Cummings is generally credited with having invented the curveball. He maintained he came up with the idea as a 14-year-old in 1863 while watching the flight of clam shells he was throwing on a New England beach. Years of experimentation followed as he perfected the twisting pitch, and discovered that it worked best when thrown into the wind. He wore a kid glove on his pitching hand to prevent blisters, and once broke his wrist throwing the pitch. The 5’9″ 120-lb Cummings felt he needed the advantage of the deceptive curveball because he was small even as an adult. His fame spread on the amateur diamond as he earned the nickname “Candy,” a term of admiration.
Widely sought after by National Association clubs, Cummings performed for four different teams in as many years. In the NA, he never won fewer than 28 games a season. When the National League was formed in 1876, Cummings won 16 games for the Hartford Blues, and on September 9 he became the first major leaguer to pitch two complete games in one day. In 1877 he was appointed president of baseball’s first minor league, the International Association, and performed as player-president. Pitching for Cincinnati (NL), he had lost his stuff and was soundly criticized by the press and fans.
The often conflicting testimony of 19th-century pitchers adds to the mystery surrounding the curveball’s origin. One pitcher would claim to be the inventor, only to credit someone else years later. Because of Candy’s 1908 article, “How I Pitched the First Curve,” and the support of highly respected baseball writer Henry Chadwick, Cummings’s claim has gained the greatest backing. Another pitcher receiving support has been major leaguer Fred Goldsmith, who made the first recorded public demonstration of the curveball on August 16, 1870. Legend has it that Goldsmith, embittered at not receiving “official” credit as the pitch’s inventor, was found on his deathbed clutching a faded newspaper clipping of his demonstration. The heartbroken Goldsmith died in 1939 – the year Cummings joined the Hall of Fame.