Clay Buchholz: The Return of Preacher Roe


When 120 year old Jack Morris accused young Clay Buchholz of throwing “Spitballs” in Wednesday night’s shellacking of Toronto, the former major league pitcher and analyst for Blue Jays’ telecasts came off sounding like a bitter, complaining old man …

…because he is a bitter, complaining old man.

Preacher Roe, spitballer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, with teammate Jackie Robinson.

We’ll let Hall of Fame releiver and former Sox closer Dennis Eckersley handle the reasons why Morris is a bitter, complaining old man – which he did quite eloquently in an interview this morning:

“I was upset during the game when we found out what was happening with Jack Morris, and the more I saw it, the more I started thinking about it, it made me more and more angry about Jack Morris. To me, that’s clueless on his part,” Eckersley said on NESN. “If he knew anything about Buchholz, he knows how nasty he is. His ball doesn’t dance all over the place. The guy paints. He’s got nasty stuff. [Morris] should know that, and he’s gotten carried away. It becomes about Jack Morris almost.”

Eck went on and on, questioning the very integrity of Morris as an authority on such things as a spitter when Morris is “a guy that can’t even make it to  the Hall of Fame yet”, and that “he’s chirping over there – zip it.”

Indeed, Jack Morris.  Zip it.

And the worst part?  The worst part is that he did all of this – smeared the reputation of a young fireballer, threw his own team under the bus, questioned the integrity of baseball itself – over something that he didn’t even witness, and would not have had the camera crew not pointed it out to him.

“I found out because the guys on the video camera showed it to me right after the game,” he said. “I didn’t see it during the game. They showed it to me and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ and I said, ‘Well, he’s throwing a spitter. Cause that’s what it is.”

He said he saw Buchholz repeatedly going to his left forearm, which he said was clearly smeared with a substance that Buchholz was rubbing onto the ball.  Buchholz and manager John Farrell scoffed at Morris’ accusations, stating that the right hander had rosin on his left forearm, not a slippery substance.

“He’s got rosin on his arm,’’ said Farrell, visibly annoyed. “He’s not loading up, he’s got rosin on his arm. As soon as someone pitches well or does well, they’re cheating.’’

Morris said he went to both Sox catchers and to Farrell to complain, but found no satisfaction.

“It was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it’s all in his hair,’’ Morris said. “I can’t prove anything. I can’t prove anything.”

Morris was born in 1955, the same year that a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers named Preacher Roe retired from the game rather than accept a trade to the Baltimore Orioles.

Roe was one of the most famous spitballers, renowned for his ability to control the pitch and to throw it without being nailed.  Roe told of wiping his left hand across his brow and spitting on his thumb with juice from his bubble gum, using the base of his hand as a shield. While ostensibly hitching his belt, he then transferred moisture to his index and middle fingers, gripped the baseball on a smooth spot and threw with a fastball motion, getting a sharp downward break.

And then there was Gaylord Perry, whom Morris referred to as making a living on the spitball – Morris even describing how he went to one of Perry’s former coaches to learn how to throw one.  In his autobiography, Perry went as far as to describe how he would put Vaseline on his zipper, knowing that the umpires would never check there for a foreign substance.

So there is much for young Buchholz to learn as far as concealing a spitball, but perhaps the best lesson out there comes from Eddie Harris from the training film titled, appropriately, Major league:

Sure.  Why not put snot on the ball?  It’s not as if anyone will know, and if anyone actually noticed chances are they’d skip inspecting the ball.

Dude…wait. What?  That’s not a training film?

The amazing thing about this film, other than how in the world the producers got so much high-priced talent gathered to make the movie – a very young duo of Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes star, along with Corbin Bernsen and that dude that does the Allstate commercials – is that Jack Morris stars in the movie as well, playing manager Lou Brown.

What?  That’s not him?  Sure as hell looks like him, with the wee beady eyes and the circa 1970’s Harry Reams push broom porn ‘stache…

…either way, if you combine Harris’ stealth technique with Perry’s zipper paint and Roe’s bubble gum juice trick, it would be far less conspicuous to Canadian camera crews, and Morris won’t have anything to complain about.

As for Buchholz, he has little to say about the accusation other than saying that he’d been wearing the same jersey for three years so any stains on it isn’t from loading the ball, just from natural human dirtiness – which may be more disturbing than the accusation of loading up the ball – and that he thinks it’s funny enough to snap a pic of teammate Ryan Dempster’s locker before his start on Thursday night where a bottle of baby oil, a tube of Vaseline and a container of coca butter had been lined up on the top shelf by a clubhouse prankster.

In truth, Buchholz throws some nasty stuff – and he could be able to use the negative notoriety to his advantage.  Though Preacher Roe was known primarily as a spitballer, he had a repertoire of legal pitches, but the batters that he faced were always looking for the spitter.

Once when pitching against the Boston Braves’ Jim Russell, Roe went to his cap repeatedly. Each time Roe did that, Russell stepped out of the batter’s box. After this went on three or four times, Roe threw the ball. “He’s waiting for that good hard drop. I touch the visor and throw a big slow curve.” Roe recanted years after his retirement,  “He was so wound up he couldn’t swing. But he spit at the ball as it went by.”

Maybe that’s what Morris was lamenting, that his Blue Jays just couldn’t touch whatever it was that Buchholz was throwing, and they were reduced to spitting at it as it whipped by…