#55.3 – The History of the Eephus Pitch
The dipsy doodle, the dead fish, the moon ball, LaLob, the blooper ball, all names for a rare pitch in baseball called “the eephus”. From the New Dickson Baseball dictionary the eephus pitch is “A high-arcing pitch likely to reach an apex of 25 feet above the ground between the mound and the plate. The ball is thrown overhand and aimed upwards in the hope that it will, at its most effective, drop from the top to the bottom of the strike zone as it crosses the plate.”
There is much speculation about how it was named the “eephus” but some believe it is derived from the Hebrew word “efes” which means “nothing” which points to the idea that it’s a “nothing” pitch because it’s so unusual and unorthodox.
Originating around the 1940s (some say 1941, but most say 1943) the eephus was first perfected by Braves pitcher Truett Banks “Rip” Sewell. Sewell had been a pitcher since 1932 and during the offseason in the 40s had accidentally shot himself in the foot in a hunting accident. With his foot in rehab, he wasn’t able to pivot as he had previously when pitching. His fastball lost the zip, his curveball lost the dip and the eephus was born.
The pitch itself is a rarity due to its bizarre nature. Coming in at under 50mph with an arc between 5 and 25 feet, batters become flumoxed and in general aren’t quite sure how to handle it. Take this at-bat from Jeyson Werth, facing Carlos Villanueva.
The man has no idea what to do, so he freezes. The pitches are coming in at 80 to 100mph and then there’s the “folly floater”. Rip Sewell ended being a fairly productive pitcher with the eephus pitch as a regular part of his arsenal, winning 17 games in 1943 and 21 in 1944. His uniqueness pushed him into the All-Star game 4 years in a row between 1943 and 1946, the 1946 game being the most famous. Ever heard of Ted Williams? You know the guy sometimes regarded as the best hitter to play the game? Well, in this all-star game he faced the eephus pitch and came out victorious. The only homerun ever given up by Sewell was to Williams at the ’46 all-star game. Williams took a couple of Happy Gilmore hops and, even though he was out of the batters box, leveraged the eephus over the wall. It was lopsided and exciting, so no one bothered with the actual rule of being outside the batters box. See the video below for reference:
Other practitioners of this pitch include Pedro Borbon, Casey Fossum (the Fossum flip), Steve Hamilton (the folly floater), Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hernandez, Dave LaRoche (LaLob), Bill Lee, Phil Niekro, Vicente Padilla (the soap bubble), Satchel Paige, Pascual Perez (the Pascual pitch), Dave Stieb (the dead fish), Kazuhito Tadano and Bob Tewksbury. Teammates of the originator dubbed it ‘Skyscraper,’ ‘Dodo’ and ‘Dewdrop.’
Had both legs amputated in 1972 due to circulation issues after his hunting accident
Not everyone has had success with the eephus pitch like Sewell. In 1975, in game 7 of the World Series, the Boston Red Sox were leading when Bill “spaceman” Lee decided to throw his moon ball a few too many times to Tony Perez. The Red Sox were leading when Perez sent a moon ball skyward and out of the park. The Red Sox went on to lose that game and that World Series.
There was a great rivalry between Stormin’ Gorman Thomas of the Brewers and eephus pitcher Dave LaRoche. LaRoche had renamed the eephus pitch “LaLob” and threw several to Thomas, who was a big hitter in the 80s. Thomas ended up being struck out by the pitch and made it his mission in life to get a hit off LaLob. After several attempts across a few seasons, he finally managed to do so and received a standing ovation from the Brewers fans.
One of my favorite reports of the eephus pitch is from when Sewell was pitching to Dick Wakefield. As told to The Boston Globe, “[Wakefield] started to swing, he stopped, he started again, he stopped, and then he swung again and almost fell down when he missed.”
Randy Johnson has also thrown the eephus pitch.
According to Game of Inches, in 1867 a pitcher for the Athletic Club of Dansville, New York would throw pitches up to 20 feet in the air, possibly the first incarnation of the eephus pitch and then in the early 1900s James “Slab” Burns was another possible early adopter of the pitch.
For all of those who have thrown it, Sewell made it famous and we have him to thank for that.