The evolution of the actual baseball


Peter Benavides, Author

Baseballs have come a very long way since its conception in 1876. The modern baseball is a very complex sphere of perfection. Baseballs are made with 0.5 oz. and 2.86 to 2.94 inch ball off cork that is encased by two layers of rubber. This is called the “pill”. The pill is then wrapped with 121 yards of four-ply blue-gray wool yarn, 45 yards of three-ply white wool yarn, 53 more yards of three-ply wool yarn–this time blue-gray, and 150 yards of fine white polyester-cotton blend yarn. All of this is then coated with rubber cement.  This ball of yarn, cork, and rubber is then wrapped together with a horseshoe shaped piece of cowhide or horsehide that is the carefully sewed together with 88 inches of red yarn. According to the MLB rule book, the newly born pearl “shall weigh not less than 5 nor more than 5 1/4 oz and measure no less than 9 nor more than 91/4 inches in circumference.” The ball still needs to pass a test to make sure it is not dead (not enough bounce). Several balls from each shipment are chosen to be shot out of an air cannon at 85 feet per second (about 58 mph) at a wall of northern white ash. The test is to make sure that they bounce back at between 0.514 and 0.578 of its original speed. All of these measurements and test ensure that each and every MLB baseball is exactly the same performance-wise and in feel.


Before the National League was formed in 1876, there were no regulations or standards on what ball could be used. So it was very common for pitchers to bring their own baseballs that they could have doctored to their liking. There were no rules stopping them from shaving off pieces of the ball’s surface to increase unpredictable movement on pitches, using smaller baseballs, or even waterlogging them or softening them up so that they were not hit as far. Waterlogged baseballs are even worse than dead balls. Not only do they have the same amount of bounce as the impulse-buy stress balls from a DICK’s checkout line, but they also feel like a medieval Flail as the batter being hit with it.  

Sophnore Joe DeBardi has this to say about the matter, “A baseball, strung together seam by seam, forged by machinery for mass production. A baseball, the spherical object that fills the whole in the hearts of our nation’s youth left in the wake of the corrosive world in which we live. A baseball… hurts like [a lot] when it’s waterlogged no matter how dry the leather is.  During the formation of the N.L. in 1876, pitcher A.G Spalding pitched the design of the ball that the league would adopt as its standard. This new design had a rubber core wrapped in loose string, which tended to favor pitchers by having less bounce and more give when struck with a bat. For the next 44 years, the dead baseball was used, which resulted in a meager 3.9 runs and 0.1 home runs per game. It was the equivalent of having a league full of Dee Gordon’s (9 HRs-2174 ABs). If fans thought it was boring, it was just as disappointing being a player who gets all of and then some of a weak hanger, only to watch an outfielder take a half step back and have the ball casually drop into his glove. Battlefield JV baseball coach Michael Scaggs describes it as “All the excitement with no pleasure.”

When hall of fame catcher Yogi Berra said “baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” He obviously never experienced hitting baseballs from the dead-ball era or he would definitely have mentioned the quality of the baseball being thrown and hit around the field as a factor. The baseballs of the 1800s and the turn of the century really were abysmal.

In 1920 MLB baseballs began using Australian wool on the insides. The new yarn was stronger and resulted in a more tightly wound ball. By 1925 the league was averaging almost 5 runs per game and 0.5 home runs per game. After finding a good spot with the baseball, baseball got hit by a little something called World War 2. The league’s rubber supply was cut off and the military took all of the available rubber for the war effort.  The league was left scrambling for a new baseball design and at the last minute made some changes. The high-grade cork inside the balls was replaced with granulated cork and instead of being covered in rubber layers, it was covered in something called ‘balata’. Noel Hynd of Sports Illustrated wrote back in 1985 that the balata ball “looked and felt identical” to the orbs of joy the players were used to. The balls looked and felt good but they were dead as could be. The next season the league batting average was a pitiful .223 with a snooze-worthy .270 slugging percentage while the league leader in home runs racked up a grand total of two by mid-April. Baseball continued to experiment with many more ideas during the rest of WWII with little positive results. Since the few years after the second world war’s conclusion the baseball has received very few and minor modifications and has remained mostly the same ever since.

Baseball has been around for a long time and will continue to be around for a long time. The sport has evolved over time and now the fans get to watch the game at its best. Great talent playing, 162 game seasons, and most importantly, live balls.