Brought up by the Cubs at the end of the 1911 season, Cheney beat the Dodgers in an extra-inning game, but was literally knocked out of the box. Zack Wheat hit a line drive at Cheney’s head which the pitcher deflected with his hand, driving his thumb into his nose, breaking both. The next year he couldn’t grip the ball tightly and changed his delivery. He would dig his fingernails into the ball, creating a knuckler. With it, he went 26-10 as a rookie that season, tying for the league lead in wins and leading with 28 complete games.
The spitball, which he picked up from its master, Ed Walsh, became Cheney’s most effective pitch. In 1913 the workhorse went 17-14 as a starter and 4-0 as a reliever, with NL highs of 11 saves and 54 appearances. That September 14 he shut out the Giants on 14 hits – the most ever given up by a ML pitcher in a nine-inning shutout. His 50 games, 40 starts, and 140 walks topped the league in 1914, his last 20-win season.