The Perfect Summer: The Honest-to-God Curveball

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Outside magazine, June 1994

The Perfect Summer: The Honest-to-God Curveball

Loosen up the elbow. Snap that wrist. We’re not talking about softball.
By Randy Wayne White

Few can hit a curveball, but almost anyone can make a ball curve, unless their throwing mechanics have been polluted by exposure to slow-pitch softball, a detestable game foisted upon this country by drunks, pretenders, and quite a few fat people. This, of course, is why individuals of integrity discuss that bastard activity as often as they play it–which is to say, never.
When we play ball, or just play catch out on the lawn, we’re doing it with a hardball, by God.

The grip
First, you’ll need baseballs. Not one, but several. This will save time (after all, your catcher is supposed to be a receiver, not a retriever). Pick up a ball and get the feel of it. Shift your sensory focus to your index and middle fingers, and use them to follow the stitching around the ball. Stop when you get to where the seams narrow in toward one another, keeping a finger
running along each. This is called holding the ball with the seams. Next, turn the ball 90 degrees, so that your fingertips rest on one seam and your knuckles lie across the other. Now you’re holding the ball across the seams, which some pitchers also call a four-seamer.

These are your two options for holding the ball, but a question remains: Which one is best? On this we consulted several authorities, including Rich Gale, a pitching coach in the Montreal Expos organization; former major league pitchers Doug Bird and Eric Rasmussen; and Gene Lamont of the Chicago White Sox, the 1993 American League Manager of the Year. Opinions varied.
Actually, these guys couldn’t agree on anything. But it was generally accepted that most big-league pitchers hold the ball with the seams to throw a curve. So that’s what you’re going to do.

The mechanics
It’s normally 60 feet, six inches from the pitching rubber to home plate, but you should start out at Little League distance, about 45 feet. Throw easy at first, working on your mechanics: When your hand swings back to throw, the ball should be visible to the center fielder, with your thumb underneath and pointed toward the back of your head. Your glovehand should be aimed at the
target. As you throw, your hips should roll. Your back leg should swing forward naturally as you complete your stroke. Once you get loose, increase velocity.

Now you’re ready to throw some curves. As you release the ball, turn the back of your throwing hand to the catcher. Don’t snap it–not yet, anyway. At this point we don’t care if the ball breaks or not. Just get the feel of turning your hand, of pulling down and across on the seam that lies beneath your middle finger.

Continue at close range until you begin to feel comfortable with pulling the seam to make the ball rotate. A good curve needs to spin at about 1,800 rpm to break effectively. When your fingertips are properly trained, you should be able to make the ball blur as you lob it home.

Letting it fly
Once you’ve got the spin mastered, back up to the pitcher’s mound and throw a few fastballs. Then signal your catcher that a curve is coming; a nonchalant swipe of the glove is sufficient. If you’re right-handed, fix your eyes on a point just behind and below a right-handed hitter’s shoulder. If you’re a lefty, aim for the opposite side. Wind up…throw…and release the ball at
that focal point, pulling hard on the seams.

You’ve just thrown what hitters call a yellow hammer, an honest-to-God roundhouse, not to be confused with dissimilar, more easily hit offerings known as pus or cheese. That’s right, you’ve thrown a curveball.

And if you didn’t? You may belong in a different game–but we won’t mention its name.

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