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Monday, December 29, 2003

Further Research On The Origin Of The Forkball 

Bill, from Skagit County, was kindly enough to give me the tip that Elroy Face was famous for his forkball in the 1950's. Thanks to the King County Library System, which has an outstanding selection of online databases, I was able to piece together some of the story today.

Face, who holds the single-season won-lost record at 18-1, used the forkball with great success, particularly during the 1960 World Series, when he saved three of the four victories for the Pirates (the one victory he didn't save was game seven, which Bill Mazeroski won with a walk-off homer). According to an October 23, 2000 article in Sports Illustrated, Face learned the forkball from Joe Page, the former Yankee reliever. Page was attempting a comeback with the Pirates in 1954 and showed the pitch to Face during Spring Training of that year. Face, who, at the request of Pirates GM Branch Rickey, was trying to learn an off-speed offering, was an eager pupil. Face spent the '54 season at Double A New Orleans, and refined the pitch with which he would later record a then-record 188 career saves.

In my search, I was able to find an earlier, though less reliable, forkball reference. In an August 1998 Sports Illustrated article about Babe Ruth's 1927 home run barrage, passing mention is made to Milt Gaston, a St. Louis Browns pitcher, against whom Ruth homered in '27. Specifically, Gaston is called a "forkball pitcher," but I was not able (or willing) to find anything to substantiate Gaston's use of the pitch.

I would consider either Face of Page to be the true pioneers of the forkball, since both men were best known for their successful use of the pitch.

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