What is the baseball made of?
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 the baseball reached an balance to where neither throwing nor hitting had the significant advantage.
The first baseball was designed using a core of string-wrapped rubber, with a horses hide cover, and a variation of size 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 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 the home run and hitting count.
The National League 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 the 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 negatively 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 taking 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. The 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.
The Physics of Baseball – Flight of the Ball