers do with their cutter, but the way he’s got his fingers on the seam and the snap he gets from that is what gives his cutter such spin.  You can see pictures here:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/blog_article/what-should-we-call-riveras-other-fastball/

    I don’t think we need to resort to spitballs as an explanation for his stuff.  His stuff is good; his command of it is better.  It adds up to an outstanding pitcher.

  40. Mo didn't Cheat said...

    1.) Spitting on a ball is not the way you throw a spit ball; you use petroleum jelly… spit isn’t strong enough to actually make an impact on the movement of the pitch.
    2.) There were 3 umpires and a full stadium watching him at the time, and we are supposed to believe everybody just happened to miss Mo hocking on the ball?
    3.) Photographs from the moment prove that Mo did in fact spit, but his spit traveled past the baseball, to the mound.

    The only reason anybody is even talking about this stuff is because Angels fans are upset, people generally dislike the Yankees, and people envy Mo.

  41. Wells said...

    The only reason anybody is even talking about this stuff is because Angels fans are upset, people generally dislike the Yankees, and people envy Mo.

    And the Angels are playing absolutely horribly.

  42. yogi berra said...

    The reason people are posting is because it’s true, open your eyes, this is not film manipulation.
    Stop thinking the world is against the Yankees,it’s not, they’re the most popular team, i know i was on the team in the 50’s/60’s, at least none of my teammates weren’t swapping spit like Derek & ARod back then.

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