GEORGE UHLE: Pitchers have good years and bad years because hitters catch up to the way you pitch. You have to change them. If they've been hitting your fast stuff inside, you have to switch over to let up pitches and curves.
I had a good fastball. I didn't throw extremely fast, by any means, but when I had to I could put an extra pound behind it. That's what Heilmann called it, "putting an extra pound" on the fastball. And if I had to, I'd put another couple pounds on the next pitch. I had a real good overhand curveball. Then towards the end, when I was with Detroit, I came up with a slider.
One day Heilmann and I were working out. Eddie Phillips was catching us. I don't know, I just happened to turn a ball loose a certain way, and it sailed. I said to Heilmann, "I've got a new one!" So I threw another one that way, and it sailed. I started using it in ball games. When I first started using it with Detroit, the batters would call time and want the umpire to look at the ball, like I had roughed it up. And Eddie would always say, "Well, that's his sailer."
Who were the toughest hitters to pitch to? Well, you have to put Ruth in that category for one. Heilmann was another. Then Lou Gehrig. But there were two hitters who used to guess me right pert near every time. One was Bob Fothergill and the other was Bibb Falk. It was uncanny the way they could guess what I was going to throw.
Fothergill was with Detroit when I went there. When I was with Cleveland, we had dinner together one night. He bet me the next night's dinner that he'd get three hits off me the next day, provided I didn't walk him. I said, "Okay" -- and the son of a gun got three hits. It wasn't until I got to Detroit that I learned Bob couldn't hit those big, slow, roundhouse curves. He'd jump out of his shoes trying to him them.
Cobb? Naturally, he was real tough. His weakness was pitching inside on him. That was the one way you had the best luck with him. I hate to say it, but there weren't many umpires who'd call it a strike when it was a strike. He'd lean over home plate, and when it was on the inside corner, he would act as if the pitch was going to hit him. Billy Evans was the one umpire who would call it a strike at all times on him. Ty got to hating Billy Evans, to where Cobb challenged him and they had a fight one time, in Washington.
Ruth never could hit me. If the count was two and nothing, I would deliberately go to three and oh by pitching slow curveballs to him, try to hit him between the stomach and his knees. Let him pull it foul. If he took it, I didn't care. Then I'd throw him a change of pace, low and outside. That's the ball I made him hit all the time. I wouldn't throw him but one fastball every two games. Even then, it was only after I'd already gotten him out two or three times on change-ups. I'd throw him a high, bad fastball with two strikes on him and hope he chased it.
One of the shortest distances in any ballpark in the major leagues was left and right field in the Polo Grounds, right down the foul line. Ruth got a home run, a pop fly down the right field line, in one of my first seasons with Cleveland. He never hit another home run off of me until my next-to-last year at Detroit, in '32. I threw a good overhand curveball to him and he hit it clean across the street onto the taxicab company on Trumbull. It was the longest home run I ever gave up. I've often thought, what a fool I was. Ruth and I were such great friends. When he finally did hit one off me, why didn't I stand at home plate, give him a punch in the belly, and shake hands with him?
From Cobb Would Have Caught It by Richard Bak.
Copyright © 1991 by Wayne State University Press. Reprinted with permission.