Eephus Pitch: The Most Fun Trick in Baseball

Imagine standing at a baseball game, watching the pitcher wind up with the intensity of throwing a fastball, but instead, the ball skies high with a slow arc, leaving the batter in disbelief.

That’s the magic of the eephus pitch, a rare and deceptive move in the game of baseball.

It’s one of those quirky pitches that make baseball so fascinating.

The baseball floats in a high, arcing trajectory towards home plate, as the pitcher releases a rare and deceptive eephus pitch

The eephus pitch is designed to fool hitters with its unusually high trajectory and painfully slow speed. Despite its simplicity, it can be incredibly effective, catching batters completely off-guard. Legendary pitchers like Rip Sewell and Bob Tewksbury have used this trick pitch to surprise their opponents, turning their names into a piece of baseball lore.

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Baseball is full of surprises, and the eephus pitch is a perfect example of how a simple twist can change the game.

Origins and History

A baseball flying in a high arc, thrown with a unique eephus pitch technique, against a backdrop of a vintage baseball stadium

The eephus pitch has a fascinating history, originating with a unique invention by a Major League Baseball pitcher and including some memorable moments in the sport’s history.

This pitch stands out due to its unusual, high-arcing trajectory and slow speed.

Invention and Naming

The eephus pitch was invented by Rip Sewell, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the 1930s.

After a hunting accident, Sewell developed this pitch as a way to continue his pitching career.

The pitch’s distinct slow, high-arcing path confounded hitters.

Maurice Van Robays, a teammate of Sewell, is credited with naming the pitch “eephus,” which is a Hebrew word meaning “nothing.” This name highlights its seemingly unthreatening nature, though it often leaves batters bewildered at the plate.

Notable Moments

One of the most memorable moments involving the eephus pitch occurred during the 1946 All-Star Game.

Rip Sewell pitched against Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in MLB history.

Williams famously hit a home run off the eephus pitch, a rare feat that cemented its place in baseball lore.

Another notable incident took place when Sewell used the pitch during exhibition games, leading to some humorous and unexpected reactions from batters.

At Forbes Field, Pittsburgh’s home stadium, the pitch became a spectacle, drawing both admiration and confusion from hitters and fans alike.

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Pitch Mechanics

The baseball pitcher winds up, then releases a slow, high-arching eephus pitch towards home plate

An Eephus pitch is unique due to its high arcing trajectory and extremely slow speed.

Below, we dive into how to execute this pitch and the situations where it can be most effective.

Execution and Technique

Executing an Eephus pitch requires a pitcher to change their usual approach.

Unlike fastballs or curveballs, the Eephus is thrown with very low velocity, usually between 35 and 55 mph. Rip Sewell, who is credited with popularizing the Eephus, would throw it overhand but with a unique high arc.

Pitchers grip the ball in various ways.

Some use three fingers, while others stick with their regular fastball grip.

Backspin is often applied to keep the ball’s movement unpredictable.

Proper timing is crucial.

The slow pitch and high arc can throw off the batter’s rhythm, making it hard to hit.

This “trick pitch” relies on the element of surprise rather than sheer speed.

Strategic Usage

The Eephus pitch can be a powerful tool when used strategically.

It’s best employed when the batter is expecting a fast pitch, creating a stark contrast that can lead to a missed swing.

Pitchers often introduce it sparingly to maintain its effectiveness.

Frequent off-speed pitches can make it predictable, reducing its trickery.

Timing within an at-bat is key; a change of pace after a fastball can be extremely effective.

When thrown into the strike zone, the slow velocity and high arc make it difficult for hitters to judge, often resulting in weak contact or a strike.

Using an Eephus pitch wisely can lead to improved performance and potentially profitable outcomes.

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Prominent Pitchers and Variations

A baseball diamond with a pitcher winding up for an eephus pitch, surrounded by curious and intrigued batters and spectators

The eephus pitch, known for its high arc and slow speed, has been used by several notable pitchers over the years.

These pitchers each added their own twist to the eephus, creating various versions of the intriguing pitch.

Masters of the Eephus

Some pitchers who have effectively thrown the eephus pitch include Rip Sewell, who is often credited with inventing the pitch in the 1930s.

He called it the “blooper pitch” and used it successfully during his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bill Lee, a left-hander for the Boston Red Sox, was another major user of the pitch.

He called his version the “spaceball” and used it to disrupt hitters’ timing.

Steve Hamilton of the New York Yankees added another layer by throwing a version known as the “folly floater.” This pitch became part of his quirky repertoire and made him a memorable figure.

Dave LaRoche brought the eephus back in the late 1970s with his “LaLob,” thrilling MLB fans with its unusual trajectory.

Variations of the Pitch

The eephus pitch has been known by many names, reflecting slight variations in its delivery and usage. Vicente Padilla used a version called the “soap bubble,” while Casey Fossum threw the “Fossum flip,” both of which had the same basic principles but different grips.

Zack Greinke and Yu Darvish also experimented with their own takes on the eephus.

Greinke’s was often referred to as the “nothing pitch” owing to its deceptive slowness, while Darvish threw a “gravity curve.”

Clayton Kershaw has occasionally used a version with a high arc, introducing a surprise element into his already dominant pitching arsenal.

Each pitcher’s version added a new layer to the classic eephus, ensuring its place in baseball lore.

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