Baseball (ball)

Last updated
A typical baseball Baseball (crop).jpg
A typical baseball

A baseball is a ball used in baseball. The ball consists of a rubber or cork center wrapped in yarn and covered with white natural horsehide or cowhide, or a synthetic composite leather. A regulation baseball is 9 to 9¼ inches (229 to 235 mm) in circumference i.e. 2.86 to 2.94 inches (72.9 to 74.8 mm) in diameter, with a weight of 5 to 5¼ oz. (0.142 to 0.149 kg). [1] A baseball is bound together by 108 hand-woven stitches through the cowhide leather.


The leather cover is commonly formed from two saddle-shaped pieces stitched together, typically with red-dyed thread. That stitching plays a significant role in the trajectory of a thrown baseball due to the drag caused by the interaction between the stitching and the air. Controlling the orientation of the stitches and the speed of the ball's rotation allows a pitcher to affect the behavior of the pitched ball in specific ways. Commonly employed pitches include the curveball, the slider, the two-seam fastball, the four-seam fastball, the sinker, the cutter and the changeup. [2]


In the early, mid-1800s days of baseball, there was a great variety in the size, shape, weight, and manufacturing of baseballs. Early baseballs were made from a rubber core from old, melted shoes, wrapped in yarn and leather. Fish eyes were also used as cores in some places. Pitchers usually made their own balls, which were used throughout the game, softening and coming unraveled as the game went on. One of the more popular earlier ball designs was the "lemon peel ball," named after its distinct four lines of stitching design. Lemon peel balls were darker, smaller, and weighed less than other baseballs, prompting them to travel further and bounce higher, causing very high-scoring games. [3]

In the mid-1850s, teams in and around New York met in an attempt to standardize the baseball. They decided to regulate the weight of baseballs at 512–6 oz, and with a circumference of 8–11 inches. There were still many variations of baseballs since they were completely handmade. Balls with more rubber and a tighter winding went further and faster (known as "live balls"), and balls with less rubber and a looser winding (known as "dead balls") did not travel as far or fast. This is generally true for all baseballs. Teams often used this knowledge to their advantage, as players from the team usually manufactured their own baseballs to use in games. [3]

There is no agreement on who invented the commonplace figure-8 stitching on baseballs. Some historians say it was invented by Ellis Drake, a shoemaker's son, to make the cover stronger and more durable. Others say it was invented by Colonel William A. Cutler and sold to William Harwood in 1858. Harwood built the nation's first baseball factory in Natick, Massachusetts, and was the first to popularize and mass-produce baseballs with the figure-8 design. [3]

In 1876, the National League (NL) was created, and standard rules and regulations were put in place. A.G. Spalding, a well-known baseball pitcher who made his own balls, convinced the NL to adopt his ball as the official baseball for the NL. It remained that way for a century.

In 1910, the cork-core ball was introduced. They outlasted rubber core baseballs; and for the first few years they were used, balls were hit farther and faster than rubber core balls. It eventually went back to normal. [3] Pitchers adapted with the use of the spitball, which is now illegal, and an emphasis on changing the ball. [3]

In 1920, a couple of important changes were made to baseballs. They began to be made using machine winders and a higher grade of yarn from Australia. Although there was no evidence that these balls impacted the game, offensive statistics rose throughout the 1920s, and players and fans alike believed the new balls helped batters hit the ball farther.[ citation needed ]

In 1925, Milton Reach patented his "cushion cork" center. It was a cork core surrounded by black rubber, then another layer of red rubber. [3]

In 1934, The National League and American League came to a compromise and standardized the baseball. They agreed on a cushion cork center; two wrappings of yarn; a special rubber cement coating; two more wrappings of yarn; and, finally, a horsehide cover. [4]

Baseballs have gone through only a few small changes since the compromise. During World War II, the United States banned the use of rubber for non war-related goods, including for baseballs. So in 1943, instead of using rubber, baseballs were made with rubber-like shells of balata (also used in golf balls), which is obtained from a particular type of tropical tree. Hitting declined significantly that year.

The introduction of synthetic rubber in 1944 resulted in baseballs' returning to normal. [5] Offense would return to normal after the change back to the regular ball and return of players from active duty.

In 1974, due to a shortage of the material, horsehide was replaced by the more abundant cowhide as the cover material. [5] [6]

In 1976, MLB ended its relationship with Spalding for manufacturing their baseballs and switched to Rawlings, which still provides the balls to MLB today. [5]

A significant increase in the number of home runs since the start of the 2016 baseball season caused MLB officials to establish a committee that would examine the manufacturing process. In December 2019, MLB officials said that a lower stitching seam profile had most likely led to the increase in home runs, but also pledged to consider studying the issue. On February 5, 2021, MLB issued a memo that said that Rawlings had altered their manufacturing process to reduce the bounce in the balls and that after extensive testing, "... we are comfortable that these baseballs meet all of our performance specifications." The same memo also noted that more teams had applied for permission to use humidors to store their baseballs. As of 2020 only the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, and Seattle Mariners, were using the devices. [7]


Halves of two baseballs; traditional cork-centered (left) and rubber-centered Baseball center comparison.jpg
Halves of two baseballs; traditional cork-centered (left) and rubber-centered

Cushioned wood cores were patented in the late 19th century by sports equipment manufacturer Spalding, the company founded by former baseball star A.G. Spalding. In recent years, various synthetic materials have been used to create baseballs; however, they are generally considered lower quality, stitched with two red thick thread, and are not used in the major leagues. Using different types of materials affects the performance of the baseball. Generally a tighter-wound baseball will leave the bat faster, and fly farther. Since the baseballs used today are wound tighter than in previous years, notably the dead-ball era that prevailed through 1920, people often say the ball is "juiced". The height of the seams also affects how well a pitcher can pitch.

Baseballs used in MLB and the top minor leagues (AAA) are made to the same specifications, but labelled separately. Balls used in the lower minor leagues (up to AA) use slightly different specifications intended to make those balls somewhat more durable, although MLB pitchers on rehab assignments in the minors are usually supplied with major league-grade balls. Generally, in Little League through college leagues, the seams are markedly higher than balls used in professional leagues.

Baseballs cost three dollars each in 1900, a unit price which would be equal to $98 today. Due to their high relative cost, club owners in the early 20th century were reluctant to spend much money on new balls if not necessary. It was not unusual for a single baseball to last an entire game, nor for a baseball to be reused for the next game especially if it was still in relatively good condition as would likely be the case for a ball introduced late in the game. Balls hit into the stands were retrieved by team employees in order to be put back in play, as is still done today in some other sports. [8] Over the course of a game, a typical ball would become discolored due to dirt, and often tobacco juice and other materials applied by players; damage would also occur, causing slight rips and seam bursts. This would lower the offense during the games giving pitchers an advantage. However, after the 1920 death of batter Ray Chapman after being hit in the head by a pitch, perhaps due to his difficulty in seeing the ball during twilight, an effort was made to replace dirty or worn baseballs. However, some rules intended solely to reduce the frequency (and associated expense) with which balls need to be replaced during a game remain in force - the Pine Tar Incident in the 1980s was one famous occurrence directly resulting from the enforcement of such a rule.

Today, MLB teams are required to have a minimum of 156 baseballs ready for use in each game. When combined with baseballs needed for practice, etc. each MLB team uses tens of thousands of balls every season. However, modern professional-grade baseballs purchased in bulk as is the case with professional teams only cost about seven dollars each as of 2023 and thus make up a negligible portion of a modern MLB team's operating budget. Recreational-grade baseballs can be purchased by the public for an even lower unit price.

Once discarded by the umpire, game-used baseballs not hit into the stands are collected by batboys. Many baseballs involved in historical plays are displayed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Other baseballs associated with noteworthy in-game events are often authenticated and sold as memorabilia. Most such sales today are conducted on MLB's official website. The total proceeds from such sales represent a significant portion of the total purchase cost of baseballs since even balls used for relatively minor accomplishments can each fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars.

In 1909, sports magnate and former player Alfred J. Reach patented the ivory centered "ivory nut" in Panama and suggested it might be even better in a baseball than cork. However, Philadelphia Athletics president Benjamin F. Shibe, who had invented and patented [9] the cork centered ball, commented, "I look for the leagues to adopt an 'ivory nut' baseball just as soon as they adopt a ferro-concrete bat and a base studded with steel spikes." Both leagues adopted Shibe's cork-centered ball in 1910.

The official major league ball is made by Rawlings, which produces the stitched balls in Costa Rica. Attempts to automate the manufacturing process were never entirely successful, leading to the continued use of hand-made balls. The raw materials are imported from the United States, assembled into baseballs and shipped back.

Throughout the 20th Century, Major League Baseball used two technically identical but differently marked balls. The American League had "Official American League" and the American League's president's signature in blue ink, while National League baseballs had "Official National League" and the National League president's signature in black ink. Bob Feller stated that when he was a rookie in the 1930s, National League baseball laces were black, intertwined with red; American League baseball laces were blue and red. [10] In 2000, Major League Baseball reorganized its structure to eliminate the position of league presidents, and switched to one ball specification for both leagues. Under the current rules, a major league baseball weighs between 5 and 5+14 ounces (142 and 149 g), and is 9 to 9+14 inches (229–235 mm) in circumference (2+78–3 in or 73–76 mm in diameter). [11] There are 108 double stitches on a baseball, or 216 individual stitches.

While the decision whether to discard a baseball is formally at the discretion of the home plate umpire, today baseballs are expected to be immediately replaced after even minor scratches, discoloration and undesirable texture that can occur during the game. Balls used for pre-game warm-ups are often given to fans. Because baseballs are almost always replaced after each half-inning it is increasingly customary for players to give balls used to end half-innings to fans in the front rows, either by handing the ball to a fan (especially a child) in the front row or by gently tossing it into the stands, especially if the player holding it is a home team player close to the stands as for example is often the case for an outfielder catching a fly ball. MLB has long recognized any ball that comes into the possession of a spectator by any lawful means after entering the stands as immediately becoming the property of that spectator, although balls hit out of the park for momentous occasions (record setting, or for personal reasons) are often requested to be returned by the fan who catches or otherwise retrieves it, or donated freely by the fan. Usually, the player will give the fan an autographed bat and/or other autographed items in exchange for the special ball.

Without proper preparation, an official professional-grade baseball is very dangerous to throw because it is so slick and hard. By rule, balls used in the professional game must be rubbed with a mud known as "rubbing mud", which is typically applied either by the umpires or someone working under their supervision before each game, and is intended to help the pitcher's grip. [12] Because the mud discolors the ball, many fans prefer to purchase non-game-used balls for purposes such as collecting autographs, etc. In contrast, recreational-grade baseballs are designed so as not to require any special preparation before being used.

There are different types of baseballs used.

Famous baseballs

There are several historic instances of people catching, or attempting to catch, baseballs tied to MLB milestones:

Other famous baseballs:

See also

Notes and references

  1. "2014 Official Baseball Rules" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-12-29.
  2. Baseball Explained, by Phillip Mahony. McFarland Books, 2014. See Archived 2014-08-13 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stamp, Jimmy. "A Brief History of the Baseball". Smithsonian. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  4. "BIG LEAGUES AGREE ON LIVELIER BALL; Sphere Used in the American Last Year Is Accepted in Toto by the National". The New York Times. 1934-01-06. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  5. 1 2 3 Rymer, Zachary D. "The Evolution of the Baseball From the Dead-Ball Era Through Today". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  6. Shearer, Ed (August 11, 1974). "Home run decline may be caused by cowhide baseballs". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. p. 12.
  7. Wagner, James. "M.L.B. Will Change Its Baseballs After Record Home Run Rates". The New York Times . Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  8. "Baseball Bat Reviews of 2017 (BBCOR Certified Bats)". BaseballRace. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  9. USPatent 932911,Shibe, Benjamin F.,"Base-Ball",issued 1909-08-31
  10. Deford, Frank (8 August 2005). "Rapid Robert Can Still Bring It". Sports Illustrated. pp. 3 (of 11). Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  11. Major League Baseball: "Official Rules : Objectives of the Game", Major League Baseball
  12. Schneider, Jason (2006-07-04). "All-American mud needed to take shine off baseballs". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
  13. Grunwald, Michael. "McFarlane Paid $3 Million for McGwire's 70th Home Run Ball". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  14. Sanchez, Marcio Jose. "Fan who catches No. 660 ball also gets 661". USA TODAY. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  15. Berkow, Ira. "BASEBALL; 73rd Home Run Ball Sells for $450,000". The New York Times . Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  16. Curry, Jack. "Bonds Hits No. 756 to Break Aaron's Record". The New York Times . Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  17. "Barry Bonds Record-Breaking 756 Home Run Ball Sold for $752,467.20". Collectors Universe. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  18. Matuszewski, Erik (11 July 2011). "Jeter Fan Who Returned Baseball Leaves $180,000 on Table to Do Right Thing". Bloomberg. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  19. Daily, The (13 July 2011). "Derek Jeter's 3,000th Hit, Mark McGwire's 70th Home Run, and More Most Valuable Baseballs". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
  20. Rotstein, Gary. "Ruth home run ball brings in $700,000". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  21. "Owner of Hank Aaron's final home run ball braces for new record".
  22. "Ball signed by DiMaggio and Monroe breaks bank". ESPN. 8 May 2006. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  23. "Buckner ball from '86 Series sells for $418,250". May 4, 2012.
  24. Gumer, Jason B. (February 23, 2005). "Pasta sauce transforms unlucky Cubs baseball into tasty charm".

Related Research Articles

Baseball statistics play an important role in evaluating the progress of a player or team.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baseball</span> Bat-and-ball game

Baseball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players each, taking turns batting and fielding. The game occurs over the course of several plays, with each play generally beginning when a player on the fielding team, called the pitcher, throws a ball that a player on the batting team, called the batter, tries to hit with a bat. The objective of the offensive team is to hit the ball into the field of play, away from the other team's players, allowing its players to run the bases, having them advance counter-clockwise around four bases to score what are called "runs". The objective of the defensive team is to prevent batters from becoming runners, and to prevent runners' advance around the bases. A run is scored when a runner legally advances around the bases in order and touches home plate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of baseball in the United States</span>

The history of baseball in the United States dates to the 18th century, when boys and amateur enthusiasts played a baseball-like game by their own informal rules using homemade equipment. The popularity of the sport grew and amateur men's ball clubs were formed in the 1830–50s. Semi-professional baseball clubs followed in the 1860s, and the first professional leagues arrived in the post-American Civil War 1870s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Home run</span> Four-base hit resulting in a run by the batter in baseball

In baseball, a home run is scored when the ball is hit in such a way that the batter is able to circle the bases and reach home plate safely in one play without any errors being committed by the defensive team. A home run is usually achieved by hitting the ball over the outfield fence between the foul poles without the ball touching the field. Far less common is the "inside-the-park" home run where the batter reaches home safely while the baseball is in play on the field.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mark McGwire</span> American baseball player and coach

Mark David McGwire, nicknamed "Big Mac", is an American former professional baseball first baseman who played 16 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1986 to 2001 for the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals. He won two World Series championships, one with Oakland as a player in 1989 and one with St. Louis as a coach in 2011. One of the most prolific home run hitters in baseball history, McGwire hit 583 home runs during his career, which ranked 5th-most in MLB history at the time of his retirement and currently ranks 11th. He holds the major-league career record for at bats per home run ratio (10.6), and is the former record holder for both home runs in a single season and home runs hit by a rookie.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Softball</span> Team ball sport

Softball is a game similar to baseball played with a larger ball on a smaller field. Softball is played competitively at club levels, the college level, and the professional level. The game was first created in 1887 in Chicago by George Hancock.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fastball</span> Baseball pitch thrown at a pitchers top speed

The fastball is the most common type of pitch thrown by pitchers in baseball and softball. "Power pitchers," such as former American major leaguers Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, rely on speed to prevent the ball from being hit, and have thrown fastballs at speeds of 95–105 miles per hour (153–169 km/h) (officially) and up to 108.1 miles per hour (174.0 km/h) (unofficially). Pitchers who throw more slowly can put movement on the ball, or throw it on the outside of home plate where batters can't easily reach it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baseball rules</span> Overview of the rules of baseball at different levels and in different countries

The rules of baseball differ slightly from league to league, but in general share the same basic game play.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baseball field</span> Field on which baseball is played

A baseball field, also called a ball field or baseball diamond, is the field upon which the game of baseball is played. The term can also be used as a metonym for a baseball park. The term sandlot is sometimes used, although this usually refers to less organized venues for activities like sandlot ball.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Batted ball</span> In baseball and softball, a pitched ball that is contacted by the batters bat

In the sports of baseball and softball, a batted ball is a pitch that has been contacted by the batter's bat. Batted balls are either fair or foul, and can be characterized as a fly ball, pop-up, line drive, or ground ball. In baseball, a foul ball counts as a strike against the batter, unless there are already two strikes on the batter, with special rules applying to foul tips and foul bunts. Fly balls are those hit in an arcing manner, with pop-ups being a subset of foul balls that do not travel far. Line drives are batted balls hit on a straight line trajectory, while ground balls are hit at a low trajectory, contact the ground shortly after being hit, and then either roll or bounce. Batted balls, especially line drives, can present a hazard to players, umpires, and spectators, as people have been seriously injured or killed after being struck by battle balls.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dead-ball era</span> Historic era in the history of baseball

In baseball, the dead-ball era was the period from around 1900 to the emergence of Babe Ruth as a power hitter in 1919, when he hit a then-major league record 29 home runs; only three players since 1890 had even hit 20. This era was characterized by low-scoring games and a lack of home runs; league batting averages dropped as low as .239 in 1908, producing the lowest league run average in history, with teams averaging only 3.4 runs per game. Teams played in spacious ballparks that limited hitting for power; as a further hindrance to scoring, the ball used then, compared to modern baseballs, was "dead" both by design and from overuse. In addition, ball scuffing and adulteration by pitchers, notably the spitball, was not against the rules during this period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game</span> 77th all star game of Major League Baseball

The 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the 77th playing of the midseason exhibition baseball game between the all-stars of the American League (AL) and National League (NL), the two leagues comprising Major League Baseball. The game was held on July 11, 2006 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The contest was the fifth hosted by the city of Pittsburgh – tying the Cleveland Indians for the record of most times hosted by a single franchise. The game resulted in the American League defeating the National League 3–2, thus awarding the AL champion home-field advantage in the 2006 World Series.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1998 Major League Baseball home run record chase</span>

During Major League Baseball's (MLB) 1998 season, Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs pursued the league's long-standing and highly coveted single-season home run record (61), set in 1961 by Roger Maris. The season-long chase culminated on September 8, 1998, when McGwire, facing Sosa and the Cubs, hit his 62nd home run of the season to break the record. McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs, while Sosa finished with 66. The 1998 home run record chase, as well the previous's year pursuit of the record, was widely credited by sports analysts with restoring interest in MLB among its fan base following the 1994 strike that resulted in that season prematurely ending and the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. McGwire's record was later broken in 2001 by Barry Bonds, who hit 73 home runs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1998 St. Louis Cardinals season</span> Major League Baseball season

The St. Louis Cardinals 1998 season was the team's 117th season in St. Louis, Missouri and the 107th season in the National League. The Cardinals went 83-79 during the season and finished 3rd in the National League Central division, 18 games behind the Houston Astros. First baseman Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record this season by hitting 70 home runs, battling with the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa, who finished runner-up in the National League with 66.

This is an alphabetical list of selected unofficial and specialized terms, phrases, and other jargon used in baseball, along with their definitions, including illustrative examples for many entries.

The "juiced ball" theory suggests that the baseballs used in Major League Baseball (MLB) have been deliberately altered by the league in order to increase scoring. The theory first came to prominence in the 1990s to early 2000s, but the theory receded once it became clear that the more likely explanation for the increase in scoring during that time was an increase in steroid use, as documented in the Mitchell Report in 2007. The juiced ball theory made a resurgence in the late 2010s, as a noticeable uptick in offensive output, especially home runs, was observed.

John Witt is an American baseball collector. He claims to have caught over 5,000 baseballs at professional baseball games over the past 40 years. Witt is also an author, baseball columnist and actor.

The Major League Baseball Authentication Program, or MLB Authentication Program, is a program run by Major League Baseball Properties, the product licensing arm of Major League Baseball, to guarantee the authenticity of baseball merchandise and memorabilia. The centerpiece of the system is a tamper-resistant security tape sticker with an embedded hologram. Each sticker carries a unique alphanumeric code. The sticker is affixed to all game-used merchandise and memorabilia, while information about the item is entered into a computer database. Between 500,000 and 600,000 items are authenticated each season.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cheating in baseball</span> Deliberate violation of baseball rules

Forms of cheating in baseball, deliberate violations of the game's rules or other behavior designed to gain an unfair advantage against an opponent, include doctoring the ball, doctoring bats, electronic sign stealing, and the use of performance-enhancing substances. Other actions, such as fielders attempting to mislead baserunners about the location of the ball, are considered gamesmanship and are not in violation of the rules.