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The First Pitch That Curved:



    If this pitcher could have patented his invention, he would have become a millionaire. Instead, the one-time Cincinnati Reds hurler is lost in time and only the most studious baseball historians are familiar with Arthur "Candy" Cummings.


Cummings' invention was the curve ball. For four seasons, 1872-1875, when he pitched for the New York Mutuals, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Hartford, he was the best pitcher in the United States.


Candy Cummings made his discovery while throwing clam shells as a youngster in Ware, Massachusetts.


"It was in the '60s that I discovered the curve ball, and strange to say, it was the idle throwing of half a clam shell that gave birth to such an idea," Cummings told a Massachusetts newspaper reporter just before the turn of the century.


When Cummings threw the clam shells, he became fascinated by their snakelike course through the air. He theorized that a baseball could be made to perform in the same fashion when it was thrown with the proper spin.


The idea of a curving baseball at first seemed far-fetched to a lot of people, but Cummings wasn't dismayed.


"I was laughed at by scientific men and baseball experts," Cummings said in his interview.


"But I finally proved to them that the stunt could be done, and for a long time I was known as the boy wonder."


In 1867, two years before the Cincinnati Red Stockings fielded the first all-professional baseball team, Cummings unveiled his curve ball in a game that' he pitched for Harvard College.


"At this time with secret practice, I found that I had perfect control of either the drop or rise, which came to me before the out- or in-shoot, because the pitching was done with a perpendicular swing.


"In the Harvard game Archie Bush, whom I feared for his powerful batting, was at bat. Bush swung at the first curve ball pitched, but only came within a foot of connecting. I tried it again and found that he was really at my mercy and I knew that I had succeeded."


Cummings' pitching delivery would look rather awkward and confusing on today's baseball field. Baseball rules in the late 1860s required a pitcher to keep both feet on the ground until the ball had left the hand. The pitching arm had to be kept near the side and the delivery was made with a perpendicular swing. In other words, the pitch was thrown underhanded.



    The throwing of the curve ball took its toll on Cummings. He developed baseball's first arm problem. Cummings reported, " ... it was a hard strain as the wrist and second finger had to do all the work. I snapped the ball away from me like a whip and this caused my wrist bone to get out of place quite often. I was compelled to wear a supporter on my wrist all one season on account of this strain."


Cummings began his professional career in 1872 with the New York Mutuals. He won 31 games his first season. He followed up the next year at Baltimore with 27 wins, 30 wins in 1874 at Philadelphia and 35 wins in 1875 at Hartford. By 1876 Cummings had lost his effectiveness with the curve ball ­because of the aching arm. He won only 15 games for Hartford that year and moved to Cincinnati the following season. He won only six games against 14 losses that season and that finished off his major league career at the age of 29.


Although Cummings played only six seasons in the major leagues, he has a spot in Cooperstown alongside Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio and Williams. His Hall of Fame plaque reads, "Pitched first curve ball in baseball history."




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