Berry Tramel
Take the spitter with the sweet

By Berry Tramel Published: May 3, 2000
Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry combined for 638 major league victories and at least that many broken rules.

The old war horses once met in a 1979 game -- Sutton was a Dodger, Perry a Padre. They shook hands and had a brief encounter. "He handed me a tube of Vaseline," Sutton said. "I thanked him and gave him a sheet of sandpaper."

Tools of their trade. They made pitches dance and hitters whiff. Sutton doctored baseballs, and Perry doused them. That's against the rules; has been since 1920. No funny stuff allowed on the old horsehide.

Some called them sly. Some called them slick. Some called them cheaters. I don't care what you call them. Just call them quick.

Come back, Sutton and Perry. Come back from Cooperstown and save our game. Baseball is gasping, and here's how to save it.

The spitball.

The spitter. The mud ball. The shine. The cut ball.

Anything that makes a ball miss a bat, we need it bad.

The Chicago White Sox are batting .300. As a team. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays' team ERA is 6.15, and that's only the fourth-worst in baseball.

Jermaine Dye is on pace to hit 68 home runs. Geoff Jenkins is on pace to hit 58. I'll come clean. I don't have a clue who Geoff Jenkins plays for.

Baseball is in crisis mode. Red alert. Under siege.

The grand old game looks under construction. Everyone wearing hard hats to keep homers from bouncing off their heads. The wallops are coming so fast, sitting in the outfield bleachers these days is like playing dodgeball with sixth- graders in afternoon PE.

A low-scoring game now is 7- 5.

Baseball has gone the way of slow-pitch softball. Home run derby. Double-digit runs. Batting practice.

Blame it on expansion, which has diluted the available arms. Blame it on a strike zone the size of a frying pan, which is where pitchers find themselves every game. Blame it on new ballparks no bigger than a billionaire's bedroom.

Camden Yards, Coors Field and Enron Field. Pinball parks all. Except you can't score this high in pinball.

Remember the old bumper sticker: "If you outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns"? Well, we've outlawed spitballs and high mounds and decent strike zones, and now the pitchers are out of ammunition.

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