In early March, I drove down to Orlando, Fla., on an expedition to discover how, why and when the Unfair One became extinct. Who killed it? What killed it?
I went into the Braves clubhouse looking for Roger McDowell, the Braves' eccentric pitching coach. One of the coaches said, "He's pedaling his bicycle around the stadium." Of course. I walked down the runway toward the Rays' clubhouse, the Braves' opponent for this afternoon's game, and found Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey dressing at his locker. I asked if he had a few minutes to talk about the BOC.
"Why me?" he asked. "I haven't taught anyone up here the overhand curve."
"That's one of the reasons I'm here. It seems to be extinct."
"A few guys had it. Jamie Shields, Alex Cobb. You could hear the sizzle on Cobb's curve. It had bite."
When he finished dressing, we went out to the dugout in the morning sun. I sat, and he stood before me, pacing as he spoke. Hickey is an unsmiling, lean-muscled man, with the coiled intensity of someone who does not suffer fools. Why hasn't he taught the BOC? "Because it's easier to learn than to teach," he said. "It's a delivery-oriented pitch." I told Hickey the BOC was the toughest pitch to hit when thrown properly. He said, "Maybe, but the strike zone doesn't permit it anymore. You can't rely on it for a strike when you're behind in the count. Today, the smaller breaking balls are popular, because it's easier to throw them in a smaller strike zone."