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The Show-Stopping Pitch That is the Eephus

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Sometimes, speed is just a number.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

In the modern game of baseball, the idea of speed and power dominate the headlines. This can be from the concept of launch angle and bat speed, whereby the batter is not only noted for how long and high he can blast an offering into the upper deck, but just how fast the ball is leaving said bat. Get a launch speed of 115+ mph, and you are talking some serious headlines. More often than not, a high launch speed is the result of crushing a pitch that is coming in with a high velocity. The modern fastball is not one to be trifled with, with many a top hurler clocking ~100 mph on the radar gun.

Yet, the ability to hit triple digits on the pitch radar gun will barely emit a yawn, unless it is a critical pitch at a critical time of a game. As of late, the pitch that is the real headline-maker, scene-stealer is one that averages less than half of the speed of the high end fastball. Throw a 103 mph fastball…meh, that’s nice. Throw a 50 mph pitch for a strike…what the ever-loving hell! A pitcher did that? And it counted as a strike? Whoa…

The idea of an off-speed pitch is not so alien. Many a starter and plenty of relievers will have a change-up capability to disrupt and confuse the timing of a batter. Usually, the delta with such a pitch is within a 10-15 mph range (throw in the 90s for a fastball, have an 80 mph-ish change-up). For some pitchers, a change-up is perhaps their most devastating pitch.

However, a pitch that is 40 or more mph slower than a regular fastball? That is definitely unique territory. Enter the eephus pitch. Named after the Hebrew word efes (nothing) this pitch is deliberately thrown with a slower speed and a high degree of spin. Not to be confused with a curveball, which is usually thrown with a higher velocity. This pitch, if executed correctly, can throw off the timing and connection of a batter who faces it, especially for the first time after seeing a steady diet of faster pitches.

The eephus, in modern recorded baseball history, first made its appearance in 1942 via Pirates pitcher Rip Sewell (although some sources trace the pitch back to the turn of the 20th century and Bill Phillips). Coming off a couple of solid seasons with the Pirates, Sewell suffered a hunting accident which prevented him from stepping up on the mound to use his curveball/fastball. As a result, he developed a new pitch that didn’t require so much pressure on his injured foot. When he first deployed in during a 1942 exhibition, the batter in question unleashed a near-cartoonish miss on the swing. Recounts Sewell:

“He started to swing, he stopped, he started again, he stopped, and then he swung and missed it by a mile. I thought everybody was going to fall off the bench, they were laughing so hard.”

This pitch helped prolong Sewell’s career, pitching until the 1949 season, going 103-65 with a 3.36 ERA with 3 All-Star Appearances over that span.

Sewell was not the only practitioner of the eephus. Pitchers from Satchel Paige to Phil Niekro would deploy the pitch from time to time. Bill Lee attempted to ride his version of the eephus to glory when he pitched in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series for Boston, though it didn’t thwart the Big Red Machine lineup. During the steroid era of the late 1990s, the eephus would make another appearance, this time at the hands of Bob Tewksbury, who deployed it against Mark McGuire (who took the deployment of said pitch in good humor) and Albert Belle (uh, who did not).

In the last couple of seasons, the eephus continues to make headlines, employed by front-line starters (Crenshaw, Darvish, Greinke) and field players forced into emergency pitching situations (Wilkerson, Holt). When a pitcher has deployed an eephus, it tends to make sporting headlines/leading social media feeds.

With that of this in mind, Let’s examine some of the better eephus pitchers.

Bill Phillips:

wikipedia.org

Perhaps the first recorded pitcher to employ said pitch. Unleashed it in the early days of record baseball. No motion picture footage exists of this momentous moment in baseball history.

Rip Sewell:

piratesprospects.com

We’ve already covered his contributions as the modern “father” of the eephus. Had the gall to unleash the eephus against Ted Williams in the 1946 All-Star Game. He got a couple in with no issues. However, Williams got the better of that match-up, but it was Ted Williams. Still, a man that can parlay that pitch into a career saver is a must for this list. Plus, how can you hate on a pitch he called the “dipsy doodle?” (It was his teammate Maurice Van Robays that gave his slow pitch the name “eephus” {“Eeephus ain’t nothin. That’s a nothing pitch”})

Satchel Paige:

Satchel Paige Indians Warms Up

One of the best of all time, period.dot. If he deployed an eephus, you know that was going to be must-see entertainment.

Bud Tewksbury:

bleedcubbieblue.com

Unleashing an eephus pitch in the halcyon days of the Steroid Era, against Mark McGwire during his 70-home run season and Albert Belle and his hair-trigger temper and living to tell the tale? It may not be the best, but you can’t ignore the courage.

Zack Greinke:

Kansas City Royals v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston connection to this list. No stranger to the eephus pitch, he brought that particular weapon to Houston, unleashing it whenever he feels like it, to many a grimace/grin of an opponent and the joy of the commentators. What can make his eephus so devastating is that the wind-up and pitch for his current fastball/slider and the eephus are nearly identical. The batter really doesn’t know what to expect. Given that this is Greinke, that is not a statement to take lightly.

Brock Holt:

ftw.usatoday.com

What is this? A Ranger on this list? Before condemning this author to damnation, there is something to be said for how Holt employed his eephus. In a blowout loss to Oakland, the Rangers sent utility man Holt out to pitch the 8th inning in relief. During that inning, he somehow uncorked a 31 MPH PITCH!!!! That is almost half the speed of a batting practice pitch. Most ceremonial first pitches will zoom by that type of throw. That it led to a strike and later getting a batter out is impressive. That he could mix in a “fastball” at 83 mph tends to make his eephus that much more impressive.

Bugs Bunny:

imdb.com

Among the many names for an eephus pitch, one is the “Bugs Bunny curve” This comes from his turn as the relief pitcher for the Tea Totallers against the Gas-House Gorillas in a 1946 slugfest. Facing a 95-run deficit, Bugs enters the game. After demonstrating his devastating fastball, he proceeds to “perplex ‘em with [his] slowball”. Using the same furious wind-up as his previous fastball offerings, he then uncorks the slowest of slow pitches. He manages to retire the side on this one pitch. By one pitch, we mean the solo pitch travelling so slowly that he forces 9 straight swinging strikes, retiring the side and sparking the Tea Totallers to a thrilling 96-95 victory. (There was no radar gun on-site to track the actual speed of that eephus pitch.)

With all the prime candidates on the table, who do you think is the best eephus pitcher of the bunch?

Poll

Best Eephus Pitcher:

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Bill Phillips
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    Rip Sewell
    (6 votes)
  • 8%
    Satchel Paige
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    Bud Tewksbury
    (1 vote)
  • 34%
    Zach Greinke
    (56 votes)
  • 6%
    Brock Holt
    (11 votes)
  • 46%
    Bugs Bunny
    (75 votes)
162 votes total Vote Now