March 27, 2012
Big Ed Walsh was a baseball superstar. The Chicago White Sox pitcher dominated American League hitters early in the 20th century. In 1908, as he mastered the spitball, he went from solid to spectacular. His final numbers for the year: 40-15 with 1.42 ERA (He’s the last pitcher to win 40 games in a season). He pitched an amazing 464 innings. His workload decreased the next year, but he bounced back with an insane 0.82 WHIP in 1910 and 27 win seasons in 1911 and 1912.
The secret to his success was his incredible spitball. As Tiger Hall of Famer “Wahoo” Sam Crawford would note years later, “I think that ball would disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit that went by.” Big Ed was plenty confident about his best pitch too. “”When I’ve got the spitter breaking right, I can beat any ball club in the world. No use trying to bat against it. It’s simply unhittable.”
But Ed pitched an average of 375 innings from 1907-1912, and the innings started to take their toll. After the 1912 season, he asked Charles Comiskey if he could take a year off to rest the arm. I don’t need to tell you what one of the most despicable owners in the history of sports had to say about that. And so Big Ed was back on the mound to start the 1913 season.
The Philadelphia A’s were at their peak then, in the midst of winning 3 pennants in 4 years. But Connie Mack was sick of losing 1-0 games to Big Ed, and he looked for a way to beat the spitball. He found it in a strange intricacy of Walsh’s spitball. Ed cut out the middle man, and just licked the ball.
Back in those days, the home team supplied the game balls. So Mack had his ball boy run to a nearby stable and grab a bucket of horsesh*t. Mack then had all of the game balls rubbed in horse manure.
The game started, and Walsh began his normal routine. It didn’t take long for Walsh to realize that something was wrong. “I vomited all over the place,” Walsh would say later about that game. Walsh was infuriated, and lost his cool. He began beaning A’s. The Athletics crushed the White Sox.
Big Ed was struggling with a dead arm at the time, and the game didn’t do him any favors. After the A’s blasted him again that July, he took the rest of the season off. He was done. He had won 189 games by age 32. He would win 6 more over the rest of his career. One book claimed that the manure game was the turning point of his career, that other teams began using manure and he couldn’t get over it, but that seems highly unlikely. Walsh was in extreme arm pain by 1913, and had considered taking the year off before the manure game even occurred. Nonetheless, the only pitcher to get beaten by horsesh*t was so dominant for those 6 seasons that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
Anyone who has any further info on this story, please let me know. There is very little information on it. I don’t even have a final score on the game (baseball reference doesn’t have winning and losing pitchers for the 1913 season). I first read it in the Incomplete Book of Baseball Superstitions, Rituals, and Oddities, by Mike Blake. I also found some backup in another book called How Baseball Works, and there is a quote from Walsh about it in Baseball’s Most Wanted. But incredibly, there is really no info on this online, and no mention of it in Walsh’s biography. Of course, part of the beauty of old baseball legends is that they are just that: legends. Did the Babe really call his shot? We’ll never know. Which makes it all the more compelling. Same goes for this story, though I would like to learn a bit more about this actual game. -ed.