So, I Doctored A Baseball. That Happened.

My friend Dirk Hayhurst is getting a lot of ink – and a lot of grief – for correctly identifying that Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox was doing something to his pitches in Toronto. Whether Buchholz is mixing rosin with sweat, water, or some other kind of gelatinous abomination, Hayhurst noted the trick, called it out, and gave a combination of rebuke and complement today.

I’ll leave it to The Baseball Police to determine to what degree Buchholz is cheating (i.e. acceptable or legal cheating, or unacceptable and thus illegal cheating). I’ll laugh out loud at the contention that Hayhurst is in some way homering this, or trying to make a name for himself, or trying to tear Buchholz down. Hayhurst was a major league pitcher, which means the odds that he cheated in some way are about 101 out of 100 (I’m on the pitchers’ side on this. All rule changes since 1893 have been designed to screw the pitcher into the ground to increase hitting).

Pitchers doctor the baseball in the big leagues. Buchholz isn’t innocent because nobody ratted him out before Dirk did. Teams don’t push it because then their pitchers will be policed (‘So seven of our guys cheat? We have tape of twelve of your guys cheating – and five of them are hitters’). If you look back at the bizarre Kenny Rogers ‘hand discoloration’ saga from Game Two of the 2006 World Series there is reason to hypothesize that Tony LaRussa went to Jim Leyland and said ‘this is over the top. Get that crap off his hand – and all your other guys’ hands – or I’m going to the Commissioner.’ I mean, that could easily explain why Tigers pitchers Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, and Justin Verlander made errors in the next 22 innings: they were having trouble holding on to the baseball.

But this is not really about any of that.

This is about a simple fact: doctored a baseball.

I was taught to do it by an ex-big league pitcher, I used the skill while throwing out a ceremonial first pitch – and it worked like a charm.

“Hey, why can’t I hear you clearly?” asked my friend the ex-MLB pitcher (not Dirk Hayhurst).

I explained I was on the ferry to Staten Island to throw out the first pitch at a Yankees’ minor league game and the cell reception was mediocre. “Oh. I suppose you know what to do to raise your chances of not humiliating yourself, right?” I told him I hadn’t really thought about it. “Well first, what happens when somebody throws a ceremonial first pitch in the dirt?” I told him that to the best of my recollection, people booed or laughed derisively. “But what happens when they throw it over the catcher’s head?” I said there was a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing. “So aim high, not low.

“Second thing, don’t go up on to the mound.” No? “No! The mound is for pitchers. You are not a pitcher. All you can do with a mound is fall off it. Stand on the skirt of the mound in the front. This’ll give you the illusion of standing on the mound.

“But most importantly, get the baseball as early as possible.” Here he got very quiet. “Pick at the seams.” What did you say? “Pick. At. The. Seams. With your fingernails. Just pull up on the stitches with your nails. Get the baseball half an hour before the game, or if you have to, just find a ball somewhere and start picking at the seams, then use that for the first pitch.” Seriously? “Why would I make this up?” But what could it possibly do? “You’ll see.”

So given the undeniable logic of his first two suggestions about throwing high and not actually getting on the mound, as soon as I got to the Staten Island ballpark I grabbed a loose baseball and tried to pick at the seams with my fingernails.


I don’t know if I expected them to come loose, like that wandering thread in your suit or your sweater that turns out to be 44 inches long. All I know is, nothing moved. I could’ve used a nail file or a drill bit and I wouldn’t have been able to budge them. After 20 minutes of this, I realized that my friend the pitcher had just foisted one over on me. He had gotten me to pick at the seams of the ball as the equipment manager gets the naive batboy to go search for the “key” to the batters’ box.

Nevertheless, I went over to the catcher, P.J. Pilittere, and warned him I would be aiming head-high to avoid all those boos, and I stopped moving after I reached the skirt of the mound. And I pulled the ball whose seams I had pointlessly and with eminent futility pulled at for 20 minutes, went into a mock wind-up, and let go a pretty decent pitch that I could instantly see was going to hit the mitt, which Pilittere was appropriately holding face-high.

And about fifteen feet in front of the plate the ball dropped like it had been hit by a poison dart. It split the strike zone perfectly and nearly hit Pilittere in his privates except that he deftly swung the glove down and grabbed my textbook cutter. And as I stood there amazed he ran out towards me with a big smile on his face and said exactly four words: “Picking at the seams?”

I got my friend the ex-pitcher on the phone immediately. “Told you so.” I asked him how on earth the ball could have been defaced when I had no sense whatsoever that the picking had had any impact at all. “That’s physics. I was a Communications major. All I know is: it doesn’t take much. That’s why they throw out your first inning warm-up ball and give you a fresh one nowadays. But in school I used to get the game ball half an hour before first pitch and I never threw anything except strikes, just like that one. An artificial cut fastball. Which all the batters would then be convinced I had in reserve all game long.”

He added one more thing: “You’re welcome.”

"Picking at the seams?" - P.J. Pilittere, in later days in major league camp with the Yankees.

“Picking at the seams?” – P.J. Pilittere, in later days in major league camp with the Yankees.


  1. Turk

    … and yes: Eckersley’s comments describing (dismissing?) Hayhurst as “a lifetime minor league pitcher that’s watching video” on NESN the other night were classless utter trash, regardless of what Buch was or was not doing.

  2. ShoeBeDoBeDo

    Funny story! My boss (a rabid SF Giants fan) is wondering what I’m cackling about. So relieved you took your friend’s advice and didn’t humiliate yourself, Keith. 🙂

    Obviously, no one shared this trick with Dick Cheney, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Nationals in 2006. He whapped the ball or “threw it like a girl” as I used to hear my brothers say whenever I’d attempt to throw a baseball as a kid. As might be expected, Cheney’s pitch hit the dirt and bounced. That’s what happens when you have bad aim, whether it be out hunting with a friend or throwing out the first pitch (I’m still cackling). The booing said the rest, though I’m pretty sure the crowds were booing Cheney for a variety of other reasons. 😛

  3. Jerry Brown

    Obviously MLB has strict Catholic upbringing – venial sin and mortal sin – doctoring a baseball say 3 Hail Marys – taking a drug to try and heal faster – mortal sin – go to hell – go straight to hell

  4. Mary Caruso

    This was a funny story, I’m still chuckling about. I could just picture you questioning the sanity of your friend after he told you to pick at the stitches (facial expression alone would be enough!). It’s good to have friends “on the inside” to help you out of a potential embarrassment. He gave good advice. At least you didn’t “throw it like a girl”, not that you would ever appear that way. I don’t understand why when the illustrious Garfoose a.k.a. Dirk Hayhurst pointed out what Clay Buchholtz was doing, he should take any heat. It was on the video in living color for all to see. What is happening with baseball? Nothing that hasn’t gone on for ages, but with technology ever more involved, I take it we are going to find out a lot more of the untold secrets established a long time ago now coming out in living color. Thank you, Keith, for the chucks and such.

  5. callthebanners

    This was a fantastic piece. I won’t be throwing out too many ceremonial first pitches soon, but if I do, I’ll know what to do. Oh, and as a bonus, SCIENCE!

  6. SL Cabbie

    Worthy of your hero…

    No, none of your baseball heroes, the literary one… Thurber of course…

  7. rockiestorockies

    This was really helpful in teaching my friend how to pitch about a week ago. He had just applied to our team and threw the worst pitches ever. I checked out what you posted and told him exactly what Mr. Pilittere said. His pitching got better and better as I taught him more, and we were winning more games. Helpful tips.

    Oh, and Mr. Obama-Threw-Bad-Opening-Pitch, stop being racist, stop thinking our president can’t do squat. And care more than just about athletic achievement in this matter.

    Thank you for your time.

  8. Bennetttt (@Bennetttt)

    Why hasn’t Keith Olbermann given thought to pitching a once a week show to HBO? Seems as if a perfect fit either before or after Bill Maher. One show a week would be good enough to make the kind of uncensored show he couldn’t on other networks without all of the repetitive nightly rehash and confusion. He’d be able to sum up a weeks events along side Bill Maher.

    Seriously, am I the only person to see the advantages. Once a week, unlimited by the usual competitive daily jumble.

  9. Liz

    Loved this piece. Have ALWAYS found Dirk’s insights into the murky world of ML pitching to be spot on. If he tells me Clay was cheating, he was cheating. I trust him to know what he’s talking about. Not to mention that Morris backed him up. Keep up the great work KO, both you, and your friend Dirk help keep it real

  10. P.C.Chapman

    Yes science. It’s called Fluid Dynamics. Magnus forces and laminar flow etc. See”The Physics of Baseball” by Robert K.Adair. Bart Giamatti, his old friend from Yale had appointed Dr.Adair ‘physicist to The National League


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