We take the modern day baseball for granted and never consider the fact that today’s baseball is the end result of a long and fascinating metamorphose which saw the ball change dramatically.
In the early history of the game the baseball played a Major part in baseball strategy. The makers of the hand-made baseball were easily identified as producing a Live, Medium or Dead Ball which allowed teams to use different baseballs in different situations.
Baseballs radically changed in 1857 and their size and weight continued to change well into the 1860’s until the Leagues finally adopted a standardize baseball in 1872, which remains the standards of today’s modern baseball.
The Baseball – Early History
Early baseballs were made by hand winding yarn or string around a core, which could be any solid object, then using some sort of stuffing in the ball, which was then enclosed in a leather sheathing.
The leather was usually brown in color and was stitched in what was known as a “lemon peel” or “rose pedal” stitch. The leather was wrapped around the ball and stitched together forming an X configuration on the outside of the ball.
Because these balls were very light and soft, prior to 1845, a runner could be declared out if the fielder threw the ball and hit the runner, which was called Soaking a runner. I have no idea where the term originated or why.
The Baseball Producers
Since there was no standardized, official manufacturer of baseballs, players and local merchants would make them as they saw fit. Early baseballs were quite small and light compared to today’s baseball, but were constructed of leather, although the colors varied from shades of medium brown to dark brown.
The first recording of a standardized baseball was in 1854 when the three New York Teams, The Knickerbockers, Gothams and Eagle Baseball Club all decided a baseball would be between 5 ½ to 6 ounces in weight with a diameter between 2 ¾ to 3 ½ inches and be sewn in a lemon peel stitch pattern.
This sized baseball was probably adapted from the baseball they were currently using and were familiar with and was not the standard for the baseball teams in other parts of the country.
In 1857, the first baseball convention was held at Smith’s Hotel in New York city, where numerous rules and standards were adopted by the 15 New York Baseball Clubs, the size of a standard baseball being one of them.
It was agreed upon the baseball would have a circumference of between 10 and 10 ¼ inches and weigh between 6 and 6 ¼ ounces.
In 1858 H.P. Harwood & Sons Company of Natick, MA, became the very first factory opened with the sole purpose of producing baseballs. They were also the inventors of the figure – eight stitching, the same stitching used in today’s modern baseball.
In 1858, baseball’s second convention, set forth more specific rules concerning the composition and fabrication of the baseball. It was generally believed the great strides in manufacturing techniques prompted these changes so soon after the original rules were adopted.
The new specifications said the baseball would have a core which was to be India-rubber, which comes from the latex of many tropical plants and is extremely elastic.
The rules also stated the baseball for the game was to be provided by the challenging team, visitors in today’s lingo, and would be presented to “Winning” club as a trophy. This had been an established custom for years, but was now an official rule.
There are numerous stories associated with the creation of the baseball. For instance, it is rumored Ellis Drake was the inventor of the two – piece leather, figure-eight stitched baseball. It is said he drew a rough draft of the design in 1840 while in grade school and built a prototype from his father’s scrap leather.
He’d toyed with his idea because he said the lemon peeled balls which were used at school to play “round Ball” with, came apart at the four corners of the stitching, making throwing the ball straight nearly impossible.
Two years after creating his design, George and Harry Wright stole his idea and began producing baseball covers identical to Drake’s and began selling them. Drake died in 1912, never patenting his idea which would have made him and his family very wealthy.