Boston’s Got a History With the Eephus Pitch

Bill Lee pitching in the 1975 World Series.
Bill Lee pitching in the 1975 World Series.
Frank O’Brien

Former major leaguer Kazuhito Tadano delighted fans in Japan when he uncorked the rare, super-slow Eephus pitch in a Japanese Pacific League game on Sunday. The video made the rounds on American sports websites Tuesday.

It’s slow, it’s funny, and if it crosses the plate at the right angle, it’s very effective. It’s considered a trick pitch since so few pitchers try it, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, Boston’s got some significant baseball history tied to the Eephus.

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Ted Williams faced pitcher Rip Sewell, whom many credit with inventing the pitch, during the 1946 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. After missing the first two offerings by Sewell, Williams decided to try and drive the ball deep.

In 2008, Paul jackson wrote about the encounter for ESPN:

In his biography, "My Turn at Bat," Williams recalled his pregame chat with Yankees catcher Bill Dickey. The Einstein of hitting, Williams wondered aloud whether it was even possible to hit Sewell's trick pitch for a home run. With little energy coming from the ball, the batter needed to supply the full power, and he didn't know whether a body possessed such wattage. Dickey wagered that a moving man could get the job done. "Advance on it a step or two," Dickey said. "Kind of run at it."

With two men on and a favorable count, Sewell threw a third eephus, one he later described as a "Sunday super-duper blooper." It fell with near-perfect accuracy, the ball tumbling down through the strike zone. As the pitch arrived, Williams charged, taking two quick steps out of the batter's box. He swung, connected and dumped the Sunday super-duper blooper into the right-field bullpen. Pandemonium erupted as Williams laughed his way around the bases. Though chuckling himself, Sewell was not impressed. "You only got it 'cause I told you it was coming!"

The other Boston connection conjures up unhappy memories. Pitcher and all-time fan favorite Bill Lee had a version of the Eephus pitch, which he called the “Leephus” or the “Spaceball.” Lee’s version wasn’t so much of a lob as it was a slow, high curve ball. But the pitch didn’t work to Lee’s advantage when he threw it to Tony Perez in the 1975 Word Series.

In its celebration of trick pitches, Grantland dubbed Lee’s Game 7 Eephus as “the most ill-advised pitch in baseball history,” and it’s hard to disagree.