During minor league’s heyday from 1920 to 1940, dozens of leagues and hundred of teams played baseball in every corner of the nation. Local kids made up many teams’ rosters. And some players, even talented ones, had little interest in moving up to the Major Leagues.
To many, especially those from rural areas, big city life had no appeal. Others didn’t want to part from their families and sweethearts. Some had to stay close by to help with the farm chores or earn extra cash from their part-time jobs.
For pitcher Joe Pate, it was all of those reasons and one more. Pate couldn’t throw his renown spit ball in the majors, at least not legally.
Pate, relying almost exclusively on his spitter, dominated the Texas League for eleven years.
Starting in 1920 while pitching for the Ft. Worth cats, Pate won 20 or more games three times and thirty games twice. But Pate consistently refused to go to the Philadelphia Athletics, the Cats’ parent team. Despite multiple pleas from Connie Mack, Pate wanted no part of it. Not only did the Texas native prefer to stay near to his ranch and rodeo hobby but the early A’s were a sad lot.
Beginning in 1915 and through 1921, the A’s posted records of 43-109, 36-117, 55-98, 52-76, 36-104, 48-106 and 53-100.
Finally, in 1926 as the revitalized A’s battled for an American League championship, Pate agreed to a promotion.
Pate’s career was short—two years—but possibly one of the most curious in baseball history. In 1926, Pate appeared in 47 games, posted a 9-0 record with six saves and a 2.71 ERA. The left hander helped keep Philadelphia in the pennant race for much of the summer although the A’s ended up in third place behind the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians.
The following year, Pate was finished. His record dropped to 0-3 with a 5.20 ERA. Pate returned to Ft. Worth where he pitched well before retiring to become an umpire.
Whether Pate threw the spitter during his successful 1926 season remained unclear. According to Ira Thomas, a catcher, said
“Pate didn’t need a spitter. I doubt if he threw three spitters in a game.”
Thomas and other of Pate’s contemporaries say that Pate’s “out” pitch was the “raw raw,” the term used in the day to describe a knuckleball.