Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Peculiar Kind of Ball

In 1883 the New York Times declared the curveball the "greatest change ever introduced into the game" and it all may have started twenty years earlier with some boys tossing clam shells. One of those boys, William Arthur Cummings, noticed how they could make the clam shells curve when throwing them and thought, "it would be a good joke on the boys if I could make a baseball curve the same way." In his article How I Pitched the First Curve, Cummings remembers, "the joke seemed so good I made a firm decision that I would try to play it."

He soon found that baseballs didn't curve quite as easily as clam shells. Despite injuries, failure and ridicule from his friends, Cummings continued in his attempt to perfect the arm, wrist and finger motions needed to make the ball curve. Finally during a game in 1867 against Harvard he saw success! The path of the ball took a slight curve as it made its way to the batter. Although it took even more time and practice for Cummings to master the pitch and gain control, batters were stunned by this new pitch.

Rules of the day allowed players to move about the field so often when Cummings was pitching the batter would be surrounded by his teammates offering advice on how to hit this mysterious curving ball. Other pitchers were also in awe. They would study Cummings' delivery and try to emulate it. He had cornered the marked on the curve for the time being. Within a few seasons, however, other pitchers learned the pitch and batters weren't caught off guard by the curving ball any more. Cummings' time in the spotlight had ended.

After his playing days, Cummings spent time defending his claim as the inventor of the curveball. Others such as Fred Goldsmith claim they were the first to invent the pitch. With the backing of Henry Chadwick, however, Cummings is most widely credited with the invention and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1939 as a result.

The introduction of the curveball gave batters more to worry about at the plate, they had to examine each pitch with a more discerning eye. In his, Base-Ball: How to Become a Player, John Montgomery Ward warned, "A nervous batter is easily 'worked,' because he is so anxious to hit that he can't wait for a good ball."

I think often in life we're faced with opportunities and we think, much like a nervous batter, we have to take them all when in fact, we should examine them a little closer and "wait for a good ball." Sometimes we say yes to opportunities too quickly and find that we were thrown a curve, that the situation isn't quite right. Maybe it's a relationship with someone who isn't who we thought they were or maybe it's a business opportunity that is not a good fit with our mission. Both situations could be avoided if we took more time up front to study the pitch.

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