The Evolution of Baseball Technology: 1884-Present
From the United States to Japan, every athlete who has ever played the game of baseball has used the basic “tools of the trade”: a baseball, a bat, a glove, protective equipment, and a uniform. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Sammy Sosa have made a living out of using these tools to play baseball, but there are also a great number of people who play baseball as a source of enjoyment. The crack of the bat connecting with a fastball, the slap of the ball on the mitt, and the roar of the crowd after a homerun are all common sounds of a baseball game. The thing that many people may not realize, however, is that the bat, ball, and glove that make those sounds possible have undergone major transformations since the early days of the game. The technology of baseball has improved significantly since 1884.
Among the necessities to play a baseball game is the baseball. Since the game’s beginnings, the ball has always been between nine and 9 ¼ inches in circumference and five to
5 ¼ ounces (Honig 125). There have been two major time periods in baseball with regards to the ball: the Dead Ball Era and the Lively Ball Era. A “dead ball” was a baseball that stayed in play for an entire game. These hand wound balls were big and heavy with an inconsistent shape (Wanner). Nearly no homeruns were hit during the Dead Ball Era because of the weight and shape of the ball. Al Spalding, the maker of Professional Baseball’s “dead balls” said, “It (the ball) was usually made on the spot by some boy offering up his woolen socks as an oblation, and these were raveled and wound round a bullet, a handful of strips cut from a rubber overshoe, a
piece of cork, or almost anything. The winding of this ball was an art, and whoever could excel
in this art was looked upon as a superior being” (Gutman 12). The Dead Ball Era lasted until 1911 when George Reach invented the cork centered baseball, jumpstarting offensive production in the Major Leagues (Gutman 13).
The start of the Lively Ball Era was influenced not only by the introduction of the cork- centered baseball, but also by the fact that baseballs were machine wound. This caused each ball to have a uniform shape, which in turn led to balls being squarely hit every time (Gutman 8). With the new and improved balls and great hitters such as Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, homeruns were being hit with more power and greater consistency. During World War II, there was a great rubber shortage that prevented baseball manufacturers from obtaining the rubber cork coverings they needed to complete a baseball. A South American rubber-like gum called balata was used instead as a substitute. The problem with these new balata balls was that there were only two homeruns hit in the first month of the 1943 season (Wanner).
Today, baseballs consist of many layers wrapped around a cork and rubber center (Honig 125). Wrapped around this cork and rubber center are hundreds of yards of gray and white woolen yarn (Buckley 12). A layer of white cotton string is wrapped around the yarn (Honig 125). Finally, a cowhide leather cover is sewn onto the ball with 108 red cotton stitches (Gutman 8). Before 1974, a horsehide cover was used on baseballs instead of the cowhide covers that appear on today’s baseballs (Gutman 13).
Another important tool of baseball is the bat. Baseball bats can be no longer than 42 inches and no thicker than 2 ¾ inches at the broadest part of the bat. There is no limit on the weight of the bat (Buckley 12).
Legend says that John A. Hillerich crafted the first Louisville Slugger formerly called Falls City Slugger in 1884. As the legend goes, Hillerich played hooky from his father’s woodworking shop so he could watch a baseball game. After Pete Browning, a star player of the
time, broke his bat, Hillerich approached him and offered to make him a bat in his father’s workshop. The next day, Browning...
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