- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Editor's Note: This story appears in the Sept. 11 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
The pitch is an accident, a homemade concoction. Baseball moonshine. In 1994, a fellow pitcher showed Trevor Hoffman his discarded grip for a changeup, and 12 years later, Hoffman sits in the visitors' dugout at Shea Stadium, raises his right hand and tells the whole truth about the pitch that will take him to the Hall of Fame.
Hoffman shows how he propels the baseball with the pads of his palm, with those crimson callouses just below the fingers. The key to the pitch, he explains -- the Coca-Cola formula of his changeup -- is how he pinches the seam of the ball with his thumb and index finger as he releases it. He throws the changeup with the arm speed used to throw a fastball, the hitter thinks it's a fastball, it looks like a fastball. But when the hitter starts to swing, the ball is still yards away from the plate. "Nothing is really catapulting the baseball," Hoffman says. "It's a pitch of deception."
How did Trevor Hoffman go from a scrawny minor-league shortstop with one kidney to a Hall of Fame closer? He got a grip.