'A Change-up On Steroids:' The History Of A Sky-Scraping Pitch

In a recent Nippon Professional Baseball game in Japan, Kazuhito Tadano threw a slow, arcing pitch that caught the batter by surprise. Video of the play quickly went viral on the Internet, but the pitch has a history — and a name: the eephus pitch. Paul Dickson, author of the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, offers more details.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to the world of baseball and an off-speed pitch. And we mean really off-speed.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Japanese spoken).

CORNISH: This week, in Japan, right-hander Kazuhito Tadano of the Nippon-Ham Fighters threw a high and super-slow junk ball. It seemed to flow in the air, before falling sharply across the plate and into the catcher's mitt.

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MAN: (Japanese spoken).

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Not something you see very often, but it has a name in baseball. It's the Eephus pitch.

PAUL DICKSON: An Eephus pitch is a slowly thrown, high-arcing pitch, likely to reach an apex of 25 feet or more above the ground between the mound and the plate.

CORNISH: That's Paul Dickson, author of the "Dickson Baseball Dictionary."

DICKSON: It's a deception. It's like a change-up on steroids. You're sitting there waiting for a fastball or a curveball. You know, you're dazzled by this thing.

CORNISH: Paul Dickson says credit for the first Eephus pitch goes to Truett Rip Sewell, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the 1940s.

DICKSON: He had gotten in a hunting accident over the winter, and it left some buckshot in his foot. So he started developing alternative pitches, and this was one of them.

SIEGEL: As to the name, Eephus - well, it might come from the Hebrew word, effess(ph), which means zero or nothing.

CORNISH: Dickson believes it was named by Rip Sewell's teammate, outfielder Maurice Van Robays. Of Sewell's pitch, he reportedly said, that's an eephus.

SIEGEL: And when asked what he meant by that, Van Robays said, eephus it ain't nothing, and that's a nothing pitch.

CORNISH: It's shown up periodically since then, often with other names. Yankee Steve Hamilton called it the folly floater.

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MAN: Oh, there's the folly floater. And listen to the crowd.

DICKSON: Sometimes it's called a gondola, parachute, balloon ball.

CORNISH: And the rainbow pitch, says Paul Dickson.

SIEGEL: Well, whatever you call it, the umpire in Japan this week called that Eephus pitch a ball.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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