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Comparing today’s bats and balls to the original would be like comparing today’s airplanes to that of the Wright Brother’s. Much has changed over the years, as has all of the equipment of the game.
The ball has always been the centerpiece of the game. Since the beginning, baseballs have been made by winding yarn around a core of any solid substance; a bullet, a piece of leather. The balls used in early versions of the game were softer as the rules allowed for retiring a runner by hitting him with a thrown ball.
Because baseballs were handmade there was no standard for the size of the ball or the weight. In 1857 the first convention held by baseball owners was attended by 15 New York teams. They decided that the official ball for the game of baseball should be six and six and one quarter ounces in weight and ten to ten and one quarter inches in circumference.
In 1860 the dimensions of the ball were changed to a weight of five and three fourths ounces and a circumference of between nine and three fourths and ten inches. Once again the size of the baseball was changed in 1867. This time the weight of the ball was allowed to be between five and five and one quarter ounces and between nine and one quarter and nine and one half inches in circumference.
Through all of this, the color of the baseball was a medium to dark brown as opposed to the white baseball of today. The core of the ball was 1 ounce of rubber. The significance of the weight of the core is important. In the earlier days, a baseball core may have contained as much as two ounces of rubber and resulted in a very “lively” ball.
The first factory to produce large quantities of baseballs was H.P. Harwood and Sons of Natick, MA.in 1858. They were the first to produce the figure eight design that is still used today.(If anyone asks, there are 108 stitches in a baseball.)The covering for the ball was originally horsehide and remained that way until 1973 when baseball owners decided to use cowhide instead.
Bertha Dupree worked as a young woman for 23 years for the Harwood company. She passed away at the age of 106 in 2009, still living in Natick for all those years. “It was the hardest job in the world,” Ms Dupree said. “Many people stayed about five minutes. Sometimes the cover would get tight and it was hard to pull it in your hand.”
There were many makers and manufacturers of baseballs(Link)
The A.G. Spalding Company began with an $800 loan. It was 1876 when Albert Spalding convinced his mother that he could produce baseballs for National League Baseball. Alfred Reach, owner of the Reach Sporting Goods Company produced baseballs for the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs. In 1889, Reach sold his company to Spalding and both professional leagues were using Spalding baseballs until 1901, when Spalding reverted the American League ball back to the Reach trademark.
American League baseballs with the Reach Trademark had Red & Blue stitching, and the National League Spalding Trademark baseballs had Black & Red stitching up until about 1934/35 when both leagues started using only red stitching. So the Spalding/Reach baseball was the official ball used by Major League Baseball from 1878 to 1977, when Rawlings became the official ball used.
The Deadball Era
The game of baseball went through some drastic changes at the start of the 20th century. This period of time was known as the “deadball era”. The ball was “dead” both by design and overuse.Baseball was not a very profitable or lucrative game for the owners and they trimmed costs where they could. A baseball was quite expensive at that time, around $6. It was not unusual for the same ball to be used for an entire game. Fans were encouraged to throw the ball back if it were hit into the stands. Some owners had their own security people retrieve the ball and many times offered a free pass to an upcoming game in return for the ball. It’s not hard to understand how the ball would become grass stained, muddy, and out of round by the end of the game.
It was a time when offense was at an all time low. In 1908, the >bcombined< average number of runs was 3.4 per game. Between 1900 and 1920,there were only 4 seasons where a batter had more than 20 home runs, and in 13 of those years the avereage was less than 10 home runs per season. In 1908, the entire Chicago White Sox team hit 3 home runs but just missed the championship with an 88-64 record. Another reason why home run totals were low was due to the size of some of the ballparks. For example, The West Side Grounds where the Cubs played had a centerfield that was 560 feet from home plate. Huntington Avenue Grounds was 635.
The game became strategy driven with speed and finesse. The term for this type of play is “small ball”, where runs were “manufactured” with a lot of bunting, hit-and-run plays and the stolen base. Legging singles into doubles and doubles into triples was the name of the game. In every season from 1900 to 1920, the league leader in triples had at least 20, and in 1912 “Chief” Wilson set a record with 36. Despite all of this speed, batting averages, slugging percentages and on base percentage were languishing as pitchers didn’t feel threatened by the long ball.
A relatively unknown rule was changed and adopted in 1901 by the National League and in 1903 by the American League. The Foul Strike Rule. Before this rule change, a batter was not credited with a strike if he hit a foul ball with 1 or less strikes against him. This was a huge advantage for the hitter and it changed the game from a high scoring affair to that of minimal runs per game.
There were many complaints about the fact that baseball was now a low scoring game. In 1909, a man named Ben Shibe invented a ball with a cork center. The Reach Company(Spalding)began marketing this ball for the American league and Spalding for the National League for the upcoming 1910 season. For the next few years offensive numbers began to replicate the pre-1900 statistics. Ty Cobb batted .420 for the 1911 season and Joe Jackson hit .408. In 1910 the AL batting average was .243. One year later it had risen to .273. The national League, during that same time period went from .256 to .272.
During the 1913 campaign a minor league pitcher by the name of Russ Ford used a scuffed up baseball when he was warming up before a game. He noticed the ball acted unusual when he threw it. He realized that by “doctoring” the baseball, wind resistance and additional weight on one side of the ball would cause the ball to dance, dart, and dive. In effect, the pitchers took back the game for the next several years with this distinct advantage over the hitters. So even though the baseball had been “re-invented”, offensive statistics reverted back to pre 1910 days.
Pitchers once again dominated baseball because of the spitball, mudball, and emeryball. In an effort to lessen the advantage of the pitching, owners voted to partially curtail the use of the spitball by allowing each team to designate two pitchers who would be allowed to continue to throw the spitter. But on August 19,1920 Ray Chapman, a slick fielding shortstop for the Cleaveland Indians, was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Yankee pitcher Carl Mays and was killed.
At the time of Chapman’s death “part of every pitcher’s job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field. By turns, they smeared it with dirt, licorice, tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred, cut, even spiked. The result was a misshapen, earth-colored ball that traveled through the air erratically, tended to soften in the later innings, and as it came over the plate, was very hard to see”.
Before this incident occurred, baseballs were routinely kept in the game regardless of its condition. This tragic event led Major League Baseball to establish a rule requiring the umpire to replace the ball when it became dirty. Following the 1920 season the spitball was banned in both leagues, although several pitchers including Burleigh Grimes and Bill Dokes were “grandfathered” until their playing days were over.
The Baseball Bat
Timber,Willow,Lumber and Betsy: These are just a few of the loving nicknames that baseball players give to their cherished baseball bats.
Baseball bats in the early days came in all shapes and sizes. The game of baseball was young and batters improvised, experimenting with different variations of heavy bats, long bats, short bats, and even flattened bats. It didn’t take too long to realize that rounded bats worked best. In 1859 the first rule regarding the bat came into being. Although the rule didn’t limit the length of the bat, it did state that the bat could not be any wider than 2.5 inches in diameter. A rule governing a bats length finally was adopted in 1869, stating that 42 inches was the maximum reach. That measurement is still the standard with today’s baseball bats.
Because there had still been no ruling on the shape of the bat, although most preferred the rounded barrel, some players still came to the plate using a flat bat. Most players that came to bat with this style did so with the thought of bunting, and it certainly didn’t take long for infielders to figure that out.
Rules changed in 1893 and the bat was no longer allowed to be flat. The length of the bat was still restricted to 42 inches but had to be round and the thickness of the bat was still two and one half inches. That thickness was increased to two and three quarters inches in 1895 as it still is today.
In 1842, Michael Hillerich came to the United States and settled in Louisville, Ky. He taught his eldest son Frederich the trade of wood working and soon he started a business making bowling pins, handrails and bedposts. Another son, John, learned the trade from his brother and worked along side him as an apprentice. The family did very well in the woodworking business,
John Hillerich was an amature baseball player and a big fan of the local nine from Louisville. It was the summer of 1884 when John attended a home game and watched as his favorite player, Peter Browning, also known as the Louisville Slugger, break his favorite bat. Since John made bats for himself and his friends, he approached Browning after the game and offered to make him a new bat.
Browning took Hillerich up on his offer and together they went to the shop to produce the new bat. Browning was very fastidious and told John exactly how he needed the bat to feel. With the new product in hand, Browning went three for three the next day and a new industry was born.
It didn’t take long for John Hillerich to start receiving orders from other players. In 1894 Hillerich obtained a registered trademark for his product and named it the Falls City Slugger, after the Falls of the Ohio River. He began burning the names of players whose bats he made, and from then on there was never a mistake as to who owned the bat.
In 1897 the name of the firm was changed to J.F. Hillerich & Son.
Honus Wagoner, The Flying Dutchman, was the first player to sign a contract with a baseball bat manufacturer to have his signature on the bat to be sold in retail stores. That was in 1905 and it became the first time that an athlete was paid to endorse his name on an athletic product. Thousands of other professional baseball players would soon follow suit by endorsing J.F. Hillerich & Son.
In 1910 the baseball bat manufacturer withstood a devastating fire. While rebuilding they hired Frank Bradsby, a young buyer from Simmons Hardware to assume the responsibility for the firm’s sales strategies. Bradsby was so instrumental with the company’s growth that in 1916 his name was added to that of the family’s and it became Hillerich & Bradsby, which it remains today.