Academic journal article Base Ball

Return to Conventional Wisdom on Candy Cummings

Academic journal article Base Ball

Return to Conventional Wisdom on Candy Cummings

Article excerpt

Following the death of William Arthur "Candy" Cummings in 1924, The Sporting News passionately advocated for a monument to memorialize his contributions to baseball, writing, "It is doubtful if there is any ball player's memory which deserves more to be commended and honored by such feeble tokens as man may devise... . There is no individual ball player in the history of the sport whose influence has been so great upon pitchers and pitching as that of Cummings."1 For many years, conventional wisdom held that Cummings invented the curveball after visualizing the possibility while arcing clamshells through the air. This tidy story of a lone inventor's "eureka" moment undoubtedly helped Cummings' enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Attitudes regarding Cummings have since changed considerably. In being labeled the sole inventor of the curve, Cummings likely received excessive credit; but the pendulum has swung back so drastically that Cummings' accomplishments are now often minimized, if not outright ridiculed. Contemporary baseball books, websites, and chat forums not only question Cummings' contribution to the development of the curveball, but often deride his pitching achievements and label him the most undeserving player in the Hall of Fame.2

The objective of this article is not to answer the age-old question of who "invented" the curve, the roots of which extend to the early 19th century, crossing the boundary of baseball as we know it, to other bat-and-ball games such as cricket and the Massachusetts game. Instead the focus is Cummings' documented accomplishments in the pitcher's box.

A Successful Pitcher, Curve or Not

Leaving aside the question of the curveball, Cummings' pitching achievements were significant. Born in Ware, Massachusetts, in 1848, Cummings played the Massachusetts game, with its liberal pitching rules, prior to moving to Brooklyn with his family in his early teens.3

In 1865 Cummings attended boarding school at Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York, pitching for the Hercules club. Upon returning home he joined the Star Juniors, a ball club of boys his own age. In 1866 Cummings was asked by catcher Joe Leggett to join the famed Excelsiors as a junior member. Legget had often watched the Junior Stars practice and had been impressed with the play of Cummings and several of his teammates. 4 Shortly after joining the Excelsiors, Cummings was given a chance to pitch for the senior club due to the absence of star pitcher Asa Brainard. This was quite an undertaking for a 17-year-old, 117-pound boy whose teammates were much older and bigger. The average age of the Excelsiors was about 26, with the veteran Brainard being 25 and Leggett 38. Cummings recalled that opponents often scoffed at the sight of him in the pitcher's box: "My youthful appearance caused smiles of derision at first on the faces of the batsmen... ."5

In his debut for the Excelsiors, Cummings was defeated by the powerful New York Mutuals, 32-13. Despite the lopsided loss, the Brooklyn Eagle praised Cummings, writing, "Cummings pitched; and if, as stated, this was his first senior match, he has only to keep on in the way he has begun, and he will one day (not far distant) be ranked among the best pitchers in the country." The New York Sunday Mercury said Cummings, "pitched exceedingly well, and is undoubtedly a very promising young pitcher."6

Two weeks later, the senior Excelsiors again turned to Cummings when Brainard was unavailable. This time he led the club to a surprising 24-12 victory over the strong Eurekas of Newark. The Clipper observed, "the pitching [was] accurate and effective on both sides, but especially that of young Cummings... ."7

Between games with the Juniors, Cummings pitched five games for the senior Excelsiors in 1866, winning three. The next season Cummings, just 18, became the senior club's regular pitcher. Despite his youth, there was no decline in the team's performance as Cummings pitched the Excelsiors to an 11-5 record, largely comparable to the previous year's 14-6 record when the highly regarded Brainard handled the pitching. …

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