It took 21 years, but on Aug. 23, 1982 Gaylord Perry was finally ejected from a game for throwing his infamous “hard slider.”
Pitching for the Seattle Mainers, Perry got a warning in the fifth inning. The home plate umpire said he found a funny substance on the ball, but Perry was not checked. Of course, it was known at the time that Perry loaded up the crotch of his pants to help with his hard slider, and umpires were not going to check that particular area.
Later, Perry was ejected but the umpire, David Phillips, did not check the ball. He was ejected because of the movement of the ball. Catcher Jim Essian threw the ball right back to Perry without Phillips examining it.
This, folks, was how many spitball ejections occurred. It wasn’t about finding a substances on the ball, since catchers would get the ball back to the pitcher as soon as they could in a effort to avoid an examination by the umpire.* Instead, the umpires had to judge if the ball traveled in a manner that looked “funny.” If so, a warning and ejection could follow.
*It certainly was not like today, when, if the ball comes within one inch of the ground, the catcher will automatically bring the ball up to the umpire to have it replaced.
It was this reliance on visual judgment to determine if a spitball was thrown that got Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to advocate making the spitball legal. Umpires were not able to make clear determinations of a pitch’s movement. Perry is a good example: It took 21 years for his first ejection, as captured on TV.
Imagine an umpire in the game today attempting to determine if a pitch was a slider, a splitter, a spitter or a cutter.