The baseball has undergone very little change since the early days of the game, at least in the specifications prescribed in the rules. Basketball, footballs, helmets, shoulder pads, baseball gloves and mitts and uniforms for all sports have undergone numerous changes in size, shape and appearance, except that since 1872, the baseball has weighed five ounces and measured nine inches in circumference.
There have been changes in the materials used to make baseballs, and there has been a marked improvement in the consistency of the final product. The yarns used in Rawlings baseballs, for example, are stored under controlled temperature and humidity conditions, and are wound under constant tension, thus eliminating soft spots and assuring uniformity.
The early day of baseball was composed of a melted rubber center around which yarn was wound, and generally included a sewn on cover. The weight of the ball was three ounces and because of its size and construction, it was a much livelier ball than the baseball of today. Scoring over 100 runs in a game was not too uncommon until, in 1846, the rules were amended to provide that the first team to score 21 runs was the winner. It was not until 1857 that the length of a game was set at nine innings. Pitching was underarm from the distance of 45 feet and the batter was out if a fielder caught the ball on the first bounce.
In 1854 the weight of the ball was increased to 5 ½ to 6 ounces and the diameter to 2 ¾ to 3 ½ inches, (a variance in circumference from 8 5/8 to 11 inches). Four years later, as a result of the larger and less lively ball, the first bounce rule was abolished. In 1860 the specifications were amended to provide for a weight of 5 ¾ to 6 ounces and a circumference of 9 ¾ to 10 inches. In 1872 the tolerances on the weight and circumference of the baseball were reduced to those of today (5 to 5 ¼ ounces in weight and 9 to 9 ¼ inches in circumference).
With the changes in weight and size of the baseball in 1854, 1860 and 1872, the ball become less lively and more uniform but there was still some variation in the composition of baseballs. The so-called "lively" ball did not disappear completely as the home run record for one team, 140, established by the 1884 Chicago White Stockings withstood the assault of all teams until the 1927 Yankees, paced by Babe Ruth with 60, set a new mark of 158 home runs.
In the early years of organized professional baseball, beginning with the National Association in 1871, baseballs were noted for their lack of uniformity. As the home team was responsible for furnishing the game ball, strategy entered into the determination of the type of lively ball while a good defense club could be expected to put into play a dead ball. One New York firm, in an effort to find favor with good fielding teams, claimed in an advertisement that our professional dead balls… are made of all yarn without rubber are the deadest balls made.
Even at that early date, however, most baseballs were made of the general ingredients as go into the making of baseball today- a rubber core surrounded by tightly wound woolen yarn and covered with leather. When the National League came into being in 1876, professional baseball reached "Major League " stature for the first time. The rules concerning baseballs became more exacting and as a result the baseballs, particularly those used in the National League and later in the American Associations and American League, became more uniform.
An important change in the composition of the baseball was made in 1910 with the introduction of the cork center. The idea of a cork center has been traced back to 1863 when an Englishmen by the name of Weeks patented a cork center ball for cricket. The cork center was used in baseballs about 1900, but this new construction was not satisfactory at first because the wool yarn swelled after the ball was made. Reducing the size of the cork center and putting a layer of rubber around it eliminated this.
With the introduction of the cork center baseball in 1926, pitchers soon began to develop freak deliveries- shine ball, spit ball, emery ball, ect. Drastic changes were made in the rules in 1920 to outlaw these pitches. However, recognized "spit ball" pitchers were permitted to continue using their specialty for the remainder of their careers. Most successful of these, and the last to close his Major League career, was Burleigh Grimes, who pitched last for the Yankees in 1934.
In 1931 the center of the ball was again changed when the cushioned cork center made its bow. The cushioned cork center, still in use, consists of a small sphere of composition cork, which is molded to a layer of rubber. The first layer of black rubber is made up of two hemispheric shells. The two openings where the shells meet are sealed with a cushion of red rubber and a layer of red rubber surrounds the entire center. There have been no further changes in the specifications of baseballs but, as pointed out before, humidity and temperature controls and more exacting manufacturing quality control and testing procedures have led to greater consistency.
Making the Grade
In 1999, Major League Baseball gave Rawlings Sporting Goods a firm vote of confidence by awarding a 5 -year contract extension as the exclusive supplier of baseballs to the big league teams. In addition, the NCAA granted Rawlings the official supplier of baseballs for all NCAA Baseball Championships for the next five years. Rawlings has been the exclusive supplier to the Major Leagues since 1977.
Cowhide covers for the Major League baseball, which former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn discreetly authorized in 1974 to replace horsehide, are produced at Tennessee Tanning Company, an operating entity of Rawlings Sporting Goods Company in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
The qualities demanded of a Major League baseball cover address its consistent thickness, grain strength, stretch, tensile strength and resistance to tearing the 108 stitches that hold each sphere's 8'-shaped cover in place. Covers actually undergo inspection to guard against 17 potential deficiencies before earning the right to someday sail across a Major League home plate.
The "pill" or nucleus of each baseball is manufactured at Muscle Shoals Rubber Company in Batesville, Mississippi. This red-pellet core, known as cushion cork, is enveloped within two balanced rubber coverings. The cemented surface of the pill receives a series of three wool and one-cotton windings. Rawlings employs a consultant to insure the quality of yarns, some of which derive from Dolgeville, New York, where Rawlings operates its Adirondack bat plant. As each is completed, the ball is measured and weighed against a standard specification set forth by Major League Baseball.
After being trimmed of excess tailings, the wound ball accepts a film of cement before the cowhide cover is hand stitched together with 88 inches of waxed thread. The seams are machined rolled for about 15 seconds to compress the 108 stitches and produce a consistent surface. Cosmetic grading, measurement and weighing follows, with each ball required to be free of blemishes, measuring 9 to 9 ¼ inches across two seems, and weighing from 5 to 5 ¼ ounces.
After being Stamped with the Rawlings trademark and Major League designation, the balls are then shipped to central warehouse in Springfield, Missouri where a statistically - representative sample from each shipment is tested for the Major League- sanctioned test to measure a baseball's co-efficient of restitution (COR). This test involves shooting the baseballs from an air cannon at a velocity of 85 feet per second against a wood surface eight feet away. The rebound speed is divided by the delivery velocity to calculate the COR. League specifications stipulate the baseballs must register a rebound 54.6% of the original velocity, plus or minus 3.2 percent. They also must retain their shape after being subjected to a 65-pound force and distort less than 8/100ths of an inch under compression. Such are the Major League demands for the game's official sphere.
Once shipped, about the only remaining task rest with umpires supplying a dab of Blackburne's Baseball Rubbing Mud. Then comes the inevitable face-off between pitchers and batters throughout another sunburned season of Major League baseball where the Rawlings trademark will hurl across home plates for another five years.
The prestigious Rawlings Gold Glove Award® was developed in 1957 and represents the ultimate in major league fielding excellence. The Rawlings Gold Glove Award® is a service mark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office and is owned by Rawlings Sporting Goods. It is correctly identified as the Rawlings Gold Glove Award® because Rawlings is its sole sponsor. Proper identification of this service mark using the registration symbol and the Rawlings name will protect the integrity of the program and perpetuate this worthy tradition. All involved with promotion or acknowledging the winners of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award® should help Rawlings protect its rights and identify the award properly.