This is an example of the difficulty of discovering exactly when something was invented, and the associated tendency for multiple creation stories to emerge in the wake of any significant human development. In early 2002, the Syracuse Post-Standard’s Chris Iven wrote:
The curveball has confounded baseball batters since 1864.
That’s the year William Arthur” Candy” Cummings began developing the pitch while studying at Falley Seminary in Fulton.
According to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Cummings’ curveball was first noticed in 1867 while he played for the Brooklyn Excelsiors. However, Cummings began working on his curveball while at the Fulton boarding school in 1864, the dictionary says.
That lends credence to the story, often repeated in Fulton, that Cummings threw the first curveball in Voorhees Park, across the street from where his school once stood.
“He later said he came onto the idea in 1863 while throwing clamshells, which naturally curved,” according to the baseball dictionary.
Cummings – one of 253 inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame – had a stellar career in Fulton, winning for Oswego County and Fulton a silver, baseball-shaped trophy now displayed at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The rules for baseball had been written for less than 30 years when Cummings began playing the sport in Fulton.
Because of the sport’s increasing popularity, the Oswego County Agricultural Society arranged a baseball game between the top teams in Onondaga and Oswego counties, according to a historical account by the late Grace Lynch, who studied Fulton history.
The society commissioned a silver trophy for the game’s winner.
In Oswego County, the top two teams were the Ontarios of the city of Oswego and the Falley Seminary team, known as the Hercules Nine. The top players from each team were combined to challenge the top Onondaga County team, the undefeated Central City Nine.
The game was played in 1865 at the agricultural society’s fairgrounds in Fulton, now Recreation Park. With Cummings pitching, the Oswego County team won, and the president of the agricultural society presented the trophy.
The Hall of Fame’s plaque for Cummings says he “Invented curve as amateur ace of Brooklyn Stars in 1867.”
In fall 1994, while the baseball strike was going on, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette said of Cummings:
One summer day in 1864 he was playfully tossing clamshells over the ocean turf near his new home in Brooklyn. To his astonishment, the shells took on a sharp curve and returned to almost where he stood. He began studying his delivery and the flights more closely, hoping to learn the cause of the peculiar turn.
He was playing baseball with the Star Juniors of South Brooklyn at the time, and was convinced he could toss a baseball the same way. For his next game, he invited friends to witness his new secret weapon. In his anxiety, he failed miserably.”I got well laughed at,” he related long afterward. But he persisted.
He worked hard until he got control of the new move.
Three years later, Cummings would astonish the baseball world with his perfected curve ball. Its formal introduction came in spring of 1867. He was substitute pitching for the Brooklyn Stars. He pitched his first”prominent” curve ball against the Harvard College varsity team. Archie Bush became its first victim.
During Cummings’ four years on the mound for Brooklyn, the Stars won every game. He became the boy wonder of baseball. His batting was unspectacular but his pitching was superb.
In 1872 he joined the New York Mutuals of the National Association, then went with Baltimore, on to the Philadelphia Athletics, and finally the Hartford Blues in the newly formed National League in 1876. His top salary was $2,500. He enjoyed great seasons….
In his sunset years, Cummings was fondly remembered by fans, baseball’s greats, and the big league presidents. They invited him to league games and presentations. He was introduced as the inventor of the curve ball and”one of those who was in on the beginning of the national game.”
Cummings spoke of his curve ball discovery in an 1897 interview in Athol: “It seems strange to say that the idle throwing of half a clam shell should have given birth to the idea, but such was the case. Seeing the shell curve to the left or the right made me wonder whether I could make a ball do so. If I could, I would have the best end of the game, until others learned how to do it.”
By the way, Cummings placed this ad in the Athol, Mass., Transcript newspaper on April 15, 1902: “W.A. Cummings, the well known painter and paper hanger, has returned to Athol and is located at 456 Main St. He is an experienced and skilled person, and can always be depended upon to give a thorough job.”
The Worcester paper added that the curveball is an example of “the Bernoulli Effect, named for the Swiss mathematician who discovered the principal 200 years ago. The ball’s trajectory bends because the air speed and friction on one side of the spinning ball becomes greater than on the other side.”
This past July, Connecticut’s New Haven Register reported on a new claim on the invention of the curveball:
As a little boy living on a Michigan farm during the Great Depression, John Castle spent countless hours listening to his grandfather spin stories about his life as a major league baseball player in the 19th century.
New Haven native Fred Goldsmith was one of the top pitchers in the early days of professional baseball, winning at least 20 games for the Chicago White Stockings in four successive seasons and playing in baseball’s first world championship in 1882.
His secret weapon was a devastating curveball, a pitch he discovered on the streets of New Haven as a boy and rode all the way to the sport’s highest reaches.
Castle, 76, recounts Goldsmith’s journey from the young baseball -loving son of a New Haven printer to his glory days pitching in Chicago for Hall of Fame player/ manager Cap Anson in a newly printed book,”Goldie’s Curve Ball”.
“All of my memories of my grandfather were happy, exciting and full of life,” said Castle, 76, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.”But still, in the back of my mind there was something unhappy that was unexplained.” Castle, 5 years old when his grandfather died, eventually learned the source of Goldsmith’s discontent. Baseball had recognized Arthur” Candy” Cummings as inventor of the curveball, and voted him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame solely for that reason.
Goldsmith spent his final years attempting to regain credit for the pitch, pleading his case to baseball writers across the country.
As proof, he would show a yellowed newspaper clipping detailing his public curveball demonstration in Brooklyn in 1870.
“A youth from New Haven named Fred Goldsmith demonstrated to the satisfaction of all that a baseball could be manipulated and controlled by throwing it from one given point to another, so as to make a pronounced arc in space,” wrote Henry Chadwick in the Brooklyn Eagle.”This feat was successfully accomplished 6 or 8 times, and that which up to this time was considered an optical illusion and against all rules of philosophy was now an established fact.” Several news stories were written in the late 1930s, seemingly reopening the curious case of the curve. But Goldsmith was inconsolable upon learning Cummings was being anointed by baseball as creator of the pitch.
Goldsmith died brokenhearted at age 82, found on his death bed clutching that old news clipping, headlined ‘He pitched the first curveball’. . . .
[In 1864, Goldsmith] would walk the few blocks to [Yale’s] campus daily and soak in as many practices and games as possible.
As he grew older, he began to toy with different grips and spins, eventually figuring out how to make a ball bend.
It led to a chance runin with a Yale pitcher on Elm Street in the spring of 1870. Goldsmith showed him the pitch, and later demonstrated it to the Yale team as well as a group of the school’s physics professors.
By mid-summer, word reached New York where Goldsmith was invited to make a public demonstration to Chadwick at the old Capitoline Grounds.
Castle, a retired contractor and developer, has also written a screenplay on Goldsmith’s life. A movie would be nice, he says, but the ultimate goal of his crusade is to have his grandfather enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N. Y., as co-partner in inventing the curveball.
Then, perhaps, a statue on the New Haven Green.
The book is currently available at goldiescurveball.com, and will be released nationally by Ingram Books soon, according to Castle.
So we have multiple versions of the story of Cummings inventing the curveball: 1867 in Brooklyn, 1864 along the ocean in Brooklyn, and 1863 in Fulton, N.Y.; and the challenging (and very melodramatic) story that Fred Goldsmith invented the pitch.