When you cut open a baseball, you’ll discover a glimmering orb of joy sprinkled with hopes and dreams. At least, that’s what my imagination tells me, which isn’t the most reliable source.
Baseballs are constructed of far more commonplace materials like cork, rubber, yarn, hide, and so on, if you want to go by actual, you know, reality. There is nothing to be proud of when you cut open a baseball, so don’t try it.
Tell them all about the changes baseballs have undergone over the years if you want to truly impress them. Since the game’s ancient beginnings and the Dead-Ball Era, they have advanced considerably. The moment has come to board the TARDIS and revisit this interesting tale.
The era of dead balls: Although we don’t have a lot of information regarding early baseballs, we do know that they were all unique.
Pitchers used to just produce their balls, according to a 1975 New York Times article. Given that, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Baseball-Reference.com describes baseballs that were much softer than modern balls, varied in size and weight, and were used in historical games.
1876 saw the beginning of the National League. A.G. Spalding, a pitcher for the Chicago White Stockings, pitched a pattern that year, and the league decided to use it as its default.
Additionally, that is how Spalding’s athletic goods company became successful. The Spalding ball had a rubber core in the middle that tended to favor pitchers.
Between Major League Baseball’s formation in 1901 and 1910, 3.94 runs were scored per game on average, according to Baseball-Reference.com. There were also 0.13 home runs per game over that same period.
You can get a good notion of how things were by picturing a league full of Placido Polanco. However, during the 1910 World Series, everything changed. The head of the Dead-Ball Era research committee for SABR is John McMurray.
When the new cork-centered ball was reinstated in play in 2011, the pendulum started to swing in the opposite direction, from pitchers to hitters. 3.83 runs and 0.14 home runs per game were the averages for the 1910 season.
In contrast, there were 4.51 runs and 0.21 home runs per game on average during the 1911 season. Frank Schulte had the most home runs in the league with 21, more than double his previous record set in 1910.
Through 1912 and 1913, there was an offensive boom; but, in 1914, things began to return to normal, and this pattern persisted through 1919. There were 3.72 runs and 0.16 home runs per game on average throughout that period.
Russ Ford, a pitcher, popularised a new practice known as “scuffing the baseball,” which McMurray blamed for the offense’s downfall. In those days, the spitball was legal, and it’s reasonable to assume that many pitchers were happily using it.
Whatever it was, it didn’t keep the offensive stats from increasing for very long. On the eve of the 1920s, alterations were made to the ball, which is when the Dead-Ball Era gave way to the Live-Ball Era.
Live-Ball Period: Give me a moment to tell you a tale about yarn. When Spalding started putting Australian wool on the inner of baseballs in 1920, a little bit of Australia started making its way into the ball.
The new yarn was stronger and enabled a ball to be twisted more tightly, according to William McNeil, who wrote about it in The Evolution of Pitching in Major League Baseball.
The new ball turned out to be an energetic one. The players believed this, at least. The league’s average in 1919 was 3.88 runs and 0.20 home runs per game; in 1920, it was 4.36 runs and 0.26 home runs.
By 1925, there were widespread complaints about the new “rabbit ball,” which had an average of 5.13 runs and 0.48 home runs per game. In 1925, the proprietors of the National League tried to calm things down.
The decision to keep using the rabbit ball by the Senior Circuit was made in a July hearing in large part because of testimony by Professor Harold A. Fales of Columbia University.
The 1925 ball is bigger, heavier, and gives the pitcher far less control since its seam is smoother and its thread is almost entirely countersunk so that it is flush with the leather of the seam. The ball’s elasticity is essentially the same for falls of less than 13.5 feet.
It’s possible that the rabbit ball was more difficult for pitchers to hold. The number of walks increased in the 1920s, increasing from 2.7 per game on average between 1901 and 1919 to 3.0 per game between 1920 and 1929.
New regulations that were implemented in 1920 that prohibited spitballs and restricted deliberate walks also worked against pitchers. Professor Fales also mentioned another more recent regulation as a contributing cause.
Before the 1920s, baseballs in use during a game were rarely changed, allowing the balls to get dirtier and softer as the game progressed. Starting in 1920, there were many more ball exchanges, which helped the hitters.
The rabbit ball was therefore left in place, with the pitchers in the league often being told to “deal with it.” They did, but even the owners found the punishment they had to face in 1929 and 1930 to be intolerable.
5.37 runs and 0.59 home runs per game were scored by the offense over those two seasons. Hack Wilson, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Chuck Klein all hit at least 40 home runs in the 1930 season, while the league’s hitting average was an absurd.296/.356/.434.
According to an essay by Jay Jaffe that was posted on Deadspin last year, the cork center was replaced by a “cushion cork” pill in 1931, which was made of a combination of cork and ground rubber. Immediately, the number of runs scored and home runs decreased to 4.81 and 0.43, respectively, per game.
For the following few years, there were still a few minor discrepancies between the American and National League’s balls, but in 1934, both leagues decided on a standardized ball.
And for the first time, details about the precise components of a Major League Baseball ball were made public.
The cork center of the ball will weigh 7/8 of an ounce, and it will be cushioned by two layers of rubber—one black and one red—for an unspecified reason. The ball is then covered with 71 yards of blue-gray woolen yarn, increasing its weight to 3 1/8 ounces and circumference to 7 3/4 inches.
Then, 41 yards of white woolen yarn are wrapped on, resulting in an 8 1/4-inch circumference and a 3 7/8-ounce weight. It is coated with unique rubber cement.
A second coat of rubber cement is applied after two more wrappings of yarn—the first 41 yards of blue-gray woolen yarn and the second of the last 100 yards of 20/2 ply fine cotton—give the object an 8 7/8-inch circumference and a weight of 4 3/8 ounces.
The cover is made of a specially tanned horsehide that weighs 1/3 ounce and is 5/100 of an inch thick. It is stitched together using a double stitch with red thread.
The completed ball should have a circumference of 9 to 9 1/8 inches and weigh 5 to 5 1/8 ounces. The specifications…show that there is a lot more to the manufacture of a baseball than anyone outside of those in the trade realized. They are highly technical.
You’d be astonished at how little the actual specifications have altered since 1934, but baseball did encounter a minor difficulty a few years later when the earth’s inhabitants engaged in a global conflict.
Major League Baseball suffered some talent loss in the 1940s due to World War II as stars like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Bob Feller enlisted to serve their countries.
That is common knowledge, right? Of course, they do, but one of baseball’s less well-known effects of the war included the ball. It was extensively covered by Noel Hynd of Sports Illustrated in 1985: A baseball’s core has always required rubber as a key component.
However, the U.S. lost access to its customary supply source when the Japanese conquered Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. The material was needed to build a tank in the region of a tonne, and a long-range bomber in the region of half that amount.
Thus, Uncle Sam outlawed the use of rubber in all products not necessary for the war effort, including baseballs. One wasn’t revealed to the media until roughly five weeks before Opening Day in 1943 after the baseball establishment struggled to locate an acceptable replacement.
It resembled a true baseball in appearance and feel, but the core was made of granulated cork rather than a high-grade cork and rubber blend, and the ball did not have a rubber shell or wrapping around it.
Instead, two tough, rubber-like shells hugged the center of the ball, giving it a little extra pop. The two shells were fashioned of balata, which was a terrifying term to Americans for the first time.
Balata, a material that mimics rubber but is manufactured from tropical trees, was traditionally used to make industrial gaskets and insulate telephone lines.
It is not as elastic as rubber, which would cruelly become apparent once the ball was in play in 1943. No one could hit at the beginning.
By the end of April, the league’s average batting average and slugging percentage both stood at just.223. With a total of two home runs, Danny Litwhiler was the leader in baseball.
Using improvisation was once again required in baseball. Throughout the 1943 season, the ball was adjusted numerous times. The league eventually managed a respectable 3.91 runs and 0.37 home runs per game, and it eventually became, in Hynd’s words, “acceptably active.”
The balata ball was over at that point. By 1944, baseballs could be made in large quantities with synthetic rubber developed in the United States.
In 1944, the league was able to return to its standard structure, and the offense improved with 4.17 runs and 0.42 home runs per game.