The baseball is one of the most historical pieces of sports equipment in the world. Much like when James Naismith, the creator of the game of basketball, had YMCA students throwing a ball through peach baskets, early creators of the baseball had many different renditions of it. There is a lot of information regarding the history of the baseball, and its evolution could be one of the more interesting of all the sports.
Earliest Days Of The Game
Baseball historians have talked at length about the earliest days of the game, when the baseball was essentially a rock or another object wrapped in yarn and leather. No two baseballs were the same, size or weight, and there are even reports that pitchers were making their own balls. Could you imagine if pitchers today were given the freedom to choose how the baseball they used was made?
Then shoemaker John Van Horn began to take strips of rubber from shoes, melt them together into a sphere and use them as cores for early baseballs. These balls reportedly skyrocketed scoring and resulted in absurdly high scores in games, such as 50 to 100 runs.
A.G. Spalding, a pitcher for the White Sox, had a design that the league ended up using for its standard baseball in 1876. Spaulding has become a staple for equipment in the game, namely baseballs, for obvious reasons. These rubber-core baseballs would be used until 1910, when the league would introduce cork-core baseballs.
This period is considered the dead-ball era. Games averaged under four runs per game and pitchers were catered to a lot during this period. They were allowed to manipulate the ball and intentional walks were not regulated. Scuffing the baseball and spitballs were allowed during this time, making it one of the most volatile times in the history of the baseball.
Scuffed baseballs? Spitballs? What are those and why would that be a benefit for pitchers?
Pitchers would scuff the wide area of a ball, meaning that when they pitched, that scuff would create movement. Dirk Hayhurst, former MLB pitcher, has said that no matter what, a scuffed ball would always move. Even if you hadn’t mastered the art yet, if you scuffed the top and threw a fastball, the ball would sink.
In his own words, “If I missed low, so what? Low is not a bad place to miss.”
Scuffed balls are still used today in some respect, however, they are easy to spot and umpires throw baseballs away more than ever before, so the tactic is basically useless.
The spitball was when a pitcher would apply saliva to one side of the baseball and throw conventionally. The ball would almost always break to the side that was modified. Modern-day pitchers would apply saliva or a similar lube to relieve pressure on the baseball. The baseball would then “slip” out of a pitcher’s fingers rather than rolling off of them, creating a splitter.
Introducing Australian Wool
In 1920, the history of the baseball changed completely. Australian wool was used on the inside of the baseball, meaning that the baseball was tighter and more difficult for pitchers to grip. New rules were also put in place, banning spitballs, while baseballs were replaced much more throughout games. This put pitchers at a huge disadvantage because the baseballs no longer had time to wear down and soften up.
During World War II, the U.S. banned the use of rubber so the resource could be used for war. People looked for alternatives and ended up with balata, a rubber substitute. Offense was extremely low with the use of this ball, so the league turned to synthetic rubber, which is used today.
Today’s ball is a cork core with rubber surrounding it, finished off with wool yarn and two leather pieces.
Periodically throughout the years there are surges in offense resulting in controversies about the baseballs being juiced. Now that we have essentially exited the “Steroid Era” -we know everyone is on a different side of this- where the players were the subject of claims of juicing, today’s baseballs are the subject of these claims. Many of the claims have been disputed and there is little proof that any of the baseballs have been juiced. The materials come from all over the country, and the effort needed to “juice” the baseballs is too much.
However, there could be a change to the baseballs used in college. Since moving the College World Series from Rosenblatt to TD Ameritrade Park, home runs have suffered greatly, and fans have been critical. There are many reasons as to why this could be the case. The ballpark faces southeast towards the river, and the wind blows right into the face of the batters. Many have noticed the effects on baseballs that fall short of leaving the ballpark. Many changes have been proposed, such as bringing down the height of seams on the baseball, or making it more elastic. However, such things have really been put on the back burner, and perhaps we could see changes made to the ballpark itself, as in the walls being moved in.
Will The History Of The Baseball Change Further?
The history of the baseball could change further, but it is unlikely due to the consistency that has been observed with the current one. With the current rendition, scores and games seem to be just fine and fan excitement has held up. Storylines are now created by the decisions and strategies of teams to make themselves better and compete for a World Series. The Cubs this year are a perfect example of that. Clinching so early has baseball fans excited that they could end up making a run in the postseason. Those are the storylines that will be of most interest as long as scores remain where they are.