The History Behind The Baseball Design
In the early days of baseball, around the mid and early 1800s, baseballs came in a variety of sizes, weights, and shapes. This was because all the balls were handmade by the pitchers before every game. They used rubber for the cores of the balls (some even used fish eyes for the core!) which was wrapped in yarn and leather as well. As the game went on, these balls would soften and progressively unravel. A popular ball design at the time was called the lemon peel ball, with its four lines of stitching design. They were made darker, smaller (about six inches in circumference) and weighed less than other balls. This made them travel at a faster speed and bounced higher in turn leading to high scores.
In the mid-1850s, in one of the first steps towards regulation of the ball, teams in the New York met to standardize the ball's size. They settled on a ball weight of 5.5-6 ounces and a circumference of between 8 and 11 inches. This resulted in a larger, heavier, less lively ball. Considering these balls were still completely handmade, there were still quite a number of variations in existence. The balls made with more rubber in their core and tighter winding were dubbed 'live balls'. This was because they could go faster and further than any other ball. Balls with less rubber and lose windings 'dead balls' didn't travel far or fast. The teams were known to take advantage of these two variations of balls to suit their winnings.
It's still not clear who invented the very first figure 8 stitching on the baseballs we know today. Some baseball historians say that it was designed by Ellis Drake, a shoemaker's son. He'd apparently made it with leather scraps from his father's shop to makes the balls cover stronger and more durable. However, if this is true, he failed to get his idea patented and soon enough others started using the design. Other historians say the design was invented by Colonel William Cutler who later sold it to William Harwood. Harwood was one of the first baseball manufacturers, with a factory in Massachusetts, who pioneered the mass production and popularization the figure 8 ball design.
In the 1870’s the baseball underwent some fluctuating changes to become something much more similar to what we have today. The National League of professional baseball Clubs had its first game in 1876. this meant that a standard ball had to be used. A.G Spalding, a retired pitcher, convinced the National League to adopt his baseball as the standard balls and his company continued to produce baseballs for 100 years.
Early professional baseball players scored low, largely because of the ball. In 1910, players started using the cork-core ball. This outlasted the rubber-core ball as it formed a rigid structure and uniform resiliency. In 1925, Milton Reach patented the cushion cork center. This design comprised of a sphere of cork surrounded by a black semi-vulcanized rubber. Then J.E. Maynard refined this design further – but most notably and rather deviously, patented the figure 8 baseball that we know and love today.
Since then, the baseball hasn’t changed much. In fact, even the processes haven’t changed much. Although ball consistency has changed thanks to the new technology, all 108 stitched of the baseball are still made by hand!