Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Rip Swell is one of those characters from history whose life reads more like fiction than fact.  His tale started on May 11, 1907 in Decatur, Alabama and then was peppered with all sorts of interesting details; He played football at Vanderbilt for a year on scholarship; he played semi-pro baseball in Nashville; he signed with the Detroit Tigers as a right handed relief pitcher; He got beat up (most say deservedly) by future hall of famer Hank Greenberg in Florida and found himself hurling for such clubs as the Toledo MudHens and the Buffalo Bisons.

If things had finished up there for Rip, if that was the end of his athletic career, he certainly would have had plenty to talk about until his end days in 1989.
But his story played on when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1937 and in 1940 earned a spot on their starting rotation.  The Alabamian mowed through the National League that year with 16 wins and 5 losses in 33 appearances and threw a very respectable 2.80 ERA.

However, 1941 seemed to be the year Rip would bow out and leave when his record fell to 14 and 17 and his ERA ballooned to 3.72.  The coup de grace seem to come that December when he was shot in the foot with two loads of buckshot while hunting.  Surely this was to be the end.  Now Rip Sewell could gracefully leave the game and stand in awe of his peers.

That is not what happened.  This is actually where his story begins.

After the hunting mishap, Rip worked on changing his delivery so he did not have to put a lot of weight on his injured foot.  This created an entirely new pitch for him that was dubbed "the Eephus".
Sewell would grab the ball by the seams and flick it off three fingers to get backspin.  This sent the ball upwards to 25 feet in the air where it literally died going across the plate for a strike.  This blooper change-up received its heinous name from fellow Pirate Maurice "Bomber" Van Robays, who said, "Eephus ain't nothing, and that's a nothing pitch."
The "nothing" pitch worked wonders for Rip's career.

Now armed with the Eephus, Rip became one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He was  a 17 game-winner in 1942 and he won 21 games in both 1943 and 1944.  He earned a spot on the National League All-Star roster four years in a row and ranked sixth in 1943 for MVP.

Only one person was to ever hit a home run against Sewell's awful eephus and that was Ted Williams during the 1946 All-Star game.  Williams later admitted that he asked Sewell to throw it and he had run towards the mound and made contact with the ball while he was positioned in front of the batter's box, which would have been an out if the umpire had noticed.

Like his eephus pitch, Rip Sewell's baseball career spanned a long and wide arc.  Sometimes the best  does come to those who master the art of patience and learn to take things nice and easy
and slow.

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