The History of the Baseball (the actual ball)

The baseball ball is one of the most iconic objects in the sporting realm. Ever since the first ever baseball was advertised in the 1850s, it has become an essential part of the sport. 

The ball went through several transformations in the 19th century. Therefore, the kind of baseball you see on the grounds today is entirely different from the one used when the sport was introduced.

Baseball Overview 

Have you ever played baseball? You might have noticed that its ball differs from the rest used in other games, like soccer, football, basketball, etc. In fact, the design of a baseball varies for players, based on their age and expertise. For example, a baseball used by newbie players is not filled with air fully. Although the structure remains hard, it will bounce across the ground when hit by a bat. 

A baseball is composed of several layers that can be seen immediately if you cut the ball from the middle. A modern-day ball is 229 to 235 mm (9 to 9.25 inches) in circumference i.e. 73 to 75 mm (2.86 to 2.94) in diameter. However, its weight is 0.142 to 0.149 kg (5 to 5.25 ounces).

Have a look at the history of the ball used in baseball and how it transformed over the years.

What is the baseball made of?

The first baseball was designed using a core of string-wrapped rubber, with a horse’s hide cover, and a variety of sizes of anywhere from a golf ball to a softball. The baseball originally weighed anywhere from three to six ounces. This difference in size and weight caused problems for many early baseball players because one person may have been used to a golf ball-sized baseball that weighed four ounces, while in a game he might have to use a softball-sized, six-ounce baseball.

The baseball was designed with the intention to promote throwing the baseball as well as hitting it. This design was hard to achieve as throwing needs large seams for the grip while hitting is better flatter seams. Eventually, baseball reached a balance where neither throwing nor hitting had a significant advantage.


The original feather-filled baseball, and the Dead Ball Era

The original baseball played like it was filled up with feathers; in other words, the baseball was dull and lifeless with very few home runs being hit. In 1872 the official baseball size parameters were changed to the weight being 5 to 5.25 ounces and the official circumference being 9 to 9.25 inches. Although the baseball was changed to have a standard size and weight, it remained lifeless and didn’t have the home run and hit count.

The National League was formed in 1876 and granted Spalding Sports Goods exclusive right to produce baseballs. In 1877, Reach Sporting Goods was founded and produced baseball used by the Western League which would soon become the modern American League. In 1910, George Reach, owner of Reach Sports Goods experimented with a cork center for a baseball and discovered that it made the baseball much more lively. Note – the years before 1920 have been called the Dead Ball Era due to the rubber center of baseball.

A few more adjustments to the ball itself

In the 1910 World Series, the cork-centered baseball was secretly introduced to the game. The players found that their overall run average soared and the number .300 batters increased threefold. The new cork core forced pitchers to come up with new pitches in order to counter the growing offense from batters. Pitches such as the spitball and scuffball were used to reduce the effectiveness of the cork center.

Offensive scoring was negative for a while due to these new pitches but in 1920, these so-called “freak” pitches were banned from the game. A change was made to where the umpires had to replace balls that had even the slightest mark or scuff on them, resulting in dirty balls being taken out of play much sooner than previously.

In 1931, an adjustment was made for the pitchers. Added to the baseball was a thin rubber wrapping around the cork center to deaden the ball a little bit and the seams of the ball were raised ending up in the pitchers being able to throw better breaking balls to the batters. This reduced the overall offensive hitting and struck a better balance between the pitcher and batter. The ball remained the same until 1974 when the cover of the baseball was changed from horsehide to cowhide. There was no performance reason for changing; this change was purely for economic reasons as cowhide was cheaper than horsehide. Baseball has remained the same since and likely will go unchanged unless there is a significant change in another aspect of the game that would impact the delicate balance of hitting and pitching.

Popular Baseballs in the History

  1. George Herman Ruth was the owner of a baseball worth $800,000 in 1933. He was an American baseball player who played 22 season in the MLB – Major League Baseball. The famous baseball had his signature and it was from his home run.
  2. Another popular baseball was auctioned from the m756th home run of Barry Bond. The baseball was considered legendary because it broke the record of Hank Aaron’s home run. 
  3. The baseball used in the match between The New York Mets and Boston Red Sox was sold at another auction for $418,250 in the 1986 World Series