I've often been asked how I became a baseball pitcher, and more specifically,
how I came to throw straight overhand. Only a very few pitchers I saw in the
big leagues threw straight overhand. Warren Spahn and Sandy Koufax were two
Hall of Famers who did.
Well, I was the youngest of three boys, so when my dad (who loved to throw)
and my two older brothers, Lloyd and Donald, would play catch at the side of
our house, I was the one who would get the heat. We played a game called
"burnout." You start tossing nice and easy, then each throw gets a little
harder. When they finally pinned me back against the barn, I would grit my
teeth and reach as high as I could to throw harder. I threw the hardest
Another question I often get asked is how I learned to throw the overhand
curve. (Old-timers called it a "drop.")
My dad had a baseball book, and one evening in our living room he got the book
and a baseball and was showing me how to put curveball rotation on a pitch. As
he stood in the middle of the room, book in his left hand and ball in his
right, he was demonstrating the delivery. Suddenly, he made a full arm motion
and accidentally released the ball. It bounced once, then went through the
open doorway into the dining room.
We then heard this huge crash when it hit the glass of my mother's china
cupboard. Glass seemed to fall for five minutes. My mother screamed, "Matt
Erskine! What have you done?" My dad, with a smirk on his face, said to me,
"Son, that's the biggest break I ever got on a curveball."
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From Tales from the Dudger Dugout by Carl Erskine.
Copyright © 2000 by Carl Erskine. Reprinted with permission.