Monday, March 07, 2005

March 7th, 1890

Dave Danforth Born

Also known as "Dauntless Dave," "Dandy Dave, " "Demon Dave," and so on, Danforth had a ten year career as a pitcher for the A's, White Sox and St. Louis Browns in the teens and twenties. A graduate of Baylor University, Danforth evidently spent much of his career putting his smarts to use finding new ways to doctor the ball. Danforth is frequently credited with being the inventor of the "shine ball." There is some confusion here, however. Traditionally speaking, the shine ball worked by scuffing up one side of the ball until it was nearly black--this was easier in the era Danforth played in when balls were replaced only occasionally--and keeping the other side blindingly white, often with the help of either talcum power or paraffin wax. This created the dual consequence of having the ball slide out of the pitcher's hand like a spitball and having a baffling effect on the batter who saw alternating dark and light sides of the ball coming at them.

Danforth however, was quoted as saying his shine ball was entirely scuffed and dirty, but nonetheless shiny. Danforth said he invented it in 1914 while pitching at
Louisville, where oil was spread on the infield to keep the dust from rising. According to Danforth, "the combination of the oil slick and dirty turf discolored the balls and made them look black and shiny." Whether Danforth threw a "traditional" shine ball or his own version is a matter of debate.

Danforth was twice given ten day suspensions for throwing a "loaded" baseball. Danforth (who possessed large strong hands) would take the cover off the ball and use that to give him more break on his curveball. Ty Cobb alleged Danforth would lift the seams and then use paraffin wax to give the impression the ball hadn't been tampered with. Danforth also allegedly pioneered the practice of keeping his thumb nail sharpened to a point so that he could raise and tear the seams of the ball to make it break further.

In addition to his assortment of doctored baseballs, Danforth also featured a pickoff move that was regarded by many as the best in the game, virtually indistinguishable from his pitching motion; many also thought it was a balk. Despite all the ball tampering and possibly balks, Danforth managed just seventy-one wins and an ERA worse than the league average, and retired after the 1925 season. Having gotten his DDS in 1915, Danforth worked as a dentist in
Baltimore until 1960 when he retired. He died ten years later at age eighty.

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